Juana la Loca (1479–1555)

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Juana la Loca (1479–1555)

Queen of Castile from 1504 to 1555, during which time Spain became a world power, who never actually ruled due to her own mental instability and the greed for power of her father, husband, and son. Name variations: Juana or Joanna the Mad; Juana of Castile; Juana of Spain; Joanna of Spain. Born on November 6, 1479, in Toledo, Spain; died in Tordesillas on April 11 or 12, 1555; second daughter and third child of Isabella I (1451–1504), queen of Castile (r. 1474–1504), and Ferdinand II, king of Aragon (r. 1479–1516); sister of Catherine of Aragon (1485–1536); married Philip I the Fair also known as Philip the Handsome (1478–1506, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I), archduke of Austria, king of Castile and Leon (r. 1506), on October 19, 1496; children: Eleanor of Portugal (1498–1558); Carlos also known as Charles V (1500–1558), king of Spain (r. 1516–1556), Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1519–1558);Elisabeth of Habsburg (1501–1526); Fernando also known as Ferdinand I (1502 or 1503–1564), king of Bohemia (r. 1526–1564), king of Hungary (r. 1526–1564), Holy Roman Emperor (1558–1564); Mary of Hungary (1505–1558); Catherine (1507–1578, who married John III, king of Portugal).

Marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon (1469); death of Juana's brother John of Spain (1497); death of Juana's elder sister Isabella of Asturias (1498); death of Miguel, Juana's nephew, making Juana heir to the throne (1500); Juana and Philip are acclaimed crown princess and prince (1501); Juana proclaimed queen of Castile upon the death of her mother (1504); Cortes of Toro recognized regency of Ferdinand (1505); Juana and Philip arrived in Spain from Flanders and were acclaimed monarchs of Castile (1506); Juana confined to palace in Tordesillas by Ferdinand, where she remained for rest of life (1509–1555); death of Ferdinand (1516); arrival of Charles in Spain to rule (1517); election of Charles as Holy Roman emperor (1519); Comunero Revolt temporarily frees Juana from seclusion (1520); abdication of Charles I (1555); death of Charles I (1558).

Early on the morning of November 6, 1479, Queen Isabella I of Castile gave birth to her third child, a daughter named Juana in honor of King Ferdinand II of Aragon's mother, Joanna Enriquez . Although Juana was a princess, destiny seemed to hold little of importance for the infant girl, whose brother John of Spain, born the preceding year, stood to inherit the Spanish kingdoms. Should he die, the monarchs' eldest child, Isabella of Asturias (1471–1498), would rule. Yet with ironic twists, destiny brought Juana to the throne of Castile and Aragon, although misfortune denied her the chance to rule in her own right. Instead, she spent most of her adult life under forced seclusion, isolated for more than four decades within the dreary walls of Tordesillas castle.

Little is known of Juana's childhood. She apparently bore a striking resemblance to Ferdinand's mother, so much so that Isabella I sometimes jokingly called the girl "mother-in-law." A slender brunette with an elongated face, Juana was "the beauty of the family," according to eminent historian Garrett Mattingly, who added that she also was "high-strung, ill-balanced, excessively responsive to affection or ill-treatment." Her parents trained Juana in more than the domestic arts and religious piety appropriate to a princess. They intended to marry her to one of Western Europe's royal families, creating a useful political alliance for Spain. Thus, Juana learned about politics and studied foreign languages. For the latter, she showed real talent, mastering both Latin and

French. Juana also displayed passion for music and was an accomplished musician, playing the clavichord, organ, and guitar.

As a youth, Juana observed her parents' maneuvers to build their combined kingdoms into a great power. In 1490, she bid farewell to her sister Isabella of Asturias, who departed to marry Prince Alphonso, heir to the Portuguese throne. When Alphonso died from a riding accident shortly after the marriage and Isabella of Asturias returned home, Juana learned how fleeting marital happiness could be. She was present for the siege of Granada, culminating in its formal capitulation to the Catholic kings on January 2, 1492. The Moors' surrender of their last stronghold on Iberian soil must have seemed far more important to the princess than her mother's support of Columbus' voyage later that year. Meanwhile, to enhance Aragon's interests in Italy and to strengthen Spain's position against France, Ferdinand and Isabella had opened negotiations with Maximilian I, the Austrian emperor, regarding marital alliances between the two families.

