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Joanna of Castile

Joanna of Castile

Joanna (6 November 1479 – 12 April 1555), known historically as Joanna the Mad (Spanish: Juana la Loca), was Queen of Castile from 1504, and of Aragon from 1516. Modern Spain evolved from the union of these two crowns. Joanna was married by arrangement to Philip the Handsome, Archduke of the House of Habsburg, on 20 October 1496.[2] Following the deaths of her brother, John, Prince of Asturias, in 1497, her elder sister Isabella in 1498, and her nephew Miguel in 1500, Joanna became the heir presumptive to the crowns of Castile and Aragon. When her mother Queen Isabella I of Castile died in 1504, Joanna became Queen of Castile, while her father, King Ferdinand II of Aragon, proclaimed himself 'Governor and Administrator of Castile'.[3] In 1506 Archduke Philip became King of Castile jure uxoris, initiating the rule of the Habsburgs in the Spanish kingdoms, and died that same year. Despite being the ruling Queen of Castile, she had little effect on national policy during her reign as she was declared insane and imprisoned in Tordesillas under the orders of her father, who ruled as regent until his death in 1516, when she inherited his kingdom as well. From 1516, when her son Charles I ruled as king, she was nominally co-monarch but remained imprisoned until her death.

Queen of Castile and León
Reign26 November 1504 –
12 April 1555
PredecessorsIsabella I and Ferdinand V
SuccessorCharles I
Co-monarchsPhilip I
Charles I
Queen of Aragon
Reign23 January 1516 –
12 April 1555
PredecessorFerdinand II
SuccessorCharles I
Co-monarchCharles I
RegentCharles I
Born6 November 1479
Toledo, Castile
Died12 April 1555(1555-04-12)(aged 75)
Tordesillas, Castile
Capilla Real, Granada, Castile
SpousePhilip I of Castile
IssueEleanor, Queen of France
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Isabella, Queen of Denmark
Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor
Mary, Queen of Hungary
Catherine, Queen of Portugal
FatherFerdinand II of Aragon
MotherIsabella I of Castile
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Early life

Joanna with her parents, Isabella and Ferdinand; "Rimado de la conquista de Granada", by Pedro Marcuello, c. 1482.

Joanna with her parents, Isabella and Ferdinand; "Rimado de la conquista de Granada", by Pedro Marcuello, c. 1482.

Joanna was born in the city of Toledo, the capital of the Kingdom of Castile. She was the third child and second daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon of the royal House of Trastámara. She had a fair complexion, blue eyes and her hair colour was between strawberry-blonde and auburn, like her mother and sister Catherine. Her siblings were Isabella, Queen of Portugal; John, Prince of Asturias; Maria, Queen of Portugal; and Catherine, Queen of England.


Joanna was a clever and diligent child and an excellent student.[4] She was educated and formally trained for a significant marriage that, as a royal family alliance, would extend the kingdom's power and security as well as its influence and peaceful relations with other ruling powers. As an infanta, she was not expected to be heiress to the throne of either Castile or Aragon, although through deaths she later inherited both. Her academic education consisted of canon and civil law, genealogy and heraldry, grammar, history, languages, mathematics, philosophy, reading, spelling and writing.[5] She read an impressive list of authors of classical literature that included the Christian poets Juvencus and Prudentius, Church fathers Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory, and Saint Jerome, and the Roman statesman Seneca.[5]

In the Castilian court her main tutors were the Dominican priest Andrés de Miranda, the respected educator Beatriz Galindo, who was a member of the queen's court, and her mother the queen. Joanna's royal education included court etiquette, dancing, drawing, equestrian skills, good manners, music, and the needle arts of embroidery, needlepoint and sewing.[5] She excelled in all of the Iberian Romance languages: Castilian, Leonese, Galician-Portuguese and Catalan, and became fluent in French and Latin. She learned outdoor pursuits such as hawking and hunting. Praise was given to her for being a skilled dancer and a talented musician; she played the clavichord, the guitar and the monochord.

Rebellion against her mother's Catholicism

By 1495, Joanna showed signs of religious skepticism and little devotion to worship and Catholic rites. This alarmed her mother Queen Isabella, who had established the Spanish Inquisition in 1478, and Joanna was especially afraid of her. Indeed, letters of Mosen Luis Ferrer, gentleman of the bed chamber of Ferdinand, refer to the coercive punishment known as "La cuerda", which Joanna was subjected to. This involved being suspended by a rope with weights attached to the feet, endangering life and limb.[6] The Queen declared she would rather let the country be depopulated than have it polluted by heresy.[7] Deviance by a child of the Catholic Monarchs would not be tolerated, much less heresy.[8] Sub-Prior Friar Tomas de Matienzo and Friar Andreas complained of her refusal to confess - or to write to him or her mother - and accused her of corruption by Parisian 'drunkard' priests.[9]


Joanna around the time of her marriage, c. 1496.

