1902 Encyclopedia > Spain > Spanish History - United Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella (1479-1516)

(Part 26)


United Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella (1479-1516)

Ferdinand and Isabella. The history of Spain as a united state dates from the union of Castile and Aragon by the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand. The marriage took place in 1469, before the accession of either sovereign. In 1474 the crown of Castile was claimed by Isabella on the death of her brother Henry IV., whose daughter Joanna was universally believed to be illegitimate. It was contended by the partisans of Ferdinand that female succession was prohibited in Castile, and that he was entitled to the crown as the nearest male heir after his father. Ultimately the question was settled in Isabella's favour, and she obtained the most important rights of sovereignty, though the government was carried on in their joint names. It is possible that Ferdinand would have refused to accept this arrangement, if concerted action had not been necessary to oppose the party which espoused the cause of Joanna. A number of the Castilian nobles, headed by the marquis of Villena, dreaded the danger to the privileges of their order that might arise from the establishment of a strong government. They found an ally in Alfonso V. of Portugal, who was Joanna's uncle by the mother's side, and who cherished the design of obtaining the Castilian throne by a marriage with his niece. In 1476 the confederates were routed in the battle of Toro, and Alfonso departed to France with the chimerical plan of seeking assistance from Louis XI. The treaty of St Jean de Luz between France and Castile in 1478 ruined these hopes, and in the next year Alfonso was compelled, by the treaty of Lisbon, to abandon the cause of his niece. This terminated the war of succession in Castile ; and Joanna, known from her reputed father as La Beltraneja, retired into a convent. A few months before the treaty of Lisbon the death of John II. (January 20, 1479) gave to Ferdinand the succession to Aragon, Sicily, and Sardinia. Navarre, which had been brought to John II. by his first wife, passed to his daughter by that marriage, Eleanor, countess of Foix. Two provinces of the Aragonese crown, Koussillon and Cerdagne, had been pledged by John to Louis XI. of France, and were still retained by that monarch. The union of Castile and Aragon effected in 1479 was merely a personal union. Each province retained its own institutions and its own laws, and each would have resented the idea of absorption in the other.

Administrative reforms. The first care of the two sovereigns was to reform the system of government, especially in Castile, where the recent civil wars had given rise to serious disorders. One of their chief objects was to depress the nobles, whose privileges, acquired during the long struggle against the Moors, were inconsistent with a strong centralized government. In accordance with true policy and with the spirit of the age Ferdinand and Isabella sought to counterbalance the nobles by relying upon the burgher class. The Santa Hermandad, or Holy Brotherhood, which was organized in 1476, was a popular confederation of the whole kingdom for police and judicial purposes. Its affairs were managed by local courts,—from which appeals could be made to a supreme tribunal,—and by a general junta composed of deputies from all cities, which was convened once a year. A body of 2000 cavalry was at the disposal of the association, and a special code of laws for its guidance was compiled in 1485. The institution was completely successful in maintaining order and in diminishing the independence of the local jurisdiction of the great nobles. About the same time the lavish grants from the royal domain, which had enriched the nobles at the expense of the crown, were revoked, the central judicial courts were made more efficient by the introduction of trained lawyers, and steps were taken to codify the numerous laws that had been made since the Siete Partidas of Alfonso X. The grandmasterships of the great orders of St lago, Calatrava, and Alcantara, which conferred powers too great to be entrusted to a subject, were on successive vacancies secured to the crown. Trade was encouraged by protective measures, by the breaking down of the barriers between Castile and Aragon, by a strict reform of the currency, and by the commutation for a fixed impost of the detested alcavala, a tax of one-tenth upon all sales and transfers of property.

The increased prosperity of the country is well illustrated by the steady rise of the revenue. "In 1474, the year of Isabella's accession, the ordinary rents of the Castilian crown amounted to 885,000 reals; in 1477 to 2,390,078; in 1482, after the resumption of the royal grants, to 12,711,591; and finally, in 1504, when the acquisition of Granada and the domestic tranquillity of the kingdom had encouraged the free expansion of all its resources, to 26,283,334, or thirty times the amount received at her accession. All this was derived from the customary established taxes, without the imposition of a single new one" (Prescott, ii. 575). No attack was made upon the liberties of the subjects; the cortes of Castile were frequently convened; the same towns were called upon to send deputies; and the only innovation was the frequent neglect to summon the nobles. The numerous pragmáticas, or royal ordinances, were mostly limited to administrative matters or to the interpretation of the law. The credit for the domestic administration rests mainly with Isabella. Ferdinand busied himself more with military and diplomatic affairs, and comparatively few innovations were made in Aragon. The Hermandad was introduced, and in some other points the example of Castile was followed. But the advanced constitutional liberties of Aragon were uncongenial to Ferdinand. He summoned the cortes as rarely as possible; and when that assembly met he spared no pains to influence its composition and its decisions. The centralizing tendencies of the reign were carried still further in both provinces in the later period when Ximenes, who became archbishop of Toledo in 1495, exercised the chief influence. Five councils were entrusted with the administration of affairs:—the "royal council," the chief court of justice; the "council of the supreme" for ecclesiastical business; the "council of the orders " for the great military fraternities; the "council of Aragon " for the management of that kingdom and of Naples ; and the "council of the Indies" for the great discoveries of Columbus and his companions.