When concluded in 1495, the negotiations provided for two royal marriages: Juana's to Philip the Fair, Maximilian's heir; and the Spanish crown prince John's to Margaret of Austria (1480–1530), Maximilian's other child. These marriages joined Spanish geo-political interests to those of the Austrian Habsburgs and strengthened Spain's ties to Flanders, the principal market for Iberian wool. After months of preparation, a fleet of over 100 ships sailed from Laredo on August 22, 1496, to carry Juana to Flanders. Accompanying her was a large retinue of nobles and servants, intended by Isabella to guide the 16-year-old through the political shoals of continental politics. Beset by storms, the fleet arrived late and without forewarning. As a result, neither Maximilian nor the bridegroom was on hand to welcome Juana.

She is under guard in a fortress so that no one may see her or talk with her. She is the most unfortunate woman ever born and would be far better off as the wife of a laborer.

—Miguel Pérez de Almazán to the Castilian ambassador in Rome

Messengers relayed the news to Philip in Austria, while Juana's entourage made its way to Lierre, feted everywhere along the way by the Flemish. When Philip and Juana met for the first time on October 19, the wedding had been scheduled for the following day. Philip already had a reputation for philandering, and Juana was perhaps glad to be free of her mother's pious control. Driven by passion, the two ordered a priest in the entourage to marry them on the spot, whereupon they retired to a hastily prepared bedroom. Juana gave herself ardently to her husband, described by the Venetian ambassador as "handsome, skillful, and vigorous." For a while, he reciprocated her love and passion. Juana soon gave up her sober Spanish clothes in favor of more daring, luxurious Flemish dresses for the continual round of parties and dances in Brussels.

But the insecure girl, unprotected in a foreign land, soon discovered the vagaries of fortune. Rumors of her husband's affairs provoked Juana to "brief hysterical outbursts and of weeping or anger, alternating with long periods of silent melancholy." Philip failed to support his wife and her retinue as the marriage contract stipulated, causing her further chagrin. Back in Spain, her sickly brother John succumbed to fever on October 4, 1497, although rumor had him dying of sexual excess. His wife Margaret of Austria was pregnant but miscarried, leaving Juana's older sister Isabella of Asturias to inherit the crown. Again fate intervened. Married to Manuel I of Portugal, Isabella of Asturias died in childbirth in 1498. Her surviving infant son Miguel died two years later, and Juana became heir to the thrones of Castile and Aragon. Meanwhile, back in Flanders, Juana had given birth to Princess Eleanor of Portugal in 1498 and the future Charles V in 1500.

With the death of Prince Miguel, Ferdinand and Isabella insisted that Juana and Philip come to Spain to live. Isabella worried about reports of the skeptical Juana's irreligiosity and the public scandal of her marital disputes. Both Ferdinand and Isabella feared that Spaniards would not accept a foreign monarch. Philip was also heir to his father's realms and, from the viewpoint of his parents-in-law, acted too friendly to France. He tried to dominate his wife politically, although Juana refused to sanction anything without consulting first with her parents. Thus, it was important that Juana, along with her husband and children, return home to prepare for eventual ascension to power.

After many delays, the young couple left for Spain in 1501, journeying overland through France. His Flemish possessions made Philip a nominal vassal of the French monarch, and, to cement an alliance with France, he negotiated the marriage of their son Charles (V) to Louis XII's daughter, Renée of France . Juana refused to pay obeisance to her parents' French foe, however, and dismayed her husband and the French court with her air of independence. Lingering overlong, they traversed the Pyrenees in winter, and in early 1502 Juana was again in her homeland, following an absence of seven years. In Toledo, her parents convoked the cortes, an assembly representing the towns and nobility of Castile, which recognized Juana as Isabella's successor and Philip as her consort. A few months later, on August 4, 1502, she received the oath of the Aragonese cortes in Saragossa.

Thereupon, Philip determined to return to Flanders, despite Juana's "tenacious resistance" to his departure. Pregnant with her son Ferdinand (I), who was born two months later, Juana felt intensely Philip's lack of love. She tried to join him, but her mother refused to let her leave Spain. In response, the princess resorted to a tactic she had employed in Flanders against Philip's abuse: passive resistance. She refused to eat or sleep, and soon doctors began to worry about her health. In Flanders, Philip was anxious to wrest Juana from Isabella and Ferdinand's control. Using emotional blackmail, he had young Charles write a plaintive letter asking her to return home. Visited by her mother at La Mota castle in Medina del Campo, Juana berated Isabella, who later confided that her outburst "was in no way proper to her station." Although Isabella worried about her daughter's mental stability, the queen's chief concern was political: would xenophobic Castile allow Juana to wear the crown should she return to Flanders and try to rule from there?

