Isabella of Castile was not in the line-up to be queen – after all, it looked far more likely that her brother or her niece would ascend to the throne. When destiny called, however, Isabella became Europe’s first great queen and female global leader, bringing disruption to the fifteenth-century world.
Her dream of an ecumenical Christianity led her not only to achieve the unification of Spain with the conquest of the kingdom of Granada, but also to pursue the discovery of America, in the firm belief that it was her mission.
In her relatively short life she managed to establish herself and her authority against all odds, assuming challenges and responsibilities that few women had faced before then.
Described by her contemporaries as cultivated, intelligent and kind, she pursued her dream of a global Spanish empire that would eventually lead Columbus to the discovery of America, changing, maybe for ever, the role of female heads of state in international politics. She was an entrepreneurial leader and a strategic risk-taker who leveraged opportunities to the full.
“I will assume the undertaking for my own crown of Castile, and am ready to pawn my jewels to defray the expenses of it, if the funds in the treasury should be found inadequate.” This sentence summarizes the spirit of a woman who assumed as motto for her kingdom the famous sentence, visible in the royal arms “tanto monta, monta tanto”.
Though popularly believed to refer to the equal share of power between Isabel and her husband, Fernando of Aragón, it actually refers to a much more interesting anecdote: in one of the many accounts of the life of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian Emperor of Antiquity who conquered the world, Alexander is challenged to untie the Gordian Knot. Resolutely, Alexander took his sword and cut it in two, untying it. “Tanto monta, monta tanto, cortar como deshacer” said Alexander in the Spanish version, and this is the sentence adopted by Isabella as her motto: it is the ends that matter, not the means.
It is true, however, that Isabella was queen, entrepreneur, mother and wife with equal passion, and that in the premarital agreements signed with Fernando she protected her independence and safeguarded her independence in her kingdom of Castille: she was not a queen consort, nor a virgin queen, not a widowed regent, but rather a determined, kind (hers is the idea of creating the first campaign hospitals during the conquest of Granada) and extremely powerful women whose determination changed forever the maps and the form of the world.
This article has been written by Susana Torres and María Eugenia Marín.