Death of Joanna Queen of Castile and Aragon

Joanna the mad

Joanna the mad

Joanna (spanish: Juana) also known as Joanna the Mad was queen of Castile and Aragon. She was born in the city of Toledo, capital of the Kingdom of Castile and was the third child and second daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon of the Royal House of Trastámara.

Joanna was known to be incredibly smart and also clever. Queen Isabella made sure that Joanna along with her three sisters Isabella, Maria, and Catherine received a fine education. She was educated and formally trained for a significant marriage that, as a royal family alliance, would extend the kingdoms’ 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. She had a fair complexion, blue eyes and her hair colour was between strawberry-blonde and auburn, like her mother and sister Catherine. Already in 1495 Joanna showed signs of religious skepticism and little devotion to worship and Christian rites. This alarmed her mother, who ordered it to be kept secret.

In 1496, Joanna, at the age of sixteen, was betrothed to Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy, in the region 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 aproxy marriage at the Palacio de los Vivero in the city of Valladolid, Castile. In August 1496 Joanna left from the port of Laredo in northern Spain on the Atlantic’s Bay of Biscay. The formal marriage took place on 20 October 1496 in Lier, north of present day Brussels. Between 1498 and 1507, she eventually gave birth to six children: two emperors and four queens.

Joanna’s life with Philip was rendered extremely unhappy due to his infidelity and her political insecurity. He consistently attempted to usurp her legal birthrights to power. This led in no small part to rumours of her insanity, stoked by reports of her depressive or neurotic acts while she was imprisoned, abused physically and psychologically, and manipulated by her husband. 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. In 1502, the Castilian Cortes of Toro 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.

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, Léon 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. However, her 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.”

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. 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.

Ferdinand met Philip at Villafáfila on 20 June 1506 and handed over the government of Castile to his “most beloved children”, promising to retire to Aragon. Philip and Ferdinand then signed a second treaty, agreeing that Joanna’s mental instability made her incapable of ruling and promising to exclude her from government. Ferdinand then proceeded to repudiate the 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.

Joanna's tomb

Joanna’s tomb

On 25 September 1506 Philip died suddenly of typhoid fever in the city of Burgos in Castile. Some suspected that he had been poisoned by his father-in-law Ferdinand II who had always disliked his foreign Habsburg origins and with whom he never wanted to share power. 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.

Ferdinand II and Joanna met at Hornillos, Castile on 30 July 1507. Ferdinand then constrained her to yield up her power over the Kingdom of Castile and León to himself. On 17 August 1507 she summoned three members of the royal council and ordered them to inform the grandees, in her name, 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.” She refused to sign the instructions a last gesture of defiance and issued a statement that she did not, as queen regnant, endorse the surrender of her own royal power. 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 Santa Clara convent 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. 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.

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. 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. Her confinement continued even after doing as Charles wished.
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

Charles ensured his domination and throne by having his mother confined for the rest of her life in the rooms of the Convent of Santa Clara in Tordesillas, Castile. Charles wrote to the Convent of Santa Clara 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”.

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 convent rooms. In her final years, Joanna’s physical state began to rapidly decline with mobility ever more difficult. Joanna died on Good Friday, 12 April 1555 at the age of 75 in the Convent of Santa Clara at Tordesillas. 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. She was confined for almost 50 years.

Who can really say if Joanna was truly mad or if it was just a lie to further her husband, father, and son’s abilities to rule alone. During these times women had to live in a male dominant world. Also, she was confined for almost 50 years. It was only after her marriage that the first suspicions of mental illness arose. And from this time onward, tales of Joanna’s obsessive jealousy, uncontrollable rages, and disregard for anything save her passion for Philip. Some historians comment that she may have suffered from melancholia, a depressive disorder, a psychosis, or a case of inherited schizophrenia. There is debate about the diagnosis that she was mentally ill. It is possible that she inherited mental illness from her mother’s family: her maternal grandmother Isabella of Portugal, Queen of Castile suffered from this condition in widowhood after her stepson exiled her to the castle of Arévalo in Ávila, Castile.

Adela