The Community Bank of the Chesapeake Lecture
Inspired in her youth by tales of Joan of Arc, she grew into a devout young mother who seized the throne, unified her people, led them to victory on the battlefield and paved the way for Spain to become, in the 16th century, the largest and most far-flung empire the world had ever known.
One of the most significant monarchs of all time, her controversial legacy survives in the 500 million people who speak Spanish as their first language and the 1.3 million who practice Catholicism.
Isabella’s pivotal and strategic role would become immortalized in the popular game of chess, where her long journeys across Spain’s vast plains and mountains made her the model for the most important player in the game–the queen.
Half-Portuguese through her mother and the great-niece of the Prince Henry the Navigator, Isabella sponsored nine separate expeditions to the New World, including the four most famous by Italian navigator Christopher Columbus. By the time she died in 1504, the coastline of the Americas had been mapped and the continent’s wealth poured riches into the coffers of her descendants, the Hapsburgs, who used the money to gain control of much of Europe.
She also annihilated those who didn’t share her fervent Catholicism by requiring religious homogeneity, establishing a bloody inquisition against non-believers that would darken Spain’s reputation for centuries.
Its injustices would help inspire a movement to ensure tolerance of all faith traditions, a revolutionary principle proposed as law by Thomas Jefferson in Fredericksburg in 1777. It ultimately became enshrined in the United States as the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.