Queen Isabella:  Saint or Bigoted Despot?
By Patricius Anthony

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By Patricius Anthony

Queen Isabella

The smears leveled at such luminaries as Pope Pius XII, H.L. Mencken, John Wayne, Senator Joseph McCarthy, St. John the Evangelist, Charles Lindbergh, Mel Gibson, and dozens of others are once again being directed at one of the most important figures in European history. This time it is the benefactor of Christopher Columbus, mother to Catherine of Aragon (King Henry VIII's first, brutally deposed wife), and co-liberator, with her husband, Ferdinand, of their country from the Muslim yoke, Queen Isabella of Spain.

Recently, there has been a movement to restart the beatification process for the great queen, which, if her case clears the necessary ecclesiastical hurdles, would eventually mean sainthood. The possibility of canonization, however, has raised considerable hostility among the Politically Correct thought police, most notably Abraham Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, who said: "Queen Isabella has a dark mark in history of being anti-Semitically cruel and setting a standard that other countries followed." He wished that her case would "fall on deaf ears in the Vatican."*

The most vociferous opponents of Isabella's beatification base their protests on her decree expelling Jews from Spain, which led, in some instances, to the destruction of their places of worship, in particular, a synagogue in the city of Bastille. Other supposed "crimes" of the queen were the establishment of the Inquisition and the Christianization of the New World native inhabitants.

Is this portrayal of Isabella by the controlled media and throughout much of academia accurate? Did she arbitrarily force Jews out of her realm without provocation and coercively baptize and conquer "Native Americans," all of which should rightfully disbar her from canonization?

While Isabella's chance for earthly glorification appears problematic, the still unsurpassed biography of her by William Thomas Walsh, Isabella of Spain, the Last Crusader, presents quite a different view of the monarch and the reality of late 15th century Spanish life from how she is typically misrepresented in the press and by court historians. Working from a variety of original sources, Walsh points out that many within the country's Jewish community were actively engaged in undermining the queen's authority and, more importantly to her, subverting the Faith. Her banishment decree was not a capricious act aimed at an oppressed minority which simply sought peacefully to practice its religion and folkways, but a well-thought-out response intended to counter a legitimate threat to her Christian rule.

In the current secular humanistic age, such an act is considered "dictatorial" or "racist"; however, during the Age of Faith, most monarchs, such as Isabella, considered themselves duty bound to be "defenders of the Faith." They not only looked out for the general welfare of their realms, but strove to protect the spiritual well-being of their subjects, be it from external forces or internal subterfuge.

In regard to the exploration of the New World and the distinct possibility that the entire endeavor would turn into a gigantic flop, a conversation with Christopher Columbus shows the queen not as a power-amassing empire builder, but as a "Crusader" imbued with sincere evangelical fervor: "she would continue the experiment for the glory of God and His Church, even if the islands yielded nothing but rocks and stones. She had spent more money ... on enterprises of less importance, and would consider all she had disbursed well employed, for it would result in the spread of [Christianity] and the good of Spain."**

Whether Isabella is a member of the Elect is not an infallible matter, but will ultimately, like every man's fate, be determined by the Divine Judge. Christians should be outraged, however, to have to endure criticism of their exalted brethren from Unbelievers and those long hostile to the Faith. It would be quite interesting to see the reaction from some of Isabella's current detractors if Christians began to question the reputation and "holiness" of their "anointed" ones!

Although today's Powers-That-Be may denigrate her name, there are an overwhelming number of contemporary accounts which ably attest to her personal sanctity. The huge success and popularity of her reign could have led, as it had with so many other rulers, to megalomania; however, throughout her remarkable life she saw herself not as a mighty, semi-divine empress, but a servant of God, as she movingly expressed on the eve of her coronation: "To you Lord, in whose hands is the right of kings, I humbly pray that you may hear the prayer of your servant and show forth the truth, manifesting your will by your wonderful deeds; so that if I am not in the right, do not let me sin through ignorance, but if my cause be just, give me zeal and strength to obtain it with the help of your grace...."


* Jerome Socolovsky, "Isabella: Saint or Anti-Semite?" (The Washington Times, June 1, 2002), C12.

** Quoted in Rev. Frs. Alphonsus Maria Duran, M.J., and Paul Mary Vota, M.J., "Why Apologize for the Spanish Inquisition?" (Chicago: Miles Jesu, 2000), p. 10.