1450-1499 · Spain

Ferdinand & Isabella, pt. 4: …The Plight

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To read part 1: Gaining a Kingdom, click here.

To read part 2: A Queen Among Women, click here.

To read part 3: The Troth…, click here.

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Previously on Do Things Worth Writing…

Princess Ysabel (or Isabella, as we know her), after the death of her beloved little brother, was reconciled with her older half-brother, King Enrique of Castile, and established as the heir of the kingdom in place of Enrique’s wife’s illegitimate daughter, Juana. This reconciliation was in accordance with the advice of Marques Juan Pacheco, but against the advice of Archbishop Carrillo. At that time, Carrillo had his doubts that Pacheco was truly loyal to the young princess or that the king would fulfill his promises to Ysabel. Unfortunately, in the last seven months, his suspicions have proven to be all too true. It’s now up to the Archbishop and Ysabel to perform the proxy troth-plight to establish a legal betrothal between her and Ferdinand of Aragon. Only now, in the middle of the ceremony, an enemy is within feet of discovering them.

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5 March, 1469 • Ocaña Court

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

As she listened to the sound of impending footsteps, Ysabel’s heart hammered against her ribcage. Almighty God, please! Don’t let them come in here! She stared at the door, clutching the kiwi, which she would have to eat as a part of the legally-binding troth-plight, until juice ran down her fingers. The green wedge in the hand of Troilos, the Archbishop’s son and stand-in for Ferdinand, was faring no better. The Archbishop, his hands in a praying position, stared at the ceiling, his lips moving silently. Beatriz Bobadilla stood to the side, her face white as the moon that was shining through the window.

“Chacón?” Directly on the other side of the door, Juan Pacheco’s voice sounded surprised. “What are you doing here?”

Gonzalo Chacón, Ysabel’s old friend and now guard, answered, “The arthritis in my knees has been paining me all day. Since I couldn’t sleep, I decided to come here to pray to St. James the Greater.”

“Hmm. I’ve always wondered why they put the healing saints in this alcove instead of the one in the private chapel. That one is larger, after all.”

“Perhaps, but an ailing sufferer doesn’t have to walk as far out here.” There was a pause in the conversation. “Did you come to pray, Marquis?”

“Me? No. I leave that to pious ones like the Princess. Actually, I came to look for her. She’s not in her suite. We had a conversation earlier that didn’t end well,” Pacheco’s voice actually sounded apologetic, but Ysabel gulped. It most certainly hadn’t! The bruise on her arm still throbbed from where he had grabbed her. “And I wanted to continue it now that I’m in a more congenial mood.”

Ysabel wanted to shudder, but denied the instinct. His exact words had been, “Try anything, and I will see to it that the king makes your life miserable.” Congenial? How would congeniality improve that conversation?

“Ah. Well, unfortunately, I haven’t seen her, and I’ve been here for an hour. Have you tried the garden? There’s an arbor out there that she enjoys. Once last week, she was out there this late with Beatriz Bobadilla.”

“I’ll have to look there next. Thank you, Chacón.” With that, the footsteps faded back the way they came.

In the chapel, all four people present sagged in relief. “Please your highness to continue?” Archbishop Carrillo whispered. Ysabel nodded, not trusting herself to speak just then. Carrillo cleared his throat and continued in a normal voice, “As ye take this fruit now, so shall ye be united with thy husband Ferdinand and, after thy marriage, sup together in unity and faithfulness until death parts you.” Ysabel chewed the sweet-tart fruit, serenity swept over her. Maybe kiwi was a good choice after all. After that fright, nothing else could have comforted me better.

Lupe took the goblet from Beatriz. “As ye drink this wine,” Carrillo continued, “may God bless and prosper ye and your posterity, the fruit of thy womb.” Troilos drank half of the goblet, then handed it to Ysabel. As he crossed himself, Ysabel raised the goblet to her lips. The sweet liquid flowed over her tongue, the tannin pleasantly filling her mouth a moment later. Saint Joseph, she prayed silently. Beseech God Almighty on our behalf to bless this union. She drained the goblet and handed it back to Beatriz. Crossing herself, she turned back to Carrillo.

