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Isabella of Portugal, Queen of Castile

Isabella of Portugal (Isabel in Portuguese and Spanish) (1428 – 15 August 1496) was Queen consort of Castile and León. She was the mother of Queen Isabella I "the Catholic".

She was born as a scion of a collateral branch of the Aviz dynasty that had ruled Portugal since 1385. Her father was John, Constable of Portugal, the youngest surviving son of John I of Portugal, and her mother was Isabella of Barcelos, a high noblewoman of some royal blood, being daughter of the first Duke of Braganza, who was an illegitimate son of John I of Portugal. Isabella of Braganza was therefore a half-niece of her husband. Isabella's father held some lordships, but was not among the forefront of the Portuguese royal house, there being a multitude of powerful dukes ahead of him.

Marriage

Isabella was married to king John II of Castile as his second wife. His first wife, Mary of Aragon, had given him four children, though only one, the future Henry IV of Castile, had survived. Henry had been joined to Blanche II of Navarre in an unconsummated marriage for seven years and was called "El Impotente." Because of this, John decided to seek another wife, and the eyes of his trusted adviser and dear friend Alvaro de Luna fell on the much younger Isabella. The two were wed on 22 July 1447 when John was 42 and Isabella only 19.

Conflict with de Luna

De Luna had dominated the king for years and doubtless expected this to continue after the marriage. De Luna tried to control the young queen as well, even going as far as to attempt to limit the couplings between the amorous king and his bride. Isabella took exception to de Luna's influence over her husband and attempted to persuade her husband to remove this favourite.

She had little success until after the 1451 birth of her daughter and namesake who would become Isabella I of Castile. The queen's confinement was long and difficult, and the new mother sank into a deep depression during which she refused to speak to anyone but her husband. Alternatively hysterical and withdrawn, Isabella tired out the weak-willed John, and he agreed to rid himself of de Luna. To do this, the royal couple employed the help of a nobleman, Alfonso Pérez de Vivero. When de Luna discovered this, he murdered Pérez. When de Luna's crime was discovered, John used it as an excuse to have him executed. The death of his favourite saddened the old king, and his health began to decline rapidly. On 15 November 1453, Isabella gave birth to a son, Alfonso, and nine months later, John came to his deathbed, expiring at last on 20 July 1454. Henry IV, newly divorced from Blanche, became king.

The dementia of Isabella of Portugal (In Spanish: La demencia de Isabel de Portugal). Portrait attributed to the painter Pelegrí Clavé, which shows the widowed queen of Castile, Isabella of Portugal and Braganza, in one of her fits of insanity. Beside her are her youngest son, Alfonso of Castile (left) and her eldest daughter, the future Queen Isabella (right), along with other individuals from the small circle that accompanied the family into exile.

Widowhood

Coat of arms of Isabella of Portugal as Queen of Castile.

After Henry ascended the throne, he sent his stepmother, who was three years younger than himself, and his two little half-siblings to the Castle of Arévalo. While there, the dowager queen and her two children lived austerely. There is no evidence that the widowed queen ever considered remarrying.

While at Arévalo, Isabella sank deeper into the melancholy that had begun after the birth of her elder child. She became increasingly unhinged with every passing year. Despite this, her children were kept with her until about 1461, the year in which Henry's second queen, Joan of Portugal, became pregnant with Joanna, Princess of Asturias, supposedly by her alleged lover, Beltrán de La Cueva. Meanwhile, the dowager queen thought she was plagued by the ghosts, particularly de Luna's spirit, and would spend days wandering the castle calling

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