Juana la Beltraneja (1462–1530)

views updated

Juana la Beltraneja (1462–1530)

Heir of Henry IV of Castile and rival of Isabella I for the crown of Castile. Name variations: Infanta of Castile; Joanna of Castile. Born in Madrid, Spain, on February 28, 1462; died in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1530; only child of Enrique also known as Henry IV, king of Castile (r. 1454–1474), and Joanna of Portugal (1439–1475, sister of Afonso also known as Alphonso V of Portugal); never married; no children.

When Joanna of Portugal , queen of Castile, went into labor on February 28, 1462, she gave birth to a daughter destined to symbolize the turmoil of late medieval Spain, torn apart by weak monarchs and rapacious, feuding nobles. Henry and his queen named the baby Juana (Joanna), after her mother. To history, however, the girl became known derisively as la Beltraneja, meaning that she was the bastard offspring of an adulterous relationship between the queen and a royal favorite Beltrán de la Cueva. But in 1462 these rumors lay in the future. The girl was the delighted monarchs' sole child, even though Henry and Joanna had married in 1454. A few weeks after the girl's birth, the king convened the cortes (a feudal assembly of aristocratic and municipal representatives) in Madrid and had it recognize young Juana as his heir to the Castilian crown. Unlike France or Aragon, Castile had no traditions which prevented a woman from ruling. But civil war would soon engulf Castile. Many nobles would disregard Juana's claims to the throne and support Juana's aunt Isabella I , who was 11 years older than Juana and Henry's half-sister.

Juana's life is murky, often visible only through the documents which victorious Isabella and Ferdinand II of Aragon, the Catholic kings, permitted to survive. Most of those reinforce the victors' propaganda, which buttressed Isabella's claim to the throne by discrediting Juana's legitimacy and her father's competence. The Isabeline faction confiscated and destroyed documents held by Juana which supported her right to rule Castile.

Henry did what he could to ensure Juana's right to the throne. He had her baptized at eight days of age in the royal palace of Madrid by the archbishop of Toledo. Standing as the infant's godparents, the French count of Armagnac, the 11-year-old Princess Isabella, Juan Pacheco, marquis of Villena, and his wife promised to assist Juana and protect her interests. To strengthen his own position against dissident Castilian nobles, Henry also formed alliances with the kings of Granada and Portugal, and tried to win aristocratic supporters by granting them estates and honors. On the surface, the kingdom seemed happy in the knowledge that the royal heir would lend stability to the monarchy and nation.

Yet Juana's position was precarious. Prior to her birth, powerful nobles had forced Henry to name his half-brother Alphonso (1453–1468) as his successor. The aristocrats' intent was murky. They obviously believed Castile needed to have a clearly defined heir to the monarchy. But their partisanship on young Alphonso's behalf also reflected their belief that they could manipulate him into granting them lands and other favors. Some historians have also argued that by supporting Alphonso the nobility hoped to weaken Henry's political centralization. Juana's birth upset their plans and strengthened Henry's position.

To make matters worse for Juana, her father's allies included nobles whose behavior discredited her. Pacheco, for example, was Henry's long-time companion and possibly the king's homosexual lover. Treacherous by nature, Pacheco's greed for wealth and power threatened other nobles, who bitterly hated him. Also controversial was Beltrán de la Cueva, a newcomer to the court upon whom the king bestowed surprising favors. The Sunday following Juana's birth, Henry made Beltrán count of Ledesma. He later raised him to duke of Albuquerque and made him the highly coveted Master of the Order of Santiago. Other nobles resented his connections and good fortune. Perhaps it was inevitable that rumors would surface that Beltrán was Queen Joanna of Portugal's lover. After all, Henry had been married to Blanche of Navarre from 1440 to 1453 without producing any children and had divorced her on the grounds that the marriage had never been consummated. Six years of his marriage to Joanna of Portugal passed without offspring, and only after Beltrán arrived at court was Juana born in 1462.

Information about Juana's childhood is scarce. She moved from place to place with her father's court, learning feminine arts, such as embroidery, and acquiring some ability to read and write. The only surviving portrait of her shows Juana to have been an attractive young woman, with a dark complexion and hair. Quiet and introverted, she lacked her aunt Isabella's aggressive drive. How soon Juana became aware of the contention surrounding her claim to the throne is not known. But it erupted in 1464, when she was only two and too young to have any idea of the stakes at play. In that year, dissident nobles—buttressed by the conniving Pacheco—issued a proclamation which criticized Henry for esteeming Muslims and Jews over Christians and showing undue favoritism to Beltrán de la Cueva. It said nothing, however, about the latter being Juana's real father, an allegation which arose later. Seeking as usual to avoid confrontation, Henry negotiated with the troublemakers. He eventually agreed to reinstate Alphonso as his heir, but on the condition that the boy marry Juana when she came of age. To placate the nobles further, Henry forced Beltrán to renounce the mastership of Santiago and sent him into exile for six months.

