Queen Isabella the Catholic – Irresistible to the Good and Terrifying to the Wicked

March 5, 2020

Painting of Isabella the Catholic at the University of Notre Dame, with two captions hanging on the painting. Isabella the Catholic, Protectress of Columbus. And the second one: Presented by Very Rev. E. Sorin, C.S.C., Founder of N.D.U.

At a critical moment the Catholic Jew governor decided for her, and on Saint Lucy’s day she rode on a white palfrey, with Cabrera on one side of her and the Archbishop on the other, to a platform on the Plaza Mayor, where the great crown of San Fernando was placed upon her fair auburn hair, and the Governor knelt to give her the keys of the Alcázar where the treasure of Castile was stored. . . .

Isabel was then twenty-three, shapely and vigorous (a great horsewoman), with fair skin and blue eyes, flecked with green and gold. From her earliest days, even amid the corruptions of the court of El Impotente, she had kept an integrity and innocence, which made her irresistible to the good and terrifying to the wicked. Fearing nothing but God, she had passed miraculously, as it seemed, through many dangers; she was like one set apart and anointed for a great mission. Only such, in fact, could even hope to face the enormous task that lay ahead. Portugal was about to declare war against her on behalf of la Beltraneja, niece of the fat Alfonso V.

There was no army in Castile worthy of the name. Robber barons and marauders fought private wars, preyed on the poor, looted and burned at will. Feuds, racial and personal, raged in several of the larger cities. Money was scarce, but famine and pestilence were everywhere. The Moslems still held rich Granada in the south, and might at any time, with reinforcements from Africa, carry fire and sword, as in the eighth century, over the whole peninsula. The times cried out for some strong man of genius, a San Fernando, to bring back peace and order. What could a woman do? Yet there was something in this woman that made men believe in her.

William Thomas Walsh, Characters of the Inquisition (Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books and Publishers, 1987), 134.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 716

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