Isabella became convinced that only she could save Spain, and since the Muslims had tipped their hands by refusing to continue paying tributes to Granada, their last redoubt in Spain, Isabella shored up her defenses, and instead of waiting for the other shoe to fall, attacked first. She sent troops to Italy to help relieve Oranto. The Turks were surprised and driven back. And although she won her first test at war, it would take her 10 years to eject the Arabs from Granada finally freeing Spain from the 700-year Arab occupation.
With Spain's borders now relatively secure and the new status the queen had gained as a result of successes both domestically and globally, she now turned her interests to expanding her kingdom into an empire.
After stringing him on for 7 years, Isabella finally consented to finance Columbus' trip to America. And after 5 weeks he and about ninety ragtag sailors on three ships hit land. They went ashore and met a group of naked Indians, collected samples and left 30 of their shipmates on the Bahamas to set up a colony, Columbus then returned to Spain via Lisbon. When he belatedly arrived back in Seville, he was feted and honored by Isabella. In the process he made enough exaggerated claims to get her to finance three additional voyages. None of them would live up to the hype from the first trip. But there were subsequent ones sent further south, that did indeed bear fruit.
As noted in the first paragraph, the discovery of America was surely a joint enterprise between a very able seaman and his visionary sponsor, the Queen of Castile, who, once she had invested in Columbus' voyages, had the singular foresight and distinction to immediately recognize the importance of his discoveries. And then she stuck with her investment until it bore fruit. All others who set foot on the continent before Columbus, failed to see its value and thus failed to follow up their discovery with further investments and investigations. Isabella, on the other hand, stayed until the project was successful and her investment was safe.
And although, Columbus' incompetence as an administrator caused Isabella more than just a little heartburn (his crew mutinied several times due to his incompetence and cruelty, both to his crew and to the Indians), in the end, she rescued him from his failures and pushed him forward until he literally struck gold and brought about 1.5 billion dollars worth of it back to the treasury of Spain and to Europe -- and as well, brought millions of converts to the Catholic faith. But it all came about two decades after Isabella's death and at enormous human cost.
The Indians were completely decimated as a race, so much so in fact that they literally were replaced by an entire new race, one genetically resistant to the sexually transmitted diseases swapped back and forth between white men and Indian women. This new race was called mestizos. In addition to being resistant to sexually transmitted diseases, mestizos would become a race of orphans, of what Carlos Fuentes has called elsewhere "a race of bastards:" a whole race of children enslaved along with their mothers, by white fathers they would never know; children enslaved in perpetuity across the entire "New World." All done under the thin pretext of saving them and their lost souls, by christianizing and civilizing them.
As luck would have it, that same year 1492, Isabella's friend, Rodrigo Borgia, became only the second Spaniard elected Pope. As Pope Alexander VI, he became the most corrupt Pope ever. What distressed Isabella most about him was not just the way he bought his way into the papacy, but how this priest, who had made a covenant with God and the church, to remain celibate, blatantly flaunted and attempted to use his influence to advance the careers of his ten illegitimate children. He actually succeeded in installing most of them into the Vatican hierarchy. But despite his corrupt ways, Isabella stuck by him and he rewarded her lavishly by granting her title to half the earth through the Treaty of Tordesillas.
Catholicism for Isabella became a global ideological worldview, one that she saw as defending Spain through the Christian faith. Her final test of its authenticity rested on converts passing the trials of the inquisition, which for her, was deadly serious business. But in the hands of less scrupulous underlings, the inquisition quickly became corrupt. And even though she always retained a number of con-versos in her administration, Isabella too soon began to distrust them. Jews, as was well-known at the time, and has they had been doing for centuries, continued switching sides out of desperation, and obviously because they had no where else to go, and no homeland to call their own. During Isabella's reign, Jews began fleeing to Arabs lands as the lesser evil and colluded with them against Spain. This only made their situation worse.
Isabella died, November 26, 1506, and remains the perfect Rorschach test for the three Abrahamic religions, each seeing in her what they want to see: From the Christian point of view, she was a veritable paragon of goodness and religious piety. Arabs saw her as an infidel who needed to be watched and checked. And Jews saw her as a betrayer and a tyrant, using her religion to enslave and destroy peoples. In reality, she was just an uneducated princess who had learned to rule the world the old fashion way: with an iron hand. And even though she lived contemporaneously with Niccolo Machiavelli, the famous Italian philosopher never met her, nor acknowledged even once that his famous book "The Prince," was actually about her. And I believe that if the sexually unbiased truth were ever told, his book should properly have been called "The Princess." For with pious sweetness in the foreground and sinister Machiavellian deviousness in the background, Isabella preserved her reputation as being both god-fearing, iron-willed and a master Machiavellian manipulator. She was surely all of these.
As a result of the way this author skillfully down-played most of Isabella's deviousness and at the same time highlighted her virtues, this book surely will not be the last word about Isabella's rule. But what a fabulous start it is. For now readers at least know where all of Spain's dead bodies are buried.
After Isabella, Columbus too died, and Spain and the New World went to hell in a hand basket, as the other half of the dynamic duo, Ferdinand, went wild with his pent up hostility, power hungriness, jealousy, and what seemed like a typical male mid-life crisis. He broke all vows he had promised Isabella on her deathbed by remarrying (to a French princess, no less), and by disinheriting all of Isabella's, as well as most of his own, children; and by sacking all of Isabella's staff and selling off her valuables, including her clothes, at fire sales.
Ferdinand, even though he took credit for many of Isabella's accomplishments, lacked her vision and her steadiness, and under his rule, the country soon devolved into petty bickering over territorial borders, wars within Europe, and internecine family disputes. Ferdinand himself died of syphilis and of a concoction made of bull's testicles prepared by his young wife trying to enhance his waning sexual abilities. Somehow, this seemed like a fitting exit for the grumpy old man of the court that no one could exactly warm to. As well, after Isabella and Ferdinand's reign, it was the riff-raft: criminals seeking pardons, street urchins, the poor and outcasts, mostly men of the lower classes, that were tricked into making the voyage to America. It was th and not the nobility who populated the New World.
Since most of the colonization occurred two decades after her death, the book skips over Isabella's legacy in the New World except to say that Moctezuma's grandchildren and Hernan Cortes' children fought alongside the Hapsburgs in a new united Christian army, and noting that Seville went broke even though it had stolen 1.5 billion dollars in gold and silver from the "New World." This money paradoxically actually made Spain "cash poor" as it all ended up in Antwerp owed to the money lenders of Europe. In the end, whatever one's opinion of Isabella may be, no one can deny that this, one iron-willed woman, wielded such immense power that she paved the way for her grandchildren to rule the New World for the next century and a half. Five stars
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