Thus in England as in France, though by widely differing chances, the kingly power had triumphed over feudalism. Monarchs began to come into direct contact, not always pleasant, with the entire mass of their subjects, the “third estate,” the common people.
Spain also was to pass through a similar experience. Indeed, one of the most striking facts of this age of the Renaissance is the swift and spectacular rise of Spain from a land of feebleness and internal strife into the most powerful kingdom of Europe. We have seen the Spanish peninsula in previous ages the seat of endless strife between Saracens and Christians. Gradually the Moors had been driven back, and the little independent Christian states had been united by the fortunes of war and marriage into three—Portugal on the Atlantic coast, Castile occupying the larger part of the mainland, and Aragon, a maritime kingdom, less extensive in Spain, but extending its sovereignty over many of the Mediterranean isles, over Sicily and southern Italy. In 1469 Isabella, heiress of Castile, and Ferdinand, heir of Aragon, were wedded; and soon afterward their countries were united under their joint rule. The combined strength of both was then devoted to a long religious war against the Moors. Granada, the last and most famous of the Moorish capitals and strongholds, was finally captured in 1492. The followers of Mahomet were driven out of Western Europe during the same period that, under Turkish leadership, they had at last won Constantinople in the East.
The whole Spanish peninsula with the exception of Portugal was thus united under Ferdinand and Isabella, greatest of the sovereigns of Spain. The ages of battle with the Moors had bred a nation of cavaliers, intensely loyal, passionately religious. They were splendid fighters, but stern, hard-hearted, merciless men. Isabella, “the Saint,” most holy and pure-souled of women, herself introduced into her country the terrible Inquisition. Jews and Moors were given little peace in life unless they turned Christian. Heretics and relapsed converts from the other faiths were burned to death. The Queen declared she would approve all possible torture to men’s bodies, when necessary in order to save their souls.
If such were the women of Spain, what was to be expected of the men? How could even Ferdinand, “the Wise,” keep them employed now that there were no longer Moors to fight against? Uprisings, rebellions, began to threaten Spain with such desolation as England had endured. But a higher Providence solved for Ferdinand his impossible problem: the age of maritime discovery began.