Undergraduate and Postgraduate Research Placement: Isabel I of Castile and education

Isabel I of Castile (1451–1504) was an educated queen of Spain who surrounded herself with female scholars, advisors and teachers. As a child she received a brilliant education. She studied grammar, art, history, philosophy, music and poetry. She could also speak French and Italian and when she became queen she decided to study Latin so that she could personally take care of her diplomatic affairs and study classical texts in more depth. She owned 400 books which demonstrates that she must have been a voracious reader. In her library there were books in French and Italian, classical texts, history and religious books, books of entertainment and Spanish literature. Her oral and written skills were admired by scholars. Marineo Sículo and Francisco de Oviedo, royal chroniclers, affirmed that Isabel’s oratory grasped everybody’s attention. She also made sure that her daughters received an excellent education. When her daughters got married, they followed their mother’s example and surrounded themselves with a female educated court.

Isabel’s female courtiers’ interaction with cultural life extended beyond that of the court. They acted as patrons and promoted artists and cultural movements with which they shared the same ideas, but they were also educated women who dedicated themselves to reading and writing. Some examples of educated court ladies were María Pacheco who studied Latin, Greek and maths, Ana Girón de Rebolledo who was a voracious reader and was praised by Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, a Spanish poet and diplomat, for her intelligence, and Beatriz Galindo who was known in Spain because of her talent in classical studies. For this reason Isabel asked her to become her Latin teacher. During her stay at the royal court, Beatriz collected 126 books and founded a classical academy where scholars met in order to analyse classical texts. She also wrote two books, Comentarios sobre Aristoteles and Notas Sabias sobre los Antiguos.

Isabel promoted education in her family, in her court and in her kingdom. In this period women’s intellectual participation in society became more consolidated and there was a development of feminine literature and culture. Isabel favoured the establishment of girls’ schools and improved universities all over Spain. Therese Oettel affirms that in 1488 in the University of Salamanca there were more than seven thousand students, among which there were also women. Clara Chitera, for example, was enrolled at the University of Salamanca in 1546 and there she studied medicine, maths and also published a mathematical treatise. Therefore, Isabel’s educational policy and interest in culture, helped to develop women’s involvement in cultural life both in the court and public environment.



Sources Consulted:

Oettel, Therese. 1935. “Una catedrática en el siglo de Isabel la Católica: Luisa (Lucía) Medrano.” Boletín de la Academia de la Historia : 107-120

C, Segura Graiño. 2006. Las mujeres en la época de Isabel I de Castilla (women during the reign of Isabel I of Castile), Anales de historia medieval de la Europa atlántica: AMEA, Vol. 1, pp.161-187

M,Walliser (1996) Recuperación panorámica de la literatura laica femenina en lengua Castellana. (hasta el siglo XVIII). (Overview of women’s secular literature in Spanish)  PhD Thesis, Boston College, pp. 137-231


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