Isabella had preceded her energetic minister in the culminating adventure. With all her severity she was a woman of deep sensitivity, who bore bereavements more heavily than wars. In 1496 she buried her mother. Of her ten children five were stillborn or died in infancy, and two others died in early youth. In 1497 she lost her only son, her sole hope for an orderly succession, and in 1498 her best-beloved daughter, the Queen of Portugal, who might have united the Peninsula in peace. Amid these blows she suffered the daily tragedy of seeing her daughter Juana, now heiress-apparent to the throne, slowly going insane.
Juana had married Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy and son of the Emperor Maximilian I (1496). By him she bore two future emperors, Charles V and Ferdinand I. Whether because of a fickle temperament, or because Juana was already incompetent, Philip neglected her, and carried on a liaison with a lady of her court at Brussels. Juana had the charmer’s hair cut off, whereupon Philip swore he would never cohabit with his wife again. Hearing of all this, Isabella fell ill. On October 12, 1504, she wrote her will, directing that she should receive the plainest funeral, that the money so saved should be given to the poor, and that she should be buried in a Franciscan monastery within the Alhambra; “but,” she added, “should the King my Lord prefer his sepulcher in some other place, then my will is that my body should be transported and laid by his side, that the union which we have enjoyed in this world, and, through the mercy of God, may hope again for our souls in heaven, may be represented by our bodies in the earth.”61 She died November 24, 1504, and was buried as she had directed; but after Ferdinand’s death her remains were placed beside his in the cathedral of Granada. “The world,” wrote Peter Martyr, “has lost its noblest ornament.... I know none of her sex, in ancient or modern times, who in my judgment is at all worthy to be named with this incomparable woman.”62 (Margaret of Sweden had been too remote from Peter’s ken, and Elizabeth of England was still to be.)
Isabella’s will had named Ferdinand as regent in Castile for a Philip absorbed in the Netherlands and a Juana moving ever more deeply into a consoling lunacy. Hoping to keep the Spanish throne from falling to the Hapsburgs in the person of Philip’s son Charles, the fifty-three-year-old Ferdinand hurriedly married (1505) Germaine de Foix, the seventeen-year-old niece of Louis XII; but the marriage increased the distaste of the Castilian nobles for their Aragonese master, and its only offspring died in infancy. Philip now claimed the crown of Castile, arrived in Spain, and was welcomed by the nobility (1506), while Ferdinand retired to his role as King of Aragon. Three months later Philip died, and Ferdinand resumed the regency of Castile in the name of his mad daughter. Juana la Loca remained technically Queen; she lived till 1555, but never, after 1507, left her royal palace at Tordesillas; she refused to wash or be dressed; and day after day she gazed through a window at the cemetery that held the remains of the unfaithful husband whom she had never ceased to love.
Ferdinand ruled more absolutely as regent than before as king. Freed from the tempering influence of Isabella, the hard and vindictive elements in his character came to sharp dominance. He had already recovered Roussillon and Cerdagne (1493), and Gonzalo de Córdoba had conquered Naples for him in 1503. This violated an agreement signed by Philip with Louis XII at Lyons for the division of the Kingdom of Naples between Spain and France; Ferdinand assured the world that Philip had exceeded his instructions. He sailed to Naples, and took personal possession of the Neapolitan throne (1506). He suspected that Gonzalo wanted this seat for himself; when he returned to Spain (1507) he brought the Gran Capitan with him, and consigned him to a retirement that most of Spain considered an unmerited humiliation.
Ferdinand had mastered everything but time. Gradually the wells of will and energy in him sank. His hours of rest grew longer, fatigue came sooner; he neglected the government; he became impatient and restless, morbidly suspicious of his most loyal servitors. Dropsy and asthma weakened him; he could hardly breathe in cities. In January 1516, he fled south to Andalusia, where he hoped to spend the winter in the open country. He fell ill on the way, and was at last persuaded to prepare for death. He named Ximenes regent for Castile, and his own illegitimate son, the Archbishop of Saragossa, regent for Aragon. He died January 23, 1516, in the sixty-fourth year of his life, the forty-second of his reign.
No wonder Machiavelli admired him: here was a king who acted The Prince before its author thought of writing it. Ferdinand made religion a tool of national and military policy, filled his documents with pious phrases, but never allowed considerations of morality to overcome motives of expediency or gain. No one could doubt his ability, his competent supervision of the government, his discerning choice of ministers and generals, his invariable success in diplomacy, persecution, and war. Personally he was neither greedy nor extravagant; his appetite was for power rather than for luxury, and his greed was for his country, to make it one and strong. He had no belief in democracy; under him local liberties languished and died; he was readily convinced that the old communal institutions could not be expanded to govern successfully a nation of so many states, faiths, and tongues. His achievement, and Isabella’s, was to replace anarchy with monarchy, weakness with strength. He paved the way for Charles V to maintain the royal supremacy despite long absences, and for Philip II to concentrate ill the government in one inadequate head. To accomplish this he was guilty of what to our time seems barbarous intolerance and inhuman cruelty, but seemed to his contemporaries a glorious victory for Christ.
Ximenes as regent zealously preserved the absolutism of the throne, perhaps as an alternative to a relapse into feudal fragmentation. Though now eighty years old, he ruled Castile with inflexible will, and defeated every effort of the feudality or the municipalities to regain their former powers. When some nobles asked by what right he curbed their privileges, he pointed not to the insignia of office on his person but to the artillery in the courtyard of the palace. Yet his will to power was subordinated to his sense of duty, for he repeatedly urged the young King Charles to leave Flanders and come to Spain to assume the royal authority. When Charles came (September 17, 1517), Ximenes hurried north to meet him. But Charles’s Flemish counselors had seconded the Castilian nobles in giving him so unfavorable a report of the Cardinal’s administration and character that the King, still an immature youth of seventeen, dispatched a letter to Ximenes thanking him for his services, deferring an interview, and bidding him retire to his see at Toledo for a merited rest. Another letter, dismissing the old zealot from all political office, reached him too late to deepen his humiliation; he had died on November 8, 1517, aged eighty-one. People wondered how, though apparently incorruptible, he had amassed the great personal fortune that his will left to the University of Alcalá.
He ended for Spain an age rich in honors, horrors, and forceful men. The aftermath suggests that the victory of the crown over Cortes and communes removed the medium through which the Spanish character might have expressed and maintained independence and variety; that the unification of faith was secured at the cost of riveting upon Spain a machine for the suppression of original thought on first and last things; that the expulsion of unconverted Jews and Moors undermanned Spanish commerce and industry just when the opening of the New World called for economic expansion and improvement; that the progressive involvement of Spain in the politics and wars of France and Italy (later of Flanders, Germany, and England), instead of turning policy and enterprise toward the development of the Americas, laid unbearable burdens upon the nation’s resources in money and men. This, however, is hindsight, and judges the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella in terms that no European people of their time would have understood. All religious groups except for a few Moslems and Anabaptists persecuted religious dissent; all governments—Catholic France and Italy, Protestant Germany and England—used force to unify religious faith; all countries hungered for the gold of the “Indies,” East or West; all used war and diplomatic deceit to ensure their survival, extend their boundaries, or increase their wealth. To all Christian governments Christianity was not a rule of means but a means of rule; Christ was for the people, Machiavelli was preferred by the kings. The state in some measure had civilized man, but who would civilize the state?