The Connection Between Ferdinand And Isabella And The King James Bible


[Today’s post inspired by James Reston Jr’s book, Defenders Of The Faith]

Okay, so here’s how Ferdinand and Isabella of 15th century Spain are connected to the production of the King James Bible in 17th century England…

When Ferdinand and Isabella marry in 1469, much of the Iberian Peninsula becomes united under one rule (by the way, according to Wikipedia, this marriage was disallowed under Catholic rules since Ferdy and Izzy were second cousins– but the couple supposedly received a Papal dispensation to allow it to go forward– from a Pope who had died five years before!). With their combined power, Ferdinand and Isabella are able to drive out the Muslims in the South and to put all of Spain under Christian rule.

I assume that the surviving Muslims mostly wind-up in northern Africa. The victory of the Christians over the Muslims in Spain is no small contributing factor to how Europe remains a Christian-majority region for the next several centuries and counting… (down?). If Islam had spread throughout Europe as it did throughout much of Asia and Africa and the Pacific Isles, then there wouldn’t have been much need a few centuries later for an officially sanctioned Christian Bible from the English Court of King James…

The daughters of the power-couple Ferdinand and Isabella wind-up as some of the most important women in the world. Little surprise, then, that one of them, Juana La Loca (Joanna The Mad) ends up snagging for a husband, in spite of her mental issues, Philip The Handsome– son of Maximilian (the First) Hapsburg, the Holy Roman Emperor.

The Hapsburgs were the most powerful dynasty in Europe– and would remain so for the next 100 years. Future emperors Charles V and Ferdinand I are the two sons of Juana and Philip  (Juana and Philip also had four girls– all of whom went on to become queens in different countries).

Catherine, another daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella (and thus Juana La Loca’s sister) gets shuttled-off to an island in the far north of Europe, a second-tier power called England, where she is married to Prince Arthur, first son of Henry the 7th.

Unfortunately for Catherine, and even more unfortunately for Arthur, her new husband dies in 1502, only six months after their marriage. Catherine goes from being future queen of England, to just another also-ran. However, she is too important and still too young to be out of the power-politics game so soon… So she is put aside so that she may eventually marry the new Crown Prince of England, her deceased husband’s little brother, the future King Henry VIII. And sure enough, 7 years later, in 1509, Catherine marries Henry, who is six years younger than her.

For this marriage to occur (and reminiscent of Ferdinand and Isabella’s problem) the royals had to petition Pope Julius II in Rome to grant a special dispensation (one wasn’t supposed to marry one’s brother’s widow… marrying a sister “in law” was too close to marrying one’s sister in blood). To make certain the dispensation would be granted (which it was), Catherine had to swear that her marriage with the late Arthur was never consummated (if you have to ask what that means, you’re probably too young to know). My guess is that Catherine was forced to make this avowal, and that this was really a lie, but only the ghosts of Catherine and Arthur will ever know for sure.

Catherine had six pregnancies during her marriage– but only one produced a healthy child, the daughter Mary, to be known to posterity as Bloody Mary. Her other pregnancies ended in either miscarriage, stillbirth, or the very quick death of the infant. Two of these children were, indeed, male.

It was hoped by the English court that the child who did survive, Bloody Mary, would be married to Charles V (despite their being first cousins– not to mention that he was a quite a bit older than her), but this never happened. Instead Bloody Mary would eventually marry Charles’ son, Phillip II. But I’m getting ahead of the story…

As you’ll recall, Henry is several years younger than Catherine, and when it becomes apparent that her days of bearing of children are drawing to a close– and still with no male heir– Henry gets fidgety.

People today seem obsessed with the sordid hijinks of King Henry VIII, perhaps history’s most famous serial monogamist -slash- serial killer, so I won’t go into all that murderous soap opera stuff.  But as you know, Henry wants to divorce old menopausal Catherine (against her wishes) for young, nubile Anne Boleyn, but the Pope won’t allow it. There has always been speculation that the Pope (Clement VII at this time) did not grant the divorce (or, I guess, technically the annulment) because he was being held a virtual captive by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V– who just happened to be Catherine’s nephew; it seems Charles was against the divorce either due to loyalty to his aunt, or because he wanted to keep Hapsburg blood and ties in the royal house of England.

So in order to marry Anne, Henry breaks with the Rome-based Church, and England goes its own way in terms of organized religion, with the King of England taking on the role of Head Of The Church.

This little maneuver puts England, at least in a de facto way, in the growing Protestant camp of Europe– although, at first, the Anglican Church would operate and preach little differently from the Catholic Church. 

I think it important to note that it was King Henry VIII, himself, who had Tyndale burnt at the stake for publishing a Bible in English instead of in the standard Latin.  However, by the time of the death of Queen Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and Anne Boleyn, the acceptability of an English Bible is quite mainstream. And it is during the reign of Elizabeth’s successor (James I, son of Elizabeth’s relative Mary Queen Of Scots), that the government of England decides to produce a high-quality English translation which will serve as the official text of the Bible… and since this work was accomplished during the reign of James, it became known as the King James Version — the most beautiful English-rendering of the Bible ever completed (in my opinion anyway).

So, it seems that for the King James Bible we can thank Isabella for saying yes to Ferdinand two hundred years earlier– for if their daughter Catherine had not been both:  1) married to Henry VIII and  2) aunt to Charles V–  there is good reason to think that Henry WOULD have been granted his divorce (or annulment) by the Pope, and England might not have broken away from the Catholic church– which means England’s government might very well have kept burning those scoundrels producing English-language Bibles instead of producing one itself.


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