WCW: Isabella of Castile

24

Queen Isabella of Castile (1451-1504) is another complicated historical figure that I can’t say I have a crush on, but I do find interesting. She had a difficult childhood, with lots of jockeying for who would be the heir to the throne, various wars and rebellions occurred, and eventually she took the throne in 1474.

Flemish school (??). Attributed to Gerard David (??). Anonymous Fleming (from the Jan Gossaert Circle), Possible image of Isabel la Católica, Queen of Castile (о Santa Catalina de Alejandría), in the altarpiece «La Virgen de la Mosca», c. 1520, La colegiata de Santa María la Mayor, de Toro (Zamora)

Flemish school (??). Attributed to Gerard David (??). Anonymous Fleming (from the Jan Gossaert Circle), Possible image of Isabel la Católica, Queen of Castile (о Santa Catalina de Alejandría), in the altarpiece «La Virgen de la Mosca», c. 1520, La colegiata de Santa María la Mayor, de Toro (Zamora)

She married Ferdinand of Aragon, becoming queen consort of that country while ruling her own with her husband, had seven children (among them Catherine of Aragon and Juana la Loca), and most notably led the “Reconquista” which was war designed to conquer the parts of modern-day Spain that had been under Muslim control by the Nasrid dynasty for several centuries. She was also part of the ruling couple that financed Christopher Columbus’s voyages of discovery.

Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504), c. 1490, Museo del Prado

Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504), c. 1490, Museo del Prado

Thus, while a kick-ass queen ruling in her own right and a major power player in European/North African politics, she was also responsible for the death, expulsion, and forced conversion of many Muslims and Jews from Spain, and also played a key role in the Spanish conquest of Latin and South America. She has been considered both a hero and villain, and the reality is she’s a complex figure that is very much of her time and very much a symbol of much that was to come.

Juan de Flandes, Isabella I of Castile, Queen of Castile y Leon, 1496-1503

Juan de Flandes, Isabella I of Castile, Queen of Castile y Leon, 1496-1503

Let’s take a look at how this Spanish queen has been portrayed on screen!

 

Cristóbal Colón (1943)

A Mexican film, I assume based on the title it’s about Christopher Columbus. Mexican actress Consuelo Frank plays Isabella.

1943 Cristóbal Colón

The best I can do, sorry!

 

El Doncel de la Reina (1946)

According to a bad Google translate, “Hernando serves as a maiden to Queen Elizabeth from the site of Granada. By chance of life, he (she?) embarks on a caravel bound for the Indies.” Spanish actress Mary Carrillo plays the queen.

1946 El Doncel de la Reina

That skirt needs WAY more fabric.

1946 El Doncel de la Reina

I don’t hate this hood?

 

Christopher Columbus (1949)

English biopic, with American actress Florence Eldridge as Isabella. We’ve discussed both Isabella and Christopher’s hair.

1949 Christopher Columbus

Medieval-y dress, hood, ok…

1949 Christopher Columbus

I don’t hate it?

1949 Christopher Columbus

Ok so the hood is flipped back on itself, that’s why it’s standing up…

 

Dawn of America (1951)

With a title like that, you just know this Spanish Columbus-centric film is going to be culturally sensitive! Spanish actress Amparo Rivelles wears the crown.

1951 Dawn of America

Going Full Court Regalia.

1951 Dawn of America
1951 Dawn of America

This looks very German fairy tale to me?

 

La Espada Negra (1976)

A Spanish film focused on Isabella and Ferdinand’s “love story,” with Spanish actress Maribel Martín as the queen.

1976 La Espada Negra

I’m very much getting a 1970s vibe here…

1976 La Espada Negra

Okay so it’s mylar and plastic pearls, but I like this! It’s Pretty Pretty Princess!

 

Cristóbal Colón, de oficio … descubridor (1982)

A Spanish comedy musical about Columbus, with Spanish actress Fiorella Faltoyano as Isabella.

