Columbus, Ferdinand, and Isabella

Although Columbus was a successful merchant and sailing master in Portugal, he seems to have had a personal drive for fame and fortune, and most importantly, a fervent belief in his scheme to reach rich trading grounds in China by sailing west over the "Ocean Sea". His proposal to try this scheme under the Portuguese flag met with refusal by the Portuguese King who was committed to reaching China and the Indies by travelling around the continent of Africa.

Ferdinand and Isabella with Columbus

Meanwhile in Spain the united crowns of Castile and Aragon, along with Valencia, had formed a powerful new federal power which was on the verge of driving the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula. The success of this venture would increase the resources available to the monarchs of this land. The monarchs, who ruled jointly, were King Ferdinand of Aragon, and Queen Isabella of Castile. As Castile was the greater of the two kingdoms, Isabella was in many ways the senior partner of the relationship.

Columbus decided to present his plan to the Spanish queen and king. He made his way to Cordoba, where they held court at the time. (They were wrapping up their campaign against Grenada.) He got an audience. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand referred the plan to a committee to research the matter. The committee had on it men who knew something about navigation, logistics, and the size of the Earth. They calculated, quite correctly, that China and India had to be so far away, going west, that ships of that day could not be expected to make the journey. For some time, this committee's finding seemed to finalize the matter. However, Columbus determined to get a patron for his project. He headed north toward France. This move prompted Isabella and Ferdinand to send for him to grant him three ships with crews.

There may have been a few additional factors that swung the scale in the favor of Columbus. Spain had recently acquired the Canary Islands, which were to the West. Reason dictated that there might be more Islands further west, just for the taking (which indeed proved the case). Also the relative expense of the voyage as opposed to the possible gains made it an excellent gamble. It has been estimated by some that the outfitting of the ships was less expensive than entertaining a visiting dignitary for only a week!1

As part of the terms for undertaking the voyage, Christopher Columbus was granted 10% of the profits. If successful he would also achieve noble status and the governorship of the lands he found. These benefits would also accrue to his descendants.2

<< The Early Life of Christopher Columbus
The Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria >>


  1. Queen Isabella
  2. Info Cordoba

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