1450-1499 · Spain · The Ferdinand and Isabella Saga

Ferdinand & Isabella, pt 5: The Spy


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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.

To read part 4: …The Plight, click here.


Previously on Do Things Worth Writing…

Princess Ysabel (or Isabella, as we know her) was established as the heir of her older half-brother, King Enrique of Castile. However, nine months later, Enrique had broken almost all of his promises to her, including trying to force her to marry against her wishes. Because of this, Ysabel and her allies believed their treaty to be void and established a marriage contract between her and Prince Ferdinand of Aragon without King Enrique’s knowledge. However, Isabella’s double life as an engaged woman and a submissive heir is becoming too difficult. Her decision? To run away.


7 May, 1469 • Ocaña Court

As Ysabel walked out of the castle into the palace grounds, several rows of the royal cavalry met her eyes. This afternoon, King Enrique would leave for the southern province of Andalusia to settle the civil unrest that had recently developed. They would be gone until Michaelmas or later, and the kingdom would be in the hands of some of Enrique’s advisers until then. What a perfect opportunity, Ysabel thought as she glanced around at the scene before her.

All around the small army, the Ocañan nobles and peasants watched. Women tittered to each other. Old men bragged about their military exploits as young men. Fathers held their young children, pointing out items of interest among the armored ranks. Boys pretending to be Andalusian and Castilian soldiers fought each other with sticks and toy swords. Girls flirted with the officers. Those who weren’t paying attention to them were checking their packs for the third or fourth time.

Looking among the caballeros, she quickly found King Enrique with Juan Pacheco, one of his highest ranking officials, and waited for the king to notice her. When he did, he made his way toward her, his armor clanking heavily enough that Ysabel could hear it over the people’s babble and the boisterous horses and pack mules. When Enrique reached her, Ysabel realized why: an uneasy quiet had settled over the crowds as they watched the king and his heir.

For the sake of the onlookers, Ysabel forced a genuine smile and reached for Enrique’s hand, who responded with a politician’s grin. “Blessings on you, dear king and brother. May God make you victorious over the Muslims,” she said loudly, purposefully leaving out any good wishes for his personal safety. If he died on this campaign, it would solve several of my problems. Guilt flooded her soul at the thought. He was still her brother and her sworn lord. She could not wish him ill, despite her frustrations.

Enrique bowed courteously then pulled her into a hug. He hissed in her ear, “Promise me by all you hold sacred, by the Blessed Virgin herself, that you will not enter a contract of marriage while I am gone.”

Ysabel forced her face to remain neutral as she pulled out of the hug. She looked Enrique in the eye and gently replied, “My lord, you don’t need to invoke the sacred. I will, of course, do as you request.”

Enrique cocked his head and blinked. Then his eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Swear it,” he growled.

She bowed her head submissively and cooed, “I, Ysabel, Princess of Asturias, do swear to you, my king, by the Blessed Virgin Mary and all that is sacred, that I will not enter a new contract of marriage while you are in Andalusia.”

Enrique stared at her for a long moment, then nodded slowly. A tight smile spread across his face. “Good. When I return, we’ll arrange a marriage for you that we can both agree on. Some handsome young, foreign prince or perhaps a rich and noble caballero, hmm?”

Ysabel inclined her head. “I look forward to it, sire.”

Enrique nodded again, his mouth pursed. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her. He returned to Pacheco, however, and mounted his horse. “Onward men! To victory!”

“To victory!” The soldiers replied in a deafening war cry.

As the army left through Ocaña’s arched gate, Ysabel turned back to the castle and allowed herself the smallest of smirks. Enrique had her vow of not entering a new contract. But she was still free to enter one that already existed.


Night fell before Ysabel was able to get back to her boudoir. She opened the door, surprised at the darkness that greeted her eyes. The only light in the room came from a narrow window in the wall across from her and the fireplace against the far right wall. Beatriz Bobadilla was supposed to be in here, packing, for their flight to Archbishop Carrillo. Ysabel slipped inside, closed the door, and whispered into the shadows, “Beatriz?”

Someone sighed to Ysabel’s left and a shadow shifted. “It’s you. I wasn’t sure, so I put out the candles.” Beatriz, Ysabel’s best friend and confidante, rose from a crouch and walked toward the fireplace. Pulling a long stick from the mantle, she set it on fire and lit the candleabra.

“How’s the packing?” Ysabel asked, stepping over to the window and looking in every direction. They were three stories up and the next window that wasn’t a part of her suite was at least fifteen feet below her. Still, she’d been spied on so much lately that she couldn’t be too careful.

