Isabella the Catholic: majestic and saintly even in death

October 18, 2012

Isabella the Catholic, Queen regnant of Castile. Painting by Antonio del Rincón

The health of Isabella had long been undermined by the shocks of repeated domestic calamities. The death of her only son, the Prince Juan; of her beloved daughter and bosom friend, the Princess Isabella; and of her grandson and prospective heir, the Prince Miguel, had been three cruel wounds to a heart full of the tenderest sensibility. To these was added the constant grief caused by the evident infirmity of intellect of her daughter Juana, and the domestic unhappiness of that princess with her husband, the archduke Philip. The desolation which walks through palaces admits not the familiar sympathies and sweet consolations which alleviate the sorrows of common life. Isabella pined in state, amid the obsequious homages of a court, surrounded by the trophies of a glorious and successful reign, and placed at the summit of earthly grandeur.

The testament of Queen Isabella the Catholic. Painted by Eduardo Rosales

A deep and incurable melancholy settled upon her, which undermined her constitution, and gave a fatal acuteness to her bodily maladies. After four months of illness she died, on the 26th of November, 1504, at Medina del Campo, in the fifty-fourth year of her age; but long before her eyes closed upon the world her heart had closed on all its pomps and vanities. “Let my body,” said she in her will, “be interred in the monastery of San Francisco, which is in the Alhambra of the city of Granada, in a low sepulcher, without any monument except a plain stone, with the inscription cut on it. But I desire and command that if the king, my lord, should choose a sepulcher in any church or monastery in any part of place of these my kingdoms, my body be transported thither and buried beside the body of his Highness; so that the union we have enjoyed while living, and which, through the mercy of God, we hope our souls will experience in Heaven, may be represented by our bodies in the earth.”

Such was one of several passages in the will of this admirable woman, which bespoke the chastened humility of her heart; and in which, as has been well observed, the affections of conjugal love were delicately entwined with piety, and with the most tender melancholy. She was one of the purest spirits that ever ruled over the destinies of a nation.

Will of Isabel I, Queen of Castile, with her signature.

Washington Irving, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (New York: The Co-operative Publication Society, Inc., n.d.), Part Two, pp. 175-177.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 222


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