A Woman to Know: Juana of Castile

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. — Charles I

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. — Charles I

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

Her mother, Isabella I, was honored as “Isabella the Catholic” by the Pope himself, recognized as the greatest queen of Spain’s age of exploration. Her younger sister, Catharine of Aragon, is remembered as the first of Henry VIII’s many wives (and luckily, one of the divorced survivors). But Juana, sometimes known as Joanne of Castile, went down in history as Spain’s Mad Queen: “Juana La Loca.”

The rumors of her insanity started early. In 1496 she first met her arranged husband, Austria’s Philip the Fair, on a trip to his palace. She fell so instantly in lust that she demanded a priest marry them then and there, big royal wedding be damned. When they returned to Spain, however, his multiple affairs sent her into wild rages and fits of not eating or sleeping — all of which her husband would then use as evidence of her presumed madness.

A series of family deaths in a mere five years rushed Juana up the line of succession. In 1504, she took the title of Queen of Castile, ruling the province her mother had brought to her marriage with King Ferdinand of Aragon. Both Juana’s father and her husband schemed to gain control of Castile, sharing stories of Juana’s ill health in the hopes that it would have her ruled unfit for rule.

When Philip died suddenly in 1506, both King Ferdinand and Juana’s young son Charles spread vicious rumors about the queen’s grief. They said she slept beside Philip’s rotting corpse and kissed the body on the lips. Like many stories of Juana’s insanity, historians aren’t sure what’s real and what’s merely the work of Juana’s enemies.

Her father and her son continued to plot together to wrest regency from Juana, frequently sending her away to a country castle. When Ferdinand died in 1516, Charles took the title that was supposed to be Juana’s: ruler of both Castile and Aragon. He threatened to take away her young daughter, Catherine, unless she go quietly to live a life in exile. She lived the remaining 30 years of her life in seclusion, and died in 1555 at age 75, remembered forever as “Juana la Loca.”

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