Catholic Monarchs Facts & Worksheets

Catholic Monarchs facts and information plus worksheet packs and fact file. Includes 5 activities aimed at students 11-14 years old (KS3) & 5 activities aimed at students 14-16 years old (GCSE). Great for home study or to use within the classroom environment.

Catholic Monarchs Worksheets

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Fact File

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    • Marriage
    • Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella
    • Death and Legacy

    Key Facts And Information

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    King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I

    The marriage and combined reign of the Catholic monarchs, Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, resulted in the de facto unification of Spain. They were both from the House of Trastámara and were second cousins, both being descended from John I of Castile. To remove the obstacle that this consanguinity would otherwise have posed to their marriage under canon law, they were given a papal dispensation by Sixtus IV. The majority of academics concur that Ferdinand and Isabella’s union is basically responsible for the unity of Spain.


    • When Isabella and Ferdinand were married on 19 October 1469, Isabella was 18 years old and the presumed heir apparent to the Castilian throne, while Ferdinand was 17 years old. They got married a week after their initial meeting in Valladolid. They got along well and had a tight friendship from the beginning. Both parties understood that the Castilian crown represented ‘the prize’ in their joint wager. But it was a step in the right direction towards the eventual union of Spain and the other countries on the Iberian peninsula.
    • Because they were second cousins, they needed a papal dispensation to get married. They had to fabricate one of their own because Pope Paul II, an Italian pope who opposed Aragon’s dominance in the Mediterranean and the growth of monarchs powerful enough to confront him, refused to provide one. Even though it was apparent that the bull was fraudulent, it is unclear who really falsified it. Carrillo de Acua, the Archbishop of Toledo, is mentioned by some analysts, while Antonio Veneris is mentioned by others. 
    • Isabella’s rights to the throne of Castile were insecure due to her half-brother Henry IV withdrawing his support for her as his presumed heiress.
    • Henry instead recognised Joanna of Castile as his heir, despite her fathership being disputed and her being born during his marriage to Joanna of Portugal.
    • Joanna, at age 13, challenged Isabella’s claim to the throne after Henry died in 1474.
    • Joanna enlisted the help of her husband, Afonso V of Portugal, in her claim to the throne, sparking the War of 1477–79.
    • Isabella requested and received assistance from Aragon through her husband and his father, Juan II of Aragon.
    • Despite concessions made by Isabella’s allies, she was still recognised as the legitimate successor to the throne of Castile.
    • After Juan II’s death in 1479, Ferdinand ascended to the throne in January of the same year.
    • Through the Treaty of Alcáçovas, signed in September 1479, Portugal and the Catholic monarchs of Aragon and Castile settled important disputes, notably Isabella’s claim to the Castilian throne. The royal couple was successful in obtaining political power on the Iberian peninsula through tight collaboration. ‘Neither was powerful without the other,’ Ferdinand’s father had told the newlyweds. They reigned separately and their kingdoms kept some of their own regional laws and governments for the next centuries, even though their marriage brought the two kingdoms together and marked the start of modern Spain.


    • The founding of the Spanish Inquisition and the discovery of the New World define this time period. Ferdinand and Isabella’s attempts to unite the nation and the discoveries of the explorer Christopher Columbus led to the establishment of the new state of Spain, which included both a unified Spain and its possessions in the New World. The union of Isabella and Ferdinand and their combined rule ultimately helped to calm the political and economic unrest caused by Henry IV of Castile and Leon, the king at the beginning of this era.
    • The Iberian peninsula, which includes the present-day nations of Spain and Portugal, was formerly a divided region with a number of freely governed and coexisting Muslim and Catholic provinces. However, by 1469, a lot had changed in the area, laying the framework for a unified Spain.

