COURT OF THE SOVEREIGNS
"Thy form benign, O Goddess, wear;
Thy milder influence impart,
Thy philosophic train be there
To soften, not to wound, my heart.
The generous spark extinct revive;
Teach me to love and to forgive;
Exact my own defects to scan,
What others are to feel, and know myself a man."
The Year 1480—How Isabella Held the Reins of
Control—How She Dealt with Two Young Lords—An Instance of Justice —The
Riot of Segovia—Independence of Character—An Account of the Court of the
 IT was not long before Ferdinand's presence in Aragon (during 1480) was again demanded.
Whether he were present or absent, according to the marriage contract in matters
pertaining to Castile and Leon, Isabella had evidently held the reins of control very much
in her own hands. A few instances of record which follow show how, as at Seville, she
decided matters at once, and sometimes acted without the least consultation.
Two young men, sons of noble families, one Don Fadrique, a cousin of Ferdinand, and the
other, Don Ramiro Nunez, had a petty quarrel concerning a young lady, Dona Maria
 Manuel. It came to notice in the queen's rooms, where it went so far as to an exchange of
high words and taunting insults. As soon as Isabella knew of this occurrence she put both
offenders under arrest, and ordered them to keep to their own quarters till the matter
should be investigated. Ramiro obeyed the arrest, but Fadrique, trusting to his rank,
being a son of the admiral and own cousin of the king, the very next day left his
apartments without permission. Isabella, hearing of this daring breech of the discipline
of the court, at once released Ramiro from his confinement, and gave him a formal
"safeguard." The violent youth, Fadrique, as soon as he was informed that Ramiro was at
large, sent three of his followers in masque against him. They surprised the young man in
a public square of Medina, and sadly beat him.
Just as soon as the queen was made aware of this additional outrage and second insult to
her authority, she called for her palfrey, and set off at once to the admiral's castle at
Simancas. Her old friend, the admiral, met her at his gates, and told her Fadrique was not
there; but she took possession of this castle and also of another, that of Rio Seco, using
her cavaliers, who had mounted in haste and followed the incensed queen. It was a
 very stormy day. The wetting rain, the journey of twenty-five miles to Simancas and back
to Medina, and the great vexation of her spirit made Isabella quite ill, causing her, in
fact, to take to her bed; but she declared that she was ill from the young lord's
misconduct, saying, "This body is sore with the blows given by Don Fadrique to my
Of course the admiral caused the young man to submit to punishment, but pleaded his
extreme youth—only nineteen years. He, however, could obtain no mitigation. Fadrique
first suffered a considerable period of solitary confinement at Arevalo, and then was
banished to Sicily, where he was made to remain several years. Ramiro, full of revenge,
now began to stir up a family feud, planning a bold attack on the admiral himself, which
fortunately was parried by the admiral's own men. Again the queen intervened. Neither this
young lord nor any other should thus attempt to avenge himself in Castile. His estates
were taken from him, and he went to Portugal. It was some eight years, in his case, before
he was suffered to return and to resume his possessions. Had the king been in Medina, she
doubtless would have called upon him to execute the laws, but it is evident that she had a
strong will of her own, and would brook no insult to her royal
 authority, not even from those highest in rank and nearest of kin.
An anecdote of Isabella's administration of justice about this time exhibits another phase
of character, which belongs to the honest and impartial ruler. During 1480, while she was
holding her court tribunals at Medina, a rich man, De Lugo by name, had secured to himself
additional property by means of a false deed. As a matter of precaution De Lugo had
murdered the notary who aided him in the forgery. There was no witness to the deed except
a servant, whom the murderer trusted. The widow of the deceased, however, half suspecting
the crime, brought the matter to Isabella. A thorough search was instituted and the body
was at last found on the rich man's premises. Confronted with his horrid crime, the wretch
made a full confession. He knew how eagerly the queen desired to carry on a war which was
already dawning upon her vision—a war against the Moors; so he offered her a large
and tempting sum of money to be used in its prosecution, provided his life should be
spared. Many prominent advisers urged her to make this bargain. "Did not this great and
desirable object justify the means?" Isabella, with instant decision, said, "No! Justice
must take its course. "When the law not
 only caused the man's death, but accomplished the confiscation of his estate and put it at
her disposal, she, in her review of the proceedings of the court, gave back the estate to
the innocent families interested.
Another case in point. The well-known story of Isabella's personal efforts and success in
suppressing a riot at Segovia shows both her courage and her practical wisdom at a very
early period of her administration. It was when the people, deceived and stirred up by
schemers among the dissatisfied nobles, rose in a body against their governor, Cabrera,
the Marquis of Moya. The governor himself was absent; but the leaders, seizing parts of
the citadel, imprisoned his deputy and Isabella's little daughter, the Princess Isabel,
within the defences; and matters were indeed in a bad condition at the very heart of
The queen, then in a neighboring city with a few members of her court and a small escort,
hastened to Segovia. A committee of the turbulent multitude stopped her outside the city
limits, and entreated her to leave behind certain unpopular members of her party there en
route, particularizing the Duchess of Moya and Count Benavente. Isabella replied without
hesitation, "I am Queen of Castile; the city of Segovia is mine, moreover, by right
 of inheritance; and I am not used to receive conditions from rebellious subjects." On she
went into the city, and reached the citadel.
