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European History Essay Paper – Past Question Plans Essay

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This is an ‘explain’ type question – so it’s asking you to do just that, but also a little more. Merely describing the measures Ferdinand and Isabella took to cope with various problems will get some marks, but more marks will be gained if you weigh up the outcomes of these policies, and register how successful they were. For example, you may say in the essay that Ferdinand and Isabella faced economic problems, and you may go on to explain what policy(ies) they introduced to solve the problem.

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This would be ‘explaining’ how they ‘dealt’ with the problem, but you can go further and say how well they dealt with it compared to other issues, etc. Also, refer to historians and what they said about how they dealt with problems. Always link back to the question.

So – you must:

a) Show what the problems were

b) What measures they took to deal with them

c) How successful these measures were, evaluating against other issues, historiographical interpretations, short-term/long-term instances.

The essay:


i) Civil War in Aragon – decline of Barcelona, civil disorder, social unrest.

ii) Lack of Grandee support for Isabella.

iii) Lack of Town support for Isabella.

iv) Foreign menaces.

v) Religious issues – Jews, Muslims, Reconquista.


i) Civil War in Aragon: well, King John of Aragon was very much in favour of a marriage alliance of Ferdinand with Isabella. John saw this as a way of engineering territorial security in area like Catalonia, keeping the French at bay. He also saw the possibility of better economic ties that would help halt the decline of Barcelona and peasant unrest. Thus, Chroniclers depicted Ferdinand – King in January 1479 – as the founder of a new Age, a ‘Messiah’. The real problems in Aragon, however, like that of town control over financial policy, were not even attempted to be sorted out until after 1479 when Ferdinand had been King for a few years. However, between 1469 and 1479, we can see the ideal behind John’s plan to marry Ferdinand and Isabella, as it was meant to give Ferdinand a better chance to reviving Aragon’s fortunes – something, in the long-term, which slowly starts to happen, for example with the emergence of town consulados, etc.

ii) Lack of Grandee support for Isabella: Isabella had some Grandee support – but she needed more in order to win her succession. The succession crisis was the biggest issue, and within that, the lack of Grandee support – an important problem that needed to be addressed. So, she had to make deals to get support. She needed their support as Grandees had land, money, power and men – they could make or break a monarch. So, she bought them off: Cardinal Mendoza was promised a Chancellorship, his brother was created Duke of Infantado; Enriquez was made Admiral of Castile; Velasco made Constable of Castile. Isabella said – support me and I’ll reward you, and this is how she changed the potentially dangerous situation of only a minority of Nobles supporting her, to a majority in favour of her.

iii) Lack of town support: Most towns were in revolt; many ‘bandos’ fought for their own control of the towns and cities, depriving Ferdinand and Isabella of an important power base. Isabella used a variety of techniques to overcome the problem, demonstrating her political aptitude and ability to work out different answers to varying situations. Thus, Burgos was promised Royal protection from liberty-threatening nobles after Burgos’s citizens highlighted this as a major hindrance in their supporting of Isabella. Toledo was offered extensive privileges if they submitted; Seville was threatened with financial and commercial penalties if Isabella’s right as Queen was refused there. Rodrigo declared in favour of Isabella


How important was religion in influencing the policies of Ferdinand and Isabella?

The only way to avoid narrative is to structure an essay properly and to focus on explaining and arguing, rather than telling the story. It takes a certain amount of courage to accept, but a shorter, focused, analytical answer is much better than a long, narrative one! If you can, use short, snappy quotations to support your analysis, rather than long factual descriptions.

Clearly you understand that religion was important and since this is the factor given in the essay title, you need to deal with this in the greatest depth. A brief introduction stressing the piety of Ferdinand and (especially) Isabella (eg ref “the Catholic monarchs”, the fact that their tomb in Granada Cathedral records only their “achievements” in religion) should be an followed by an explanation of how the conquest of Granada, the establishment of religious uniformity, the reform of the Spanish Church and even the sponsorship of Columbus were motivated by religious aims.