Yet Juana's melancholy was so intense that Isabella finally relented and in 1504 allowed the princess to join Philip. Their separation had done nothing to make Philip more attentive or Juana less jealous. Her public rages scandalized Flanders. Philip openly berated and even struck her. In a desperate attempt to win his affection, she lavished care on her toilette, assisted by Moorish slaves. But the more extreme her emotions, the more disgusted Philip became. He finally locked her in her apartments. Historians have ascribed her affliction to "erotic obsession," echoing her contemporaries who concluded: "She only sees in the archduke the man and not the husband and governor." In reality, she suffered from manic depression.

Despite Philip's callous neglect, he needed Juana as his only claim to power south of the Pyrenees. A few months after she reached Flanders, on November 26, 1504, her mother Isabella died, making Juana and Philip monarchs of Castile. The great queen's will clearly stated that Juana was to exercise power and Philip was merely to act as her consort unless she proved unfit to rule. In that case, Ferdinand should govern as regent until young Charles was old enough to reign. Isabella had no intention of turning her kingdom over to the foreigner Philip. Thus, Juana was Philip's key to power in Castile, if he could dominate her completely. But he could not put her aside as incompetent because that would give power to Ferdinand as regent.

More dangerous to Juana's claim was the attitude of her father Ferdinand, who was, according to historian Townsend Miller, "quite as greedy and unprincipled as his son-in-law." As king of Aragon, Ferdinand had no right to rule Castile, and in fact many Castilian nobles hated him. But he needed the military might of Castile to back his forays into Italy. Thus, he could not permit his daughter to rule, out of fear that her francophile husband would thwart Aragon's Italian policies. Betraying Juana at the cortes of Toro, Ferdinand announced that he would rule as regent because of his daughter's "illness and passion." For political motives, he had declared her incompetent. Meanwhile, recognizing the threat Ferdinand posed, Philip became more attentive to Juana. In early 1506, Philip and Juana departed for Castile, where they hoped the anti-Ferdinand aristocrats would enable her to take the throne.

A storm beset the fleet on the voyage home and forced Juana's ship to put in at Weymouth, where they were received by Henry VII. Juana briefly met her widowed sister Catherine of Aragon , soon to be forced into her tragic marriage with the future Henry VIII. In Spain, Ferdinand married Germaine de Foix in the futile hope of begetting an heir rather than leaving Aragon to Philip and Juana. Departing England, they proceeded on to Castile, making landfall at La Coruña on April 26, 1506. Powerful nobles rallied to their cause, chiefly out of enmity for Ferdinand. In June, Ferdinand and Philip met secretly at Villafáfila without consulting Juana. Her father agreed to surrender Castile to them, in exchange for certain monetary concessions, but the two men also declared the queen unfit to rule. Ferdinand thus acknowledged Philip's right to rule, although it remained to be seen if Castile would submit to the foreigner. Though Philip intended to imprison her in a castle and rule in her name, visitors to Juana found her responsive and lucid. Philip needed to prepare carefully before casting her aside.

He never had the chance. In Burgos, he fell ill (probably of a fever, although some claimed poison). Juana set aside her anger at him and assiduously nursed him for six days to no avail. When he died on September 25, 1506, she shed no tears but "fell as though petrified. She passed days and nights there, disconcerted, melancholy, and defenseless." Chroniclers later reported that she constantly had his coffin reopened to gaze on Philip's decaying remains. But such stories of necrophilia are greatly exaggerated and reflect the political need of Ferdinand and later of Charles to discredit her. Juana made hesitating attempts to rule Castile, revoking concessions Philip had made to win aristocratic support and expelling his Flemish courtiers from positions of power. But she had no court or financial resources nor any real ambition to reign.

Ferdinand returned, and father and daughter met on August 29, 1507, in Tórtales, where she turned the government over to him. He brutally suppressed the dissident nobles, who called for a rising in Juana's name. To protect his hold on Castile, he sequestered her in Tordesillas castle in 1509. She rebelled by raging against her jailer, Luis Ferrer, or by refusing to eat or sleep. Manic depression afflicted her more frequently, and as months and years passed, she paid less attention to hygiene and clothing. Imprisoned with Juana was her youngest child Catherine , upon whom the queen lavished affection. In seven years, her father visited Juana only twice.

