With the historical drama ISABEL
arriving on DramaFever next week, it's a good time to brush up on our Spanish history and the world of Isabel the Catholic. Here are the characters closest to the queen:
Isabel I of Castile (Michelle Jenner)
Queen of Castile
Isabel the Catholic
was a princess, heiress apparent, and finally queen of Castile. Born in 1451 in Madrigal de las Altas Torres in the province of Avila, she was the daughter of Juan II of Castile and Isabel of Portugal.
She was very close to her younger brother Alfonso of Castile, and after their father passed away when she was three years old, her half-brother Enrique IV became the new king. For years Isabel and Enrique maintained an intensely ambivalent love-hate relationship.
Her closest friend was Beatriz of Bobadilla, a lady in her mother’s court and the daughter of the mayor of Arevalo. Isabel grew up in Arevalo, where her mother lived in seclusion after suffering bouts of insanity.
Juana of Avis, the second wife of Enrique IV, forced Isabel and her brother away from Arevalo to live at the Court once she announced that she was pregnant after seven years of marriage.
Chroniclers who write of Isabel often describe six of her virtues: kindness, strength, religious spirit, intelligence, eloquence, and self-control.
To those close to her, Isabel could be warm and compassionate, but to the outside world, she never bowed down to anything or anyone getting in the way of her goal of becoming queen. She was staunchly religious and defended strong moral values that she thought missing from the church.
Enrique IV (Pablo Derqui)
King of Castile
Enrique IV became king of Castile in 1454 after the death of his father, Juan II of Castile. Born in Valladolid in 1425, he was the son of Juan II’s first wife, Maria of Aragon.
Initially married to Blanca of Navarra, he left her and requested an annulment of their marriage, saying that a curse impeded him from consummating their union – a problem he did not have with other women.
In 1455, he married Juana of Avis, who suffered a miscarriage after being six months pregnant with a son. She later gave birth to a daughter, Juana of Castile, but doubts about her paternity and the political rise of nobleman Beltran de la Cueva led many to believe that she was his daughter.
His half-siblings Isabel and Alfonso suffered mistreatment under Juana de Avis, who feared their presence would prevent her daughter from reaching the throne. His stepmother Isabel of Portugal remained locked up in Arevalo during his reign.
According to historians of the era, Enrique VI valued and respected Isabel and had fondness for Alfonso, but never defended them against the meddling of Juana de Avis.
A complex and melancholic character, he is said to have enjoyed the company of very few. He was a shy man who detested public appearances.
Enrique was a great hunter and horseman, although he disliked royal ceremonies and honors and avoided doing business as much as possible.
Indecisive and unreliable, he often abandoned his obligations and did not fulfill his promises.
His other characteristics leaned towards the arts, being an able singer and musician in addition to being an expert in Latin, a great writer, and a superb reader.
Enrique did not react well to criticism and often became irate. His general meekness was often interpreted as a sign of weakness and cowardice, but Enrique IV often acted in a peaceful manner as a conciliator.
Fernando II of Aragon (Rodolfo Sancho)
King of Aragon, Sicily, and Naples
Born in Sos in 1452, Fernando II was the son of Juan II of Aragon and the future husband of Isabel of Castile. He eventually became the king of Aragon, Sicily, Naples, and Castile under the name Fernando V.
He was of medium height, somewhat taller than Isabel, with a gallant but cheerful demeanor and very dark hair.
Fernando and Isabel shared many similarities. Their parents and half-siblings were bitter rivals; both of them were the children of the second wife of a king. Fernando’s mother Juana Enriquez died in 1468 from a terrible cancer.
From his childhood he grew up amid politics and constant warfare. In wars, he risked his life several times and grew braver, quickly becoming an expert strategist and commander. Isabel’s individual coronation as the queen of Castile probably became the biggest crisis between the couple.
He was stingy, both at home and in his rule. His love for chess, board games, and sports did not please his peers, who believed he spent too much time on his hobbies. His most serious flaw, however, was lust.
One of his prominent qualities was his love for his family. He always maintained an excellent relationship with his father.
Although he was a man of action, he was also a born politician and negotiator able to convince others easily due to his friendly nature.
Regardless, he was inflexible in his decisions and cruel if he found it necessary. Fernando adapted easily to the customs of the Castile court, despite coming from Aragon to support Juan II in his business undertakings.
Alfonso of Castile (Victor Elias)
Prince of Castile, son of Juan II of Castile
Alfonso was prince and then heir to the throne of Castile. Born in 1453 in Tordesillas (Valladolid), he was the son of Juan II of Castile and Isabel of Portugal. He was very close with his sister Isabel and was distrusted by his half-brother Enrique IV’s inner circle.
He became his father’s greatest hope for the crown, becoming next in line as successor while Enrique IV still lacked an heir.
Everything changed when a daughter was born to Enrique IV and Juana de Avis, turning Alfonso into an obstacle between the crown and Juana la Beltraneja.
He maintained a strong relationship with his sister Isabel, with whom he enjoyed remembering their childhood together in Arevalo before being separated from their mother and brought to Enrique IV’s court.
