Category Archives: Renaissance

Juana de Castile (Joanna of Castile) 1479 – 1555


Juana La Loca

Juana de Castile. more famously known as Juana la Loca, was Queen of Spain, Sicily, Valencia, Majorca, and Naples, Princess of Girona and the Austrias, and Queen Consort of Netherlands. She was the second daughter of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, and one out of their five children. Born into the noble house of Trastamara, she had three sisters and one brother. Royal families needed to be large in order to secure a kingdom, as people died in wars, and of fatal illnesses. After the deaths of her mother, father, older sister and brother, Juana would become the first queen of a united Spain, even if only in name.

At an early age Juana was noted to be a bit eccentric. Whether she showed signs of madness early on is hard to say, truth is, as a daughter, no one would have noticed any subtle signs. Her mother, Queen Isabella insisted on the finest education for all her children, Juana was an intelligent and accomplished student in all subjects; she also played several instruments, was a beautiful dancer, and a skilled rider, falconer, and hunter. Growing up with the most Catholic of Monarchs as parents, Juana was expected to also be devout and obedient. In this however, she was somewhat of a disappointment. Juana was inquisitive and very skeptical of anything of a supernatural allure. To her devout and most pious mother, this was a shock and a socially unacceptable. Queen Isabella was determined to hide this from the court and this could be how rumors of madness began to surface. It is even possible that Queen Isabella suspected her daughter was “not all there” or maybe even influenced by evil spirits. People were very superstitious in these times, especially the most devout and pious.

When Juana was sixteen years old, an alliance betrothal was arranged for her. She was to wed Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy. Philip was the Hapsburg heir of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. When she left for her marriage, she would never see any of her siblings again, except for one of her younger sisters, Catherine of Aragon, Queen Consort of England. Juana was obsessed and passionately in love with her husband, however she was also very unhappily married. Philip was a notorious womanizer, and it was said he physically and emotionally abused his fragile wife. When she would became the  Queen of Castile after her mother, older brother, and sister died, Juana’s husband tried to bully an manipulate her into giving him her titles as her husband. Philip would understandably only ever be accepted as Juana’s consort, except, he was not not so understanding. When they traveled to Spain so Cortes of Castile could show fealty to his new queen, Philip did not stay long, leaving behind his pregnant wife, and returning to the Low Countries.

In her mother’s will, Isabella requested that Juana’s father, Ferdinand of Aragon, govern for their daughter as regent if she should be absent, unable, and/or reached twenty years of age. It was believed that Ferdinand had no intentions of letting Juana rule regardless if she was capable. He wanted to rule Spain in her entirety. However, it could also be very likely that Juana’s father was not going to let Juana’s power hungry husband try to usurp is weak daughter’s position and use Spanish gold and resources to benefit himself and his overseas territories. Whatever his true intentions were, there was a power struggle, and Juana’s ineptness and prior rumors of madness began to resurface. All through out history, we see time and time again, that if men wanted to strip women of power, many times they used madness as the justification.

Ferdinand probably would have succeeded in gaining full sovereignty in Spain, as the times did not like female rulers, but he made a crucial mistake. He underestimated his countrymen’s hatred for France, so when he remarried to a French bride, support shifted back to Juana and her husband. Apparently the Spaniards rather deal with Hapsburg interference than French. Not only that, Ferdinand had no male heirs and Juana, despite her miserable marriage, had already had five children by then, two sons and three daughters. Eventually Ferdinand was forced to graciously hand over the government of Castile to Philip, Juana’s husband, who had hurried back to accept.

Not long after Philip and Juana became Queen and King of Castile, Philip suddenly died of typhiod fever when Juana was pregnant with their sixth child. Without her husband, Juana became crazed and could not rule effectively. Her father purposely ignored Castile, hoping that there would be so much chaos sooner or later, that they would beg him to take control of the situation. Anything that could go wrong for Juana, went wrong. There was a plague and famine and she was nearly bankrupt and could not hold power. Her father, with impeccable timing came to his daughter’s aid, just when the plague had subsided. The superstitious subjects of Castile took this as sign that Ferdinand was their savior.

Ferdinand: 1; Juana: -3, for plague, famine, and being down right looney. Yes, Juana had fell off the deep end as it was rumored that she kept her husband corpse with her at all times and refused to lay him to rest. This did not help Juana at all, and she became infamously known as Juana la Loca. She was forced to had over the regency to her father and when her oldest son was of age, he would become joint ruler of Castile with her, his mother. Ferdinand died, however Charles I was still pretty young to be King (he was seventeen). That did not matter, Charles was determined to be a great king of a United Spain, as he was Ferdinand’s rightful heir in Aragon as well. Juana thought her son would let her at least rule Castile, but she was mistaken. Charles took full power. Juana was Queen of Spain in name only. her son governed and ruled. Charles I would also become Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, that same year.

There was one last attempt by Castile to revolt against Hapsburg rule and a rebellion formed in the name of Juana of Castile. Part of Juana no doubt wanted to giver her approval to the uprising in a last grasp for power, however she would be fighting against her own son and heir. Advisers convinced her that this was redundant and there was not need for the unnecessary bloodshed and disorder that would harm the kingdom and her son. She relented and the rebellion was put down. To ensure no other uprisings would reveal themselves in the future, Charles V had his mother, Juana la Loca confined in a convent. There she delved deeper into madness and paranoia. She began to hear and see things. She was even terrified and convinced that the nuns were trying to kill her. Due to her fears she became an insomniac, refused to eat, bathe, and change her clothes. Her older daughter, Eleanor of Austria, came to the convent to be with her mother in her final days. Juana de Castile died at the age of 72 in the year 1555.

Juana de Castile gave birth to six children (2 Emperors and 4 Queens). Her legacy was powerful:

Eleanor of Austria 1498 – 1558 was Queen Consort of Portugal and then Queen Consort of France
Charles I/V 1500 – 1558 was Holy Roman Emperor, King of Germany, King of “Italy”
Isabella of Austria 1501 -1526 was Queen Consort of Sweden
Ferdinand I 1503 – 1564 was Holy Roman Emperor and King of Germany
Mary of Austria 1505 – 1558 was Queen Consort of Hungary and Bohemia
Catherine of Austria 1507 – 1578 was Queen Consort of Portugal and Algarves