A smile twitched at the corners of the archbishop’s mouth, but he continued solemnly. “I, on the behalf of God Almighty, join you in future wedlock. Princess Ysabel, thou art now betrothed to his majesty, King Ferdinand, and legally united to thy husband and lord under the conditions of the holy troth-plight. Nonetheless, ye must not dwell together, even sleep in the same house, until ye receive the blessing of the priest and the Church in a public ceremony of marriage.”

Ysabel bowed her head in assent. She was by no means concerned. The chances that they would meet before the day of the wedding were slim, anyway.

He raised his hand and made the sign of the cross over Ysabel and Lupe as he continued in Latin, “I bless you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.” Carrillo smiled proudly at her. “And now, if you will sign the contract, nothing besides the pope’s intervention can legally stop this marriage.”

Ysabel smiled. Turning to Beatriz, she took the quill, her right hand still sticky with kiwi juice, and signed the document.

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6 May, 1469 • Ocaña Court

“Princess Ysabel?” Pacheco called to her across the corridor.

Ysabel froze. it was nearly time for vespers, and she was desperate for the holy solace of the ceremony. In the two months since the troth-plight, Prince Richard had been officially turned away, but that only meant that King Alfonso was forefront in Enrique’s thoughts, and it had been a subject of constant aggravation to the whole court. Although she was in no mood to talk with Pacheco about anything, she turned to him. Beside him stood Pedro de Velasco. “Yes? What is it?”

“Velasco and I desire an audience with your highness,” Pacheco said, a guise of friendship playing on his face. Velasco, on the other hand, glared down his nose at Ysabel.

Ysabel steeled herself  to keep from shuddering. To push King Alfonso’s advantage, no doubt. She bowed her head to the gentlemen. “I must go to vespers. Do find me afterwards.”

She began to turn away, but Velasco grabbed her arm. “I’m sorry to displease your highness,” he snarled as he led her through an open door, “But this is urgent.”

“Besides, our business shouldn’t take long,” Pacheco said, following them into the room. Once inside, Pacheco closed the door and stood in front of it. The room was a cabinet, a small room perfect for private conversations. A table and chairs graced the middle of the room; on the table was a glass decanter and matching glasses. In the corner stood an ornate, floor-to-ceiling strongbox. Across from the door was a long, narrow window that let in a sliver of evening light. Other than that, the room was bare.

Ysabel raised her chin, her eyes squinting slightly as she glanced left to the glaring Velasco, who paced around the room and stopped on the other side of the table. Looking to her right, Pacheco, a nearly-convincing empathy creasing his face, stood between her and the door. Pacheco bowed his head politely. “My dear princess, it concerns many of us nobles that you persist in refusing King Alfonso’s hand in marriage.”

“Yet neither of you wonder why I’m against it?” Ysabel quietly answered. “I’ve seen the marriage contract that he and my brother have drawn up. Not only would my inheritance go entirely to King Alfonso as my husband; but also, I would retain none of the power and rights that God has seen fit to give me as Enrique’s heir. Besides, King Alfonso already has grown children of his own. He would need no heir from me. Any children I gave him would simply be pawns to promote Portugal’s welfare with the rest of Europe.” Besides that, I’m already betrothed to another.

Velasco and Pacheco exchanged looks, a nonverbal cue passing from one to the other. Ysabel tensed, wishing she knew what their expressions meant. Velasco took a deep breath, a pinched smile spreading over his mouth. “But it is a good economic match that will empower the kingdom.” Ysabel’s eyebrows raised for a second. This man was known for his temper, yet this speech was as honeyed as she had ever heard from him. “Besides, last September at the Toros de Guisando, you promised to obey King Enrique’s wishes in regards to your marriage. Or don’t you care about your word of honor?”

Ysabel frowned. Honeyed words, yes, but they masked poison. Still, she chose to ignore his insinuation. After all, it would be a very good match… that would greatly benefit Velasco, Pacheco, and a few others in Enrique’s inner circle. “Economic?” She asked. “From what I’ve heard, most of the nobles and even the peasants view it as unlucky. Besides, you are overlooking one small, yet extremely significant detail.”

