Monday, 30 November 2015

Renaissance Europe - Juana la Loca V

Convent Atrio de las Claras

Ferdinand acted as regent from 1507–1516 during which his daughter was allegedly insane. Reports filtered back to England in the person of Henry VIII’s agent John Stiles and the Venetian ambassador to Spain was no less busy in his reports to the Senate. He informed them that Juana was considered mad;

‘The king [Ferdinand] says so……She expects her husband to come to life again and carries his body about with her in a coffin. She says this resurrection will take place at the end of ten years.’[i]

Ferdinand was clearly ensuring that his regency was viewed as legal in the eyes of the world. He was very successful.

Ferdinand dismissed all of Juana’s servants and appointed a small retinue accountable to him alone. Juana had her youngest daughter, Caterina, with her at Tordesillas under the care of one of her father’s men, one Mosen Ferrer. Prince Ferdinand remained in the care of his grandfather.

Juana’s rooms overlooked the river Douro and she was surrounded by many of her most treasured possessions including a set of tapestries she’d given to her mother and returned to her when Isabella died. Ferdinand visited his daughter occasionally and sent her jewellery. Juana had over 100 books in her possession, many of them religious works, including Books of Hours.

On rare occasions Juana was allowed to visit the convent to take solace in prayer with the nuns. She apparently retained an interest in the affairs of the convent for some years. Reportedly it was difficult for Juana to eat, sleep, bathe, or change her clothes. When she became frustrated Juana reverted to the behaviour of her youth that had won her her own way in years past.

The Outside World

Isabella of Austria
On 11 July 1514 Isabella was married by proxy to King Christian II of Denmark, with her grandfather Maximilian standing in for the king. Isabella remained in the Netherlands, but was said to have fallen in love with her spouse when she saw a painting of him. A year after the wedding, the Archbishop of Nidaros was sent to escort her to Copenhagen. The marriage was an unhappy one.

On 22 July 1515 Juana’s daughter Maria was married to the heir of the king of Hungary; Prince Louis.  The couple were married in St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna. At the same time, Louis' sister Anne was betrothed to an as yet unspecified brother of Mary, with Maximilian once again acting as proxy.

Anne eventually married Mary's brother Ferdinand and came to Vienna, where the double sisters-in-law were educated together until 1516. That year, Mary's father-in-law died, making Louis and Mary king and queen of Hungary and Bohemia. Mary moved to Innsbruck, where she was educated until 1521, when she was finally enthroned as queen of Hungary. Louis died in August 1526 in the aftermath of the battle of Mohács during an Ottoman incursion into Europe.

King of Half the World

Charles V
Charles became co-monarch of Castile and Aragon with Juana when Ferdinand died on 23rd January 1516. On 3rd March 1516 Charles marched out in procession from the ducal palace in Brussels, with his fellow knights of the Golden Fleece to the cathedral where he was pronounced King of Spain with his mother.

‘Long live their catholic Majesties Queen Juana and King Charles.’[ii]

Rumours of Juana’s ill-treatment came to Charles’ ear and he dismissed Ferrer and replaced him with the Duke of Estrada. Ferrer wrote to Charles asking for his job back and blaming Ferdinand for the treatment meted out to Juana;

‘The King her father could never do more until, to prevent her destroying herself by abstinence from food, as often as her will was not done, he had to order that she was to be put to the rack to preserve her life. Was that my fault?’[iii]

Charles travelled to Spain, landing on the Asturian coast in September 1516 and it took six weeks for the royal entourage to reach Tordesillas. On 4th November, he and his sister Eleanor met their mother Juana for the first time since 1506. Charles untruthfully assured Juana that he had come to Spain solely for her sake and was determined to ensure that any complaints she had about her treatment be dealt with.


Eleanor of Austria
Charles and Eleanor secured from their mother the necessary authorisation to allow Charles to rule as her co-King of Castile and León and of Aragon, although at no time was Juana informed that her father was dead. Despite Juana’s acquiescence to Charles’ he continued to keep his mother confined. He did however change Juana a new jailer in the Marquis of Denia who, like Charles, was more concerned with his charge’s soul than her life on earth.

Beyond ensuring that Cisneros, who had been given oversight of Juana’s care, ensured that Juana was not ill-treated, Charles was not predisposed to free his mother. He wrote to Denia;

‘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.’[iv]

His greatest concern was that his mother and sister took mass and the fact that she dined only once every two days was of far less interest to him. Juana was kept starved of information from the outside world; any of her women likely to inform her of the doings in Torsellidas were dismissed. Denia even stopped Juana’s infrequent visits to the convent, no matter how much she pleaded for them.