Joanna around the time of her marriage, c. 1496.

The marriage contract of Joanna and Philip (1496).

The marriage contract of Joanna and Philip (1496).

In 1496, Joanna, at the age of seventeen, was betrothed to the eighteen year old Philip of Flanders, in the Low Countries. Philip's parents were Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor and his first wife, Duchess Mary of Burgundy. The marriage was one of a set of family alliances between the Habsburgs and the Trastámaras designed to strengthen both against growing French power.

Joanna entered a proxy marriage at the Palacio de los Vivero in the city of Valladolid, Castile (her parents had secretly married there in 1469). In August 1496 Joanna left from the port of Laredo in northern Castile on the Atlantic's Bay of Biscay. Except for 1506, when she saw her younger sister Catherine, Princess Dowager of Wales, she would not see her siblings again.

Joanna began her journey to Flanders in the Low Countries, which consisted of parts of the present day Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Germany, on 22 August 1496. The formal marriage took place on 20 October 1496 in Lier,[2] north of present-day Brussels. Between 1498 and 1507, she gave birth to six children, two boys and four girls, all of whom grew up to be either emperors or queens.

Princess of Castile

The death of Joanna's brother John, the stillbirth of John's daughter, and the deaths of Joanna's older sister Isabella and Isabella's son Miguel made Joanna heiress to the Spanish kingdoms. Her remaining siblings were Maria (1482–1517) and Catherine (1485–1536), younger than Joanna by three and six years, respectively.

In 1502, the Castilian Cortes of Toro[10] [] [11] [] recognised Joanna as heiress to the Castilian throne and Philip as her consort. She was named Princess of Asturias, the title traditionally given to the heir of Castile.[12] Also in 1502, the Aragonese Cortes gathered in Zaragoza to swear an oath to Joanna as heiress; however, the Archbishop of Zaragoza expressed firmly that this oath could only establish jurisprudence by way of a formal agreement on the succession between the Cortes and the king.[13] [] [11] []

In 1502, Philip, Joanna and a large part of the Burgundian court travelled to Toledo for Joanna to receive fealty from the Cortes of Castile as Princess of Asturias, heiress to the Castilian throne, a journey chronicled in great detail by Antoon I van Lalaing (French: Antoine de Lalaing). Philip and the majority of the court returned to the Low Countries in the following year, leaving a pregnant Joanna in Madrid, where she gave birth to her and Philip's fourth child, Ferdinand, later a central European monarch and Holy Roman Emperor as Ferdinand I.


Queen of Castile


Upon the death of her mother in November 1504, Joanna became Queen regnant of Castile and her husband jure uxoris its king. Joanna's father, Ferdinand II, lost his monarchical status in Castile although his wife's will permitted him to govern in Joanna's absence or, if Joanna was unwilling to rule herself, until Joanna's heir reached the age of 20.

Ferdinand refused to accept this; he minted Castilian coins in the name of "Ferdinand and Joanna, King and Queen of Castile, León and Aragon," and, in early 1505, persuaded the Cortes that Joanna's "illness is such that the said Queen Doña Joanna our Lady cannot govern". The Cortes then appointed Ferdinand as Joanna's guardian and the kingdom's administrator and governor.

Joanna's husband, Philip the Handsome, was unwilling to accept any threat to his chances of ruling Castile and also minted coins in the name of "Philip and Joanna, King and Queen of Castile, Léon and Archdukes of Austria, etc."[11] [] In response, Ferdinand embarked upon a pro-French policy, marrying Germaine de Foix, niece of Louis XII of France (and his own great-niece), in the hope that she would produce a son to inherit Aragon and perhaps Castile.[14] [] [12]

Ferdinand's remarriage merely strengthened support for Philip and Joanna in Castile, and in late 1505, the pair decided to travel to Castile. Leaving Flanders on 10 January 1506, their ships were wrecked on the English coast and the couple were guests of Henry, Prince of Wales, later Henry VIII and Joanna's sister Catherine of Aragon at Windsor Castle. They weren't able to leave until 21 April, by which time civil war was looming in Castile.

Philip apparently considered landing in Andalusia and summoning the nobles to take up arms against Ferdinand in Aragon. Instead, he and Joanna landed at A Coruña on 26 April, whereupon the Castilian nobility abandoned Ferdinand en masse. Ferdinand met Philip at Villafáfila on 27 of June 1506 for a private interview in the village church. To the general surprise Ferdinand had unexpectedly handed over the government of Castile to his "most beloved children", promising to retire to Aragon. Philip and Ferdinand then signed a second treaty secretly, agreeing that Joanna's "infirmities and sufferings" made her incapable of ruling and promising to exclude her from government and deprive the Queen of crown and freedom.

