Isabella I is considered to be one of the most powerful, yet controversial, queens in Spanish history. She is best remembered for sponsoring Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the Western Hemisphere, initiating the Spanish Inquisition, and unifying the remaining independent Spanish kingdoms into one nation. Isabella I co-ruled with her husband, Ferdinand of Aragón, from 1474 up until her death in 1504.
Isabella I, like her husband, was a devout Catholic. Despite the fact that Spain had been a religiously diverse society with Catholics, Jews, and Muslims living together for many centuries, Isabella and Ferdinand believed it was their obligation to make Roman Catholicism the dominant religion of Spain. As a result, in 1478, Isabella and Ferdinand initiated the Spanish Inquisition. Thousands of Jews who had in recent times converted to Roman Catholicism were looked upon suspiciously. It is estimated that as many as 2,000 Jews were tortured, killed, or forced to leave the country during the Inquisition. There were possibly as many as 40,000 Jews who chose to be baptized to avoid expulsion or persecution. The remaining Muslim population in Spain was later targeted. Isabella is known in the Catholic Church as “Servant of God Isabella” as she has achieved the first step towards becoming a Saint.
By the time Isabella and Ferdinand had come to power, the Reconquista was coming to an end. Most of Spain, with the exception of the small Muslim kingdoms under the Nasrid Dynasty in Andalusia, had been unified and brought under Catholic control. However, from 1485 to 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand sought to complete the Reconquista process by conquering the remaining Muslim kingdoms and forcing the Muslim population into exile.
Also in 1492, Isabella sponsored Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the Western Hemisphere. Columbus’s exploration, with Isabella’s support, contributed to the foundation of an overseas Spanish Colonial Empire that would bring great wealth and power to Spain overtime. In other words, Isabella I contributed to making Spain a World Power.