By the end of 1464, allegations about Juana's paternity had begun circulating. It was then that the dissidents claimed that Beltrán de la Cueva was the princess' father and dubbed her la Beltraneja. To add weight to their propaganda, they asserted that Henry was impotent, unable to father a child. Thus, Juana could not be his daughter. Centuries later, it is impossible to unravel the rumors enough to arrive at the truth. Henry certainly behaved as if the child were his own daughter. She bore no physical resemblance to Beltrán. Furthermore, the rumors apparently did not start immediately after Juana's birth but nearly three years later when it served the nobles' interests.

Not content with the king's concessions, the rebels staged a mock dethronement of Henry and crowned Alphonso in 1465, thinking the boy could be easily persuaded to grant their desires and enhance their power. Both king and anti-king doled out lands, titles, and favors to attract allies. When Alphonso died unexpectedly in July 1468 (some suspected poisoning), the rebels marshalled themselves behind Isabella. In September, the leaders of the warring factions met near Avila at Toros de Guisando to negotiate a peace. Isabella's supporters claimed that Henry and Joanna of Portugal were not legally espoused because they had not secured a papal dispensation for marriage between close relatives. This, they implied, made Juana illegitimate; they said nothing about Beltrán. Under pressure, the king recognized Isabella as his successor. He also agreed that Juana be removed from the custody of the queen, who during the previous year had lived openly with Pedro de Castilla and had a son with him. The princess was to remain under the tutelage of both Henry and Isabella, giving the latter opportunity to forestall any claims Juana might make regarding

the crown. To strengthen its position, each faction sought a suitable husband for each princess. Acting on her own and without Henry's permission, Isabella chose Ferdinand II of Aragon and married him on October 18, 1469. He soon played a vital role in protecting her claim to the Castilian crown.

Meanwhile, at age five Juana was too young to defend her own interests; but after the peace negotiations at Toros de Guisando, her father showed new determination. In October 1470, he overturned his concessions and reinstated Juana as heir to Castile. He also sought a husband who could assist in protecting the young girl's inheritance. She was betrothed and married by proxy to Charles, duke of Berry and Guienne, and brother of Louis XI. But the Frenchman died in 1472, perhaps poisoned by Louis XI, before claiming his child bride. Hurried negotiations to marry Juana to Alphonso V of Portugal, her uncle, failed in 1472. Complicating Juana's situation was Henry's attitude toward Isabella: he still retained cordial feelings for his half-sister and was reluctant to plunge Castile into war over the question of succession. For Juana's protection and care, he placed her under the tutelage of Pacheco, who had returned to Henry's side.

On December 11, 1474, Henry died, but not before swearing on his deathbed that Juana was his daughter and legitimate heir to his kingdoms. But Isabella wasted no time and had herself crowned queen of Castile two days later. Most of the nobility found it advantageous to support her, including Beltrán de la Cueva. Juana's coterie was smaller and weaker. Isabella shrewdly offered to grant Diego López Pacheco, whose father had died the previous October, the mastership of Santiago if he turned Juana over. Pacheco insisted that he receive the honor before surrendering the princess, and negotiations deadlocked. Meanwhile, the 12-year-old Juana performed what was possibly her first public act: she swore that she was "the certain and legitimate heir and successor in the kingdoms of Castile." She did not declare herself queen but possibly waited for her nobles to acclaim her. They in turned appealed to Alphonso that he marry Juana and defend her throne. With a changed heart and fearful of the union between Castile and Aragon implicit in Isabella and Ferdinand's marriage, Alphonso decided to aid his niece.

Although 30 years her senior, he offered to wed Juana and began gathering an army to invade Castile. In May 1475, Alphonso crossed the border with a force of 20,000 men and met Pacheco and Juana at Plasencia. There they were betrothed on May 25 and acclaimed king and queen of Castile. As close relatives, however, they dared not celebrate the marriage without a papal dispensation, which Isabella's partisans blocked. In the end, Juana and Alphonso never married. On May 30, Juana issued a Manifiesto, in which she energetically laid out her claim to the throne and even accused the Isabeline faction of poisoning Henry IV. Juana's army dealt her rival some indecisive defeats that summer. The following year, Ferdinand defeated Alphonso at Toro, causing the Portuguese monarch and Juana to retreat westward across the border.