On the 12th January 1519 Charles became Holy Roman Emperor following the death of his grandfather, Maximilian. The following year in 1520, the Revolt of the Comuneros broke out, originally in Toledo[v], in response to valid perceptions of foreign Habsburg influence over Castile. The rebel leaders demanded that Castile be governed in accordance with the supposed practices of the Catholic Monarchs.

They objected to, amongst other financial burdens, Castile bearing the expenses of Charles election as Holy Roman Emperor. In an attempt to legitimize their rebellion the Comuneros turned to Ferdinand and Isabell’s heir, Juana. To stop the revolt Don Antonio de Rojas, Bishop of Mallorca, led a delegation of royal councilors to Tordesillas. They asked Juana to sign a document denouncing the Comuneros. She demurred, requesting that de Rojas present her specific provisions.

Adrian (as Pope)
Before this could be done the Comuneros in turn stormed the virtually undefended city and requested Juana’s support. The request prompted Adrian of Utrecht[vi], the regent appointed by Charles V, to tell Juana that Charles would lose Castile if Juana supported the rebels.

Charles was still demanding money from his Spanish subjects to forward his interests in the Holy Roman Empire. On 25th August Adrian wrote to Charles;

‘Your Highness is making a great error if you think that you will be able to collect and make use of this tax; there is no one in…..Seville or Valladolid or any other city who will ever pay anything of it; all the grandees and members of the council are amazed that Your Highness has scheduled payments from these funds.’[vii]

Although Juana was sympathetic to the Comuneros, she was persuaded by 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. The Battle of Villalar signaled the defeat of the revolt.


John III of Portugal
On 16 July 1518 Juana’s eldest child, Eleanor, was married to the man who had twice been Juana’s brother-in-law, Manuel of Portugal. Charles had arranged his sister’s marriage to keep Portugal allied with Castile. Eleanor was widowed on 13 December 1521, when Manuel died of the plague. As Queen Dowager of Portugal, Eleanor returned to her brother’s court in Spain.

The Infanta Caterina was finally released from incarceration with her mother, when she married her cousin, King John III of Portugal, on 10 February 1525. The following year, on 10th March 1526, Charles married John’s sister Isabella[viii]. Charles, who believed he cared deeply for his family, had ensured that Caterina’s apartments at Torsellidas were richly appointed and suitable for a royal princess.

The loss of Caterina can only have increased Juana’s mental instability. When Caterina had been removed from her care at the age of eleven for a few months Juana had declared to Denia that she was afraid that;

‘The King, my lord, will take her from me as he has taken the Infante [Ferdinand].’[ix]

If that should happen Juana had threatened to throw herself out of the window or kill herself with a knife. Now that Caterina was gone for good Juana was distraught, staying in the corridor, where she had last seen her daughter, for 24 hours and then she took to her bed for two days. From now on Juana was to be bereft of family.

In July 1523, Eleanor was engaged to Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, in an alliance between Charles and Bourbon against France, but the marriage never took place. In 1526, Eleanor was engaged to King François I of France during his captivity in Spain. She married François on 4 July 1530[x].

On 3 January 1531 Charles requested that his sister Mary assume the regency of the Netherlands. Charles was ruling a vast empire and was constantly in need of reliable family members who could govern his remote territories in his name. Mary reluctantly accepted on Charles' insistence. On 6 October 1537, from Monzón, the Emperor wrote to his sister:

Capilla Real
‘I am only one and I can't be everywhere; and I must be where I ought to be and where I can, and often enough only where I can be and not where I would like to be; for one can't do more than one can do.’[xi]

In his own interests Charles continued to keep his mother imprisoned until her death on 12th April 1555 at the age of seventy five, by which time she had been confined nearly fifty years[xii]. Latterly Joanna's physical state declined rapidly as she became ever more immobile.
In her final years Juana was so frail that her attendants were unable to change her soiled bedlinen. Juana was buried in the Royal Chapel of Granada (la Capilla Real) in Spain alongside her parents, her husband Philip I and her nephew Miguel da Paz.


Sister Queens – Julia Fox, Ballantine Books 2011

Ferdinand and Isabella – Melveena McKendrick, Cassell 1969

Six Wives – David Starkey, Chatto & Windus 2003

Catherine of Aragon – Giles Tremlett, Faber & Faber 2010

The Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992

The Hapsburgs – Andrew Wheatcroft, Folio Society 2004

[i] Sister Queens - Fox
[ii] The Hapsburgs - Wheatcroft
[iii] Sister Queens - Fox
[v] Concerned about Spanish monies being used to fund Charles’ bid to become Holy Roman Emperor
[vi] The future Pope Adrian VI
[viii] The successive inbreeding in the Hapsburg family finally resulted in Carlos II, who was noted for his extensive physical, intellectual, and emotional disabilities and died childless
[ix] Sister Queens - Fox
[x] They had no children
[xii] Her jailer was later in charge of Juana’s great grandson Don Carlos

1 comment: