The Year of Isabella I of Castile – Joan of Portugal, A Queen in an impossible situation (Part three)




Joan as portrayed in Isabel
Joan as portrayed in Isabel (2011) (Screenshot/Fair Use)

Read part two here.

It is unclear if the stillbirth of their son caused the relationship between Joan and Henry to deteriorate. However, Joan chose to focus her energy on a marital alliance with Portugal. Sometime in April 1464, her sister-in-law, Isabella, found herself on the way to the Portuguese border to meet with the 31-year-old King Afonso V of Portugal, Joan’s brother. However, this marriage did not take place.

The scene as portrayed in Isabel (2011) (Screenshot/Fair Use)

Joan’s daughter Joanna was just two years old when a manifesto of complaints and grievances was issued against King Henry by several nobles. This led to the Representation of Burgos in 1464, where Henry was forced to recognise Alfonso as the legitimate heir.1 This was agreed upon with the condition that Alfonso would one day marry Joanna. Beltrán de la Cueva was accused of being a “usurper of royal functions”, while Joanna was “called a Princess, although she is not. […] For it is clear to your Highness that she is not your lordship’s daughter, nor could she succeed or be the heir.”2 Joan herself was, for the first time, publicly accused of adultery. It was later written that while Alfonso lived with her, Joan “had tried many times to kill him with poison,” and she would have succeeded if it had not been for the mayor of the fortress.3

The rebels sent a letter to the nobles of Seville, which also stated Joan’s supposed adultery. It read, “The said Don Enrique (Henry) reached such a great depth of evil that he gave to the traitor Beltrán de la Cueva the Queen Dona Juana (Joan), his wife, so that he could use her at his will. […] Due to the notorious and manifest impotence of the said Enrique to have a generation, which never existed and was never expected to be left by him.”4 Joan’s reputation was being damaged irreperably.

The scene as portrayed in Isabel (2011) (Screenshot/Fair Use)

However, Henry soon reconsidered, and this led to a ceremonial deposition in effigy in 1465, and the 11-year-old Alfonso was crowned as rival King. Meanwhile, Isabella was still at court with Henry and Joan. Henry ordered Joan to travel to Portugal to enlist the help of her brother, King Afonso V. He also gave her great authority to negotiate, and she left on 6 July 1465. Once more, the focus was on a marriage between her sister-in-law Isabella and her brother, in exchange for military aid. A deal was made on 15 September 1465, which Joan signed in her husband’s name. The marriage would effectively remove Isabella from the political stage. In the end, a truce was proclaimed in October 1465. Meanwhile, Joan’s daughter Joanna was taken in by the Mendoza family.

Since her return from Portugal, “Queen Juana’s prominence was growing. This was a logical consequence of her inclination towards Portugal and her insistence on recognising her daughter as the successor. This increase in her influence displaced some of the nobles, who feared that her intervention would compensate for her husband’s weaknesses.”5

Attacks on Joan continued, and she was accused of corrupting the court with her “seductions.” Although later scholars describe the attacks as limited to superficial aspects of her personality the courtly environment did not differ so much from other European courts.6 In 1466, one of the rebels suggested a marriage with Isabella as the best way to get his family’s loyalty back. In this plan, Isabella was to marry Pedro Girón Acuña Pacheco, who was also 18 years her senior. Henry agreed to the match, but Isabella was horrified as she considered this match to be beneath her dignity. She sank to her knees and began to pray, begging God to free her from the match. As he rode towards the court, he fell ill and died, much to Isabella’s relief. Joan had not openly opposed her husband’s decision, but she had been against the match.7

Isabella prays as portrayed in Isabel (2011) (Screenshot/Fair Use)

In 1467, Alfonso triumphantly rode into the city of Segovia, where Joan was living at the time with Alfonso’s sister, Isabella. According to a chronicler, “Queen Joan, who lived in her palace, as soon as she heard the commotion, tried to convince Isabella to go with her, but the Infanta decided to stay. […] When the Queen and Dona Isabella were warned of the proximity of Alfonso’s supporters, Dona Joan, frightened by the great movements, went to the main church, from where she and Beltrán de la Cueva’s wife went to the refuge at the Alcázar.”8

Isabella later wrote, “I stayed in my palace, against the queen’s will, in order to leave her dishonest custody that was bad for my honour and dangerous for my life.”9 She made Alfonso’s counsellors sign a document stating that she would not be forced into marriage before agreeing to come with them. Meanwhile, Joan and her ladies waited at the Alcázar. Henry was later able to enter Segovia peacefully, but he had promised to hand Joan over to Archbishop Alonso de Fonseca y Ulloa. This was part of the agreement Henry had made to be recognised by the rebels.

The scene as portrayed in Isabel (2011) (Screenshot/Fair Use)

On 30 September 1467, “Queen Joan left her useless husband at the Alcázar and went, as agreed, to the town of Coca.”10 While at the fortress there, Joan learned of the death of her sister Eleanor; she had died following childbirth. Joan was essentially a hostage. She was later moved to Alaejos, and she was allowed to keep just four ladies with her. Henry briefly visited her there.

Read part four here

  1. Due to male-preference primogeniture, Isabella was behind Alfonso in the line of succession
  2. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.265
  3. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.270
  4. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.284
  5. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.293
  6. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.300
  7. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.302
  8. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.323-324
  9. Isabella of Castile by Giles Tremlett p.39
  10. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.326






About Moniek Bloks 2740 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.

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