1982 Cristóbal Colón, de oficio... descubridor

I’m not even going to bother with this.

 

Juana la loca … de vez en cuando (1983)

I think this may be a sequel to the film above? It’s another comic take, this time more focused on Isabella (Spanish actress Lola Flores), Ferdinand, and daughter Juana.

1983 Juana la loca... de vez en cuando

Or with this.

 

Christopher Columbus (1985)

An American TV miniseries about Columbus, with Faye Dunaway as her maj.

1985 Christopher Columbus

So the hat thingie looks like a balzo, which I associate with early 16th-c. Florence but believe WERE worn in Spain too?

1985 Christopher Columbus

Oh god, Isabella’s getting her anachronistic armor on.

 

Réquiem por Granada (1991)

A Spanish TV series that tries to tell the story of the 1492 fall of Granada from the Muslim perspective, with German actress Marita Marschall as the Castilian queen.

1991 Réquiem por Granada

I really can’t see enough to judge.

 

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)

Gérard Depardieu as Columbus, on whom the film focuses, with Sigourney Weaver as Queen Isabella.

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)

It seems very Assassin’s Creed to me.

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)

This is still too Queen Barbie of Castile for me!

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)

Sigourney looks like something out of Catholic Regalia Alien here, but it works!

1992 1492- Conquest of Paradise

I gave this total side-eye, but our expert liked it!

 

Carry on Columbus (1992)

One of the long-running English comedy “Carry On” films, this one focused on Columbus with June Whitfield (yes, Edina’s mum on Absolutely Fabulous) as the queen.

1992 Carry on Columbus

Deeply committed to historical accuracy.

 

Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992)

Another “anniversary” production, this American film includes Marlon Brando as TORQUEMADA, TOM SELLECK as Ferdinand, and British actress Rachel Ward as Isabella. This sounds Snark Week-worthy!

1992 Christopher Columbus- The Discovery

The split-front bodice is mid-16th-c. English, the hair is WTF…

1992 Christopher Columbus- The Discovery

I just think she looks like a Renaissance biker chick.

1992 Christopher Columbus- The Discovery

TOM SELLECK, PEOPLE!

 

True Adventures of Christopher Columbus (1992)

An English TV movie with Miranda Richardson as the queen.

1992 The True Adventures of Christopher Columbus

Too hard to see any detail? She’s wearing a snood?

 

Queen Isabel in Person (2000)

Isabel Ordaz is the only person credited for this Spanish film, so I guess the film must be just her?

2000 La reina Isabel en persona

Now THIS isn’t half-bad! The puffy sleeves and the ferronnière/hairstyle look good!

 

Mad Love (2001)

A Spanish film focused on Isabella’s daughter and heir, Juana la Loca, with Spanish actress Susi Sánchez appearing briefly as mom.

2001 Mad Love

She’s got a MULTI-PART headdress!

 

Isabel (2011-14)

A Spanish TV series focused on Isabella, beginning in her youth, with Spanish actress Michelle Jenner in the title role. Both Trystan and I tried to watch this, and we both thought it was crap. Contrary opinions?

2011-14 Isabel

This seems weird.

2011-14 Isabel

THIS looks AMAZING!

Isabel (2011–2014)

aaaand this looks like crap.

 

Da Vinci’s Demons (2013)

Queen Isabella (British? actress Lydia Leonard) shows up in one episode of this baaaaad American TV show focused on a biker version of Leonardo da Vinci (allegedly). Why, I have NO idea.

2013 Da Vinci's Demons

Probably to annoy me with this at-best 19th-century peineta comb?

 

El Ministerio del Tiempo (2015)

Michelle Jenner of Isabel appears in one episode of this Spanish time-traveling TV show.

2015 El Ministerio del Tiempo

Wearing absolute crap.

 

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Apparently Isabella (Marysia S. Peres) and Ferdinand show up in this American film based on the popular video game, but I didn’t make it that far.

2016 Assassin's Creed

I have MANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS.

