The 10 Most Famous Spanish Queens
Like most major European countries, Spain has seen some really impressive monarchs over the years! This includes several queens that have made their mark.
I love giving the spotlight to influential and important women in history, which is why I’m coming at you all with a list of my 10 personal favorite Spanish queens. Keep reading to learn more about these impressive women.
1. Queen Urraca of León
Queen Urraca of León was also known as Urraca the Reckless. She was Queen of León, Castile and Galicia, which were three separate Kingdoms within the Iberian Peninsula. This is the area that covers Spain and Portugal in modern times.
Urraca was the last surviving heir of Alfonso VI of León and his second wife Constance of Burgundy, giving her the right to reign over the Kingdoms of Castile and León. Well, one would think she had the right. In 1107, King Alfonso named his illegitimate son Sancho as the rightful heir, likely because he didn’t want a woman to rule.
Urraca was married off to a man named Raymond of Burgundy when she was just 8 years old. She had 2 children with Raymond before his death in 1107. Then, after her half-brother’s death in 1108, Urraca was named Queen. But, her father insisted that she marry again. He chose a man named Alfonso I of Aragon.
Urraca’s father died, but she honored his wishes by moving forward with her marriage to Alfonso of Aragon. Then, as more time went on, it became clear that the two were not a good match. Alfonso became abusive with Urraca and she left him.
Scholars and historians have noted that Urraca used her gender to her advantage in politics, and was able to secure the rights to the throne to her own heir. One historian in particular, Bernard F. Reilly, has written that, “There is no question that the queen is in control, perhaps all too much in control, of events.”
Reign as Queen of León, Castile and Galicia: 1109-1126
2. Isabella I of Castile
Isabella I of Castile is perhaps the most famous Spanish queen on my list! Through her marriage to Ferdinand II, she was able to unify Spain into one state. She also reorganised the government, lowered the crime rate in her country, and paid off all of the major debts that her brother had racked up before she took the throne.
Isabella and his husband are also famous for the exploration they commissioned during their rule. Their court supported the voyages of Christopher Columbus, and his discoveries helped to establish Spain as a global power.
While today we can recognize that the expansion of Spain across the globe also meant the colonization of native people in the “New World,” in those days it was a major power move for Spain. So, while I praise Isabella for lowering the crime rate and unifying Spain, I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of her exploration tactics.
Isabella was also a practicing Catholic, and she and her husband were given the right to add “The Catholic” to their names by Pope Alexander VI. After a process of canonization began in 1958, Isabella was given the title “Servant of God” by the Catholic Church in 1974.
Reign as Queen of Castile and León: 1474-1504
3. Joanna of Castile
Joanna of Castile was the daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. When Queen Isabella I died in 1504, Joanna became Queen of Castile, and her father called himself “Governor and Administrator of Castile.”
Joanna was technically queen, but she played almost no role at all in the government. She was determined to be insane and was swiftly imprisoned by order of her father. He subsequently ruled as regent until he too died in 1516. Joanna then inherited his kingdom, and was crowned Queen of Aragon as well.
Joanna was co-monarch alongside her son Charles I, but she remained imprisoned for her entire life. She was sometimes referred to as Joanna the Mad, but most historians say that she probably was suffering from depression.
Reign as Queen of Castile and León: 1504-1555
Reign as Queen of Aragon: 1516-1555
4. Isabella of Portugal
Isabella of Portugal was not only Queen consort of Spain, she was also Holy Roman Empress and Queen of Germany, Italy, Naples and Sicily and Duchess of Burgundy. That’s a lot of titles! She gained the Duchess of Burgundy title through her husband, Emperor Charles V.
Isabella of Portugal’s grandparents were Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II. She is often compared to her grandmother for her beauty and skill in politics! Isabella played a huge role in Spanish politics at the time as her husband was often away traveling.
She was also known as a loving mother who focused on giving her children the best education out there. Unfortunately, Isabella suffered from weak health, and was often ill with malaria! She died at just 35 years old.
