Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Machiavelli: On Isabella and Ferdinand

During the cooperative reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the foundation of Spain’s global Empire was established. The two spectacular successes of their reign was the liberation of Southern Spain from Islamic occupation and the discovery of the American continent by Christopher Columbus. Machiavelli was an admirer of Ferdinand. In his book The Prince, he explains the popularity of Ferdinand in these words: “Nothing wins a ruler respect like great military victories and a display of remarkable personal qualities. One example in our own times is Ferdinand of Aragon, the present King of Spain…” Machiavelli was impressed by the Spanish campaign in Granada, undertaken in 1492 by Isabella and Ferdinand. He writes in The Prince:

“We have in our time Ferdinand of Aragon, the present King of Spain. He can almost be called a new prince, because he has risen, by fame and glory, from being an insignificant king to be the foremost king in Christendom; and if you will consider his deeds you will find them all great and some of them extraordinary. In the beginning of his reign he attacked Granada, and this enterprise was the foundation of his dominions. He did this quietly at first and without any fear of hindrance, for he held the minds of the barons of Castile occupied in thinking of the war and not anticipating any innovations; thus they did not perceive that by these means he was acquiring power and authority over them. He was able with the money of the Church and of the people to sustain his armies, and by that long war to lay the foundation for the military skill which has since distinguished him. Further, always using religion as a plea, so as to undertake greater schemes, he devoted himself with pious cruelty to driving out and clearing his kingdom of the Moors; nor could there be a more admirable example, nor one more rare…”

There is no important matter on which Isabella and Ferdinand had a difference of opinion. The motto of their prenuptial agreement was: “Tanto monta, monta tanto, Isabel como Fernando.” (They amount to the same; Isabel is the same as Ferdinand.) Faith in God was important for Isabella and Ferdinand. They believed in the adage: “Those monarchs who do not fear God fear their subjects.”

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