Who was Henry the 4th of Castile?

This monarch, son of John the 2nd of Castile and Maria de Aragon, was born in 1425 in Valladolid and died on the 11th of December 1474 in Madrid. He was the famous Catholic Queen Isabella’s half-brother and his life was controversial in all of its aspects.

The chronicles and stories about his difficulties to have children, his conflicts with the nobles and even his very personal relationships with his favourites are widely known. But what part of this is real and what has been made up by his enemies? We may never get to know where to draw the line between reality and fiction, as history is always told by those who came out triumphant of all conflicts; however, there are some recent findings which try to shed some light into his black legend and more precisely into his impotence.

This difficult matter started off after his first marriage with Blanca the 2nd of Navarra. He was married to her for 13 years. As time went by and the couple were unable to produce an heir to the throne, rumours started to spread across the country about the king’s inability to copulate. Henry the 4th tried to solve his problems by using quite a few ointments, he even contacted some Italian doctors who prescribed him a series of sexual exercises and yet, the heir would not arrive. As a consequence, Blanca and Henry’s marriage was dissolved. His second marriage, to Jane of Portugal, finally brought the so much sought after heir, the first and only child of Henry, Princess Jane “la Beltraneja”. Why was she nicknamed so? The rumours about the king’s impotence had already reached far and beyond the kingdom, and so his enemies saw the opportunity to concoct a plot against him; the story about how Princess Jane was not the king’s daughter but the King and Queen’s favourite’s Beltran de la Cueva, a handsome twenty year old counsellor, was unfurled.

At the time of Henry the 4th ‘s death, the Castilian crown belonged by birth right to his daughter, Princess Jane, but Isabella was a determined woman and she took advantage of those rumours to openly question the legitimacy of her niece to be the heir to the throne as she expressed her doubts on the princess’ paternity. After a long and crude civil war in Castile between Jane and Isabella, the latter came out victorious and proclaimed herself Queen of Castile.

We will continue this story next week, have a nice one!

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