Despite the fact that the Vikings, Icelanders, Africans, and even the Chinese, can claim to have set foot on the North American continent before Columbus, the correct answer to the question is that two people discovered America for Europe and the Catholic Church: a very able seaman (but incompetent administrator) named Christopher Columbus, and his farsighted visionary sponsor, the Machiavellian queen of Castile, Isabella. In a narrative arc worthy of enshrinement as a modern European fairy tale, Kristin Downey, weaves a story that is anything but a fairy tale, one based on well-researched historical facts that will seduce even a hardened cynic of American history. The story beautifully told here, goes somewhat as follows:
Since she was a girl, Isabella's birth went unheralded. Her father, king Juan II was under the heavy-handed control of his con-verso handler (and homosexual abuser since prepubescence), Alvaro de Luna, who kept such tight reins over him that his wife Juana grew suspicious and eventually convinced her husband, the king, to have him killed -- only to then see the king himself take an emotional tailspin and wither away two years later. Isabella's effeminate half brother Enrique, then ascended to the throne. He quickly made Isabella his pawn for royal marriage, a perfect way way to get her out of contention for heir to the throne.
As Spain stayed in a constant state of war, those in the kingdom lived under perpetual fear. Spain needed a strong leader at the helm, but Enrique, like his father, was homosexual, and also like his father, had been groomed and molested by his con-verso courtier, Juan Pacheco, who kept equally tight reins on the fickle and ineffectual king. Isabella lived her childhood alone in the shadows, learning the hard way how to keep her eyes open, her mouth shut, and her thoughts to herself. It was obvious that her older brother wanted her out of the line of succession.
But Enrique's palace intrigue against Isabella backfired and the tables were turned on him as he was subtly blackmailed (due both to his homosexual involvement with his palace handler, and because his daughter, Juana, daughter of his promiscuous wife, was probably not his child) into ceding the throne to his younger half brother Alfonso. Isabella, of course sided with her younger full brother. However, within two years, Alfonso too was dead, many thought he had been poisoned by Enrique, leaving Isabella again alone and unprotected in a castle filled with devious enemies, all of whom wanted to see her dead.
With her younger brother murdered, Isabella made a virtue out of necessity and closed ranks with her half brother who was now once again king. Eventually she negotiated a pact that probably saved her life: In exchange for veto rights over her marriage proposals, Enrique would name her as next heir to the throne instead of his own daughter who was suspected of being of questionable parentage.
However, Isabella, in a shortsighted move that she would pay dearly for, had no intention of keeping her end of the bargain. She quickly eloped with the young king-of-Aragon-to-be, Ferdinand, her favorite 2nd cousin. And having done so, she now had to live with the consequences. Being easily insulted and vengeful, he made her pay dearly for her betrayal. Along with all her titles and income, he also had the dispensation that allowed second cousins to marry, withdrawn. And then, to add insult to injury, he arranged for his own illegitimate daughter to become the sole heir to the throne. Added to this burden was also the fact that Isabella's philandering husband had gone off to war, siring children all along the way.
Frighteningly alone and needing a way back into her brother's good graces -- as well as an entree into the royalty chess game -- Isabella needed a bit of luck. In order to mend fences with her half brother, she was lucky enough to enlist her best friend, (Portuguese born, Beatriz de Bobadilla, who was married to a con-verso, Andres de Cabrera), as intermediaries to set up a Christmas meeting in Segovia with her brother the king, where, after dinner, Enrique conveniently fell deathly ill, and within the year, was dead. Rumors were rift that Isabella, through her friends, had arranged for Enrique's demise.