“Mencia and I have been working all day, but it’s hard to know what you might need and what we can leave behind. Besides, she and I still need to pack, too. We should be ready in a couple of days.”

Ysabel nodded thoughtfully. She could only hope and pray that a couple days wasn’t all Enrique’s allies needed to imprison her as Pedro de Velasco had threatened the night before. “Have you heard from Archbishop Carrillo yet?”

Beatriz, her long, dark hair in a braid down her back, set the candleabra on a table in the middle of the room. Its warm glow illuminated two nearly-full wooden crates beside it. “No, but I don’t expect to hear anything until tomorrow. The messenger left a little before sunrise this morning, and it was a seven mile ride for him to reach Carrillo.”

“I know,” Ysabel admitted. “But I still hoped that somehow, God would have provided a miracle.

Beatriz smiled gently, her warm brown eyes fixed on Ysabel. “He still can and will. It just probably won’t come today.”

Another knock sounded on the door. The girls exchanged glances and Beatriz covered the crates with a blanket and sat on the one closest to the door. “Enter,” Ysabel called. A lady-in-waiting entered and closed the door behind her. It was Mencia de la Torre. Next to Beatriz, she was Ysabel’s closest friend and the only other person in the town of Ocaña who knew of Ysabel’s plan to escape. The princess released her breath, unaware that she had even been holding it. She glanced over at Beatriz, noticing that her friend looked just as relieved. “Mencia, welcome. Do you have any news?”

Dropping into a low curtsy, she said, “I do, princess. There are a couple men here to see you. They say they have a message for you from Archbishop Carrillo.”

Ysabel blinked and glanced at Beatriz. The older girl shook her head, a wide smile on her face. “Almighty God works in mysterious ways,” Beatriz said. “Go see what they want. Mencia and I will continue packing.”

Ysabel smiled and looked at Mencia. “They’re in my receiving room?” The brunette nodded. Ysabel brushed past her to the corridor beyond.

As soon as Ysabel entered the receiving room, the two men stood and bowed. Despite their elderly appearance, Ysabel had no doubt that these men were formidable under the right circumstances. Otherwise, Carrillo wouldn’t have sent them. “Good evening, sirs. Forgive my brisk manners, but I fear the reason that brought you here is urgent. You have a message for me from the Archbishop?”

“I’m afraid so, highness,” the man on the left said. Ysabel regarded him carefully. His thin face, sharp dark eyes, and Grecian nose reminded her of  Carrillo. This man’s hair, however, was just as brown as Carrillo’s was silver. “I am Luis de Acuña, the Bishop of Burgos. My brother is your highness’ patron, Archbishop Carrillo. This is the Count of Cifuentes, Juan de Silva. Archbishop Carrillo believes that it’s too dangerous for you to remain so close to the court. If it please your highness, we will take you to Madrigal, where we know you will be safe.”

Ysabel shook her head. “I cannot. My trousseau isn’t packed yet and I have two women who are to come with me on the journey. They have not even begun to pack because they have been helping me. However, they assure me that they will be ready–“

“Princess Ysabel,” Silva interrupted, “I’m afraid you don’t understand. King Enrique formed a pact with the Mendoza clan to watch you. Unless you leave tonight, you will be surrounded by spies who will report to the king. They even have orders to imprison you if you try to escape or to connect with Prince Ferdinand at all.”

Ysabel felt the blood drain from her face. The Mendozas literally owned Ocaña. If they were in Enrique’s pay… She took a deep breath. “If this is so, then is there any use in leaving, even now?”

“Tonight is your only chance,” Acuña replied. “Pedro and Diego Mendozas are feasting in town tonight and will not be aware of your absence until we are too far away for them to do anything about it. Come with us now and one of us will come back for your ladies-in-waiting by the end of the week.”

Ysabel dropped her eyes as she thought. On the one hand, leaving was risky. There was no way that she could be sure that there was no spy on the other side of the door or that they wouldn’t be followed. On the other hand, Acuña and Silva were right that this would  probably be the last time she could leave Ocaña as an independent woman. She squared her shoulders and looked back at the men. “Prepare the horses. I will meet you in the stables in half an hour.”


8 August, 1469 • Madrigal Castle

“Wine, your grace?” Mencia asked behind Ysabel, who took the proffered goblet with a smile. After swirling it, she inhaled the rich aroma and took a sip. “Tempranillo, yes?”

“Yes. Lord Gutierre de Cárdenas sends it with his well wishes.” Ysabel took another sip, savoring the smooth, cherry and earthen flavors. She looked down from the balustrade over the wheat fields surrounding the town. “You seem at peace,” Mencia observed. “Madrigal agrees with you.”

