In the same year Ferdinand and Isabella took the fateful step of expelling from their kingdoms all Jews who refused to accept Christianity. One of the effects of this measure was to deprive Spain of a valuable cultural and economic community. The expulsion of the Moors (1502) had less impact, for many more Moors than Jews chose to pretend to accept Christianity and remain in Spain. The Catholic kings also instituted the Inquisition in Spain to bolster religious and political unity.
Their reign was crucial in the history of the world as well as that of Spain. In 1492, Christopher Columbus, sailing under their auspices, discovered the New World, and in 1494, by the Treaty of Tordesillas (see Tordesillas, Treaty of), Spain and Portugal divided the non-Christian world between them. Ferdinand personally was more interested in Mediterranean affairs. He began Spain's struggle with France for control of Italy in the Italian Wars. His general Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba conquered Naples in 1504. Ferdinand joined the League of Cambrai (1508) against Venice and the Holy League (1511) against France. In 1512 he annexed most of Navarre, basing his claim on his marriage (1506) to Germaine de Foix.
After Isabella's death (1504) he retained control over Castile as regent for his daughter Joanna. Joanna's husband, Philip I, became king of Castile in 1506 but died the same year. For the rest of his life Ferdinand continued his regency over Castile, first in the name of Joanna, who became insane, and then for his grandson, later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. When Ferdinand died, he left his grandson a united Spain, as well as Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, and an overseas empire.
During the reign of the Catholic kings the power of the throne grew. The nobles and the Cortes (parliament) were curbed, and the church was used as an instrument of political policy. Many of Ferdinand's policies had long-lasting effects, especially the expulsion of the Jews and the Muslims, many of whom settled in N Africa, the search for American gold, and the conversion of large agricultural areas into grazing lands for the benefit of the wool industry. Spain became an Atlantic power and revolutionized the commerce of Europe.
See W. H. Prescott, History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella (4 vol., 1838; abridged and ed. by C. H. Gardiner, 1963); J. H. Mariéjol, The Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella (1892, tr. 1961); R. B. Merriman, The Rise of the Spanish Empire (Vol. II, The Catholic Kings, 1918); J. H. Elliott, Imperial Spain: 1469–1716 (1963).
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