Queens Regnant: Joanna of Castile – The mad Queen

If there was one person not meant to be Queen it was probably Joanna of Castile. She was born as the third child and second daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile on 6 November 1479 in Toledo. She received an excellent education, also from educator Beatriz Galindo. Besides her formal education, she was also expected to develop typically female accomplishments like dancing, drawing, music, needlepoint and embroidery. In her teenage years, she had some scepticism towards religion, which her mother ordered to be kept secret.

Joanna was expected to make a dynastically important marriage, though she was not the heiress at the time. She entered into a proxy marriage with Philip the Handsome, son of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. She left for Flanders in August 1496, and the two were formally married on 20 October 1496 in Lier, Belgium. They had a successful marriage, producing six children.

Tragedy would soon take Joanna’s life in a different direction. Her brother John suddenly died at the age of 19, and he left a pregnant widow in Margaret of Austria. She gave birth to a stillborn daughter two months later. The next in the line of succession was Isabella, Joanna’s eldest sister. Isabella was married to the King of Portugal and was pregnant at the time. She gave birth to her only child on 23 August 1498. She died within an hour of the birth, and her place in the line of succession was taken by her infant son, Miguel da Paz. He died just before his 2nd birthday, leaving the succession wide open once again.

In 1502 Joanna was recognised as Princess of Asturias as heiress to the Castilian throne, but the Aragonese were less willing to accept a woman as a ruler. They would have preferred her young son. In November 1504 Joanna’s mother Isabella died, and Joanna became Queen Regnant of Castile. Though her father Ferdinand was no longer King of Castile, he refused to give up power. He had never been a great fan of Joanna’s husband, Philip. By that time is was already clear that Joanna’s mental state was not ideal, to say the least. Isabella’s will allowed Ferdinand to rule in Joanna’s absence or if she was unwilling to rule herself until her heir reached the age of 20. Ferdinand also married again, hoping to father a male heir to precede Joanna in the line of succession for Aragon. His chosen bride was Germaine of Foix. They would have a single son, who died hours after birth.

On 25 September 1506, Philip suddenly died, probably of typhoid fever, but his sudden death made some suspect poisoning. Joanna supposedly would not be parted from the body for several days. Joanna was unable to keep the country from falling into disorder and to exercise her rights as Queen. Her father came back to Castile to support her. He made her surrender her royal powers, though she claimed she could not have done so, and afterwards she was a Queen in name only. She was confined to the Santa Clara convent in Tordesillas. She was pregnant at the time of Philip’s death, and she kept her younger daughter Catherine with her in her confinement.

Joanna became Queen of Aragon after the death of her father in 1516, but by 1517 her eldest son Charles (future Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor) arrived from Flanders to rule as her co-monarch.

Joanna’s mental illness is still a mystery to us. She may have suffered from some hereditary illness, as her grandmother Isabella of Portugal also suffered from some kind of ‘madness’. The truth is we’ll probably never know, but I can’t imagine being kept imprisoned against her helped the situation at all.

Joanna died on 12 April 1555 at the age of 75, and she is buried in the Royal Chapel of Granada.

Recommended media

TV

Isabel (TV Series, Spanish) (UK & US)

Carlos, Rey Emperador (TV Series, Spanish) (UK & US)

Juana la Loca (Film, Spanish) (UK & US)

Books

Aram, Bethany – Juana the Mad: Sovereignty and Dynasty in Renaissance Europe (The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science) (UK & US)

 



About Moniek 982 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

3 Comments

  1. One of my favorite royal women, sad life if you think about it, but I actually think that most of the royal ladies have had a sad life through the centuries.
    Thanks for doing an article about Juana .

  2. I am not sure why being held against her will would exacerbate an existing mental condition, it is a method still in use today to keep mentally unstable (for a variety of reasons) people from harming themselves or others. If holding her had been an act of malice it would seem that any member of her family would be capable not only of keeping her so securely that her end would not be known, but also of having her killed outright.

  3. Juana’s whole life was a tragedy. First she was manipulated by her husband, then her father, then her son. They were the people who were supposed to protect her. She should have been queen of Castile, Leon and Aragon. Instead she winds up forgotten in a convent.

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