Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Renaissance Europe - Juana la Loca

Ferdinand and Isabella
The Union of Castile and Aragon

Juana was the third child of Isabella of Castile[i] and her husband Ferdinand of Aragon[ii]. Born on 5th November 1479, Juana and her siblings, Isabella[iii], Juan[iv], Maria[v] and Caterina[vi], lived a peripatetic life following the armies of their parents. Ferdinand and Isabella, who was an ardent Catholic, spent many years campaigning against the Moors in Spain, the final act in the Reconquista. Ferdinand was a devious schemer as well as a soldier with a strategic vision of whom Machiavelli wrote;

‘He has become the most famous and glorious king in Christendom. And if his achievements are examined, they will be found to be very remarkable, and some of them quite extraordinary.’[vii]

Together Ferdinand and Isabella made an unstoppable team; they married in 1469, a marriage arranged between the two protagonists. Her brother Henry[viii] immediately disinherited his sister[ix] and replaced her as his heir with his daughter Juana[x] whose legitimacy was in doubt[xi].


Juan II  of Aragon
While Ferdinand and his father were fighting off an incursion from the French[xii], Isabella roused support for her cause among the Castilian barons. Henry died on 11th December 1474 and Isabella immediately proclaimed herself Queen of Castile. Although Ferdinand had a claim to the throne, Isabella was sole monarch, she told her husband;

‘Since you and I, by God’s grace, are so much in harmony there can be no distinction between us. Whatever has been decided, you are still, as my husband, King of Castile and in Castile your wishes will be law.’[xiii]

In May 1475 Isabella was forced to fend off a claim for the crown from Juana who allied herself, by marriage, with Alfonso V of Portugal. His troops poured into Castile and a bitter civil war ensued. Isabella, despite being pregnant[xiv] rode with the troops and rounded up support. The battle of Toro in March the following year, despite being militarily inconclusive, led to Isabella consolidating her rule in Castile.

Tomas de Torquemada
In 1478 Isabella received permission from Pope Sixtus IV to set up a Spanish version of the Holy Inquisition, free from Papal control. It started work in Seville and its work was so uncontrolled and harsh that the pope threatened to revoke his permission. Instead in 1483 he appointed the Dominican Tomás de Torquemada as Grand Inquisitor of Aragon and Castile.

The war continued until 1479 when, under the Treaty of Alcáçovas, Alfonso renounced all claims on Castile[xv] on the part of himself and his wife who retired to a convent at Coimbra. In January 1479 Ferdinand’s father John II died leaving the throne to his son. Now Ferdinand and Isabella were join rulers in truth, each with their own kingdom.

Isabella was not content with ruling Castile and being Queen Consort of Aragon; she had her eyes on Granada[xvi], still a Moorish stronghold. Determined to rescue the Spanish Christians and despite Ferdinand’s lukewarm support, Isabella planned her martial campaign. In March 1485 the royal family left for Cordoba, the plague had reached Seville. By December Isabella and her family were staying at the palace of Royal Alcazar[xvii] and here, mid-month, Caterina was born.

Ferdinand and Isabella’s children were raised by the most important woman in Europe; they followed along in their mother’s train as she organised the war against Abu-Hasan, Sultan of Granada. At Lucena Ferdinand’s troops captured Abu-Hasan’s son, the self-styled Mohammed XXI[xviii] and in August 1483 Ferdinand wrote;
"To put Granada in division and destroy it We have decided to free him.... He [Boabdil] has to make war on his father."[xix]
Death of the Infante Alfonso
In November 1490 the Infanta Isabella was married to the Infante Alfonso of Portugal. Alfonso died in July 1491[xx] and Isabella returned home regarded once again as a pawn in her parents’ plans. Isabella had every intention of entering a nunnery; this, her father refused to allow[xxi]. Instead she made every effort to starve and scourge herself, something she would do for much of the rest of her life as part of her mourning for Alfonso.

Granada fell on 2nd January 1492; the Moorish cause not assisted by the infighting between Mohammed and his sons. The Moorish citizens of Granada cannot have been consoled by Ferdinand and Isabella’s promise of freedom to follow their own religion and way of life. They had the example of the brutal treatment in 1487 of the Moorish citizens of Málaga, following the fall of the city, most of whom had been sold into slavery[xxii].

Family and Education

Interior of the Alhambra
Following the fall of Granada Ferdinand and Isabella’s children were to have the Alhambra as their permanent home. The children were provided with every comfort, including maids and wet nurses[xxiii] Juana’s wet nurse was Maria de Santistevan. The children were richly clothed in accordance with their royal status; even their mules were adorned with silk and brocade girths and bridles. At the age of three Caterina was taken to watch a public bull fight, and there is no reason to assume that the other children were not similarly entertained.

