History : Mar-Apr 2018
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 69 paid off, for Henry relented; he named Alfonso his heir as long as Joanna were betrothed to him so that both would share the crown. But Henry would later attempt to back out of this arrangement, and civil war erupted. The rebels crowned the young Alfonso king, but his “rule” never gained legitimacy. He died three years later, in 1468, and left Isabella as his heir. Some of the kingdom’s barons were more than willing to rally around Isabella’s claim. Her more impetuous advisers urged Isabella to seize power without waiting for Henry to die. But the princess, though still a teenager, dem- onstrated keen political savvy. Presenting her- self as a guarantor of the established order, she would quietly wait her turn while negotiating a stronger position for herself. Patience paid off; Henry signed an agreement in 1468 in which he recognized his half sister as his legitimate suc- cessor. As part of the deal, she would not have to marry against her will, a distinct improve- ment over tradition. Isabella had the position she sought on her terms and would become queen after her older brother’s death. A Mate Selected Isabella knew when to be patient and when to make a bold move, skills that served her well as she carefully navigated choosing a husband. Few detailed descriptions of the young Isabel- la exist, but chroniclers agree she had fair skin, blue eyes, and dark blonde hair, inherited from her English grandmother, Catherine of Lancaster. Isabella was sure to be courted, if not for her looks, then for her lands and her title. As part of being Henry’s heir, Isabella agreed to inform the king of any marriage propos- als before a match was made. Marriage in the 15th century was a political tool, creating alli- ances between kingdoms. Henry and his back- ers wanted Isabella to marry King Afonso V of Portugal to unite the two kingdoms. Afonso was a widower and nearly 20 years older than Isabella. Rather than blindly submit to her broth- er’s wishes, Isabella quietly decided to consider other suitors, ones more to her liking. One of the leading candidates was Ferdinand, son of John II of Aragon. He was just a year younger than Isabella. In 1461 his father JOSÉ ANTONIO MORENO/FOTOTECA 9X12 GRANGER COLLECTION/AURAIMAGES DEVOTION A 16th-century painted wooden sculpture of Queen Isabella shows her at prayer. Royal Chapel of Granada ON THE ROCKS SEATED HIGH ON A STONY RIDGE, SEGOVIA’S ALCÁZAR WAS WHERE ISABELLA PROCLAIMED HERSELF QUEEN IN 1474.