Velasco pursed his lips. “And that is?”

Ysabel raised herself to her full height. “My marriage,” she said, raising her voice. “is my own choice, not yours or Pacheco’s or Enrique’s, despite your attempts at manipulation. I will not sacrifice my future and the welfare of Castile to your desires for heightened power, especially when I believe that giving in to you will certainly cause me and my people much grief.”

Velasco’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped for a moment. Pacheco stood transfixed, blinking at her. She glared at him regally. Never before had she been so pointed with Enrique’s allies, but she rather enjoyed rendering these two speechless. Power tingled in her chest until Pacheco looked at Velasco and nodded. A signal. Suddenly on alert, Ysabel’s eyes snapped to Velasco.

Velasco’s gaze was murderous. “I will not be ordered about by an impertinent girl, heir or no!” He hissed. He took a menacing step towards Ysabel and shouted at her, “Do you know what will happen to you if you do not take Alfonso as your husband? The former princess, Juana, will be given to him in marriage and reestablished as Princess of Asturias and as Enrique’s legitimate daughter. You, however, will be imprisoned in the Alcázar at Madrid and none of the powerful nobles would dare mourn you or take up your banner.”

Ysabel’s heart melted. Certainly Ferdinand would come for me… Or would he? After all, he is still fighting a civil war in Aragon… and he hasn’t sent the dowry he promised… A memory flashed through her head of her dying brother last summer. At that point, she had told her good friend, Gonzalo, that he was dying for the sins of the Castilian court. Would God allow me to be imprisoned to punish me for going against Enrique’s express desires? Tears welled in her eyes at the thought. She blinked the tears away and lifted her chin. No. This is God’s will. We have the blessing of the church! There is no sin in what I have done.

“Velasco…” Pacheco warned. Ysabel glanced at him. His hands fidgeted with the hilt of his rapier as he stared at Velasco. His discomfort with the trajectory of Velasco’s thoughts did nothing to help her pounding heart.

Glancing back at Velasco, she noted his cruel smile. He leaned toward her over the table. “Have you ever been to the the alcázar at Madrid, Princess? It’s comfortless. The rats are as large as your head.”

“Velasco!”

“And the jail-keeper has better things to do than to cook for ungrateful, disobedient wenches like yourself! You’ll starve to death before high summer.”

“VELASCO! That’s enough!”

It was too late. Tears made Ysabel’s vision swim. Before she could stop them, they poured down her cheeks in torrents. Her knees buckled and she fell to the floor. “Almighty God!” She sobbed. “Save me from this shame! I, your handmaiden and chosen servant! Rescue me from such rejection and cruelty!” She rocked back and forth, unable to stop the flood of emotion rocking her slender frame.

Footsteps from the door walked past her. “Velasco, you were to pressure her, not break her!” Pacheco hissed on her left.

“And you’ve never wanted to speak your mind to her?” Velasco replied, his voice shaking.

“A bit of threatening is one thing. Telling her about little Juana marrying Alfonso and the possibility of Alcázar at Madrid was a stroke of brilliance. Even a bit of physical pressure would have been fine. But this!”

“She’s still just a woman and needs to remember her place!”

“And when she’s queen, do you think she’ll forget this? Do you think she’ll forgive you easily for terrorizing her?”

Velasco didn’t answer. Footsteps crossed to Ysabel, but she didn’t look up. She rocked back and forth, her tears still pouring down her cheeks. A small puddle was forming on her billowed, embroidered gown. “Almighty God… Almighty God… save me…” Her voice cracked.

“Stop that.” Velasco said, not unkindly.

Ysabel couldn’t.

“You can’t be that upset.” Velasco’s tone sharpened. “You’re just being over-dramatic.”

The words drove a dagger, dipped in poisonous guilt, into Ysabel’s heart. If these men wouldn’t take her seriously now, how would anyone when she was queen? I’m a princess. I will be queen. Why can’t I stop crying? I’m stronger than this… I… Am… I’m not strong enough… New sobs gripped her.

