Ferdinand II was the son of John II consort king of Navarre, who inherited the Catalan and Aragonese crown from his brother Alfons V the magnanimous in 1458, all of them from the house of Trastamara. Ferndiand’s father, disregarding the birth rights of his first son Charles of Viana, made him count of Ribagorça and lord of Balaguer, in Catalan territories, as well some Italian territories.
When his half brother, Charles prince of Viana died poisoned in Barcelona in 1461, Ferdinand became the heir of the kingdom of Aragon and Catalonia under the regency of Joana Enríquez (John II spouse), of who they said she had poisoned Charles to put Ferdinand as the heir of the throne while she could rule the country herself. He also inherited the county of Girona and some other titles in Sicily (Lord of Piazza Armerina and Caltagirone, duchy of Noto, among other titles). He married Isabel of Castile in 1469, a dynastic union pre-arranged by his mother (her intention was that he would rule the Castile kingdom under her rule but he respected Isabel’s birth rights and agreed to only become consort). Ferdinand became consort king of Castile establishing a highly effective sovereignty on equal terms: Their prenuptial agreement was worth of any modern one we can find today. They would finish the reconquest of the Peninsula to the Muslims, but each of them would rule their own kingdoms. Ferdinand, though, did not truly inherit the Catalan-Aragonese crown until 1479 when his mother died. Many take this moment as a the one when “Spain” was formed for the first time. However, this could not be further from the truth. When Ferdinand, who was a well educated prince, finally was in charge of the Kingdom of Aragon, the princedom of Catalonia, and the titles in Valencia, Sicily, Naples, Sardinia, he implemented new developed politics and was willing to modernize all institutions so they could be more efficient. He signed the treaty Constitution of observance in 1480 that defined Generalitat and the royal audience as the two organisms in charge of the accomplishment of institutional order in the Catalan countries. He restored all Catalaninstitutions from Jaume I times, and he helped to constitute the famous “Consell de cent” in the city of Barcelona, a chamber where all the strata of society were to be represented.
Ferdinand loved and cared for the Catalan countries and so he issued laws to protect Catalan industry and agriculture. He worked to cut the deficit of public institutions, he made the country economy profitable and he never wanted the Castile, Aragon and Catalonia to become one only state, but he made everything in his reach for absolutely the opposite.
Some historians like to call him the diplomat, because he also operated with a savvy hand internationally. And proof of that is that he recovered the counties of Rosselló and Cerdanya who had been taken by the French not long ago: he convinced the french king Charles III to sign the treaty of Barcelona returning the north Catalan counties in exchange of Ferdinand not intervening in the Italian affairs related to France for as long as those would not jeopardize the interest of the Holy Church. Others even dare to suggest he inspired the work of Machiavelli “The prince”.
However, some may say he was hardly ever ruling in Barcelona, always busy with Castilian matters and the followers of the house of Barcelona dynasty. Furthermore, he had to accept, pushed by his wife, to introduce the Spanish inquisition in Catalan territories, forcing Hebrews & Muslims to convert, exile or die. Nonetheless, the gold taken from the Jews or from Muslim converted territories was not enough to pay for the ambitious international projects of the catholic kings. Thus Ferdinand agreed he would personally finance the quest of Cristòfol Columbus with money from the Catalan crown, that is why they departed initially from Barcelona.
When Isabel died in 1504, knowing the mental disabilities of his daughter and heir Joana and not believing that any of his other children could really manage a totalitarian empire, he decided to marry again to get an heir for the Catalan-Aragonese crown. On 1505 he married Germana de Foix, daughter of John of Foix and Mary of Orleans, niece of king Louis XXI of France. Searching to strengthen the alliance with the French king, Ferdinand rushed to have a first child, who unfortunately died a baby. Ferdinand died the 23rd of January 1516 in Extremadura of an embolism, some say poisoned and betrayed by his young wife.
It is evident that Ferdinand did not believe on a totalitarian union of all the kingdoms of the Peninsula. He believed all the kingdoms and territories would be more profitable if ruled separately with dynastic alliances. And so did Isabel, that is what they stated in their prenuptial agreement, that is what they did why they were alive and what they instructed in their testaments. He was a modern man of his times, a great politician who saw in Catalonia an industrial and economic motor that transformed the country into one of the most solid, hegemonic and powerful catholic crowns of Europe.