Ferdinand promptly repudiated the second agreement the same afternoon, declaring that Joanna should never be deprived of her rights as Queen Proprietress of Castile. A fortnight later, having come to no fresh agreement with Philip, and thus effectively retaining his right to interfere if he considered his daughter's rights to have been infringed upon, he abandoned Castile for Aragon, leaving Philip to govern in Joanna's stead.[14] []

Philip's death

By virtue of the agreement of Villafáfila, the procurators of the Cortes met in Valladolid, Castile on 9 July 1506. On 12 July,[10] [] they swore allegiance to Philip I and Joanna together as King and Queen of Castile and León and to their son Charles, later Charles I of Castile, Leon and Aragon and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, as their heir-apparent.[13] [] This arrangement only lasted for a few months.

On 25 September 1506, Philip died after a five-day illness in the city of Burgos in Castile. The official cause of death was typhoid fever. The general opinion publicly declared was that his father-in-law Ferdinand II, who had always disliked his foreign Habsburg origins and with whom he never wanted to share power, had had him poisoned by "bocado". Joanna was pregnant with their sixth child, a daughter named Catherine (1507–1578), who later became Queen of Portugal.

By 20 December 1506, Joanna was in the village of Torquemada in Castile, attempting to exercise her rights to rule alone in her own name as Queen of Castile. The country fell into disorder. Her son and heir-apparent, Charles, later Charles I, was a six-year-old child being raised in his aunt's care in northern European Flanders; her father, Ferdinand II, remained in Aragon, allowing the crisis to grow.

A regency council under Archbishop Cisneros was set up, against the queen's orders, but it was unable to manage the growing public disorder; plague and famine devastated the kingdom with supposedly half the population perishing of one or the other. The queen was unable to secure the funds required to assist her to protect her power. In the face of this, Ferdinand II returned to Castile in July 1507. His arrival coincided with a remission of the plague and famine, a development which quieted the instability and left an impression that his return had restored the health of the kingdom.[14] [] [12]

Father's regency

Joanna and her husband with their Spanish subjects

Joanna and her husband with their Spanish subjects

Ferdinand II and Joanna met at Hornillos, Castile on 30 July 1507. Ferdinand then constrained her to yield her power over the Kingdom of Castile and León to himself. On 17 August 1507, three members of the royal council were summoned - supposedly in her name - and ordered to inform the grandees of her father Ferdinand II's return to power: "That they should go to receive his highness and serve him as they would her person and more." However, she made it evident that this was against her will, by refusing to sign the instructions and issuing a statement that as queen regnant she did not endorse the surrender of her own royal powers.

Nonetheless, she was thereafter queen in name only, and all documents, though issued in her name, were signed with Ferdinand's signature, "I the King". He was named administrator of the kingdom by the Cortes of Castile in 1510, and entrusted the government mainly to Archbishop Cisneros. He had Joanna confined in the Royal Palace in Tordesillas, near Valladolid in Castile, in February 1509 after having dismissed all of her faithful servants and having appointed a small retinue accountable to him alone.[12] At this time, some accounts claim that she was insane or "mad", and that she took her husband's corpse with her to Tordesillas to keep it close to her.[14] []

First Queen of all the Spanish Kingdoms

Succession as Queen of Aragon

Ferdinand II ended his days embittered: his second marriage had failed to produce a surviving male heir, leaving his daughter Joanna as his heiress-presumptive. Ferdinand resented that upon his death, Castile and Aragon would effectively pass to his foreign-born-and-raised grandson Charles I, to whom he had transferred his hatred of Philip I. He had hoped that his younger grandson and namesake, Ferdinand I, who was Charles I's brother and had been born and raised in Castile, would succeed him.

Ferdinand I had named Ferdinand as his heir in his will before being persuaded to revoke this bequest and rename Joanna and Charles I as his heirs-presumptive instead. When Ferdinand II died in 1516, the Kingdoms of Castile and León, and Aragon and their associated crowns and territories/colonies, would pass to Joanna I and Charles I.[13] [] With Charles I still in Flanders, Aragon was being governed after Ferdinand II's death by his bastard son, Alonso de Aragón. Meanwhile, Castile and León, already subjects of Joanna, were governed by Archbishop Cisneros as regent. A group of nobles, led by the Duke of Infantado, attempted to proclaim the Infante Ferdinand as King of Castile but the attempt failed.