Ysabel fingered the goblet in her hands, her eyes drifting to the road and following it to the horizon. “Perhaps,” she replied. But nonetheless worried. In the five months since she had escaped Ocaña, she had only heard from Carrillo once, and that was to say that Ambassador Alonso de Palencia had gone to Aragon to procure her dowry. That had been nearly a month ago, and Ysabel still hadn’t heard if he returned successfully. She shook her head to banish the concern. Of course he’ll return soon, and Carrillo will send word or come himself immediately. She smiled at Mencia. “It certainly is better than being watched by Enrique’s and Pacheco’s spies at Ocaña!”

“Oh! Have you heard the news from Andalusia?” Mencia asked, her blue-black eyes sparkling smugly.

Ysabel shook her head. Whatever it is, it must be good! “A messenger arrived from there today?”

Mencia nodded. “Lord Gutierre is meeting with him right now behind closed doors. His general report, though, is spreading like fire through the palace. Enrique has had nothing but trouble settling the province. The people there must be flowing with good sense–they want you as queen, and still hope that you’ll try to claim the crown now. Many towns are so hostile to him that they’ve refused to let him enter! Currently, he’s in Córdoba, but there’s so much rioting that King Enrique can’t leave!”

Ysabel shook her head, but she couldn’t hide her smile. “It’s good to know that I still have the support of the people, even if Castile is divided in their loyalty.”

“But that’s not all. Enrique is realizing that Pacheco’s presence is making matters worse. Most of the province is turning out violently against him, and Constable Miguel Lucas de Iranzo refused to let Pacheco enter Jaén at all!”

Ysabel drank again. “If I were queen, I would reward Andalusia for all this. But why is Lord Gutierre meeting with the messenger in secret?” She looked back at the road and squinted. In the distance, something metallic glittered. Could it be a caravan?

“No one knows, but they’ve been talking for ages. I’m sure that Gutierre will call you into counsel as soon as they’re finished.”

Ysabel finished the glass of wine, and squinted at the road. “Mencia, look,” she gestured. “Do you see that?”

Mencia walked up to the railing and leaned over it slightly. “Are those helmets and shields?”

Ysabel smiled. “I think so. It must be Carrillo! Help me dress so I can greet them as soon as they arrive. Lord Gutierre can wait until after I have received my dowry!”


Ysabel paced between her bed and the door, wearing her best brocade, a blue-grey that accented her eyes. Her dark blonde curls were pulled up into a white headdress. She glanced at the window, but didn’t bother looking down into the courtyard, despite the sounds of horses and men. If only I had a more central suite! I can’t see anything important from here!

“Princess, please, slow down,” Mencia said from a chair in the corner where she was embroidering. “You won’t get them here any faster!”

Ysabel stopped and took a deep breath. “You’re right, of course. But I can’t seem to set my mind to anything else. Once I have the money and jewels, I can announce my engagement. I’ve already drafted a letter to Enrique telling him why I’ve chosen Ferdinand and asking for his blessing. All I need is assurance that Ferdinand will keep his promises!”

Her forehead creased. She had heard that the young Prince already had a couple of illegitimate children. What if he had found someone in Aragon who was more attractive than she? She swallowed and lifted her chin. Of course, that wasn’t the case! Ferdinand had signed the marriage contract, which was just as legally binding on him as it was on her. They would be married!

A knock resounded on Ysabel’s door. She took a deep breath to calm herself, then commanded, “Enter.” Beatriz slunk into the room, her forehead wrinkled and shoulders stooped. Ysabel’s heart sank into her fur slippers. “Beatriz? What’s wrong? Does Carrillo not have the gold or the necklace?”

Beatriz shook her head. Her mouth opened, then she closed it again. She gulped and tried again. “It’s not Carrillo.”

Ysabel’s jaw dropped. “It’s not?” She glanced at Mencia, whose needle was poised in air and was staring at Beatriz, eyes wide. Ysabel turned back to Beatriz. “Then who is it?” Beatriz shook her head and took a deep breath. She released it slowly. Ysabel pursed her lips. What could possibly be worse than Carrillo’s absence? She still hasn’t looked at me… Ysabel realized. Her throat constricted at the suspense. “Beatriz?” She gasped, “Who has arrived?”

Beatriz licked her lips. “His name is Jean Jouffroy, Bishop of Arras. He’s… an ambassador from King Louis of France.”