Their parents were closely involved with their children and Ferdinand took time off in December 1492[xxiv] to choose dolls for his daughters; the dolls had their own clothes that the girls could dress their presents in. Juana’s possessions included a special box to carry letters in, an illustrated book of hours and various Latin texts including poetry. Juan had a chess-set he kept in his bedroom. Juan had a frail constitution and was inspected daily by doctors.

Isabella personally supervised her children’s education. Erasmus commented of Caterina that she was;

‘Imbued with learning, by the care of her illustrious mother.’[xxv]

Isabella spent much of her free time in silent prayer and her children were brought up to improve their minds with devotional reading. In addition to the royal library in Segovia Isabella had an extensive collection of books and manuscripts of her own,.

When Juana was seven she was given Andres de Miranda as her tutor; he was to teach her Latin and Catholic doctrine. The children studied the works of the Stoics such as Seneca and the works of the early Christian fathers of the church, Augustine, Gregory and Jerome.

Diego Deza
The girls also learnt dancing[xxvi], baking, spinning, weaving, lacemaking and embroidery in the Spanish style[xxvii]. There are claims that they only spoke Spanish and Latin[xxviii] and were untrained in the courtly arts of music[xxix], poetry and the games of Courtly Love, surprising in girls who were meant to be making marriages advantageous to Spain. Other sources claim they spoke French as well as being taught music.

As heir to the throne Isabella and Ferdinand paid special attention to educating Juan. His original tutor was the Dominican Fray Diego Deza[xxx] who taught Theology at the University of Salamanca. Deza tutored Juan mainly in Theology as he was not a renaissance humanist. In the late 1480s Isabella turned to the Italian humanist Pietro Martire d'Anghiera to broaden the Prince's education who boasted;

‘I was the literary foster-father of almost all the princes, and of all the princesses of Spain.’[xxxi]

Juan also had music lessons which he very much enjoyed[xxxii].


Sister Queens – Julia Fox, Ballantine Books 2011

Ferdinand and Isabella – Melveena McKendrick, Cassell 1969

Henry – David Starkey, Harper Press 2008

Six Wives – David Starkey, Chatto & Windus 2003

Catherine of Aragon – Giles Tremlett, Faber & Faber 2010

The Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992

[i] Daughter of John II, King of Castile and Léon
[ii] Son of John II, King of Aragon
[iii] Born in October 1470
[iv] Born in June 1478
[v] Born in June 1482
[vi] Born in December 1485
[vii] Six Wives - Starkey
[viii] Nicknamed the Impotent
[ix] Isabella and Henry had agreed that, as his legal heir, she would not marry without his consent, but in turn he would never compel her to marry without her consent. He had threatened her with imprisonment if she did not marry to create an alliance with Portugal. Isabella considered this sufficient provocation to break the agreement between her and Henry
[x] Born in February 1462 and later Queen of Portugal
[xi] The Castilians called her la Beltraneja after her supposed father Beltran de la Cueva
[xii] Fighting for possession of Roussillon and the Cerdagne
[xiii] Ferdinand and Isabella - McKendrick
[xiv] She miscarried on 31 May 1475 in Cebreros
[xv] Following a treaty between Castile and France in October 1478 whereby Louis XI renounced all claims to Castile
[xvi] A kingdom where Moors, Jews and Christians lived together in relative harmony
[xviii] Known to the Spanish as Boabdil
[xx] In a fall from his horse
[xxi] In 1497 Isabella returned to Portugal to marry King Manuel I; she died the following year giving birth to the Infante Miguel
[xxii] The Jews of Malaga, however, were spared, as Castilian Jews ransomed them from slavery
[xxiii] Isabella did not suckle her children as she believed it delayed a mother’s ability to conceive
[xxv] The Wives of Henry VIII - Weir
[xxvi] In Spain women danced alone or with other women, unlike the courts in France and England
[xxviii] Fox claims that Juana was taught French, Starkey claims that she and Caterina spoke only Spanish and Latin
[xxix] Starkey claims that music was not taught to the girls of the family
[xxx] Deza was later the Grand Inquisitor of Spain,
[xxxi] Six Wives - Starkey
[xxxii] Which might imply that his sisters also received music lessons

1 comment:

  1. interesting, since Torquemada is considered a byword for the harshness of the Spanish Inquisition, that he should have been appointed as a moderating influence!
    There are too many royal Juanas; hadn't the Spanish any imagination?