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Ferdinand was the joint ruler, with his wife Isabella, of the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon from 1474 until Isabella's death in 1504. Ferdinand continued to rule alone until his death in 1516. Together they united Spain and laid the foundations of its imperial greatness.

In the 15th century, Spain was divided into four different kingdoms. The two biggest were Castile and Aragon. The first step towards uniting Spain was made in 1469 when Ferdinand and Isabella married. They succeeded the king of Castile when he died. In 1479 Ferdinand inherited Aragon and later made Isabella joint ruler of Aragon as well. In 1492-1512 he conquered Granada, Naples and Navarre.

With the two kingdoms united, Spain grew more powerful. Both Ferdinand and Isabella were devout Catholics and the Inquisition was established under their rule. It was a religious court which punished people who did not accept the Catholic Church's teachings. It operated with great severity; people were tried in secret and tortured until they confessed. Those who did confess could be fined, while those who refused were either imprisoned or burned to death.

At this time, there were many Jews living in Spain and the Inquisition was used against them. In 1492 as many as 200,000 of them were expelled from Spain. In the same year, the Moorish state of Granada was recaptured. Many of the Muslim Moors who were expelled, went to live in North Africa. Isabella sponsored Christopher Columbus's voyage which ended in the Americas.

In 1511 Ferdinand and Henry VIII of England joined the Holy League against France.

Ferdinand and Isabella had five children. One was Catherine of Aragon who married Henry VIII of England. But they had no son and so descent passed through their daughter Joanna the Mad. Charles V, of the Habsburgs, who had already inherited Burgundy and the Netherlands, also inherited Spain and Naples from Ferdinand.

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