Ysabel reeled, clutching her stomach as though someone had just hit her. “But I haven’t been in contact with France! He– who?” Her thoughts rolled around like a leaf in the wind. Who could have told Louis that I’m here? And why? Has he told Enrique where I am? “What does this Jouffroy want?”

“He has been… That is to say… Apparently…  He’s spoke to… Well…”

“Beatriz!” Ysabel reprimanded.

Finally, Beatriz raised her eyes to Ysabel. She took a deep breath and said, “He’s come from Córdoba. From Enrique. He urged the Bishop to come… here, to Madrigal… on his way back to France… He wants to convince you to… marry King Louis’ brother, Charles of Berry.”

“From Enrique?” Ysabel gasped. “Enrique sent him here? He knows where I am?”

Beatriz nodded. “Jouffroy wishes to meet with you immediately. He’s in the hall, enjoying Duke Pedro’s hospitality while he waits for you.”

Ysabel sat on her bed, trying to process Beatriz’ information. If Enrique knew exactly where she was, then she had a spy–or perhaps several spies–in her little court here. Is he in Enrique’s pay or Pacheco’s? More importantly, who is he? Ysabel took a deep breath and stood. “Well, then, I guess I shouldn’t keep the Bishop of Arras waiting.”


Before the door of the great hall, Ysabel stopped and took a deep breath. “Oh God, please give me wisdom through this interview. Show me how to thwart Enrique again, according to Your will and justice, amen,” She, whispered, crossing herself. With that, she squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, and entered the hall.

At a table to her left, an old man sat surrounded by several plates of cold meat, bread, fruit, and cheeses. Ysabel cleared her throat and the man looked up at her appraisingly. When he recognized her, he rose and bowed. “Ah, Princess Ysabel. I am very pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Ysabel smiled and held out her hand for him to kiss. “The pleasure is mine, Bishop. Please be seated. There’s no need to stand on ceremony just now.” Ysabel waited until Jouffroy sat, then she joined him at the table, seating herself across from him, and folded her hands on the table. “I understand that you just came from my brother, God save him. Tell me, how is he?”

“Well, highness. Mightily frustrated with the Andalusians, but nonetheless doing well.” Jouffroy finished a leg of mutton then pushed back the plate. “If your highness would permit me, I would like to speak to you of a young man of my acquaintance, Duke Charles of Berry. King Enrique and King Louis are both anxious to renew the friendship between Castile and France for another generation. Of course, the best way to go about that is by marriage.”

Ysabel nodded politely.

“Granted, King Louis is aware of other suitors for your highness’ lovely hand in marriage,” Ysabel grimaced and moved her hands from their folded position on the table to her lap. “But my sovereign is convinced that Charles is the perfect match for you.”

Ysabel smiled. Oh, my dear brother, this is quite a game you’ve chosen to play. I guarantee you, however, that two can play as well as one. “Oh, good bishop?” she replied gracefully, trying to appear intrigued. “How so?”

“Well, consider the other two options. King Alfonso of Portugal is a widower. If you marry him, you’ll have stepchildren older than yourself! As I recall, your mother had the same situation, and it reeked havoc on her life at court and in her marriage.” Ysabel nodded. Between the early death of her father and the strain Enrique had put on Ysabel’s mother, the dowager queen had been driven to insanity. “The other option is, of course, Ferdinand of Aragon. A nice young man, to be sure, but he is nonetheless the son of your father’s archenemy. If he were alive, do you think your father would approve of the match?”

“No, he probably wouldn’t,” Ysabel conceded. “So tell me, why is the Duke of Berry a better choice?”

The Bishop’s eyebrows raised to his hairline. “Why, good princess? France and Castile have an ancient friendship. It would be a sorry thing indeed if that friendship expired for lack of marital unity between our nations. Besides, Enrique has already promised to betroth you to him.”

Ysabel glanced down at her hands to hide her irritation. He’s promised me again? He has no right! When Ysabel was sure her face was controlled, she looked back at the Bishop. “You bring several strong points to my attention, Jouffroy. Please, tell me about Cha–I mean, the Duke of Berry.”

Jouffroy smiled coyly. Ysabel refused to smile back. The near slip of the Duke’s name had been purposeful, to make Jouffroy think she was favorably disposed. Her true thoughts, however, was something she would keep to herself. “He’s an affable sort of man, princess. He’s admired in the court of France, and well-versed in common law.”

“Handsome? Healthy?” Ysabel questioned.

Jouffroy was suddenly very interested in his wine goblet. “He is also very interested in your highness. Stories of your great wisdom in reuniting with King Enrique has reached as far as Paris. Reports of your grace and beauty have traveled there, as well.” He paused for a moment and studied Ysabel’s face until she dropped her gaze. “Certainly, a woman wise enough to submit to her brother would consent to his desires in her marriage. Or have I greatly mistaken your character?”

