Jiménez de Cisneros: On the Threshold of Spain's Golden Age

By Erika Rummel | Go to book overview

1 Spain in the Time of Cisneros

Cardinal Cisneros’ life coincided with a dynamic period in Spanish history, the reign of Ferdinand and Isabel. The rule of the “Catholic Monarchs,” as they were entitled, ushered in a golden age, a period of consolidation and expansion that saw the emergence of powerful economic and cultural forces. Modern historians regard Cisneros as one of the chief agents in this process. “There was as much of accident as of design,” John Elliott writes of the emerging Spanish empire, “but in so far as it can be attributed to any particular policies, they were those of Ferdinand and of Cardinal Cisneros” (Elliott, Spain, 130).


Territorial Expansion

The Iberian peninsula, bordered on three sides by the sea and separated from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenees, is a well-defined geographic unit. In Roman times, it was an administrative unit as well. Conquered in the third century B.C., it was eventually incorporated into the Roman Empire as a province, called “Hispania”. Medieval authors continued to refer to the peninsula by this name although it was by the thirteenth century divided into several political units: Portugal on the west coast, Castile occupying a broad swath in the centre, the Crown of Aragon on the east coast, the small kingdom of Navarre in the mountainous north, and Muslim Granada in the south.

Castile occupied by far the largest and most densely populated area, commanding four times the territory and six times the population of its nearest competitor, neighbouring Aragon. The two kingdoms were ruled by two branches of the house of Trastámara. In 1464 Henry IV of Castile, who had no legitimate heir, designated his half-sister Isabel as successor to the throne. The eighteen-year-old princess immediately became the centre of dynastic speculations. The

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