Then, on January 23, 1516, Ferdinand died, and the populace of Tordesillas rebelled against Ferrer's treatment of the queen. In Flanders, Charles claimed the throne, but Castilian authorities informed him that as long as Juana was alive, she was the monarch. When he arrived in Spain in September 1517 and went to Tordesillas, he had not seen his mother for 12 years. Out of compassion for Catherine, he secretly had the 11-year-old taken from her mother. But the queen rebelled, refusing to eat, drink or sleep, and Charles finally returned Catherine. He also improved his mother's physical conditions, but his grasp on power was too precarious to allow him to free her. Instead, he secluded her even more, even preventing her from going to mass at the convent of Santa Clara where Philip's remains were. She resorted to passive resistance again, including a refusal to attend mass which led to accusations of heresy. Her warden, Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas, marquis of Denia, even tried to isolate her servants from the outside world. On Charles' orders, no one told her Ferdinand had died, and they blamed him for her imprisonment. The marquis warned Charles: "It cannot be permitted that she speak with anybody because she would convince anyone." In other words, she suffered isolation because of the political threat she represented rather than disabling mental illness.

Juana had one last chance to escape her prison. In 1519, Charles was elected Holy Roman emperor and the following year departed for Central Europe. Tired of being ruled by a Flemish king, Castile erupted in the Comunero Revolt. The rebels besieged Tordesillas and freed Juana. Despite their appeals, however, she refused to sign decrees legitimizing the rebels. Instead, she told them: "Don't try to make me quarrel with my son, for I have nothing that is not his." She enjoyed eight months of relative freedom and showed a renewed interest in the outside world. But when Charles succeeded in defeating the rebels, he isolated her once again, with the detested marquis of Denia as her jailer. In 1525, Charles returned to Tordesillas and took her remaining jewels, to which she retorted: "It's not enough that I let you reign but you sack my house." Worse still for Juana, he took Catherine away from her, to marry the girl to the king of Portugal. As her daughter left, Juana reportedly watched stone-like and tearless from a window. She remained there motionless for two nights.

For the next 30 years, Juana's isolation shrouded the horrible mystery of her life. In such bleak conditions, her obsessive behavior and depression intensified, yet no one cared. Matters of state dictated that she remain imprisoned even though she had never shown interest in wielding power. When death approached, her grandson Philip wanted her to convert to Catholic orthodoxy. He sent Jesuit Francisco de Borja to minister to the queen, but she remained largely indifferent to religion. In February 1555, she suffered burns from a hot bath. These developed into gangrene which claimed her life on Good Friday, April 12, 1555.

Catherine (1507–1578)

Queen of Portugal. Name variations: Catalina; Katherine; Katherina Habsburg. Born on January 14, 1507, in Torquemada; died on February 12, 1578 (some sources cite 1577), in Lisbon; daughter of Philip I the Fair also known as Philip the Handsome, king of Castile and Leon (r. 1506), and Juana la Loca (1479–1555); sister of Eleanor of Portugal (1498–1558), Mary of Hungary (1505–1558), Charles V, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1519–1558), Ferdinand I, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1558–1564), and Elisabeth of Habsburg (1501–1526); married Joao also known as John III (b. 1502), king of Portugal (r. 1521–1557), in 1525; children: Alfonso (1526–1526); Mary of Portugal (1527–1545, first wife of Philip II of Spain); Isabella (1529–1530); Manuel (1531–1537); Filippe (1533–1539); Diniz (1535–1539); John of Portugal (1537–1554, who married Joanna of Austria [1535–1573]); Antonio (1539–1540); Isabella (1529–1530); Beatriz (1530–1530).

Queen Juana's life was a tragedy provoked by mental illness and others' greed for political power. Abusive treatment undoubtedly heightened her manic depression. Yet her illness probably would not have disqualified her from governing had she been a man. After all, Philip V suffered long and severe bouts of depression yet remained king of Spain for nearly half of the 18th century. On the other hand, Juana's father, husband, and son all brutally sacrificed her to their own ambition, despite the fact that Juana showed little inclination to reign.


Altayó, Isabel, and Paloma Nogués. Juana I: La reina cautiva. Madrid: Silex, 1985.

Dennis, Amarie. Seek the Darkness: The Story of Juana la Loca. Madrid: Sucesores de Rivadeneyra, 1956.

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

Mattingly, Garrett. Catherine of Aragon. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1941.

Miller, Townsend. The Castles and the Crown; Spain: 1451–1555. NY: Coward-McCann, 1963.

suggested reading:

Pfandal, Ludwig. Juana la Loca. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, S. A., 1969.

Prawdin, Michael. The Mad Queen of Spain. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1939.

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

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Juana la Loca (1479–1555)

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