Ysabel swallowed, wondering how best to answer. “Good bishop, I would enjoy giving you a straight answer. Truly, I would. But such matters cannot be left in my hands alone. In Castile, we have a ruling body of nobles, the Cortes.” She frowned, hoping the Bishop read a desire for the Duke of Berry in it. Then she shrugged and looked pitifully up at Jouffroy. “Any decision in this matter must be approved by them, or I risk their grave displeasure. My brother’s actions have shown that to disregard the Cortes is to risk civil war. That is a consequence I must avoid at all cost. Would it please King Louis to wait until I can first seek the counsel of the nobles of the land? If you will give me the name of the place where you can be reached, I will be sure to notify you immediately after I have spoken with them. By the grace of God, the Cortes will come to a speedy and beneficial conclusion.”

Jouffroy drew himself up, his face slack. Then, his features widened in a grin. “Why, princess…” he spluttered. “I am sure that his highness, King Louis, would be more than happy to agree to those terms.” He reached down and pulled a saddlebag onto the table. “From what your illustrious brother said, I was expecting to be sitting in counsel with you the space of seven days before obtaining your assent, and that unwillingly!”

Ysabel’s smile was tight. “Unfortunately, the many arguments between us has rendered my brother unable to see my strengths.”

Jouffroy produced a quill and inkwell and scribbled something on a piece of parchment. “I should say so!” He handed the parchment to her. “Here is my address, both in Arras and in Paris. If it would please your highness to send a message to both locations, I would be most obliged.”

He replaced the quill and ink in the saddlebag, then rose from his chair. Bowing to her, he said, “It was certainly a pleasure meeting you. But, I must go and freshen up if I am to be ready for dinner tonight.”

Ysabel rose and curtsied. “I look forward to seeing you again soon, Bishop Jouffroy.” With that, the bishop left.

As soon as the door closed behind him, she crumpled the paper and threw it into a fireplace nearby, watching the flames lick the paper until it was completely unrecognizable as anything other than ash.


“Princess Ysabel!” Lord Gutierre de Cárdenas hailed her as she left the hall a few minutes later.

“Lord Gutierre!” She smiled at him warmly as he bowed to her. “I was hoping to see you today. Thank you for the wine you sent me a few hours ago.”

“Hmm? Oh, of course, yes.” Gutierre mopped his forehead, his receding hairline flattening under his hand. “Your grace, I must speak with you about some urgent business that came from the south this morning.”

Ysabel snapped to attention. “You mean the messenger from Córdoba?”

“Aye. He brought with him a letter from Enrique that you must see.”


The parchment crinkled in Beatriz hand as she finished reading the letter. “Enrique has promised to punish Madrigal if you marry Ferdinand?”

Ysabel nodded solemnly. “I’m afraid so.”

Mencia crossed the room and took the parchment from Beatriz. The look on her face was calm acceptance, not surprise. Ysabel squinted at her. Had she known this was coming? Mencia glanced over the sheet as she asked, “Does it say what kind of punishment?”

Beatriz shook her head. “All it says is that he will be harsh.”

Ysabel sighed. “Let’s be honest though. He will probably give siege and then raze it to the ground. Lord Gutierre wants to stand with me, but he fears for his people.”

Mencia looked up. “Rightfully so! Think of all the women and children here! Also, many of the elders of the town fought in the civil wars that made it possible for you to come to the throne.”

Ysabel nodded. “I know.”

Mencia set the parchment down on the bed and crossed her arms. For a long moment, they stood there while Mencia stared at the floor and blinked. Finally, she sighed and made eye contact with Ysabel. “May I take a liberty, my princess?” Ysabel clenched her teeth, but nodded. “We have been friends long enough that I have learned how compassionate your heart is and how determined you are to do what is right, even when it is hard.” She paused again, casting a troubled look at the ground. “Are you sure, my lady, that you should marry Ferdinand? At this point, it would be easy to return to Enrique and marry the Duke of Berry, and you would spare hundreds of lives here in Madrigal.”

Ysabel stiffened. Is Pacheco’s spy a her, not a him? She would make a perfect option. She was close with Ysabel and had access to much that others would have to obtain by stealth and luck. Also, she had been added to her court only after Ysabel had been with Enrique for several months. Ysabel glanced at Beatriz. Her friend wore a worried expression, staring at the ground.

