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Real Monasterio de Santa María de Guadalupe Guadalupe, Provincia de Cáceres, Extremadura, Spain

Henry IV of Castile ruled 1454-1474.jpgHenry IV of Castile (January 5, 1425 – December 11, 1474) was king of Spain. Accounts of Enrique IV's reign are often influenced by the historian's attitude towards the monarch's sexual ‘identity’. Impotence and homosexuality are often confused, as if it did not matter which was the case as long as sexual anomaly (any sexual anomaly) is involved. These personal flaws are then connected to some other personality traits such as indecisiveness and pusillanimity, and therefore blamed for the instability of the political situation. Clearly, he had to rule in politically turbulent times, face strong opposition from the aristocracy and several rival factions; these pressures together with his weak personality may have been responsible for his present status as one of the most maligned Spanish monarchs. (Curiously enough, homosexuality is less emphasised in the case of his father, Juan II, whose reign saw relative stability and economic and cultural wealth.) His relationships with noblemen were also confused and often misguided: he fought the powerful Álvaro de Luna in 1440 only to take his side six years later against other noblemen.

Enrique's alleged homosexuality seems to have been common knowledge at the time, although it is difficult to know how much was true and how much was just part of a campaign to tarnish his image in politically uncertain times. Enrique's sexual activities are often linked to the habits of the Arabs, who still held a few areas in southern Spain: in this way, the politically inconvenient king was related through accusations of sodomy to the loathed enemies, and homosexuality was used as a mark of otherness. Reports of numerous orgies and intense promiscuity do not square off with the often disseminated image of a physically weak man, impotent and prone to illness. And emphasis on perversion would later be used to justify a return to more conservative ideologies imposed by the ‘Catholic monarchs’ after Enrique's death. King Ferdinand of Aragon (who married Isabella, who succeeded Enrique IV to the throne) is reported to have mentioned Enrique's ‘frivolousness and perversion’ when told about his death. In life he was attacked in sets of rhymes that presented him having sex in the bushes and ignoring pressing matters of state. As in the case of other monarchs (both Juan II of Castille and Edward II in England), his ‘favourite’, Don Juan Pacheco, was one of the instruments used for attack. He was said to be an upstart who had sex with the king only to acquire social position, and when he was made Marquis of Villena animosity grew.

Enrique IV married twice. The first marriage was annulled when declared unconsummated. The question of succession was a pressing problem and rumours of impotence abounded. He then married Juana de Portugal, who did have a daughter, named after her mother. Court records suggest that mechanical devices were used to help the king fulfil his marital duties. But faith in the king's heterosexual abilities was damaged at this point and nobody really believed it was a legitimate child. Rumours of the queen's liaison with the nobleman Beltrán de la Cueva gave rise to the nickname of ‘La Beltraneja’ for her daughter. In any case one cannot dismiss political interests underlying the rejection of Juana: Isabella already had her supporters and illegitimacy seemed not to have been the issue, but something conveniently used for power machinations. There is something oddly symbolic in this shift in Spanish history: the king presented as homosexual and friend of the Muslims is regarded as unfit for government and succeeded by a xenophobic, conservative, imperialist regime that would dominate the next two centuries of Spanish history.

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