2016 Assassin's Creed

I almost feel like I’m getting an Aztec vibe from the makeup?

2016 Assassin's Creed

Her costume on display. Looks very 1990s.

 

The White Princess (2017)

Spanish actress Rossy de Palma appears as Isabella in one episode of this Elizabeth of York/Henry VII Philippa Fucking Gregory crap fiesta.

2017 The White Princess

Ok, I like the hoods…

2017 The White Princess

And the wide sleeves…

 

The Spanish Princess (2019-20)

Queen Isabella (Spanish actress Alicia Borrachero) appears in the first episode of this Philippa Fucking Gregory adaptation focused on daughter Catherine of Aragon. She’s implausibly armor-wearing and inaccurately badass.

The Spanish Princess 2019 ep1

Queen Isabella did not wear armor, skirt or no.

The Spanish Princess 2019 ep1

She was badass and military! But she didn’t personally fight.

 

Do any of these actresses/roles do Isabella of Castile justice?

Tags

About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

24 Responses

  1. mmcquown

    The armour: the suit in the first pic doesn’t seem all that anachronistic; it’s plate, which was definitely in use by that time, the pieces coming up from the pauldrons (the shoulder defences) look more like something for jousting, but remember each suit is made individually, so there’s no real pattern to go by.

    Reply
    • JustaTech

      Agree on the armor, but where is the cap between her hair and the chainmail? Ow ow ow, and I say that from experience, trying on a decorative chainmail cap at a RenFaire once and having it get caught in my hair when I tried to take it off. I feel bad for the actress.

      Reply
      • Aleko

        It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if the costumiers hadn’t inserted a lining in the coif for just that reason, but had carefully ensured that it didn’t show when it was being worn, because they just didn’t know about arming caps and thought it would look ‘inauthentic’ if she had anything on her head under the mail!

        Reply
  2. SarahV

    The shot of Izzie and Nando up on their thrones for Dawn of America (1951) looks fabulous. I love that weird opaque veil(?) thing (with embroidery!) frames her face and goes right to her shoulders, eliminating the line of the neck and shoulder. It’s a very odd shape, but it looks damned REGAL.

    Reply
  3. Joan

    You missed the most agonizingly anti-historic and epically awful portrayal in The Fountain. Granted it was the representation of the cheap romance novel the wife was writing, but still…

    I do have to say that was the most misunderstood movie ever produced. It was NOT about time travel. One third was a doctor’s struggle to cure his wife’s illness and failing to spend what time was left actually being with her, one third was the horrible romance novel she was writing, and one third was what was going on inside the husband’s head. The romance novel part was still laughably awful though.

    Reply
  4. hsc

    I couldn’t think of the name of the actor in the top photo with Rachel Ward, so I ran it through a Google Image search.

    And while it identified the man in the photo as Georges Corraface, it also helpfully suggested:

    “Possible related search: costume party”

    Damn, even a search engine algorithm is getting snarky on that one!

    Reply
  5. Charity

    I laughed out loud when I saw the Tom Selleck photo, so… thanks for that.

    The entire appearance of Isabella and Ferdinand in The White Princess made me go HUH. Why does she look so awful in it? Why would Henry and Elizabeth traipse across the sea to meet them in the first place? They didn’t have airplanes back then, Starz. :P

    Reply
  6. Addie

    Queen Isabel in Person looked promising from the picture and Mad Love at least references that veil from her portrait.
    I haven’t seen any of these, but Isabella and Ferdinand are some of those historical figures that you probably shouldn’t like or even admire, but you need to consider them if you’re going to look at their era (and colonization/the Reconquista/Expulsion in general), how powerful they were and how they changed the world (I’d argue more for the worse but they were more complicated than simply evil overlords.) The Iberian peninsula and the Renaissance in Western Europe just don’t make sense without studying them.