Slowly, Ysabel nodded. “Yes, I am sure. In the eyes of the church and God, Ferdinand and I are wed in all but name. I cannot and I will not back out now.” Beatriz and Mencia both nodded solemnly. “However, I cannot promise your safety if you remain with me. I will speak to Lord Gutierre about moving you to the convent of Coca tonight.”

Beatriz and Mencia exchanged glances then rushed over to her. “My princess! You need us!” Mencia cried.

“She’s right! You’ll be surrounded by strangers, otherwise,” Beatriz agreed.

Tears rushed to Ysabel’s eyes. These two women had been her greatest comfort, but she couldn’t bear for them to be in harm’s way unnecessarily, nor could she allow a possible spy to remain in her presence. She blinked the tears away. “Yes, but it’s more important to me that you are both alive to serve me. I have no doubt that Enrique would make short, painful work of you if he caught you.” Mencia, tears streaming down her face, hugged Ysabel and ran from the room.

Ysabel turned to Beatriz and pulled her into a hug, too. “Be careful. And watch Mencia. If she does anything strange, notify me.” Ysabel pulled away and left the room.


12 August, 1469 • Madrigal Castle

Ysabel opened her eyes, staring at the canopy above her bed. Four days. Four long days without Beatriz and Mencia. At this point, I would welcome either one of them, spy or no! Slowly, she pushed the covers away and walked over to her window. Before it, on a table, sat a platter with a sliced peach, dried sugared dates, and some brie cheese. A goblet of wine sat beside it.

Absently, Ysabel took a slice of the peach and chewed it thoughtfully. as she looked out the window at the corner of the courtyard. Even what she could see was bustling with activity. Servants talked quietly and carried loads in and out of the servants’ entrances before her. The sounds of carts rumbled around the courtyard and a horseman reigned in below her, jumping off his steed and rushing into the castle.

Ysabel sighed and took a sip of the wine. In the last four days, the castle had become increasingly quiet and tense as people heard about Enrique’s letter. Lord Gutierre had been in counsel with his advisers every afternoon, but hadn’t told her of the decisions they had made. “Oh God,” she whispered into the fresh morning air, “help me.”

She set down the goblet and put a sugared date in her mouth. Chewing it, she walked to the bell rope in the corner of the room and pulled it. Morning prayers would be soon, and Ysabel was anxious to be there. The door opened and a slight, narrow-faced servant entered and curtsied. “Good morning, Princess Ysabel. Ready to be dressed?”

“Yes, Ana. The blue woolen tunic and cloth of gold tunic.”

Over the next half-hour, Ana carefully dressed Ysabel, braiding her hair and tucking it under the Princess’ headdress. When she left, Ysabel stood from her bench and returned to the window. The town clock tower had not yet sounded for morning prayers, so she still had a few minutes before she had to leave for it. Besides, the questions that had been disturbing her since she read Enrique’s letter to Lord Gutierre crowded her mind again. Certainly by now, Palencia would have returned from Aragon and united with Carrillo. Why haven’t I been contacted? Had Palencia been waylaid by highwaymen or been caught by Enrique’s spies? What had become of the 20,000 florins he carried and the necklace King Juan promised?

Ysabel sighed, wishing she could set aside her worries. She needed both the money and the jewels. 20,000 florins would reward her worried allies and support her until she could reconcile with King Enrique. The necklace itself was worth a fortune, valued at 40,000 florins, and would show the nation that she would marry Ferdinand and Enrique could do nothing about it.

The door banged open, and Ana again appeared, out of breath and clutching her stomach. “I–just–heard. A–messenger–from–Archbishop–Carrillo.” She gasped. “News–from–Aragon.”

Ysabel jumped to her feet. “Where?”

Ana inhaled deeply. “Great hall.”

Ysabel didn’t wait to hear any more, but ran past the gasping servant, through her solar, and into the corridor beyond. When she reached the great hall door, Ysabel took a deep breath and checked her dress. Spotless and regal. She squared her shoulders and threw open the door.

There were several men standing around talking. One was Lord Gutierre, speaking to a man in dusty traveling clothes. As soon as she entered, all conversation stopped as the men bowed to her. “My lords,” Ysabel said quietly, hoping her tone belied her nervousness. “My servant has just informed me that a messenger has come with news.”

“Yes, your highness. In fact, I was about to notify you myself,” Lord Gutierre said. He gestured to the dusty man before him. “This is Rodrigo del Oyo.”

Ysabel inclined her head and waited for him to deliver his message. Rodrigo approached her and bowed low. “My princess, Archbishop sends you his and your lord, Prince Ferdinand’s greetings.” Ysabel’s heart thrilled at the words. Palencia had returned safely! “His highness, King Juan commends your brave escape from Ocaña and has sent you gifts, as promised.”

