Known primarily as the patron of Christopher Columbus, Isabella I of Castile with her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon, are responsible for making possible the unification of Spain under their grandson Carlos I.
As part of the drive for unification, Isabella appointed Tomás de Torquemada as the first Inquisitor General of the inquisition. March 31, 1492 marks the implementation of the Alhambra Decree; expulsion edicts forcing the removal or conversion of Jews and Muslims.
The Muslims, who had wielded power over large parts of Spain for some eight hundred years, had extended special protection to the Jews as “people of the book” (adherents to faiths with a revealed scripture).
Under the expulsion edicts, Jews were only given four months and ordered to convert to Christianity or leave the country. Jews were promised royal “protection and security” for the effective three-month window before the deadline. They were permitted to take their belongings with them – except ‘gold or silver or minted money’.
The punishment for any Jew who did not convert or leave by the deadline was death without trial. The punishment for a non-Jew who sheltered or hid Jews was the confiscation of all belongings and hereditary privileges.
Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire, learning about the expulsion of Jews from Spain, dispatches the Ottoman Navy to bring the Jews safely to Ottoman lands, mainly to the cities of Thessaloniki (currently in Greece) and İzmir (currently in Turkey).
Scholars disagree about how many Jews left Spain as a result of the decree; the numbers vary between 130,000 and 800,000. Many (likely more than half) went to Portugal, where they eluded persecution for only a few years.
Tens of thousands of Jews died while trying to reach safety. In the last days before the expulsion, rumors spread throughout Spain that many Jews had swallowed gold and diamonds they hoped to take with them. As a result, many Jews were knifed to death and had their stomachs cut open by brigands looking for treasure. Jews who tried escaping via the sea were often charged exorbitant sums by Spanish ship captains, and were then sometimes tossed overboard in the middle of the sea.
As fate would have it, the last decade of Isabella’s reign took place against a background of family sorrows brought about by the deaths of her only son and heir, Juan (1497); of her daughter Isabella, queen of Portugal, in childbirth (1498); and of her grandchild Miguel (1500), who might have brought about a personal union between Spain and Portugal. Instead, her daughter Joan, wife of Philip I and mother of the Holy Roman emperor Charles V, became the heiress of Castile. However, this offered little comfort to the queen because by 1501, Joan had already shown signs of the mental imbalance that would later earn her the title of ‘the Mad’.
In 1974, Pope Paul VI opened her cause for beatification. This places her on the path toward possible sainthood. In the Catholic Church, she is thus titled Servant of God.
Source Credits: Listverse, Milestone, Wikipedia & Encyclopaedia Britannica