John II of Castile was born on March 6, 1405, in Toro, Castile. The first-born son of King Henry III and Queen Catherine, John was the couple’s third child. A year after the prince’s birth, Henry died from illness at the age of 27. Through his efforts, the king left behind a stable kingdom with a prosperous economy to his infant son. As a baby, John couldn’t rule independently yet. Instead, the new king’s mother and uncle, Ferdinand of Aragon, ruled on his behalf.
As John II grew up, the young king preferred hunting and tournaments over politics. By 1419, he had become old enough to begin ruling independently. The following year, John married his cousin, Maria of Aragon. Lacking his father’s political instincts, John quickly proved an incapable ruler. To make matters worse, the king willingly allowed himself to be influenced by stronger-willed individuals. One such person was his friend, Alvaro de Luna.
de Luna didn’t like John II’s Aragon cousins. To this end, the king’s advisor created a faction at court to oppose the Aragonese. As the nobles fought amongst themselves, de Luna used the chaos to enrich himself and his close followers. Despite Alvaro’s negative influence, John willingly turned a blind eye to his corrupt activities. As the king’s reign progressed, John allowed de Luna to gain more control over him.
Campaign Against Granada
In 1430, peace was restored at the Castilian court after a settlement was agreed upon. With the factions pacified, John II turned his attention toward Granada. The king led a military campaign to depose Sultan Muhammed IX and replace him with a more friendly ruler. After defeating Granada’s forces at the Battle of Higuereula in 1431, John installed Yusuf IV on Granada’s throne. The new sultan agreed to become Castile’s vassal and pay tribute. This victory would be the high point of John’s reign.
de Luna’s Downfall
Over the next 15 years, Alvaro de Luna faithfully advised John II of Castile while increasing his own political and economic power. The king continued to allow de Luna to rule on his behalf and took little interest in politics. In 1447, Queen Maria died, leaving behind a single living child, Henry. Similar to his father, the prince had two older sisters. However, they both had died young.
Under Alvaro de Luna’s influence, John II gave his son a separate court at Segovia. de Luna did this to keep the prince isolated, although this action would later backfire. By this time, de Luna’s greed had caused a faction of the nobility to turn against him. While in Segovia, Henry came under the influence of these nobles and began plotting against de Luna. The king’s advisor would make his next mistake by arranging John’s second marriage.
Seeking a new bride for John II, Alvaro de Luna arranged for the king to marry 19-year-old Isabella of Portugal. On September 4, 1448, John married the princess. Unlike Maria, who accepted Alvaro de Luna’s control of the king, Isabella sought to control John herself. As a result, de Luna’s days were numbered. Under pressure from his wife and son, John reluctantly ordered de Luna’s execution in June 1453.
Queen Isabella quickly dominated her feeble husband after Alvaro de Luna’s death. Although the king mourned his friend’s passing, John II readily submitted to his strong-willed wife. In the early 1450s, the aging king had two more children with Isabella; Isabella (b. 1451) and Alfonso (b. 1453). Although John now had another son, Prince Henry remained his father’s heir. On July 21, 1454, the 49-year-old king died and was succeeded by Henry IV the following day.
John II of Castile proved to be an incapable ruler. His feeble nature and willingness to let others dominate him ultimately undid Henry III’s work. Instead of leaving behind a prosperous kingdom to his son, John left behind a weakened throne to Henry. Unfortunately for Henry IV, he wouldn’t fare much better than his father. Castile wouldn’t begin to recover its strength until Isabella I’s reign began in 1474.
Dougherty, M. J. (2018). Kings & Queens of the Medieval World: From Conquerors and Exiles to Madmen and Saints (pp. 76-78). London: Amber Books.
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