      Capitulation of Granada
    • Christians in the Iberian peninsula had been at war with Muslim invaders (Moors) for centuries by the year 1400. Because the Christian reconquest of the territory that the Moors had ruled since the seventh century was the main objective of these conflicts, they were known as the Reconquista. There was just Granada left for the Christians to retake in 1469. The Reconquista had restored Christian rule to the states, but it had not brought about the unification of Spain. It was divided into the Kingdom of Portugal, the Kingdom of Castile and León, the Kingdom of Navarre, the Kingdom of Aragon, and the Emirate of Granada, each with its own independent government (Muslim ruled until 1492).
    • The restoration of royal power began with Isabella’s tumultuous but victorious ascension to the throne. It also gave her instant credibility as a strong leader. She then made use of her reputation to create systems that would assist her. Soon after Henry IV died and left Isabella the crown, she ran into one of her first issues. The War of Castilian Succession, which broke out between Castile and Portugal, was caused by a scheme to crown Henry’s daughter as the legitimate monarch. At the Battle of Toro, the Catholic monarchs triumphed decisively, establishing Isabella as a capable commander and solidifying her rule over Castile.
    • Castile prevailed on land while Portugal triumphed at sea during the conflict, which lasted until 1479. However, the Portuguese’s exclusive right to navigation in the Atlantic marked a significant loss of potential money and influence, while Castile’s outcome on land was a success for the Catholic monarchs. As we shall see, this predicament was subsequently corrected by Christopher Columbus’s findings. 
    • In order to maintain control over and administer justice in the towns and districts, the monarchs worked with the regional judicial organisations, known as hermandades (brotherhoods). A general hermandad was formed for Castile, León and Asturias to give the Crown additional authority and control after the aristocracy had officially administered local justice.
    • Following Isabella’s passing in 1504, Ferdinand wed Germaine of Foix, the heir apparent to the throne of the Kingdom of Navarre. This implied that any offspring of this union would be entitled to the crown of Navarre. Prior to the Italian Wars (a conflict between France and Spain over control of Italy) in 1512, when relations once again declined, the partnership also for a time helped improve Spain’s ties with France. Ferdinand invaded the Kingdom of Navarre and took control of the area in an effort to send troops into France. Then, Aragon absorbed the Kingdom of Navarre, further uniting Spain.
    • The influence that the nobility had accumulated was harmful to the Crown’s authority, as seen by their rejection of Joana as the legitimate successor, and Isabella and Ferdinand fought hard to correct some of the societal ills that had emerged under Henry IV. Peasant uprisings may have also fuelled opposition to the monarchy and posed a threat to the stability of the realm. Urban cities and industries grew during the rule of Isabella and Ferdinand, some of the problems of the peasants were addressed, and the nobility’s position of power changed.
    • Isabella and Ferdinand had to be careful in their interactions with nobility due to their influence during Henry IV’s rule.
    • They were able to control the royal succession but limited their own influence by being expelled from the royal administration.
    • The peasants of Castile were destitute, and the wool trade led to conflicts with herders who damaged their land.
    • The Iberian peninsula had a feudal system in which the nobility controlled the land and imposed taxes and labour requirements on the peasants.
    • The Black Death and poor harvests led to worsening conditions for the peasant population.
    • The Wars of the Remences were violent social upheavals in Barcelona, in which the Catalan remença peasants and lower classes rose up against the aristocracy.
    • Ferdinand appeased the peasants in 1486 with the Sentencia Arbitral de Guadeloupe, a legal edict that eliminated serfdom and parts of the peasants’ feudal responsibilities.
    • Isabella and Ferdinand were deeply religious Catholics and believed that Catholicism should be the only religion in Spain. This belief led them to establish the Spanish Inquisition in 1478, which aimed to root out any form of heresy or non-Catholic beliefs. The Inquisition had the power to try anyone accused of heresy, and it was given broad authority to investigate and prosecute suspected heretics. The Inquisition was intended to maintain the purity of the Catholic faith and to ensure that all Spanish citizens adhered to the Catholic doctrine.
    • The Spanish Inquisition was a powerful and feared institution established by Isabella and Ferdinand in 1478 to root out heresy and maintain the purity of the Catholic faith.
    • The inquisitors had the power to arrest, detain and torture anyone accused of heresy, and those found guilty were punished with fines, imprisonment or death.
    • The Inquisition also had the power to confiscate property and wealth from those found guilty.
    • The Inquisition was not limited to Spain, but also expanded to other countries where Spain had territories and colonies, such as Mexico and South America.
    • The Inquisition caused the deaths, expulsions and torture of thousands of people over the next few centuries, and it also led to mass persecution of Jews and Muslims who were forced to convert to Catholicism or face expulsion or death.
    • The Inquisition long outlived the Catholic monarchs and continued to operate until the early 19th century.
    • The Inquisition was abolished in 1834, but its legacy continues to be felt in Spain and other countries that were affected by it.
    • In the latter half of the 15th century, Spain launched its first expeditions into the New World. As a result, the Portuguese monopoly on the Atlantic was resolved, and tremendous power and wealth were made possible. The Crown agreed to fund Christopher Columbus’s journey in 1492 after first declining to do so in 1486 when the novice but determined seafarer travelled to Spain to plead for assistance.

      Voyages of Columbus
    • Columbus discovered the Bahamas, Cuba and Hispaniola on his first voyage.
    • He later made many more trips and discovered Trinidad, South America’s mainland and Honduras.
    • With the Inter caetera of 1493, the Crown of Spain asserted its claim to these nations.
    • These discoveries opened the path for later explorers and established the Spanish Empire.
    • To avoid confrontation over regions of discovery, the kings of Spain and Portugal determined that a separation of influence was essential.
    • With the establishment of the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, the Americas were divided between the two powers.
    • Although these discoveries were advantageous to Spain, the people who lived in these nations suffered as a result.
    • Spain colonised the nations, holding them as slaves and imposing Spanish culture (including Catholicism and language) on them.
    • Due to Spanish exploration and its accompanying wars, forced labour and illnesses, many locals perished.