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




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

Read part one here.

Rumours concerning the wedding night quickly began to circulate, but Henry headed back on campaign against the Moors just days after his wedding to Joan. He returned on 10 July to find Joan still organising her new household. Just two weeks later, he headed for Seville, and Joan followed him. She was given a grand entry into the city. This grand entry was so costly that it was later criticised. The court remained on the move, as was usual for those days. They were in Ávila‎ when Joan received two pieces of news from her own family.

Her sister-in-law, Isabella of Coimbra, had died at the age of 23 following a “mysterious haemorrhage.”1 A few days later, she learned that her sister Eleanor had given birth to her first child, a son named Christopher, who would tragically die young. And during those early days of their marriage, Henry took Guiomar de Castro as his lover, and she was part of Joan’s household. Another notable figure also made his entrance around this time, Beltrán de la Cueva, who soon became a favourite of the King. It probably wasn’t long before she realised the danger to her own royal position if Henry did not fulfil his duty to her, and by the end of 1458, it was becoming a pressing issue.

The following year, Joan and Guiomar had a fight during which Joan “said very ugly words to her and grabbed her by the hair and struck her on the head and back with a great many blows, and Dona Guiomar shouted so loudly that the King heard them in his chamber where he was already, and he came in great haste.”2

However, the nature of the relationship with Guiomar has been the subject of debate. The King’s secretary wrote that it “had not been verified that [Henry IV] had a union with any other woman, although he closely loved many, both ladies and maidens, of different ages and states, with whom he had secret relations. And he had them continually at home and was with them alone, in remote places, and often made them sleep in his bed, where he confessed that there could never have been carnal copulation with them.”3 Whatever the relationship, after the fight, Henry ordered Guiomar away from the Queen’s household. However, he still went to see her.

By the spring of 1460, a demand was made on Henry – he should declare his half-brother Alfonso his heir until he had descendants of his own. For the first time, the need for Joan to produce an heir was publicly stated. Around this time, Master Samaya, a Jewish physician, was appointed chief physician with a significant salary increase. By July 1461, it appeared that Joanna was pregnant for the first time. But by then, chronicles who had previously praised Joan as a “heroic” example of feminine virtue now accused her of being “obedient to the lustful desires she had resisted for so long.”4 According to Alfonso de Palencia, “all men of sound judgement knew the means used to ensure the Queen’s pregnancy. But no one will say the name of the father.”5

Two main theories surround Joan’s pregnancy. Either she became pregnant with the help of Master Samaya, who used some kind of early form of artificial insemination, or the child was fathered by someone else entirely – named the King’s favourite Beltrán de la Cueva. The artificial insemination theory comes from the diary of a German doctor named Münzer, who was visited decades later. He described the method supposedly used by Master Samaya. “The doctors built a golden cannula, which the Queen inserted to see if she could receive semen through it. They masturbated the King, and sperm came out, but it was watery and sterile.”6

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

Whatever the case, and no matter the ugly rumours, Joan now carried the heir of Castile. As Joan came close to giving birth, Henry wanted any potential challengers for the throne kept close by. His half-siblings, the ten-year-old Isabella and seven-year-old Alfonso, were recalled to court. Isabella later wrote, “Alfonso and I, who were just children at the time, were inhumanely and forcibly torn from our mother’s arms and taken into Queen Juana (Joan)’s power.”7

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

Alfonso and Isabella joined the Queen’s household at the Royal Alcázar of Madrid, where they received a generous clothes allowance. Joan had to endure a very public birth to make sure that the newborn was truly hers, and King Henry was also present in the room. On 28 February 1462, Joan gave birth to a daughter – Joanna. Joan’s young sister-in-law, Isabella, acted as godmother for her newborn niece. Beltrán de la Cueva was granted the title Count of Ledesma a few days after the baptism.

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

Three months later, Henry had Joanna sworn in as the heiress to the throne, and Isabella and her brother Afonso were the first ones to swear. Isabella later claimed that she knew why some nobles said that they had sworn against their will. She wrote, “It was something she [the Queen] had demanded because she knew the truth about her pregnancy and was taking precautions.”8

Nevertheless, the allegations surrounding Joanna’s paternity were the perfect breeding ground for a rebellion. It is impossible to tell if Joanna was Beltrán de la Cueva’s daughter, but we know Joan conceived again within the year and that she was pregnant at the end of December. This was likely the result of a treatment by two Jewish doctors paid for by her brother, the King of Portugal.9 Around mid-March, her pregnancy was announced, but it was not to last. She reportedly lost the child, a boy, after her hair caught fire from a reflected ray of sunshine. However, the news of the death of her sister Catherine could have also contributed. The King was not “only sorry, but disturbed and sad.”10 However, she recovered well, and it was expected that she would conceive again.

Read part three here.

  1. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.131
  2. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.182
  3. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.186
  4. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.196
  5. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.196
  6. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.198
  7. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Giles Tremlett p.25
  8. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Giles Tremlett p.32
  9. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.235
  10. A Rainha Adúltera by Marsilio Cassotti p.243






About Moniek Bloks 2732 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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