Monday, April 14, 2008 4/14/08-Consummation

In today's excerpt--Isabella, tall and beautiful, next in line to the throne, defies her brother, King Enrique's, preferences, and picks Ferdinand as her husband:

"The Portuguese King Alfonso was an interesting prospect, ... but when [the teenaged Isabella] became of marriageable age, the aging Alfonso did not look so grand, and she raised objections. ... By 1468, other interesting marital possibilities had arisen. At first, Don Carlos, heir to the kingdom of Navarre, seemed like the front-runner. But mysteriously and suspiciously, the vigorous Carlos died. ...

"A match between Castile and France would cement French control over Catalonia and surround Aragon, to the mutual benefit of both Castile and France. Louis XI proposed to unite Isabella with his brother and heir apparent, Charles. Overtures also came from England. ... Preliminary arrangements for an English match were made and then broken in favor of the French. ... However, with more than geopolitics on her teenage mind, Isabella had dispatched a friar to France to scout Charles. His report was depressing. The effeminate duke had foppish French manners, bandy little legs, and could scarcely mount a horse without help. ...

"But there was another option. He was Ferdinand of Aragon, ... who was a year her junior. Her chaplain's secret report bristled with sex appeal. ... 'He has so singular a grace,' Isabella's spy reported, 'that everyone who talks to him wants to serve him.' ... With the stubbornness that would become a mixed blessing later, Isabella knew she had found her man. ... Of the two kingdoms, Castile and Aragon, Castile was the larger, stronger, and richer, and so if Ferdinand was to be favored with Isabella's hand, he must forego the customary authority of a feudal king. Only through her would he derive power. ... This historic [arrangement] ran counter to feudal tradition where the male always took the reins of power. ...

"Word of the engagement raced through the streets. Children began to chant a jingle about the 'flowers of Aragon' sprouting in Castile, as they waved tiny flags of Aragon. Romance was in the air. The fantasy of a handsome young king and beautiful queen uniting Spain in a true confederation sent quivers of excitement through the streets. ... Crowds lined the streets as the procession of nobles and prelates rode grandly by in their exquisite embroidered harnesses and stirrups. The day was filled with lively jousts and tournaments. The rejoicing would continue for seven days. ... The night [of the ceremony], the marriage was consummated. By long tradition, courtiers were posted at the door to the royal bedchamber. When the appropriate time had elapsed, they burst into the bedchamber to strip the bed of its sheet. This trophy they brought to the eager crowd below, displaying its stains as if the relic were a triumphal battle flag."

James Reston, Jr., Dogs of God, Anchor, Copyright 2005 by James Reston, Jr., pp. 28-35.


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