Someone sighed. “Get up, I say!” Velasco yelled.

“Velasco, leave her alone,” Pacheco murmured. “We can do no more today.”

Footsteps again crossed the floor, this time stopping in front of her. “King Enrique will hear about this,” Velasco growled. The footsteps thudded away. The door squeaked open, then slammed shut. The sound resonated in Ysabel’s chest.

“Almighty God… Almighty God…” She sobbed. These tears weren’t only because of her fear of the alcázar. It was her upcoming marriage. It was uncertainty about how she and Ferdinand would be able meet face-to-face. It was her loneliness. Financial concerns. The constant fighting with Enrique and his advisers. Carrillo’s distance from court. Her little brother’s death last summer. Her childhood in the shadows, devoid of her parents’ care.

The door squeaked open again. “Hello?” A familiar voice whispered. “Ysabel!” A second later, Beatriz’s arms were wrapped around Ysabel, pulling her up into a loving embrace. “Are you hurt? Who did this to you?” Ysabel only sobbed harder, clutching Beatriz as though if she let go, she would lose this friend as well. Beatriz rocked back and forth, shushing comfortingly. She pulled off Ysabel’s headdress and ran refreshingly cool fingers through her dark blonde curls.

Finally, Ysabel’s sobs subsided enough to tell Beatriz what happened. “The devils!” Beatriz spat. “Thank God they’re leaving with Enrique tomorrow for the military tour.” she looked down at Ysabel. “Do you think you can stand? It will be more comfortable for you to sit in one of these chairs.” Hiccuping, Ysabel nodded. After ushering her to the table, Beatriz poured a glass of wine and handed it to her.

After drinking half the glass, Ysabel finally felt calm. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I don’t think I’ve ever cried that hard.”

Beatriz shook her head. “I’ve known you almost all your life. I don’t think you have, either.”

Ysabel gulped more wine and looked out the window. “It’s so dark. What time is it? I was on my way to vespers when Pacheco and Velasco brought me in here…”

Beatriz grimaced. “Vespers ended over an hour ago. In fact, I was looking for you because I was worried when you didn’t arrive for service.”

Ysabel nodded and sniffled. Another mouthful later, Ysabel handed the empty glass to Beatriz. “I have to get away from here. It’s only a matter of time before Enrique forces me to marry King Alfonso.”

Beatriz nodded. “Aye. Archbishop Carrillo said to contact him if anything changed. As soon as it’s light tomorrow, I’ll send a messenger to him. No one will notice one boy leaving here with all the excitement that will be going on. Knowing Carrillo, he’ll probably come immediately.”

“Yes. And as soon as he’s with us, we leave for Arévalo. And may God have mercy on our souls.”

Click here for part 5!

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Author’s Notes

Much thanks to Deacon Rick Childress for helping me out with the nuances of Catholic prayers and confessions! I would have been lost without his willingness to help me in this area.

Also, thanks to Ryan Matlock for helping me with the picture!

Several of these characters are known in this part of the world by the Anglicized form of their names, but I have chosen to keep their Old Spanish names. Following is a complete list, along with their Anglican names: Enrique (Henry), Juan (John), and Ysabel (Isabella).

Long after I published this post, I found out that I had my dates and wrong. On 5 March, 1469, Ferdinand signed the marriage agreement. Isabella signed it some time before that, but I haven’t found the exact date.

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For Further Exploration

Books

Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen by Nancy Rubin

Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey

Twelth Night by William Shakespeare, pg. 105 The New Hudson Shakespeare ©1911

Early Modern Spain: A Documentary History ed. John Cowans, pg. 7-9

Articles

Cabrera, Andrés de. Marquis of Moya (1430-1511) by MCN Biografias

The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church by Florida International University

Fruits by Season in Spain by fruitinfo.com

Fruits of Love by manhattanfruitier.com

How Did People Tell Time in the Middle Ages? by Quora

Marriage in the Middle Ages by The Finer Times

The Ritual of Marriage by The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

Seven Patron Saints for Healing and Comfort by Belief Net

Video

Birth, Marriage, and Death pt. 2 of 3 by BBC

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