The cry of the angry multitudes might well have made her tremble and seek shelter. Rioters
were heard to say, "Death to the governor!" "Assail the castle!"
Her friends, in terror, begged her to shut, barricade, and defend the gates; but Isabella
did just the contrary. She ordered the gates thrown open. The people then thronged the
avenues and approaches to the alcazar. She went boldly to the open court, and facing the
leaders, asked of them the cause of all that tumult. "Tell me what are your grievances,
and I will do all in my power to redress them, for I am sure that what is for your
interest must be also for mine, and for that of the whole city." The rioters met the
unexpected in this calm and fearless woman. They answered, "All we desire is the removal
of Cabrera from the government of the city."
"He is deposed already," rejoined Isabella, "and you have my authority to remove such of
his officers as are still in the castle, which I shall entrust to one of my own servants
on whom I can rely."
A sudden revulsion followed, when the late angry men now shouted, "Long live the queen!"
 The next step was to examine carefully into the grounds of complaint, and finding that
they had proceeded from the slanders of enemies of rank, the queen fearlessly so reported
to the leading spirits, and restored the acquitted Cabrera to his office. Prescott, after
relating this incident, justly remarks: "Thus, by a happy presence of mind, an affair
which threatened at its outset disastrous consequences was settled without bloodshed or
compromise of royal dignity."
The preceding incidents certainly indicate a strong character. Isabella held tenaciously
to royalty. To her mind, the rights of kings were real and sacred; so she manifested her
faith in the sovereignty of her administration as Queen of Castile and Leon. She was
doubtless easily offended by the least want of respect shown her by any one of her lofty
friends, and she had the nerve to assert herself and maintain the dignity of her office.
She had a strong and abiding sense of justice. In some few instances, however, where she
could not rise altogether above the bigotry and superstition of her environments, she is
known to have departed from right-doing; still her inmost soul loved justice and inclined
It is refreshing to meet so courageous a woman. She is not afraid of timid or
crim-  inal deputations. She can meet and stop mob violence and convert rudeness and riot into
immediate friendly support.
Frequently during Isabella's reign the Court of the Sovereigns passed from Medina del
Campo to its favorite southern point of sojourn—that is, to the charming city of
Seville. Pausing for a few moments in the chronological order of this story, we will
attempt a brief picture, such as was often there exhibited, of this "Court of the
Sovereigns." Little by little the personnel of Isabella's court, while remaining pure and
of good repute as she desired, had increased in its numbers, and all that pertained to it
had assumed the grandeur that her ideas of sovereignty demanded. An elite society of
envoys, ambassadors, and their families clustered around her own officials and friends.
Here took place the formal receptions, fetes, and solemnities usual in all public life.
The preceding kings of Castile had drawn around them, the customary dignitaries,
domestics, and favorites, with followings more or less numerous. But the coming of a woman
to the throne enhanced the importance of the feminine element, which, taking a complexion
after the color of Isabella's tastes and character, soon made altogether a new community,
in every part of which her potent influence was felt.
 There were several daughters of the nobles who were almost brought up in the palace with
her children. Jealous supervision was uniformly exercised till they became of age, and the
queen gave them dowries when she approved their marriage. As arranged, there were
substantially several courts united. The court of the young Prince John, for example, was
indeed a copy, on a smaller scale, of that of his parents.
Masters and servants made up a world by themselves. This world had its peculiar
constitution—i.e., its organization, its rules of government, its judicial features.
Wherever the sovereigns halted and remained for any considerable time, their presence in a
community changed the ordinary methods of administration, both executive and judicial;
"court alcaldes" were substituted for city magistrates. They took cognizance of such
crimes and torts as were committed within the court groups, and the jurisdiction was
usually temporarily limited to a fifteen-mile radius. In fact, the city and its suburbs
where the court resided became during its sojourn the royal domain.
The court authority was declared by a visible standard or symbol. It had a police of its
own, and was provided with whatever machinery might be essential to its civil, religious,
or material life.