Her second bit of luck walked into her life from out of the blue in the form of a guardian angel named Roderigo Borgia. Borgia, a Machiavellian cardinal/politician and master of Vatican politics, was in need of royal allies back in Spain, and Isabella fit the bill perfectly. So, just as she was about to take over the reins of power from her dead brother, a life-long quid-pro-quo was struck between them, in which, in exchange for re-legitimizing her marriage, Isabella would help Borgia move up the Vatican hierarchy towards becoming Pope. Thus, as they began to scratch each other's backs, all the pieces on the royal chessboard fell perfectly into place for her. With Borgia's help, the table was reset for Isabella to enter politics as Spain's newest royal, and for Borgia to eventually ascend the Vatican ladder to become Pope Alexander VI.
Before her older brother's body was cold, and while her husband was still off to war (and thus remained uninformed about events going on back in Castile), Isabella pulled-off a lavish self-coronation that had to have been planned months before, adding grist to the mill of suspicions that she may indeed have had king Enrique killed. Despite suspicions, she led the procession into Castile with a raised sword, serving notice that she would rule Spain with a forceful hand.
However, the self-orchestrated celebrations were cut short by an attack on Castile from King Alphonso of Portugal, an attack that came well before the new queen was fully up and running. Despite being a neophyte at the royalty game, and having her domestic plate full, Isabella somehow managed to fight the determined Portuguese king to a draw, and an unsteady peace ensued afterwards.
Thus, with her Eastern border temporarily secured, she turned to fixing Castile's domestic problems. Foremost among them was its religious meltdown, due primarily to the fact that con-versos (Jews who had converted to Christianity) were doing much better than the average Spaniard. This provoked envy and jealousy all over Spain and led to riots and pogroms against Jews. As criminals took over the rioting, Isabella had to improve her domestic ground game quickly if she ever hoped to establish her bona fides as a strong independent leader. As a result, and in concert with Rome, the inquisition was recommended as a way out of the religious turmoil.
The inquisition was a carefully orchestrated but potentially lethal test of the Christian faith. It was drawn up by the Vatican but was carried out as a joint religious and political maneuver by Isabella and the pope. It was designed specifically to ferret out opportunistic Jews, those who on the surface appeared to have switched to Christianity, but who in fact were still devout Jews but Jews who had fraudulently burrowed deep into the bowels of the Christian faith.
During the many changes of hands of Spain's territories, Jews had survived primarily by switching sides and/or faiths as their survival needs required. And as a result, they were always held under heavy suspicion by all sides as being unreliable to whichever state they resided in. And while the inquisition was not directed at orthodox Jews, per se, it made them uncomfortable enough to leave Spain even before being asked to do so.
The main target of the Inquisition was con-versos -- those Jews who had willingly, but inauthentically and opportunistically, given up their own faith to appear to become Christians, but were only using Christianity as a ruse to maintain their positions of power and wealth. Whether they were indeed frauds or not, it was universally perceived as such -- even by many orthodox Jews themselves -- and as a result con-versos were envied and hated by all sides. Riots and pogroms against them took place all across Spain, but especially in Cordoba where many influential Jews were concentrated.
The matter came to a head when con-versos began to "worm" their way up the ladder of the Catholic church itself. "True Christian believers" could not continence the spiritual side of their faith and their personal confessions being managed by "faithless frauds;" and to prevent this from ever becoming an institutional reality, Isabella established the Catholic catechism to educate and train those new to the faith. And then she gave all con-versos the choice of preparing properly to honestly receive the faith, and thereby passing the test of the inquisition, or failing the test and going to prison or being burned at the stake. If they failed the test, their property and wealth (which was conveniently inventoried before hand) would be confiscated. Since many con-versos were among her friends and served on her staff, Isabella had hoped this would solve the problem. But clearly, what had begun with good Christian intentions, would soon spiral out of hand and end in little more than a legally sanctioned witch hunt, a corrupt "cover" for stealing wealth from, and bringing down well-positioned and influential Jews.
But domestic issues were just half of the young queen's problems. The Caesar of the orient, the conqueror, Mehmed II, was on the move again, moving ever westward as they had done 700 years before. It was cause for alarm both for Isabella and for Spain, as his plans again called for attacking Western Europe via the strait of Gibraltar, from Africa into Spain.