    Reply
  7. Saraquill

    Looking at Isabella’s lower lip in the paintings makes me wonder if it’s the origin of the Habsburg chin. And now I take a moment of silence for Carlos II of Spain.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      I don’t think so. The Hapsburgs had outslung jaws, not just a full lower lip. Isabella seems to have had a receding chin, the exact opposite of the Hapsburg jaw.

      Reply
      • MoHub

        Also, Gerard David was known for his “apple” chins. It was one way we were taught in Art History to recognize his works.

        Reply
  8. Vali

    Isabel is a good series not terribly inaccurate from the writing point of view; season 1 is possibly the one that takes the most liberties especiallywith clothing because she’s… young and she has to be… with loose hair and all that (sigh). Season two and three had different showrunner and they changed some things (e.g. Isabella being addressed as Highness instead of the inaccurate “Majesty” of season 1).
    All in all it takes its liberties as I said but they did a good job with historical sources overall. And as seasons went on they discovered young lady don’t equal to not having hair pins.
    Jenner’s cameo in EMDT was just that, a fun wink to Isabel, without the least pretense of accuracy.

    Reply
  9. Roxana

    Roughly half the productions seem to have remembered Isabella was a fair skinned redhead.
    I love Sigourney Weaver’s state robes. They are gloriously insane.
    Why does Isabella have a painted face while Ferdinand and that friar, Torquemada? Look perfectly normal.
    Isabella and Ferdinand did what they believed was right for Spain. The past is a different country, they do things differently there. I don’t hold it against them.

    Reply
  10. Damnitz

    It’s obvious that queen Isabella was a very attractive figure for filmmakers. However it’s obvious too that most didn’t tried to come close to the real person and prefered a fantasy version of their own. In “The Spanish Princess” Isabella is looking like a Comic-super hero. Why? She really was an interesting and powerfull person. Maybe that’s not enough for modern directors?

    Reply
  11. Max

    Oh, great article! As a spaniard I adore Isabella and Ferdinard, they brought “greatness” to our contry, however, I also undertand how much pain they inflicted upon others, and Im terribly sorry about that tbh.

    And, honestly, I sincerely reccomend you to watch Isabel, the spanish series, It doesnt have much of a budget (it was made by the public spanish TV and god forbid that the government invests in culture…) but its the best historial show Spain has ever produced in my opinion, and way better in terms of acting, costuming (at least they try to be as acqurate as the can, even though you can tell the budget is tight) and writting than other historial shows like the tudors or the medicis…

    The show also explores The kingdoms of Portugal, Aragon, Granada (funnily enough, Alicia Borrachero played the muslim badass “queen” Aixa on Isabel and Isabella the catholic on The spanish princess), France and the Duchy of Burgundy, and it honestly does a pretty good job portraying the characters, especially Juana´s madness,Catalina´s inteligence and resilience (not that insulting character we saw on The spanish princess), Isabella´s tragic fate…

    Reply
    • Lili1127

      Agreed! I’m not Spanish, just a history nerd, and I have watched many historical dramas from many countries. Isabel is one of the best, much better than many British productions, very accurate from a historian’s point of view, also very good quality. Deserves every single one of the many awards it received.
      Costumes are also very accurate, with some of the usual modernizations we always see (because you have to sell the show to a 21st century audience). But one of the most accurate costume design ever appearing in a 15-16th century show. Especially when we look at other productions about this era: The Tudors, The Spanish Princess, The White Queen… If Isabel’s costumes are “crap” and “inaccurate”, what about every other production? 😄

      Reply
  12. Diana

    I think the “German fairy tale”-ish costume must have been directly inspired by a romanticized 19th century engraving depicting Isabella in a sort of Renn Faire costume with hood that was very pointed on the sides. I remember it from a children’s book. I did manage to find a reprint of it…

    Reply
  13. Lili1127

    How on Earth can ANYONE think Isabel is a crap show? Seriously… 😄😄😄
    Do you guys know anything about her? Every single Isabella historian loved that show.

    Reply

Feel the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.