15th Century Spain

Aragon begins the century with the last of the members of the House of Barcelona in power, Martin the Humane (depending on whom you ask, there was little war during his reign, but he also launched crusades into Northern Africa). He succeeded his brother John I in 1396, but was stuck in Sicily as its regent. His wife, María de Luna, claimed the throne for his and acted as a representative for him as he made his way to Aragon. Men like Matthew de Foix and Louis II of Naples attempted to take the opportunity to claim the throne on behalf of their wives, but Martin did secure the throne. He quickly married his son to Maria of Sicily and secured him as King of Sicily, which came in handy as Martin decided to try finishing Aragon’s attempts to conquer Sardinia. They had come close, but Eleanor of Arborea had practically pushed them off the island. Once the principality of Arborea was annexed, the rest fell easily, but Martin’s son (and only surviving child) died soon after the defeat in 1409. Martin succeeded his son in Sicily. Martin would follow him to the grave a year later.

The next two years multiple claims came forward to rule Aragon, since there were no legitimate children from either Martin or his son. The fighting ended in 1412 with the Compromise of Caspe. Martin’s nephew Ferdinand, son of John I of Castile and Eleanor of Aragon, became the first Trastámara ruler of Aragon. His reign would last only around 3 ½ years, but he was a key figure in those years. First, when his reign was immediately challenged by the Count of Urgell, he dissolved the County all together. He helped dispose of Antipope Benedict XIII, whose fall would end the Western Schism. He created the Principality of Girona for the heir of Aragon. When he died in 1416, his son, Alfonso V of Aragon, buried him in significant magnificence. Alfonso spent much of his reign striving to conquer Naples, and eventually he would return to rule until his death in 1458. One intriguing thing he did as King of Aragon was attempt to create diplomatic relations with Ethopia, who had offered a duel marriage to create peace with Muslims. According to the first men he sent were lost along the journey, and he refused to send more without a guarantee of safe passage. Whatever reply was lost to history, and seems to have never arrived in Alfonso’s court. He had not legitimate children, and his brother John succeeded him in Aragon (his illegitimate son Ferdinand succeeded him in Naples).

John was already King of Navarre by the right of his wife, and his three children by her claimed the right to that throne after his death. His wife, Blanche I of Navarre, died in 1441, and after he married Juana Enríquez de Córdoba. He turned resentful toward his eldest son, and a rivalry between them soon brewed. He would overthrow his father and become King Charles IV of Navarre, the Catalans even joined his cause. But his father would regain his throne. They would do this repeatedly until Charles died in 1461, and his sister Blanche II would die shortly in 1464. Both suspected of poisoning. John would die in 1479. 

John had two children from his second marriage. The youngest, his daughter, was Queen of Napes. His son became Ferdinand II of Aragon, and he was already married. His wife was Isabelle I of Castile. I think now would be a good time to catch up with Castile. 

In 1406, we have John II of Castile, who was only a year old at the time. His uncle Ferdinand was offered the crown due to John’s age, but he refused and instead was coregent with John’s mother, Catherine of Lancaster. During his minority, they enacted the Valladolid Laws of 1411 that limited the social activities of Jews, including holding them from administrative positions. This lasted until John ended his minority in 1418, when John reversed the ordinance for a more tolerant policy. Not much has been said for his ability to rule, mostly due to the fact that he had a favorite named Alcázar de Luna. The relationship had been described as pederastic, which is basically a fancy way of saying that even though Alcázar was at least ten years older than John, their relationship was sexual by nature. There is no proof of this though. He did place Yusuf VI on the crown of Sultan in Emirate Granada in exchange for tributes to be made to Castile. He died in 1454 and is still one of Castile’s longest reigning monarchs. 

John married twice in his life. The first was to Maria of Aragon, and he had three children, but only one survived: Henry IV. His second wife was Isabella of Portugal, and with her he had two children: Alfonso, Prince of Austrias, and Isabella, Queen of Castile. We will circle back to her after we discuss the drama of her brothers that led to her seizing power. 

There is honestly not much to say about Henry, other than that he was inadequate at ruling and cruel. The beginning of his reign was dominated by fighting between Alcázar de Luna and the Infantes of Aragon, until Henry took power and executed Alcázar de Luna. He treated his first wife, Blanche of Navarre, indifferently, if not cruelly. She did trust him more than her father though, and went to him for protection when she gave up her claim to Navarre. Not that it did her any good, as she was found dead in 1464. His next wife came from his ambitions for an alliance with Portugal. He married Joan of Portugal, and with this marriage came rumors. Rumors Henry, an imponent, began to flourish and would later harm his daughter. People did not believe Infanta Joanna was his daughter. This caused civil war to break out, and he was forced to accept his brother Alfonso as his heir. He would renege on this promise, but the nobles would crown the adolescent boy as king. Alfonso died of the illness in 1468 at the age of 14.

When Henry died in 1474, he had been forced to forsake his daughter, and his sister inherited his throne as Isabella I of Castile. Isabella started her reign of strong, not hesitating at all to claim her throne, despite her husband wishing she would wait for him. Isabella was married to Ferdinand of Aragon behind her brothers in 1469, and they had always planned to rule as a joint couple since he would one day inherit Aragon. She began her reign fighting off plots for her throne, crushing the claim of her niece Joanna. A feat easier said than done after Joanna married Alfonso V of Portugal. He fought her his wife’s claim, and war broke out between the countries. Isabella was a savvy politician and intelligent though; showing her talent, as well as having a daughter and a son early into her reign, helped stabilize her. So instead, Portugal went to war with them over trading ports in places like Guinea and Cape Verde. This power struggle lasted until Christopher Columbus made his infamous journey and the countries forged the Treaty of Tordesillas.

In 1479, Ferdinand claimed the Aragonese throne, and they successfully united their countries into what is now Spain (though it was not formalized as Spain for another 230 years). Each monarch ran their own country, though some overlap occurred. Their first joint year, they used their joined power to conquer Granada and finished the Reconquista. This was a war against Muslims, and it was a tragedy to their culture that lasts over 700 years until Ferdinand and Isabella. Ferdinand went as far to force Muslism to convert to Catholicism. Isabella however found things like slavery distasteful and immoral. She even pleaded in her will for the natives to be well treated (something we know did not happen). Many of the harsher consequences of their reign were Ferdinand’s decisions, while it seems many of the reforms were Isabella’s guidance. Ferdinand also had struggles going on in Naples as Charles VIII of France conquered and overthrew his cousin Alfonso II. 

During this period, they had five children, but at the end of the century only three survived. Their eldest daughter and their only son died. That left Joanna as their heir, and she married Philip the Handsome, son of the Holy Roman Emperor. Maria would marry her elder sister Isabella’s widow, Manuel I of Portugal. The youngest, Catherine, will soon marry Arthur Tudor in England before his death. This is where we leave Spain at the end of the century. There was significant bloodshed that the infamous rulers built their kingdom, and as we move into the next, we will learn how the union of Aragon, Castile, and Granada moves forward now united.