The education Queen Isabel gave her daughters

August 1, 2013

Queen Isabella of Castile

Queen Isabella of Castile

Two other Italians of note at that time in the world of scholarship, Antonio and Alessandro Geraldino, were appointed as tutors to the young princesses; and from their instructions Isabel’s daughters emerged fitting contemporaries of the famous D’Este sisters of Ferrara. It is said that Joanna, the second of the Castilian Infantas, astonished the Flemish Court by immediately replying to the Latin oration of some learned scholar in the same tongue; while the youngest, Catherine [of Aragon], won from the great Erasmus the comment, whether intended or otherwise, that she was “egregiously learned.”

Joanna of Castile

Joanna of Castile

Castilian chroniclers, when recording with pride the intelligence and learning of Isabel and her daughters, make a point of showing that such ability did not entirely quench more feminine tastes. The Queen’s visits to the unruly convents of her kingdom in company with her needle and her spinning wheel have been already mentioned; and altar-cloths that she and her ladies worked for the new Cathedral of Granada, and the other churches and religious houses founded during her reign. That her share in such employment was no mere occasional stitch we may perhaps assume when we learn from Father Flores that “her husband never wore a shirt she herself had not woven and worked.” Ferdinand’s chivalry was hardly of the type that would suffer rough or badly-fitting clothes for sentimental reasons.

Painting of Catherine of Aragon by Michael Sittow

Painting of Catherine of Aragon by Michael Sittow

“With such a mother,” adds Flores, “the daughters could hardly be idle. They learned to sew, to spin, and to embroider.”

Well brought-up medieval princesses, indeed, could have little in common with the daughters of kings in fairy tale romances, condemned to luxurious sloth in high-walled gardens or battlemented towers. From their earliest days they must prepare to play their part in the future destiny of the nation….

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Ierne L. Plunket, Isabel of Castile and the Making of the Spanish Nation: 1451-1504 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915), 333-35.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 304

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