Alternative history

According to Charles Ross – a respected historian, citing contemporary English and Spanish state papers – the ambassador to England of Isabella of Castile told Richard III that Isabella had been hostile to England because Richard’s brother, Edward IV, had turned down her marriage proposal to marry Elizabeth Woodville.   (The timing works; Edward married in 1464, when Isabella was 13 years old, and she married Ferdinand five years later.)

The alternative histories virtually write themselves:

No marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, no union of Aragon and Castile, no conquest of Granada, no expulsion of the Jews and the Moors, no Inquisition, no Charles V, no Habsburg empire, no Thirty Years War.  Columbus might have sailed on behalf of England rather than Spain, or else his fellow-Genoese Giovanni Caboto (“John Cabot”) might have gotten to North America before any European found the West Indies.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

12 thoughts on “Alternative history”

  1. nice idea, but I don't buy it. At the time of the Woodville marriage, the English government was actively engaged in negotiating for Edward to marry a French princess, which would almost certainly have gone through if he hadn't secretly married la bourgeoise first. I don't think there was any faction in England which would have prioritised a Castillian alliance at that point.

  2. I cannot follow this at all. Elizabeth Woodville? Who's that? Do you mean Edward Woodville? Who does 'her' refer to in the phrase 'her marriage proposal? Isabella? Elizabeth Woodville? Who's on first? What's on second? And don't get me started about third base.

  3. Isabella wasn't THAT hostile to England — she allowed her daughter, Catherine of Aragon, to marry the heir to the English throne.

    The real difference a marriage of Isabella and Edward might have made would have been (a) making Richard less bold after Edward's death (his actions would have had international and not just domestic repercussions) and (b) the eventual heir to the English throne might have been healthier or had a healthier wife, hence, no need for a messy divorce from the aunt of the emperor whose troops had recently sacked the city where the Pope maintains his headquarters.

  4. Elizabeth Woodville was Edward IV's commoner wife. A point of tension between Edward and Richard as well as other aristocrats was his preferential treatment of her brothers, and the attempts of the queen and her family to gain influence or even control over the government through the regency of the minor prince (Edward V) who succeeded his father, and who along with his brother were murdered in the Tower almost certainly at Richard III's behest.

  5. Interesting, but the anti-Semitic activities, including violence, murder, legal restrictions, and forced conversion, that led ultimately to the 1492 expulsion were rolling along pretty strongly early in the 14th century. There was no happy ending in store, even if Isabella had married Edward.

  6. Regarding the expulsion of the Moors: It's also useful to remember that among Spaniards, as incredible as it seems, Isabella and Ferdinand were moderate — in adopting the auto-da-fes and other techniques of the inquisition, they were trying to contain anti-Jewish and Muslim sentiment. Though, I think their strategy was pretty much a complete failure it's unlikely an alternative monarch would have behaved differently and might have been a good bit worse.

    The Catholic Church itself established the inquisition. Spain wanted its own version, and the Pope, against even his judgment, appointed Torquemada for the job, but ultimately lost control over the inquisition in Spain until, some years later, it yanked it back.

    So perhaps Henry VIII would never have happened, but I don't see how Martin Luther, and ultimately, the 30 Years War, would have been avoided. England wasn't central and Hapsburgs weren't strictly Spanish and would presumably have emerged as a ruling power anyway threatened by breakaway Protestant fiefdoms.

  7. Just a last thought: you seem to be proceeding from the ultimate great man view of history (or perhaps, "instrumentalist" instead of "great") which sees individual human monarchs as being indispensable to the course of history. Maybe there are some individuals who are so instrumental — maybe Henry VIII was one of them — but surely, there would have been other alliances and other princes and princesses who would have filled in for most of those who were actually there, subject to pretty much the same cultural and religious forces and predilections. If not Charles V, then his cousin.

  8. Barbara, as a secret revisionist I favor the strong theory put forward by novelist Josephine Tey that Richard III was innocent of the murder of the princes; his Lancastrian rival & eventual successor Henry Tudor had much more to gain from the death of the legitimate heirs. Whether Isabella was indispensable in terms of the reconquista and exploitation of the new world, who knows?

  9. Before JFK's assassination, argument over who was responsible for the murder in the tower of the young princes was the great conspiracy debate of the English speaking world! I still don't see how Henry had MORE to gain than Richard, but he certainly had A LOT to gain as well.

    However, I think whoever did it, the deed, like Henry VIII's own craziness over the lack of a strong male heir, has to be seen in context of the fact that for close to 100 years, England endured civil war at its bitterest whenever a weak or minor king assumed the throne — e.g., Richard II and Henry VI.

  10. The conquest of the Moors was probably inevitable at that point, considering the way history was going. You would have just been exchanging a unified and Christian Spain for a divided and Christian Spain.

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