He pulled out a leather pouch and handed it to Ysabel, who accepted it with shaking hands. Inside the pouch was a handkerchief-wrapped lump, and thousands of gold coins. “God be praised,” Ysabel whispered, reaching for the lump.

“There are only 8,000 florins in there,” Rodrigo continued.

Ysabel’s hand froze and she stared at the messenger. “Only 8,000?”

He shifted from one foot to the other. “Archbishop Carrillo sends that much with his blessing, and bade me tell you that he will hold the rest for you until they are needed.

Ysabel nodded and grabbed the lump, amazed at how much it weighed. Setting down the leather pack, she opened the handkerchief. The chain was made of sturdy, heavy gold and held two golden pendants, one above the other, connected by gold links. The smaller, diamond-shaped pendant on top had a large ruby in the middle of it surrounded by pure white pearls. The larger pendant was in the shape of an oval flower and filled her palm. The ruby in the middle of it was larger than any Ysabel had ever seen, and was circled by consecutive rings of pearls and tiny rubies. Hanging off the bottom of the larger pendant was a teardrop pearl as large as her thumbnail.

Beautiful, she thought. Suddenly realizing her mouth was hanging open, she closed it quietly. Slowly, she moved to drape it around her shoulders. “Your highness may want to wait to wear that,” Lord Gutierre calmly advised. “I’m sure that Marquis Pacheco has spies here. If he hears of you wearing this necklace–“

Ysabel shook her head, arranging the pendants so they rested over her heart. “No, Lord Gutierre. I will wear these today. It would do Juan Pacheco good to hear of my alliance with Aragon.”

Lord Gutierre sighed. “As you wish, princess.”

Ysabel turned her attention back to Rodrigo. “And where is Archbishop Carrillo?”

“He’s coming with Alonso Enríquez, Prince Ferdinand’s uncle. Together, they have an army of 500 men, ready to serve you. He wanted me to come ahead so that you could be left in suspense as little as possible. Also, he wants to take you to his own province.”

Ysabel raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Why is that?”

“He is nervous that your highness is in danger here. You’ve been here long enough that King Enrique and Marquis Pacheco could have learned of your whereabouts. He desires to keep your highness’ enemies guessing. Also, he believes he can furnish you with better protection there.”

Ysabel nodded. Carrillo was right on all counts, of course. “Very well. Lord Gutierre, I assume there will be a feast tonight to celebrate our guests?”

“Yes. I’ve already notified the kitchens.”

“Excellent. Since this house isn’t large enough for all of us, I and my maids can stay in the convent in town until we leave.”


13 August, 1469 • Madrigal Convent

Ysabel returned to her rooms from the morning service at the convent feeling rejuvenated. Again, she wore the pearl and ruby necklace, proudly fingering it as she stepped down the stone corridor. Thoughts of Ferdinand ran through her head. Palencia, after one of his first trips to Aragon months ago, had described Ferdinand as energetic and athletic. He had dark, straight hair and friendly, intelligent brown eyes. A smile was never far from the young Prince’s lips. Ysabel found herself looking forward to the day that that smile would be turned on her. Lord willing, that day would be soon.

From a side hallway, a nun approached her and curtsied. “Begging your pardon, your grace, but a bishop is here to see you. He said that he came from the castle and was a part of Archbishop Carrillo’s entourage last night. He’s in the receiving room down the hall. I can take you to him, should it please your highness.”

Ysabel nodded and turned to follow the woman. In the receiving room, Bishop Luis de Acuña stood and bowed when they entered. Ysabel extended her hand to him amicably. “Why, Bishop de Acuña, what a surprise.” As the Bishop kissed her hand, the nun quietly excused herself and closed the door behind.

“Pardon the liberty, my princess, but there’s an urgent matter on my mind that concerns you.”

Ysabel raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“Princess, it was told to me last night that my illustrious brother Archbishop Carrillo plans to take you into his lands within the next couple of days. Is this so?”

Ysabel nodded. “Yes indeed. He is concerned that Enrique and Pacheco may know where I am. I have recently become concerned about spies myself, and quite agree with him. As soon as possible, therefore, I will be leaving with him for safer quarters.”

Bishop de Acuña shook his head. “Your highness, even if Enrique and Pacheco know where you are, what can they do about it? You have left Ocaña, and Madrigal is loyal to you. Certainly you are safe here. Besides, the plague has again broken out in the country. For you to move now would put you at risk. You are much better off here, among friends.”

