Joanna of Austria was born on 24 January 1547 in Prague as the daughter of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and Anne of Bohemia and Hungary. Sadly, the birth cost her mother her life three days later.
Not much is known of her youth but on 18 December 1565, she married Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany in Florence. It was an unhappy marriage, and Joanna was dreadfully homesick. She had some sympathy from her father-in-law, Cosimo I de’ Medici, who had murals of Austrian towns painted for her.
Joanna gave birth to six daughters in quick succession, which only caused more conflict with her husband. Her husband’s mistress Bianca Cappello gave birth to a son named Antonio in 1576. In 1577, Joanna too gave birth to a son. He was named Filippo in honour of King Philip II of Spain, who was Joanna’s first cousin. The young Prince suffered from water on the brain, and he would die at the age of 4. Just 11 months after his birth, Joanna – already heavily pregnant again – fell down the stairs at the Grand Ducal Palace in Florence. She survived the fall but went into early labour. A few hours later, she gave birth to a premature son who died immediately after birth. Joanna died the very next day.
Rumours were soon flying that Joanna had in fact been murdered so that Francesco could marry his mistress, which he did not long after Joanna’s death. She officially died of a ruptured uterus after the child presented arm first.
Joanna was one of the Medici’s who was exhumed, and her skeleton was examined. The study of her skeleton revealed that she had a skeletal age of 25-35 years, a stature of 1.57m, a medium-low skull and orbits and a narrow face and nose. Her muscular insertions suggest that her physical activity was very limited. During the original autopsy, her sternum had been sectioned. She suffered from a projection of the mandible (the famous Habsburg jaw), a congenital malformation of the dental crowns, severe scoliosis with a deformity of the pelvis and an incomplete congenital dislocation of the hip. Her pelvis also showed signs of previous difficult births.1