Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Oliver Otis Howard


"Joy to the fair! whose constant knight

Her favor fired to feats of might!

Unnoted shall she not remain

Where meet the bright and noble train?"


Settlement of Articles Preliminary to Marriage by Ferdinand and Deputies at Ceruera of Catalonia, January 7, 1471—All the Ceremony of Betrothal Reported to the Hostile Villena—The Favorable Action of This Prelate and the King—The Admiral and the Bishop of Toledo Rescue Isabella and Carry Her in Triumph to Valladolid—How Ferdinand is Informed—His Crossing the Watched Frontier in Disguise—His Arrival at the Village of Burgos—A Narrow Escape from a Soldier's Missile

In answer to a strong popular feeling, which was now manifesting itself in various ways in Isabella's behalf, prominent Castilian gentlemen and noble families were powerfully influenced by secret Aragonese persuasion. For Ferdinand's father was seldom content to let things take their own course. The union of the two crowns, in the eyes of this shrewd politician, was too important a matter to be left to chance. Isabella herself, prudent and considerate as usual, privately sought and received the advice of many of her nobility; and this time it was in harmony with the voice of the populace. In spite of all difficulties arising from the hostility of enemies, and the wide separation of the parties most interested, the preliminaries had so far progressed that on January 7th, 1471, the articles of marriage were signed and sworn to by Ferdinand at Ceruera in Catalonia. He promised on his part, should he gain his prize, all respect for the laws and customs of Castile; to alienate no crown property; to make no appointments, whether civil or military, without Isabella's consent and approbation; to leave to her exclusively the nomination to all ecclesiastical benefices; to fix his residence in Castile, and never to leave the kingdom without his wife's approval. It is remarkable how much a young man, even such a shrewd and diplomatic one as Ferdinand, can be induced to promise before marriage! All public ordinances were to be signed by both consorts. He was to prosecute the hereditary war against the Moors. This same treaty settled upon Isabella a goodly dower—in fact, one superior to any ever before that time received by a queen of Aragon.

But all these proceedings had been quickly and faithfully reported to the enemy, Villena. In vain, so far as escaping his thorough espionage, had Isabella gone to her own little city of Madrigal to spend the days of her marriage negotiations under the protection of her mother. This move itself had been foreseen by her wily and almost ubiquitous foe. When she arrived in Madrigal, she found there a hostile Churchman, the Bishop of Burgos, a nephew of the marquis, established as a spy on her movements. In fact, all her surroundings were bought up by the enemy. Her attendants, male and female, made their frequent and full reports to the bishop. There was not a soul, it seemed just then, in whom she could confide! This Bishop of Burgos, however, as we shall see, was a far different man from our mitred captain of the Olmedo battle. As a well-informed spy, he soon had the most alarming news to communicate—viz., the certainty of a betrothal already accomplished in the face of all the well-planned hindrances, so that Villena readily understood that the time had come for him to play his last card. He strongly resolved upon getting Isabella into his possession by force. For that service another bishop was detailed and supplied with a reasonable guard. This time it was the Archbishop of Seville. Fortunately for Isabella's warning, this troop was preceded by a letter from King Henry himself, addressed to his loyal burghers of Madrigal, menacing them with his official displeasure if they should dare to defend his obstinate and undutiful sister against his royal mandates. These good people, however, came directly to her, and tremblingly explained their perplexity, agonized as they were between their love for her and their fear of the king. But Isabella had always her own bishop, who had hitherto never failed her either in wholesome counsel or in prompt action. He was not far away, and she contrived to let him know her desperate situation; and also to send word to Ferdinand's grandfather, Henriquez, the Admiral of Castile. The prelate rapidly collected a body of horse, and, reinforced by the troops of the admiral, reached Madrigal before Villena's bishop had arrived, and, before the dismayed eyes of her Burgos' watchers, bore away his royal charge amid the joyous shouts of the populace of Madrigal, who, notwithstanding their own peril, could not forego the impulse thus to express their real sentiments. The happy cavalcade soon made their triumphant entrance into Valladolid, where they and Isabella, riding gayly into the plaza, were received with indescribable enthusiasm. Meanwhile, envoys had been sent to young Ferdinand, who was at the time in Zaragoza, to let him know how critical the outlook was, and how necessary his presence. At the news the old king, John of Aragon, was exceedingly perplexed. He was making war against the Catalans, and that not a very successful one; he could not well spare a man. Moreover, he had but a trifling sum of money, and indeed was weakened by multiplied desertions from his army.

To send any considerable force with his son was equivalent to giving up his own vital enterprise. Yet, could he send him to Castile unprotected? The envoys from Isabella had hardly been able to ride across the frontier, which they had found carefully guarded by a churchman of Osma (another bishop), whom at first they had believed to be a friend. He had been but lately bribed by Villena and the Duke of Medina-Coeli. The country to be traversed was patrolled by Henry's royal troops, in order to prevent just such a trip as that which the young prince was requested to undertake, and a line of forts belonging to the hostile family of Mendoza studded the whole frontier.

Ferdinand, however, finally put an end to all uncertainty by declaring himself ready with a small escort in disguise to cross the guarded border. And this prince, who was carrying out his declaration, a prince who showed himself afterward the shrewdest politician of his age, began his career in a love adventure; true, it was a species of admixture. A love affair with him even thus early in life was, perhaps, as much political as of the heart. With a few companions, apparently merchants, he stole into the neighboring kingdom. Wherever the party stopped, the prince, in the garb of a menial, served them at table, behaving for all the world like our own English ancestor, Alfred. As Ferdinand was young, he probably sometimes thought that the fun of the escapade was alone worth half the kingdom of Castile. While the eccentric company was thus speeding from Zaragoza to the nearest Castilian town, where a sympathetic garrison was to welcome them, a showy embassy from the King of Aragon traversed the frontier at another point, attended with all the noise and circumstance of a princely cavalcade, and so attracted to itself the undivided attention of the Bishop of Osma and the entire patrol of the border.

In spite of this powerful diversion and their own superb acting (it was the play of courtiers, and the prize was a kingdom), Ferdinand's travelling party seem to have been not a little nervous, for they set out from one little inn where they had tarried on the road, leaving their money behind them. Yet they had made good speed, for late the second night after leaving Aragon, with that exultation which at least once in his life every human being must experience, when, after doubt, labor, and occasional despair, he heaves a sigh at the sight of the goal which he has at last reached, they stood before the battlements of Burgo. It was a little town whose garrison was then commanded by the Count of Trevino, one of the most reliable of Isabella's friends. While they remained doubtful and apprehensive before those battlements, preparing to demand an entrance, an unfriendly missile grazed our political Romeo's head. It was a stone which came very near dividing Castile from Aragon forever; it had been discharged from the battlements by one of the sentinels, who, not knowing what to make of this nocturnal party, took pains in this martial style to acquaint them with his uncertainty.

But it was not long before Prince Ferdinand was recognized, and the garrison received him with an enthusiasm which rewarded the party for all their fatigues and fears.

There is a crisis, a turning-point, a high-water mark in every important campaign; Burgo proved to be Ferdinand's, though, of course, he could not yet realize the full vantage which he had gained.