 As was natural, after a few removals it became a sort of travelling city, whose
inhabitants, as far as possible, had been selected from the best of the different classes
This city was at last so complete that it did not have to borrow soldier, priest, or
magistrate from without. There was the finished arrangement for Divine worship—the
confessors for each sovereign; the almoner to distribute royal charities; the chaplain for
the chapel service, and a sacristan, with his assistant, guarding the keys of the sacred
chests, where the holy vestments and sacred relics were kept; then there was a master for
the music choir of children to use their young voices in the hymns; an orchestra for the
chant, and men with stringed and other instruments for religious edification. The children
of Isabella. themselves loved to participate in the music. A French writer remarks: "While
the music was not magnificent, the sacred services were sufficient to satisfy the most
The royal household had many officials under the senior major-domo. This high personage
himself supervised the expenses and ordered all payments by the paymaster. A comptroller
united with him in auditing accounts of purchases. His "trenchants" cut up the viands, the
physician of his Highness
 tasted all the meats, and the cup-bearer had similar functions. There was a master of the
kitchen. In the prince's house were four subordinates under the master, but he never
abandoned the keys of the kitchen. Two porters guarded the kitchen entrance. There were
also chamberlains who had charge of the prince's bed-chamber; there were layers of the
tables and custodians of the plate, which included all the silverware, etc. At the bottom
of the list of employees were the sweepers, who often had boy assistants. These details,
so carefully recorded in annals of the period, give us the idea of a wealthy
establishment, provided with a great number of servants, but an establishment where order
prevails, every official being required to perform some task or carry out the duties of
his calling. The grand chamberlain held near the king the same rank as the major-domo in
the palace. He became an intimate companion. In the morning he gave a shirt to the king,
and presented the silver basin for ablution. At the little court of Don Juan, when the
chamberlain had finished like work, he then sent in the shoe servant and the barber. "The
attending barber," probably here at Seville, "was Guttiere de Lunar, a good man and a fine
talker. He delighted the prince with farcical stories, and was without
 malice, never speaking ill of anybody." Twenty-four Espinosa guardsmen watched at night
over the king. They were uniformly recruited from the noble families of the city of
Espinosa. Twenty-four more guarded the son. Always at nightfall they came to the palace
and virtually took possession. Twelve at a time were on duty. Some slept at the entrance
to the royal chamber, which was never locked, except by the express order of the
sovereign. The others made the rounds of the halls and corridors, the lance in poise, the
sword by the side, keeping themselves assured that there was nothing to disturb the peace.
Whoever entered the palace after the gates had been closed and attempted forcibly to pass
this patrol was in danger of his life. At sun-rising these Espinosa guards retired, giving
place to the chamberlains and employees before named.
At the beginning of Isabella's reign there was no such guard. The continos, so
called, were a local police, but did not, like the regular guard, undertake to escort the
sovereigns from place to place and make a garrison wherever they halted or sojourned.
After the famous attempts upon the lives of the sovereigns they even armed their servants,
such as the hostlers and equerries. At last the court was arranged and protected like a
 citadel, and was furnished with every means to this end. This extra guarding, including
escort troops and the increasing establishment, brought in a multitude of officers, high
and low, medical men and attendants, tradesmen, butchers, pastrymen, armorers, furbishers,
builders, saddlers, farriers, clothiers, and even fishermen and water-bearers.
When the sovereigns in their best days put themselves in march, their going forth appeared
like the migration of an Eastern tribe, where there were innumerable tents. The old
nomadic Eastern princes, it will be remembered, pitched their pavilions and tents and
decorated them amid the drummings of their followers, the noisy outcries of the multitude,
and the neighings of their steeds. All the canvas came down the next day, leaving no trace
except a vast trodden flat, muddy streams, and some camp debris. It became so here;
for, properly speaking, there was as yet no capital to this kingdom. Some cities, like
Segovia, Medina del Campo, and Seville, where the court in 1490 found itself, were simply
favorite places of sojourn.
The several "alcazars" were usually large chateaux, often with walls around them. These
castle-like structures symbolized the power of the ruler or some grandee. They grew up in
the numerous internecine wars.
 Now the sovereigns made use of them, encamping their court-city near at hand. Here were
held the court festivals, with their pomp and rich ceremonials, with their processions,
including ladies. Isabella loved these solemn exhibitions, in which royalty was
strengthened by a splendid environment superior to that of any noble lord's undertaking.
Much lay in the luxury and richness of dress. She herself often appeared in velvet robes,
adorned a with her jewels and precious stones—ornamentation which at times was more
resplendent than beautiful. As a woman and a queen, magnificence of toilet, which added
brilliancy and freshness, a sort of royal completeness to her natural beauty, gave her no
Her favorite confessor, Talavera, never ceased to speak against this "vanity." At one time
he reproached her severely for an outlay incurred in Barcelona, for the sumptuous manner
in which, when receiving the envoys of Charles VIII , she clothed her attendants and
ladies of the court, and even for the expensive dresses that she herself wore during the
diplomatic solemnities and festivities. He complained, too, that she led in the dance. All
this, he said, had a corrupting tendency at home, and gave the ambassadors a false idea of
Castilian manners, which
 always had demanded gravity of deportment.
These reproaches were at the confessional. The pious queen made a gentle apology, saying:
"Somebody has exaggerated the part I bore, for it did not occur to me to dance. There were
no new toilets, no new dresses for my ladies; only one new silk dress, costing three
marcs-d'or, the most economic possible—that was the extent of my 'fete de
fetes'!" The priest was surely too exacting!