Real people from history. Joanna of Castile.
The sad story of Joanna The Mad. A real and tragic person from our history.
The life of a very tragic lady.
For many people the notion of studying our history presents a rather dull prospect of learning to recite dates and names such as 1066 or 1776 or 1939/45. But in order to develope a true passion for this most absorbing and, in my opinion anyway, most neccessary of the branches of learning, it is always important to remember that we are dealing in the stories of real people. Even the most famous personages from our past were never that much different from ourselves. They had toothaches and colds. They suffered from phobias and fears like any other person. If someone sneaked up behind George Washington, and burst a balloon with a large bang, he would be just as likely to almost jump out of his skin as any "mere mortal". The most powerful individuals that ever lived could still suffer the pangs of unrequited love, or the frustrations of not being able to pacify an unruly child. In short none of them ,in a real sense, were that different from the rest of us. That is what I find to be one of the greatest fascinations of history, and it is what will bring me back to study it again and again. When the memory of the exact date of the Battle of Waterloo has faded from my memory, I will still remember that Napoleon, in making love to Josephine, was so violent in his exertions as to sometimes break the bed;or that Julius Caesar had a "Combover", and his legions used to refer to him as "Old Baldy".
It is with the intention of reminding my readers that history is not just a recitation of dusty facts, but a telescope that can carry our gaze into the life stories of some fascinating, and very real people that I am now going to relate the story of one rather tragic, but all too human and real person, from the historical parade.
The sad story of "Joanna the Mad".
Joanna was the daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. She was the sister of Catherine of Aragon, (first wife of Henry VIII of England) and the mother of Charles V, (Holy Roman Emperor). In October 1496 she was married to Philip the Handsome,(Duke of Burgundy). Philip was well called by that name. He was very goodlooking with a very high sex drive. Indeed he had the wedding rushed through in order to get to bed with his beautiful young bride the sooner. Joanna fell madly in love with her handsome husband. The marriage was not a great success though, as Philip liked to share his favours around a large selection of ladies besides his wife. He also had the unfortunate habit of continously trying to interfere in her affairs, and usurp her rights as Princess of Castile. He really wasnt a very nice man. Nevertheless the sex must have been very good because she did manage to have six children.
The deaths of several of her relatives meant that Joanna became the heiress to the spanish kingdoms, and the actual Queen of Castile,. This did not sit too well with her father Ferdinand II of Aragon, a slippery fish if ever there was one. He wanted the rulership of Spain entirely for himself. Philip also wanted to rule Castile in his own right, and exclude his wife.
Philip and Joanna journeyed to Spain to take over her kingdom, regardless of what Ferdinand might think, but at a meeting at Villafáfila in 1506 between Ferdinand and Philip the King of Aragon signed a treaty relinquishing his claims on his daughter's kingdom. The two sneaky men then signed a second treaty in which Ferdinand agreed that Philip should have rule of Castile because they said that Joanna was mad, and incapable of ruling. What a father; and what a husband. Joanna, to tell the truth, had been showing some signs of instability. She had once spent thirty six hours outside of the castle in the debts of winter, refusing to come in. She may have been suffering from bipolar disorder, or some form of depression. But you can be certain that the activities of the two men, that should have been the most supportive people in her life, did not ,in any real way, help. To make things even worse, the ever treacherous Ferdinand that same afternoon repudiated his agreement with Philip, saying that nothing should ever interfere with his daughter's rights as Queen of Castile, while retaining his right to intervene if he considered affairs in that kingdom were not going satisfactorily. He then
buggered off back to Aragon, leaving Philip in effective control in Castile.
This is where the rather sad bit really starts. In September 1506 Philip the Handsome died of typhus at the age of twenty six. Joanna was stricken with a great grief. They say that love is blind. I think they are correct. She is said to have been so overcome that she set out on a really long journey to bury her husband. She is supposed to have had his coffin opened every night so she could sit beside it talking to him. Needless to say she was unable to manage her kingdom properly. Things went from bad to worse, and plague and famine started to spread throughout the land. This gave her predatory father the very excuse that he needed. He returned to Castile in July 1507.As luck would have it, the plague and the famine abated around the time that he arrived, thus giving him the opportunity of pretending that he "the great Ferdinand" had restored the kingdom.
Ferdinand II and Joanna met at Hornillos, Castile, on 30 July 1507. He more or less bullied her into giving up control of her kingdom. He then had her confined in a convent with a very small retinue of servants, that were handpicked by him. The rumour spread abroad that she had brought her husband's body to the convent with her to keep him close. We dont know whether that was true or not. It may have been just started by her father to help justify her deposition from her throne.
Joanna spent the rest of her life incarcerated in the convent. Her son Charles V treated her no better than either her father or her husband did. It suited his purposes to keep his mother confined, and that is exactly what he did.
Eventually she did in fact start to go really mad. She began to believe that the nun's were trying to poison her.
She died in 1555.
The story of Joanna is a very sad one, but I feel it has more to do with the travails of a woman who was surrounded by predatory men all her life. Men who could not deal with the notion that women had a right to conduct their own affairs. The mental illness was only incidental. She should be renamed Joanna the Constantly Betrayed.
So I am saying to you now, that next time you get the notion that all history is just a collection of musty tales that modern people ought not to bother their heads with, remember the real and true story of Joanna. Her life would be considered too farfetched for even the most imagination driven of "soap operas". If that doesnt enthuse you, think of the image of Napoleon having sex.