Friday, July 1

Some not so catholic kings

In the life of countries there is usually a critical moment in which they stop being a mere geography to become a nation, a historical figure. Something like coming of age of people. Although some never succeed.

What would that turning point be in Spain? If I ask that question, I suspect the majority answer: Covadonga. With good reason despite knowing that it was not the great battle they taught us at school. Most likely, it was a scuffle between Christian refugees on those cliffs and a Muslim patrol fed up with the cold and damp wanting to get away where even at night it was hot. But beware: it was the first Arab retreat since the Guadalete, the

start of the Reconquest. Something very important and very serious. It would take seven centuries to kick them out, but it was done. If it had not done so, the Iberian Peninsula would resemble the Balkans: a series of states finally reconquered with European aid, but with large Muslim pockets and such enmity between them that they would deserve the qualification of ‘Iberian powder keg’, as explosive or more than the of the ‘Balkan powder keg’.

This is why I prefer to look for that turning point in our history at the end of the Reconquest. Specifically, on October 19, 1469, when Isabel I of Castile and Fernando II of Aragon were married in Valladolid. Both were Trastamaras and distant cousins, for which Pope Paul II refused to authorize it. The real reason was political: everyone feared that Castilla, with seven million inhabitants and already encompassing Asturias, Galicia, Extremadura, Murcia and all of Andalusia except Granada, could absorb Aragon, which with Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands contributed 680,000 inhabitants and important territories in Italy and Greece, becoming a great European power. How to get that wedding is from a bad American historical film, which includes the bribery of the nuncio Antonio Jacobo de Viremis to legalize a false bull of a Pope, Pius II, who died five years ago. Upon finding out, Paulo excommunicates both spouses. But he died shortly afterwards and the new Pontiff, Sixtus IV, made Rodrigo Borja cardinal, who would soon be Alexander VI, who had already accepted the false bull in exchange for being named duke and promised Gandía. Meanwhile, the newlyweds strive to consolidate their reign on two pillars: the equality of both kingdoms, the ‘both ride, ride both, Isabel and Fernando’, that is, Castile and Aragon, maintaining their institutions, and seeking the proximity of their subjects, visiting them. The chroniclers speak of the good effect that Fernando’s modesty, always in second place after Isabel, had on the Castilian villages, and the excellent impression of this, almost always pregnant, on horseback, through Aragonese lands. With the taking of Granada as the main political-military objective. But they did not stop at that, which today we would call ‘public relations’, but they created the Holy Brotherhood, predecessor of the Civil Guard, to end the banditry that arose in the riot of the last reigns, they brought the provincial nobility to the palace to prevent them from continuing to conspire on their estates, and expelled the Jews who did not want to be baptized, as well as the Moors later, thereby winning over the Vatican, which awarded them the title of Catholic Monarchs. It is true that with this they deprived the once-unified Spain of the germ of a bourgeoisie that was to be the protagonist of the Modern Age that was beginning and made it the champion of the Lutheran Counter-Reformation. That is, they made it anti-modern. But ‘there is not gain without pain’, as the English say, ‘there is no gain without pain’, and they preferred it for the sake of their unifying policy.

That policy was transferred to other areas. The cultural, for example. The Kings, especially Isabel, wanted the Palace to be in a certain way a classroom and they commissioned Beatriz Galindo, ‘La Latina’, to teach the noble ladies something more than good manners, while a very possible Judeo-convert, Elio Antonio de Nebrija, a professor in Salamanca and Alcalá, published the first ‘Castilian Grammar’, which will turn Spanish into a ‘companion of the empire’ that would come after the discovery of America and that spread to the Pacific, being able to say that the sun did not set on it . The result of all this, of the matrimonial policy of the Kings with their sons and daughters, which links them with the main European monarchies and makes Catherine of Aragon Queen of England after her wedding with Henry VIII, who when giving her a daughter asks the Pope to annul his marriage to be able to marry Ana Bolena. And by not giving it to him, he goes to the Archbishop of Canterbury, breaking not only the marriage, but also the separation of the Anglican Church from Rome. It was better for Felipe II, son of Carlos I and Isabel of Portugal, that when King Sebastian died without issue, he had the greatest rights to the Portuguese throne, which he occupied, uniting both empires for some time.

The misfortune, however, was not that of the Invincible Armada, which ended so badly in its attempt to invade England, but a fact in which no one fell then, or later. I mean that “the empire is the enemy of the Nation” (Sebastián Haffner), and that Spain had not one, but two empires above it, three if we count the European one, which took away all its resources and energy. But this is another story, which would require not a Third, but a library.


José María Carrascal is a journalist

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