Joanna of Portugal (1439–1475)

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Joanna of Portugal (1439–1475)

Queen of Castile and Leon and mother of Juana la Beltraneja. Name variations: Joana, Juana of Portugal, Juana de Aviz, Juana of Aviz. Born in late March 1439 (some sources cite 1438) in the Portuguese town of Almada; died on June 13, 1475, in Madrid; daughter of Edward also known as Duarte I, king of Portugal (r. 1433–1438), and Leonora of Aragon (1405–1445); sister of Alphonso V, king of Portugal (r. 1438–1481), and Eleanor of Portugal (1434–1467); betrothed to Enrique IV also known as Henry IV of Castile, in 1454; married Henry IV, king of Castile and Leon (r. 1454–1474), on May 21, 1455; children: Juana la Beltraneja (1462–1530).

Birth of Henry IV (1425); birth of Isabel the Catholic (1451); execution of Alvaro de Luna (1453); death of Juan II and accession of Henry IV (1454); birth of Juana la Beltraneja (1462); death of Alphonso (1468); agreement of Toros de Guisando (1468); marriage of Isabel and Ferdinand of Aragon (1469); revocation of agreement of Toros de Guisando (1470); death of Henry IV (December 11, 1474); Isabella crowned queen of Castile (December 13, 1474).

Joanna of Portugal was born in late March 1439 in the Portuguese town of Almada, the daughter of Duarte I, king of Portugal, and Leonora of Aragon , and the sister of King Alphonso V of Portugal. At age 15, she became betrothed to Henry IV of Castile, who the year before had secured an annulment of his marriage to Blanche of Navarre (1424–1462). Several factors led Henry to seek the hand of Joanna. As a Portuguese princess, she offered Castile an alliance against the expansionism of John II of Aragon. Furthermore, Henry's marriage to Blanche had proved childless. Rumor held the king to be impotent, the marriage never having been consummated. He undoubtedly saw a new marriage as a way of proving his own virility as well as producing an heir. Joanna's famed beauty probably also led Henry to choose her, even though their mothers were sisters. (Leonora of Aragon and Maria of Aragon were daughters of Eleanor of Albuquerque [1374–1435] and Ferdinand I, king of Aragon.)

Magnificent celebrations feted Joanna and Henry in Spain in 1455, but the king initially proved unable to consummate the marriage. Perhaps to cover his failings, he appeared to take Guiomar de Castro , a member of Joanna's retinue, as his mistress. A furious Joanna publicly beat her lady-in-waiting. Years passed and Joanna did not become pregnant. Finally, on February 28, 1462, after seven years, she gave birth to a daughter, whom the delighted royal couple named Juana (the future Juana la Beltraneja ), after her mother. The monarchs and their subjects seemed genuinely elated about the girl's birth. A brief interval brought another pregnancy, but the son was still-born.

Unfortunately for the queen and her daughter, however, Henry's reign became enveloped in controversy, and it harmed their interests. Dissident nobles resented Henry's reliance on Juan Pacheco, the grasping and duplicitous marquis of Villena. Henry found it impossible to quell the rebellious Castilian aristocracy while simultaneously contending with threats from Aragon and Granada. To undercut his authority, the dissidents moved to depose Henry by raising his half-brother Alphonso to the throne. By this time Henry and Joanna had separated and, to appease to rebels, he agreed that Alonso de Fonseca, archbishop of Sevilla, could hold her hostage as a guarantee that Henry would recognize Alphonso as his heir. Frustrated and bored, Joanna waited in Fonseca's castle at Alaejos. In 1468, she became pregnant as the result of an adulterous relationship with the warden's son. When she attempted to escape, her scandalous behavior became public knowledge.

Meanwhile Alphonso died in July 1468, and the dissidents then championed the rights of his sister Isabella I . Besides brute military power, this strategy also required that Henry and Joanna and their daughter Juana be discredited. In September 1468, the rebellious nobles forced Henry to accept the agreement of Toros de Guisando. By it, Henry renounced his daughter's rights to inherit the throne and instead agreed that Isabella would succeed him. The nobles argued that because Henry and Joanna had not secured a papal dispensation authorizing them to wed as first cousins, they were not legitimately married. Thus, their daughter Juana was illegitimate, eliminating her as a rival to Isabella's claim to the throne.

In 1470, however, Henry abrogated the agreement of Toros de Guisando and named his daughter Juana as his heir once again. By this time, rumors were spreading that Henry was not really the girl's father. Queen Joanna had been close to a courtier, Beltrán de la Cueva, and he was alleged to be Juana's father. Joanna's recent scandalous behavior gave weight to the accusations. Although both Henry and Joanna swore publicly that they were the girl's parents, she became known to the Isabelline faction as la Beltraneja.

Henry died in 1474, defeated by rebellion and controversy. Joanna lived in an annex of the Franciscan church of Madrid until she died a few months later on June 13, 1475. Her remains were buried in the church, while her daughter Juana la Beltraneja went into exile in Portugal. It remained for Isabella's propagandists and historians to defame the memory of Henry and Joanna of Portugal to help establish the new monarch's legitimacy.


Azcona, Tarsicio de. Isabel de Castilla: Estudio crítico sobrre su vida y su reinado. Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1993.

Miller, Townsend. Henry IV of Castile, 1425–1474. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1972.

Palencia, Alonso de. Crónica de Enrique IV. Biblioteca de Autores Españoles 207–208. Madrid: Atlas, 1973, 1975.

Phillips, William D. Enrique IV and the Crisis of Fifteenth-Century Castile, 1425–1480. Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1978.

Valera, Mosén Diego de. Memorial de diversas hazañas; chrónica de Enrique IV, ordenada por mos en Diego de Valera. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1941.

Kendall Brown , Professor of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

[Henry IV]'s adversaries were aided by the increasingly evil reputation of the queen.

—William D. Phillips

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Joanna of Portugal (1439–1475)

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