Very little is known about Joanna of Bavaria, the first wife of King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia. She did not play a big role as queen, and she never had any children. Information about her life is so sparse, that even her sudden death is talked about more than her life.
Joanna of Bavaria was a daughter of Albert I, Duke of Bavaria and Count of Holland, Hainault and Zeeland, and Margaret of Brieg. She was probably born in The Hague. The date of her birth is uncertain, it is said to be 1356 at the earliest or 1362 at the latest.
Queen of Bohemia and Germany
In August 1370, Joanna anywhere between the age of eight and fourteen, left The Hague and traveled to Prague for her wedding. On 29 September 1370, Joanna was wed to nine-year-old Wenceslaus, the eldest son of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. Wenceslaus had been betrothed twice before marrying Joanna. The marriage between Wenceslaus and Joanna was arranged to break an anti-Bohemian alliance between the Hungarian and Polish kings and Joanna’s family. Wenceslaus had already been crowned as King of Bohemia at a very young age to confirm his place as his father’s heir. On 17 November 1370, Joanna was crowned as Queen of Bohemia.
The marriage was consummated in 1376 when Wenceslaus was fifteen, and Joanna between fourteen and twenty. After that they started living together regularly. That same year, the couple were crowned as King and Queen of the Romans, in Frankfurt am Main. The title ‘King of the Romans’ was also called ‘King of Germany’, and was often used for the heirs of the Holy Roman Emperor. Joanna learned Czech really quickly. Her closest advisor would have been the Empress, Wenceslaus’ stepmother, Elizabeth of Pomerania. However, relations between them were not good. Elizabeth did not like Wenceslaus and was bitter about the fact that he was heir over her own children.
King Charles IV died on 29 November 1378. On his death, Wenceslaus became the sole King of Bohemia and Germany. Although his father was Holy Roman Emperor, Wenceslaus was never crowned as such. Joanna is known to have attended Charles’ funeral. Soon after Charles’ death, Joanna left the royal court in Prague, and lived at the castle of Pisek for about a year. Apparently this had to do with a disagreement between her and Elizabeth of Pomerania.
Joanna did not play a big role as Queen of Bohemia, but she had her own royal seal. According to chroniclers she was no great beauty, but was known for her friendly and cheerful nature. Accounts are divided on whether the marriage was happy or not. All accounts seem to agree that Wenceslaus loved to drink and was ill-tempered at times. Wenceslaus also loved hunting, and kept a pack of hounds that slept in his bed chamber. He was known to have devoted most of his time to hunting, eating, and drinking. Apparently, Joanna tried to intervene with Wenceslaus about his lifestyle, and tried to get him to take his role as king more seriously. It is said, that despite Wenceslaus’ character, there was a strong emotional bond between him and his wife. The marriage was childless, and the couple’s infertility is usually blamed on Wenceslaus instead of Joanna. Wenceslaus was thought to be infertile because of his alcoholism.
Joanna’s sudden death
Joanna’s life came to a sudden end on the last day of 1386, at the royal castle of Karlstein, when she was between the ages of 24 and 30. There are several theories of her death, the most common one is that she was bitten or strangled by one of Wenceslaus’ hounds. According to a chronicler, she got up in the middle of the night to use the chamber pot. As she searched for the chamber pot under the bed, the noise startled and woke one of the hounds, and the dog jumped on her and bit her in the throat. Some wonder how this could have happened, and if the animal was used to Joanna. About a year before, one of the dogs had bitten a royal master that they would have been used to. Sometimes Wenceslaus’ recklessness is used to explain the aggression of his dogs. It is also suggested that the dog could have had rabies. These hounds were used to hunt and kill large animals, and protect their master.
Some question this story because in the middle ages it was customary for kings and queens to have separate bedchambers. However, it is not impossible that they could have still spent some nights together. Perhaps the hounds were not used to Joanna sleeping in the bedchamber with their master. Some other theories say Joanna, miserable in her marriage starved herself to death. This seems very unlikely, however. There is also a suggestion that she died from the plague, but that disease seems to have not been active in the area at the time of her death. Therefor, it seems most likely that she was killed by one of Wenceslaus’ hounds.
Wenceslaus arranged a magnificent funeral for Joanna, but he did not attend. Again, there are opposing explanations to why he wasn’t there. One says that he was too ill with grief over the loss of his wife, others say that he left to indulge in his favourite pastimes. Joanna was buried in St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Whether he mourned for her or not, Wenceslaus eventually had to marry again. He did so two years later to Sofia of Bavaria, Joanna’s first cousin once removed.1
Cechura, Jaroslav; “Did an angry dog bite the queen?”
Higgins, Sophia Elizabeth; Women of Europe in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Volume 2.
Krumphanzl, Filip; “Tragic night in Karlstein: The queen was suffocated by a hunting dog!”
Ladyova, Jana; “Joanna of Bavaria”