Brought up by his mother and later protected by Isabel, he was of a sensitive nature in both body and mind, little equipped for fighting. Regardless, he trained hard in the art of war but never had the tenacity or fortune of his sister.
His closest friend was Gonzalo of Cordoba, similar in age but radically different as a natural-born fighter. Gonzalo both trained him to fight and protected him.
Although he inherited several noble titles, Enrique IV took them away and gave them first to Beltran de la Cueva and later to Juan Pacheco.
Juan II of Aragon (Jordi Banacolocha)
King of Aragon
Duke of Peñafiel, king of Navarra since 1425, and king of Aragon, Cerdeña, and Sicily since 1458, he was born in 1398 in Medina del Campo and was the father of Fernando II of Aragon, the Catholic.
He was likely the longest living king of his time, reaching his 82nd birthday. His main physical attribute was his blindness, which lasted several years due to cataracts.
His old age and his blindness led him to rely on Fernando for everything: in politics, in war and defense of the country, etc.
He had great self-confidence, something that couldn’t be said for his firstborn Carlos of Viana, and the two of them often found themselves at odds.
Juan had his cataracts operated on in Lerida and recovered his sight. To thank his religion for his cure, he founded the Jeronimo Monastery of Santa Engracia – ironic as his doctor had been Jewish.
Juan II worked diligently to unite the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, utilizing his son Fernando by pairing him with Beatriz Pacheco, daughter of the Marques of Villena, and later with Isabel.
This alliance with Castile – a kingdom of wealth and potential – aimed at providing support for his army to better manage the conflicts that he had to deal with during his own rule.
A skilled politician and businessman, Juan II was also a skilled matchmaker. He courted those closest to Isabel’s inner circle with lavish gifts in order to get in a good word for Fernando. Juan also managed to secure the title of king of Sicily for Fernando, purely as a propaganda tool to make him a more desire candidate for Isabel. In the end, his efforts certainly paid off.
Juana de Avis (Bárbara Lennie)
Queen consort of Castile and Princess of Portugal
She was the second wife of King Enrique IV and the mother of Juana of Castile, nicknamed ‘la Beltraneja.’
Chronicles of this period describe her as a magnificent woman of dazzling beauty and a dark complexion, praised unanimously by both travelers and historians.
When she was 11, she was taken as a virgin maid into the services of Enrique IV. Their wedding involved a special dowry due to negative experiences with his first wife Blanca of Navarra. The Portuguese claimed 100,000 florins of gold if Enrique ‘failed’ again to fulfill his conjugal obligations.
Juana de Avis enjoyed dressing up as an Amazonian, wearing a coat of arms and a helmet while being accompanied by nine ladies in the countryside of Cambil.
Because of Enrique’s sexual apathy, Juana slowly found herself driven to having other lovers, made easier by the complicity of her environment.
After six years of a childless marriage, the queen gave birth to Juana of Castile, named ‘la Beltraneja’ in response to the doubt surrounding her true paternity. It was said that she was actually the daughter of nobleman Beltrán de la Cueva, a favorite of Enrique IV.
Juana considered Alfonso and Isabel as obstacles to her daughter’s path to the throne and, choosing to keep the ‘enemy’ as close as possible, made Enrique IV bring Isabel and Alfonso to live at the court.
There was very little care or delicacy in her treatment of others. Her relationship with Isabel was tyrannical, with zero familiarity and absolute vigilance.
Juan II of Castile
King of Castile
Born in Toro in 1405, he was father of Henry IV, Isabel, and Alfonso, the latter two being children of his second wife Isabel of Portugal.
Juan II was a king with little interest in his office. Both he and Enrique IV, his son from his first wife Maria of Aragon, were more enamored of social gatherings, concerts, poetry, and hunting than of exercising their power.
The situation in Castile that confronted Juan II was as follows:
Although the Reconquista had ceased in the south of the peninsula, conquest of the Canary Islands and contact with the Far East had been initiated.
The distribution of wealth established equal division of tribute between the crown, the nobility, and the Church.
The nobility of this era had the capacity to give or take away the king’s power. Some nobles even instigated the assassination of Pedro I the Cruel and facilitated the rise of the Trastamara dynasty, to which Juan II and his children Enrique IV and Isabel belonged.
Politics at this time were based on marriage with Portugal. The clergy consisted of powerful feudal lords who integrated themselves into the nobility – some of them even owned their own armies.
Juan II’s reign was a continuous display of weakness in regards to his relationship with the nobility, from whom he was protected – although not always with success – by the occasional banishment.
At the behest of his wife and the nobility, he betrayed his favorite court member, and the execution of don Álvaro de Luna became an obsession that destroyed him.
He died a year after the death of Álvaro de Luna, and on his deathbed he was heard saying, ‘The child of a laborer, I was born to be a friar of Abrojo and not a king of Castile.’
He left behind a detailed will, putting Isabel and Alfonso under the tutelage of two great men of the Church: Friar Lope Barrimentos, bishop of Cuenca, and Gonzalo de Illescas, prior of Guadalupe.