Religious unity. The political unity of Spain was to be based upon its religious unity. Both Ferdinand and Isabella were imbued with that stern spirit of orthodoxy with which the Spaniards were inspired by their long crusade against the infidel. No institution of their reign was so important as the Inquisition, which was authorized by a bull of Sixtus IV. in 1478, and constituted for the two kingdoms in 1483 under the presidency of Torquemada. Its extension to Aragon was bitterly protested against by the liberty-loving people, but was forced upon them by the iron will of Ferdinand. The activity of the Holy Office was at first directed against the Jews, whose obstinate adherence to their faith in spite of persecution was punished by an edict for their expulsion in 1492. Their departure deprived Spain of many industrious inhabitants; but its importance has been much exaggerated by authors who have failed to notice that it was followed, not by the decline of Spain, but by the period of its greatest prosperity. In spite of their orthodoxy, however, Ferdinand and Isabella were by no means slavish adherents of the papacy. The claim of the popes to appoint to important benefices was strenuously resisted, and the chief control of ecclesiastical affairs was successfully vindicated for the crown.

The steady extension of the royal power in Spain was due in no small degree, as Machiavelli has pointed out, to the constant succession of enterprises in which the attention of the nobles was absorbed. These enterprises may be summarized under three heads:— (1) the union of the Peninsula ; (2) the extension of colonial empire ; and (3) the acquisition of foreign territories.

Union of the Peninsula. (1) Under the first head the most important achievement was the final extinction of the Moorish power in Spain. The war which began in 1481 was carried on in a desultory manner for ten years, and was completed in 1492 by the conquest of Granada. The Moors, who had fought with the courage of despair, received very lenient terms from their conquerors. They were secured in the free exercise of their religion, and were allowed to retain their own laws, customs, and language. In some points, such as the trade with Africa, they obtained privileges which were not even shared by the Castilians. But the spirit of proselytism was too strong in Spain to allow this treaty to be observed. The measures taken by Ximenes to bring about the conversion of the Moors provoked a revolt in 1500, which was put down with great severity. They were compelled to choose between conversion or banishment, and, although most of them accepted the former alternative, the Moriscoes, as they were now called, found themselves henceforward in the hopeless position of a proscribed and hated minority. In 1493 Ferdinand extorted from the fears and hopes of Charles VIII. of France the restoration of Roussillon and Cerdagne by the treaty of Barcelona. In 1512, after Isabella's death, he annexed Navarre. The whole Peninsula was now united, with the exception of Portugal, and steps had been taken for the acquisition of that kingdom by marriage. Isabella, Ferdinand's eldest daughter, was married to Alfonso, the son and heir of John II. of Portugal. After the death of that prince his widow married Emanuel, who succeeded to the Portuguese crown in 1495. Isabella herself died in giving birth to a son, but the connexion was still maintained by the marriage of Emanuel to her younger sister Mary. The fruits of this persistent policy were not reaped, however, till the reign of Philip II.

Colonial empire. (2) Maritime discovery was the task of the age, a task forced upon it by the Turkish occupation of the Levant, which had closed the old commercial routes to the East. The foremost pioneers in the work were the Portuguese and Spaniards, whose efforts brought them into rivalry with each other. The treaty of Lisbon in 1479 secured the western coast of Africa to Portugal, but enabled Spain to complete the annexation of the Canaries. The Spaniards now turned further westwards, and a wholly new problem was created by Columbus's discovery of the West Indies in 1492. His voyage had been undertaken under the patronage of Isabella, and the new territories were regarded as pertaining to Castile. To solve any difficulties that might arise, a bull was obtained from Alexander VI. in 1493, which granted to Spain all discoveries west of an imaginary line drawn 100 leagues to the west of the Azores and the Cape Verd Islands. As this arrangement excited Portuguese discontent, it was modified by a treaty at Tordesillas in 1494, which removed the boundary line to 370 leagues west of the Cape Verd Islands. This modification had important results for the Portuguese, as giving them their subsequent claim to Brazil. In the meanwhile Spain redoubled its exertions. In 1498 Columbus landed on the continent of South America, and in a few years the whole western coast was explored by subsequent adventurers. In 1512 Ponce de Leon discovered Florida, and in the next year Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Darien and gazed for the first time upon the Pacific. No exertions were spared by the Government to encourage settlement in its new territories; but the regulations of colonial trade, and especially the provision that it should pass through the single port of Seville, were conceived in a narrow and selfish spirit which prevented the full development of their resources.