The war of succession dragged on, with Juana's prospects dimming. While more Spanish nobles went over to Isabella, Juana and Alphonso tried unsuccessfully to secure the aid of Louis XI. Alphonso invaded again in 1479, but defeat at Albuera caused him to negotiate a peace settlement. Juana showed continued determination, despite "her difficult situation of queen without a kingdom, and of symbolic wife." Nonetheless in the Treaty of Tercerías signed in September, Alphonso renounced his claim to the Castilian crown and to Juana's hand.

Although he tried to defend her prerogatives as best he could, neither Alphonso nor the Catholic kings permitted Juana to participate in the treaty negotiations which decided her fate. The treaty forced upon Juana a disagreeable choice: within six months, she could enter a convent; or she could become betrothed to Isabella's eldest son John of Spain, born the previous year, and marry him when he reached 14, if he agreed. If Isabella really believed Juana to be Beltrán's bastard, it is curious that she would have offered la Beltraneja her son. Isabella also carefully stipulated that Juana must surrender all her papers and documents related to her legitimacy and rights to the throne. Unwilling to accept the marriage offer, especially because it included no guarantee that the union would ever occur, Juana had no alternative but the cloister. Eager to restore peace between Portugal and Castile, Alphonso and his son John (II) of Portugal carried out the treaty's provisions.

Juana spent a year as a novice, first in the convent of Santa Clara of Santarem and later in its sister house in Coimbra. In an act of kindness, Alphonso granted her the title and honors of a princess (infanta) of the Portuguese royal house. Then, on November 15, 1480, and in the presence of emissaries from Isabella's court, Juana, with her hair shorn, took vows as a nun. Those present reported her pale and tearful yet dignified. Juana faced a miserable future, although her fate was similar to that of thousands of other medieval women consigned against their wills to convents. She either needed to dedicate herself sincerely to a life of prayer and meditation, even if she felt little religious vocation, or at the young age of 18 resign herself to "vegetating without remedy nor compensation."

She was the queen's daughter, she was born in the royal household and her birth was welcomed by the king, the kingdom recognized her as the legal heir, and international opinion saw her as the king's daughter. For his part, [Henry] never—not even under the pressure of the meeting at Toros de Guisando—denied her as his daughter.

—William D. Phillips, Jr.

Relations between Castile and Portugal soon led to a slight improvement in her situation. By 1482, John, who had succeeded Alphonso the previous year, defied the Spanish monarchs and allowed Juana to leave the convent. He even approached the king of Navarre, Francisco Febo, about marrying Juana, but Febo died before negotiations could be completed. Meanwhile Juana enjoyed limited freedom of movement, to the dismay of Isabella and Ferdinand, who secured several bulls from popes Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII demanding that she return immediately to the cloister. As a small sign of defiance, Juana signed her correspondence "I the Queen" (Yo la reyna), and the Portuguese called her the Excellent Lady (a Excelente Senhora).

The years passed, with Juana refusing to relinquish her claim to Castile. The Portuguese rulers treated her with respect, and she lived ostentatiously but judiciously, doing nothing to provoke scandal or Castilian outrage. Isabella's death in 1504 led to the most ironic event of Juana's life: Ferdinand reportedly proposed that she marry him. He opposed the union of Aragon and Castile under his daughter Juana la Loca and her Habsburg husband, Philip the Fair of Burgundy. Ferdinand thus wanted to leave another child to inherit Aragon independently. By now in her early 40s, Juana la Beltraneja firmly and wisely rejected her old nemesis. Ferdinand soon married Germaine de Foix but failed to produce his desired heir. On July 20, 1522, Juana formally abdicated as monarch of Castile in favor of John III of Portugal. Now age 60, she considered herself too old to rule and besides had no way of leaving a direct heir. By that time no one paid any attention. Juana died in 1530, having long outlived Isabella, her rival for the crown of Castile.

Foix, Germaine de (1488–1538)

Queen of Aragon and Naples. Born in 1488; died in 1538; niece of Louis XII, king of France; married her great-uncle Ferdinand II (1474–1516), king of Aragon (r. 1479–1516), in 1505 (one year after the death of his first wife, Isabella I of Castile); children: one son Juan, who died in infancy.


Artaud de Silva, Julia. Juana la Beltraneja. Barcelona: Los Amigos de la Historia, 1975.

Bermejo de la Rica, A. El triste destino de Enrique IV y la Beltraneja. Madrid: Editorial Lepanto, [1943?].

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

Sarasola, Modesto. Isabel la Católica y el destino de Doña Juana, la Beltraneja. Valladolid: Tip. Casa Martín, 1955.

Sitges, J. B. Enrique IV y la Excelente Señora, llamada vulgarmente Doña Juana la Beltraneja. Madrid: Sucesores de Rivadeneyra, 1912.

suggested reading:

Liss, Peggy K. Isabel the Queen: Life and Times. NY: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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

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

About this article

Juana la Beltraneja (1462–1530)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article