In the context of this essay, the policy of religious uniformity requires particular attention, as the implementation of this policy was politically difficult (eg opposition to the Inquisition, especially in the Aragonese kingdoms and the revolt of the Alpujarras) and economically damaging (eg the loss of the wealth and commercial skills of the Jewish community especially in Barcelona and the disruption to trade and agriculture in Granada after the expulsion of the Moors). It therefore shows the importance of religion in the formation and implementation of policy, given that Ferdinand & Isabella were willing to accept the consequent political and economic difficulties.

However, to give your essay balance you will need also to explain that these “religious” policies had other aims too, given the pressing need to restore and strengthen royal authority (particularly in Castile, after the anarchy of Henry IV’s reign and the civil war). In particular, the conquest of Granada and the sponsorship of Columbus were motivated by economic aims, while the conquest and reform of the Church also had broader political aims (eg the conquest united the nobility behind the new regime and gave it a safe outlet for its aggressive instincts, while ecclesiastical reform went some way to establishing royal authority over the Spanish Church).

You should conclude that this complex of motives – religious, political and economic – was inevitable, given the personality of the Catholic monarchs and the context of their reign.

I hope all this helps you with your studies. Good luck!


How United was Spain by 1516?

The main thing with any essay is to be clear in your mind about what you are going to say. Yes, there are different interpretations but the only point of view your exam marker is really interested in is yours! So you must decide right from the beginning what you think the answer is and structure your essay accordingly. If you have time, you can include some discussion of the other views/possibilities in your conclusion!

In the case of this essay, there are a number of possible answers: ie Ferdinand & Isabella united Spain more or less completely; they didn’t unite it at all; or they united it in some ways but not others. Common sense will tell you that the last approach is probably the best one!

Having decided what your argument is going to be, you can say so in your introduction (ie Ferdinand & Isabella imposed religious uniformity on Spain and created a dynastic union: however measure designed to bring about closer economic ties were half-hearted at best and they never united Spain politically) and structure the rest of the essay accordingly.

Start off by explaining those areas where unity was achieved, in particular the implementation of policies designed to bring about religious uniformity (conquest of Granada, expulsion of Jews and Moors, Inquisition) and the dynastic union resulting from the marriage of Ferdinand & Isabella that also enabled the Catholic Kings to pursue common military and foreign policy aims.

However, you should be aware that all of this only went so far. For example, the supposedly “Spanish” conquest of Granada actually resulted in the expansion of the crown of Castile, while toleration of Moorish practices actually continued in Aragon (especially Valencia). Perhaps most telling was the fact that after Isabella’s death, Ferdinand re-married in order to prevent (unsuccessfully) Charles of Burgundy from inheriting Aragon as well as Castile. In other words, Ferdinand did not want the dynastic union created by himself and Isabella to last if it meant that their joint heir would be a Habsburg prince.

Consider the economy next: “unity” is suggested by the equalisation of currencies (often referred to as the introduction of a common currency) and the introduction of a rudimentary postal service. However, internal customs barriers and regulations protecting the privileged status of “native” merchants in towns like Barcelona, Valencia and Seville remained.

Finally, explain that Ferdinand & Isabella certainly didn’t unite Spain in any political sense. Indeed, they probably had no intention of ever doing so (for example they never called themselves the King and Queen of Spain!). The component kingdoms all had their own rights and privileges that made it almost impossible to rule as a single political unit . Indeed, given the potential strength of the crown in Castile (and the weakness of royal authority in Aragon) Ferdinand & Isabella wisely concentrated on restoring the authority of the crown there, leaving Aragon more or less to its own devices. Apart from the Inquisition, there were no common political, administrative, legal or military institutions and the rights of the Aragonese kingdoms, Navarre and the Basque Provinces were fully respected (apart from the imposition of the Inquisition). Conclude this section of your essay by referring to events after Isabella’s death, when Ferdinand was seen as a “foreign” ruler with no rights in Castile and was consequently excluded from the government of the country. It was only the death of Archduke Philip and the madness of Joanna that forced the Castilian administration under Cisneros to turn (very reluctantly!) to Ferdinand for assistance.

As noted above, your conclusion might include discussion of other interpretations/points of view but it is better if you end up reinforcing your own argument! If you can, find a snappy quotation that supports your point of view to end with!

I hope this hopes you with your studies. Good luck!

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European History Essay Paper – Past Question Plans. (2017, Aug 31). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/european-history-essay-paper-past-question-plans-essay

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