THE early history of its great family is coincident with the history of the rise of Spain's greatness as a nation. Whatever value other factors may have had in producing Spain's glory the presence of the long line of great rulers and warriors must have been one of the greatest. This influence of the great leaders could make itself felt then, even more than now.
Within a short time we have had an example in Lord Roberts of what genius for generalship can accomplish in the turn of events. How much greater impress on his times the great man must have made in those medieval days when the masses knew almost nothing!
I know of no other direct line, except the then reigning one in Portugal, where greatness was maintained for so long a period, nor has there appeared any other than these two dynasties, where vigorous and distinguished blood was so continuously introduced into the stock. Portugal was five times united with the best of the stock of Spain to its evident advantage. Spain took wives three times from Portugal. Two of these, the marriage of Ferdinand II. of Leon (d. 1187) and Ferdinand IV. (d. 1317), were of great benefit. The third was valuable as far as the introduction of Portugal's blood was concerned, but happened to be very unwise, because it brought back again in a double way the cruel traits of Sancho IV. which resulted in producing Pedro 'the Cruel' whose tyrannies amounted almost to madness.
There are a few exceptions among the noble characters, such as the cruel tyrants just referred to, whose traits will be seen to be evidently caused by heredity. Still for twenty-one generations in the direct male line of Castile from Sancho II. in the tenth century to Charles Quint, the greatest ruler of his time (d. 1558), there were only four who did not possess a high degree of strength and ability. These were Alfonso IX., Ferdinand IV., John I. of Castile and Ferdinand I. of Aragon.
The first two of these were in the early centuries. John I. of Castile and Ferdinand I. of Aragon were father and son, who lived in the period just before the time of Ferdinand and Isabella.
There were two others, also father and son, who ruled over Castile