Reign as Queen consort of Spain: 1526-1539
5. Elisabeth of Valois
Elisabeth of Valois was French, the daughter of King Henri II of France and Catherine de’ Medici. She married the king of Spain, Philip II when she was only 14 years old, but despite the massive age different between herself and the king, the couple seems to have been in love.
Elisabeth was a patron of the arts and brought in two Spanish painters to live with her after she was married. She also enjoyed painting herself, and took lessons from her artist friends!
At 23, Elisabeth died in childbirth. Her mother, Catherine, suggested that Philip marry another one of her daughters, but he was so devastated by the death of Elisabeth that he declined.
Reign as Queen consort of Spain: 1559-1568
6. Margaret of Austria
Margaret of Austria became Queen consort of Spain and Portugal through her marriage to Philip III and II. Her husband has both Philip III and II due to his titles in Spain as well as in Italy.
Margaret sounds like exactly my kind of queen, due to her involvement in government and politics. Historians say that she had a lot of influence over the king, and even banned together with a group of women to urge him on certain policies.
She had strong ties with her Catholic faith, and often worked on bringing Catholicism to Europe.
Reign as Queen consort of Spain and Portugal: 1599-1611
7. Mariana of Austria
Mariana of Austria married her uncle Philip IV (incest was normal back then! Yuck) and became Queen of Spain in 1649. After her husband/uncle’s death in 1665, she served as regent to her son Charles II due to his weak health. Serving as regent means that Mariana acted as monarch in place of her son.
When she was Queen, Mariana was pushed out of politics due to her gender. So, she decided to focus on education and religion in Spain.
Probably due to all of the incest, Mariana’s son Charles was disabled, which is why she served as his regent. You may recognize her daughter, Margaret Theresa, from the famous Velasquez painting Las Meninas!
Reign as Queen consort of Spain: 1649-1665
8. Marie Louise d’Orléans
Marie Louise d’Orléans was born in Paris and was the granddaughter to the king of France. She was married to Charles II, King of Spain as a way to bring peace to the fighting countries.
Marie Louise lived a fairly lonely life in Spain, as her husband suffered from physical disabilities and was often very ill. She was also often stressed out and anxious as she could not get pregnant. Scholars say that Charles II was in love with Marie Louise and they tried to produce an heir, but nothing came to fruition.
The Queen consort was riding on horseback one day when she felt a severe pain in her stomach. She died the next night. There are some that think she was poisoned because she had failed to produce an heir! This was never confirmed or denied, so this one will go down as a mystery!
Reign as Queen consort of Spain: 1679-1689
9. Maria Luisa of Savoy
Maria Luisa of Savoy married Philip V of Spain and became the Queen consort of Spain in 1701. The pair were both French, and Philip V had been named king of Spain after Charles II died without any heirs.
Philip V was madly in love with Maria Luisa, and she had a huge influence on the Spanish government. Historians write that she was smart, mature and had a mind for politics. Philip was known for being a little bit wishy-washy, and Maria Luisa played a big role in focusing the king.
Philip V left Spain to fight in Italy in 1702, and Maria acted as regent until he returned in 1703. She was only 14 at the time, but historic documents show that she made several improvements in Spain during her time as regent.
Reign as Queen consort of Spain: 1701-1714
10. Isabella II
Isabella II was crowned Queen when she was only 3 years old. Her mother, Maria Christina served as regent until Isabella II turned 16. She was then forced into a marriage with her cousin, Francisco de Asís de Borbón.
She was known to be involved in politics, and during her reign Spain fought two wars. When Spain lost at the Battle of Alcolea in 1868, Isabella II was exiled to France. Her exile played a part in the Franco-Prussian War, as Napoleon III did not want a Prussian ruler to take the crown in Spain.
Isabella lived in Paris until she died in 1904.
Reign as Queen of Spain: 1833-1868
I hope you’ve all discovered more on some of the most famous Spanish queens! These 10 important women played large roles in the Spanish monarchy over the centuries, and I’ve really enjoyed telling you all about them.
If you want to learn more about Spanish history, why not join one of our walking tours in Barcelona? Our local guides really know their stuff, and you’re sure to learn a little thing or two from them! Click here to learn more and make your booking.