Son as co-monarch

In October 1517, seventeen-year-old Charles I arrived in Asturias at the Bay of Biscay. On 4 November, he and his sister Eleanor met their mother Joanna at Tordesillas – there they secured from her the necessary authorisation to allow Charles to rule as her co-King of Castile and León and of Aragon. Despite her acquiescence to his wishes, her confinement would continue. The Castilian Cortes, meeting in Valladolid, spited Charles by addressing him only as Su Alteza ("Your Highness") and reserving Majestad ("Majesty") for Joanna.[13] [] However, no one seriously considered rule by Joanna a realistic proposition.[14] []

In 1519, Charles I now ruled the Kingdom of Aragon and its territories and the Kingdom of Castile and León and its territories, in personal union. In addition, that same year Charles was elected Holy Roman Emperor. The kingdoms of Castile and Aragon (and Navarre) remained in personal union until their jurisdictional unification in the early 18th century by the Bourbons, while Charles eventually abdicated as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in favour of his brother Ferdinand, and the personal union with the Spanish kingdoms was dissolved.

Revolt of the Comuneros

In 1520, the Revolt of the Comuneros broke out in response to the perceived foreign Habsburg influence over Castile through Charles V. The rebel leaders demanded that Castile be governed in accordance with the supposed practices of the Catholic Monarchs. In an attempt to legitimise their rebellion, the Comuneros turned to Joanna. As the 'on record' sovereign monarch, had she given written approval to the rebellion, it would have been legalised and would have triumphed.

In an attempt to prevent this, Don Antonio de Rojas Manrique, Bishop of Mallorca, led a delegation of royal councillors to Tordesillas, asking Joanna to sign a document denouncing the Comuneros. She demurred, requesting that he present her specific provisions. Before this could be done, the Comuneros in turn stormed the virtually undefended city and requested her support.

The request prompted Adrian of Utrecht, the regent appointed by Charles V, to declare that Charles would lose Castile if she granted her support. Although she was sympathetic to the Comuneros, she was persuaded by Ochoa de Landa and her confessor Fray John of Avila that supporting the revolt would irreparably damage the country and her son's kingship, and she therefore refused to sign a document granting her support.[15] The Battle of Villalar confirmed that Charles would prevail over the revolt.

Forced confinement

The Capilla Real in Granada, where Joanna is entombed

The Capilla Real in Granada, where Joanna is entombed

Charles ensured his domination and throne by having his mother confined for the rest of her life in the now demolished Royal Palace in Tordesillas, Castile.[16] Joanna's condition degenerated further. She apparently became convinced that some of the nuns that took care of her wanted to kill her, a fear which was never proved. Reportedly it was difficult for her to eat, sleep, bathe, or change her clothes. Charles wrote to her caretakers: "It seems to me that the best and most suitable thing for you to do is to make sure that no person speaks with Her Majesty, for no good could come from it".[17]

Joanna had her youngest daughter, Catherine of Austria, with her during Ferdinand II's time as regent, 1507–1516. Her older daughter, Eleanor of Austria, had created a semblance of a household within the palace rooms. In her final years, Joanna's physical state began to decline rapidly, with mobility ever more difficult.

Joanna died on Good Friday, 12 April 1555, at the age of 75 in the Royal Palace at Tordesillas.[12] She is entombed in the Royal Chapel of Granada (la Capilla Real) in Spain, alongside her parents, Isabella I and Ferdinand II, her husband Philip I and her nephew Miguel da Paz, Prince of Asturias.

Mental health

As a young woman, Joanna was known to be highly intelligent. It was only after her marriage that the first suspicions of mental illness arose. Some historians comment that she may have suffered from melancholia, a depressive disorder, a psychosis, or a case of inherited schizophrenia.[18] []

Because claims of mental illness caused or aggravated by her confinement and control by others who had assumed her royal powers to legitimize the claims of her husband, father, and son to the throne, Joanna was nominalized as Queen regnant of Castile, León, and Aragon until her death.

The claims of Joanna's "madness" as propagated during her lifetime remain controversial in current scholarship. The madness narrative is perpetuated in stories of the mental illness of her maternal grandmother, Isabella of Portugal, Queen of Castile, in widowhood exile by her stepson to the castle of Arévalo in Ávila, Castile.[18] []



Ferdinand, the couple's younger son

Ferdinand, the couple's younger son

Eleanor15 November 149825 February 1558(1558-02-25)(aged 59)married firstly in 1518, Manuel I of Portugal and had children; married secondly in 1530, Francis I of France and had no children.
Charles24 February 150021 September 1558(1558-09-21)(aged 58)married in 1526, Isabella of Portugal and had children.
Isabella18 July 150119 January 1526(1526-01-19)(aged 24)married in 1515, Christian II of Denmark and had children.
Ferdinand10 March 150325 July 1564(1564-07-25)(aged 61)married in 1521, Anna of Bohemia and Hungary and had children.
Mary18 September 150518 October 1558(1558-10-18)(aged 53)married in 1522, Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia and had no children.
Catherine14 January 150712 February 1578(1578-02-12)(aged 71)married in 1525, John III of Portugal and had children.

All Joanna's children except Mary had children. However, only Charles, Isabella, and Ferdinand have descendants today.



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