War of the Castilian Succession

The War of the Castilian Succession (or the Second Castilian Civil War) was fought from 1475 to 1479 between the two claimaints to succeed Henry IV on the Castilian throne: Juana la Beltraneja, supported by Afonso V of Portugal and Louis XI of France, and Isabella, supported by Ferdinand the Catholic and the "Isabelline Party" among the nobility.


Henry IV had married Joan of Portugal, daughter of Afonso V, in 1455. The king was by that point already alleged to be a homosexual, or better impotent, and he had yet to sire any children. Joan took a lover in the person of Beltrán de La Cueva. When, in 1462, a daughter, Joan, was born, she was derisively nicknamed "La Beltraneja" and her paternity was immediately questioned. Henry declared his half-brother Alfonso his heir in 1464, but Alfonso died in 1468. Henry then named Isabella, Alfonso's sister and his half-sister, his heir. Henry imposed on her the Treaty of Los Toros de Guisando, by which she could only marry with his approval.

In 1469, Isabella married the heir to the Aragonese crown, the aforementioned Ferdinand. This was in contravention of the treaty and Henry responded by naming Juana his heir. Ferdinand's father, John II, King of Aragon and Navarre, had just finished a war with the rebellious Catalans and begun a war with the king of France when Henry IV died (1474). It was thus natural that the king of France should align himself against his enemy's son and daughter-in-law.

Claims and supporters

The vacant Castilian throne was claimed straightaway by Isabella, who had herself proclaimed Queen. Ferdinand, her husband, did likewise, proclaiming himself king as the last male of the House of Trastámara. By the Concord of Segovia of 1475, Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to rule jointly. In early 1475, Juana, at the urging of her benefactors, laid the same claim. She then married her uncle, the king of Portugal, who desired to unite his crown with the Castilian. However, this marriage was annulled by the Pope due to the close family connection.

Juana was supported by the upper echelons of the nobility, who desired a weak monarchy under their control. She likewise had the support of her own husband and of the king of France, the enemy of the king of Aragon. The lesser nobility and the towns supported Isabella, who was seen as a strong monarch. She also had the support of her husband as well his father and with that of the Duchy of Burgundy, perennial enemy of the French kings. Isabella had arrayed on her side a formidable collection of petty nobles and burgers.


At the start of the war, Isabella held the central plateau, including Toledo, Ciudad Real, and Badajoz, which she refortified against a possible Portuguese incursion. Juana's base of power was the valley of the Duero and the city of Toro guarding the passes into Castile. Isabelline forces soon dispossessed Juana of these passes, however.

Isabella made a pact against the French with Queen Eleanor of Navarre. Louis of France besieged Fuenterrabía, vital for crossing French troops into Guipúzcoa, in 1476, but he was beat off. Afonso of Portugal was first to invade Castile. The war was not successful for him, as the Castilian nobility generally supported Isabella, and he retreated back to Portugal after the Battle of Toro in 1476.

Ferdinand and Isabella created a Santa Hermandad under the authority of the bishop of Cartagena to police the towns and communes, which were solidly in their camp. At Uccles in that year, Rodrigo Manrique, the Grand Master of the Order of Santiago, died and Isabella rushed to the site to have her husband proclaimed Grand Master in his stead, thus augmenting his military power in Castile.

In 1478, Isabella introduced the Spanish Inquisition into Castile in order to cement her power. Her forces were sent to occupy the Canary Islands. Though she had held the upper hand since the beginning, the Battle of Alburea sealed the victory for Isabella. In 1479, Ferdinand succeeded his father in Aragon and united the two largest realms in Spain.

The Treaty of Alcáçovas between the two women terminated the conflict in that year.


*Wintle, Justin. "The Rough Guide History of Spain". Penguin Group, 2003.

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