Ysabel shook her head. “Too much has happened recently for me to agree with you. I appreciate your concern, Bishop, but I am resolute and I trust Archbishop Carrillo’s judgment.”

“Princess, please, I beg of you–“

Ysabel shook her head more vigorously. “I will not stay here. And I dare say that you shouldn’t either.” She gestured to the door.

Bishop de Acuña’s shoulders slumped. “As you wish, your highness.” With that, he left.

Ysabel waited a few minutes, then followed the Bishop outside. She, however, ducked into the walled kitchen garden. It was a lovely, peaceful spot, an orchard growing along the outer wall and raised garden boxes in the middle. She approached an apricot tree and plucked the pale orange fruit. As she bit into it, she heard an odd cacophony coming from the town, sounding like trumpets and drums. She listened closely as she ate her snack. Is it coming this way?

She tossed the pit onto the ground and walked to the gate. The sight that met her eyes was enough to take her breath away. Hundreds of soldiers marched toward her, surrounding Archbishop Carrillo, Alonso Enríquez, and a spare mule. Civilians followed them, playing their instruments. Shouts rose above the noise. “God save Princess Ysabel!” “King Ferdinand and Aragon!” “Hurrah for the Princess!”

Ysabel watched in wonder. As soon as Carrillo pulled up to the gate, she shouted at him, “Carrillo! What is all this about?”

“There’s a band of 400 men approaching the city under Alfonso de Fonseca to capture you. We must fly now!”

“But these people! The fighting!” Images swept past Ysabel’s mind’s eye: all these people running from the soldiers, the elderly and very young being trampled, houses burned, lives destroyed– because of her. Why are they celebrating?

Carrillo motioned behind him. “They won’t be harmed,” he yelled. Ysabel turned to see Bishop de Acuña being ushered towards them by one of Lord Gutierre’s soldiers. A gash on his forehead flowed with blood and his nose was also bleeding, swollen to twice the size it had been not even an hour before. He refused to meet her eyes.

Ysabel blinked and looked back at Carrillo. She glanced down at his hand and noticed that his knuckles were bleeding. “What’s the meaning of this, Carrillo?”

“He’s been spying on you, Ysabel,” Carrillo shouted. “Sending reports down to Pacheco in Andalusia. He’s even employed some in the castle to watch you.”

Ysabel’s head snapped to look at de Acuña, motioning for the soldiers to bring him closer. “Look at me,” she commanded him. Slowly, he did. “Was Mencia de la Torre one of them?”

Bishop de Acuña shook his head. “No, your highness. She is too loyal to you to turn to King Enrique.”

Ysabel’s heart thrilled at his reply. Mencia is innocent! She turned back to Carrillo. “What do you recommend?”

Carrillo spared his brother a pitiless glance. “These soldiers have agreed to accompany him out to greet Alfonso de Fonseca. Either he persuades them to turn back and save the town without spilling a drop of Castilian blood or these fine caballeros have permission to use him for sword practice.”

Bishop de Acuña looked up at Carrillo, fear etched on his face. Ysabel’s heart went out to him, but she steeled her nerves. She was so tired of being reported to her enemies. If nothing else, this would send a message to them. Looking at the soldiers who still maintained an iron grip on the Bishop, she nodded. “Do it,” she ordered. With that, they turned and walked out of the crowd, the townspeople hissing and yelling insults as they passed.

“Now, Princess,” Carrillo said to her, “We must leave now or else all is lost!”

Ysabel mounted the riderless mule and waved at the people as the soldiers surrounded them, smiling like the queen she was destined to be. With that, they rode south, away from the Convent of Madrigal.

Click here for part 6.


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Author’s Note

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).

Ysabel’s servant, Ana, is a fictional character. However, the role she filled in this story finds its basis in historical fact and medieval culture.


For Further Exploration


Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen by Nancy Rubin

Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey

Isabella the Queen: Life and Times by Peggy K. Liss

Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan by Hugh Thomas

Articles and Websites

Metropolitan Archdiocese of Burgos by GCatholic.org

Toro Wine Region by cellartours.com

Tempranillo  by winefolly.com


Jean Jouffroy by Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)

Spanish names from the late 15th century by the Academy of St. Gabriel

 Gutierre de Cardenas by ABC.es

Fruits by Season in Spain by fruitinfo.com


3 thoughts on “Ferdinand & Isabella, pt 5: The Spy

  1. Poor Ysabel! You do such a good job of showing how much pressure she feels. From your vivid descriptions, and her thought-lines, it’s so easy to relate to her fears and insecurities, but also her joys and hopes.
    Can’t wait to see what happens next 🙂


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