Aquisition of Naples. (3) The foreign affairs of the reign, which were almost wholly connected with Italy, were conducted by Ferdinand on behalf of Aragon, just as the extension of the colonies was directed for the benefit of Castile. Charles VIII.'s invasion of Naples, which was ruled by an illegitimate branch of the house of Aragon, was undertaken in the full belief that the support or at least the neutrality of Spain was secured by the treaty of Barcelona. But Ferdinand, jealous of the rapid success of the French, seized the first pretext to disregard the treaty, and became a member of the league which was formed at Venice in 1495 against Charles. His troops, under the famous Gonsalvo de Cordova, took a prominent part in restoring Ferdinand II. to the Neapolitan throne. With the accession of Louis XII. came a great change in Ferdinand's policy, and he determined to advance the claim to Naples which he himself possessed as the legitimate head of the Aragonese house. By the treaty of Granada in 1500 Naples was to be divided between France and Spain, and the reigning king Frederick could make no resistance to such overwhelming forces. But a quarrel naturally arose about the terms of the partition, and by 1504 Gonsalvo de Cordova succeeded in expelling the French from Naples, which was henceforth annexed to the crown of Aragon.

Death of Isabella. In 1504 the unity of Spain was interrupted for a time by the death of Isabella. The successive deaths of the infant John (1497), of Isabella of Portugal (1498), and of her infant son Miguel (1500) had left the succession in Castile to the second daughter, Joanna; she was married to the archduke Philip, con of Maximilian I., and ruler, through his mother Mary of Burgundy, of the Netherlands and Franche-Comté. Unfortunately Joanna, who was the mother of two sons, Charles and Ferdinand, had already given signs of that insanity which was to cloud the whole of her subsequent career. Philip, who had visited Spain in 1502, had then excited the distrust of his wife's parents, and Isabella by her will left the regency in Castile to her husband until the majority of their grandson Charles. But Ferdinand, in spite of his brilliant successes, was not popular among the Castilian nobles, who seized the opportunity to support the more natural claims of Philip to govern on behalf of his wife. Ferdinand showed his disgust by actions which threatened to undo all the previous objects of his policy. He concluded a treaty with Louis XII. in 1505, by which he undertook to marry the French king's niece, Germaine de Foix. To her Louis resigned his claims upon Naples, but in case of her death without issue his share in the kingdom by the treaty of Granada was to revert to France. Thus Ferdinand was willing to gratify his spite and to perpetuate the division between Aragon and Castile, under the penalty of forfeiting his recent conquests in Italy. His second marriage was concluded in March 1506, and two months later he resigned the regency in Castile to Philip, and soon afterwards sailed to Naples.

But the division of the Peninsula was not destined to last long. On September 25 Philip died at the age of twenty-eight, and the devotion of Ximenes secured the restoration of the regency to Ferdinand. Joanna, who had been devotedly attached to her husband, lost all semblance of reason after his death, and made no attempt to exercise any influence over the conduct of affairs. The remaining part of Ferdinand's reign is uneventful in the history of Spain. The government was carried on on the same system, but with more avowed absolutism, as during the lifetime of Isabella. Ximenes, whose energies found insufficient occupation in the compilation of his Polyglott Bible and in the foundation of the university of Alcalá de Henares, fitted out and headed an expedition to Oran in 1509, which resulted in extensive but short-lived conquests in northern Africa. Ferdinand threw himself with more energy than ever into the current of European politics. By joining the league of Cambray he wrested from Venice five important towns in Apulia which had been pawned to the republic by Ferdinand II. As a member of the Holy League against France he succeeded in conquering Navarre in 1512. Navarre had passed to the French family of Albret by the marriage of Catharine de Foix with Jean d'Albret, and it was the close connexion with France which gave Ferdinand a pretext for its invasion. In 1515 his new conquest was formally incorporated with the kingdom of Castile.

Death of Ferdinand. This was Ferdinand's last success; and he died on January 23, 1516. His will recognized Joanna as his heiress in Aragon, and his grandson Charles as the regent in both kingdoms. Until his arrival, the administration of Castile was entrusted to Cardinal Ximenes and that of Aragon to his own natural son, the archbishop of Saragossa.

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