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The social science literature

Greatly aided by Ferdinand’s diplomatic and military skills, Isabella spent the next five years building up support amongst the Castlilan nobility and towns. She gave birth to a daughter, Isabella, in 1470 and in 1472 obtained a valid dispensation for her marriage from the papal legate, Cardinal Borgia (the future Pope Alexander VI). 

Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile -- © Meg McGath

When Henry died on 11th December 1474, and in Ferdinand’s absence, Isabella had herself proclaimed queen.

She was immediately challenged by Joanna and her supporters, who obtained the backing of King Alfonso of Portugal, her uncle and later fiance. The civil war that followed lasted five years, but the outcome was not in doubt after Ferdinand’s victory over Alfonso at the Battle of Toro on 1st March 1476. The Treaty of Alcacovas which settled the war provided for the marriage of Princess Isabella to the heir of Portugal.

After some initial wrangling, Ferdinand and Isabella agreed a power-sharing deal by which each could wield power in Castile jointly and severally. After his father’s death in 1479, Ferdinand extended the same powers to Isabella in Aragon. Despite their very different personalities, or ‘the contrast of character between the uncompromising, devout and chaste Isabella and the worldly, flexible and frequently unfaithful Ferdinand’ (Henry Kamen), their equal partnership proved a great success. However, like other women of her time, Isabella had to turn a blind eye to her husband’s frequent affairs (he had at least seven illegitimate children, all by different women), and no doubt gave good advice to Katherine on that score. 

Ferdinand and Isabella had five children who lived to adulthood, one son and four daughters. They were careful to present all their actions as being made jointly, to exclude any possibility of the nobility attempting to play one off against the other, to the extent that the chronicler Pulgar once recorded that ‘the King and Queen gave birth to a daughter!