The Catholic Monarchs and the Age of Exploration

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The Catholic Monarchs and the Unification of Spain


In the 15th century, the Iberian Peninsula was divided into five kingdoms, with the Kingdom of Castile and the Crown of Aragon being the largest and most powerful. In 1469, Prince Ferdinand of Aragon married Isabella, the sister of the Castilian King Henry IV. This union marked the beginning of a new era in Spanish history.

The Catholic Monarchs

Ferdinand and Isabella became known as the Catholic Monarchs. They preserved the autonomy and independence of each kingdom, but they also worked together to strengthen the monarchy and unify Spain.

Ferdinand became king of Aragon in 1479, and Isabella defeated her niece Joanna la Beltraneja in a civil war that lasted five years. After the war, Isabella recognized Ferdinand as king of Castile, but both monarchs exercised royal power in both kingdoms.

Religious Uniformity

One of the Catholic Monarchs' main goals was to achieve religious uniformity in Spain. To this end, they established the Spanish Inquisition in 1478. The Inquisition was a tribunal that tried suspects of heresy or crimes of faith. It also forced the Muslims in Granada to convert to Christianity or go into exile.

The Age of Exploration

Reasons for Sea Voyages

In the 15th century, international trade increased, especially in luxury goods from the East. However, in 1453, the Ottoman army occupied Constantinople and blocked trade routes between Europe and Asia. This led European kingdoms to explore the Atlantic Ocean in search of alternative trade routes.

Portuguese Expeditions

The Portuguese were the first to explore the Atlantic Ocean. They established trading posts along the African coast and eventually reached India in 1498.

Columbus's Project

Christopher Columbus, an Italian navigator, believed that it was possible to reach Asia by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1492, Queen Isabella agreed to finance Columbus's expedition. Columbus's voyage led to the discovery of the Americas.

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