A lot of people have heard the story of the Queen of Castile who, tragically, went mad. This story, of course, has a lot more to it than you might’ve heard. Grab some tissues—the story includes terrible parents, especially a terrible father, an even worse husband, a son who didn’t give a crap about his mother, and an unfortunate young woman being locked up for more than forty years.
Princess Juana of Aragon was born on November 6th, 1479, in Toledo, a city in her mother’s kingdom of Castile. Juana’s parents were Fernando II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile & Leon, AKA the Catholic Monarchs. When they weren’t doing ruling stuff, they were having kids, so Juana was the third out of five children, so she was the middle child, exactly. She had an older sister, Isabel (you could also call her Isabella, but we’ll call her Isabel to distinguish her from her mother), and an older brother, Juan. She also had two younger sisters, Maria and someone you may know, Catherine of Aragon.
At the time of Juana’s birth, the Wars of the Roses were in full swing in England, Protestantism was starting to become a thing, and the Renaissance was pretty much starting. Another thing that’s going to become a bit confuzzling: Spain wasn’t unified yet. So, yeah, we’re going to have that long discussion before we move on.
The Iberian Peninsula in 1479 wasn’t a unified kingdom, it was just a bunch of kingdoms that were constantly fighting each other. There was Portugal, Aragon (which Juana’s father ruled), Castile and Leon (which Juana’s mother ruled), and Navarre (which doesn’t really matter for today’s story). Juana’s mother, Isabella, married her second cousin, Fernando, for alliance reasons, but it was actually a secret wedding (I hope you already know all of this because it’d take forever to talk about). Anyways, with Fernando’s help, Isabella claimed the throne of Castile (complicated story, I’m really shortening it here), and then Fernando became King of Aragon, and everyone lived happily ever after! Just kidding.
Castile and Aragon weren’t one state, they were just ruled by a married couple, which meant they were sort of united, but they were still separate states ruled by different people. Because their leaders got along, the states had to get along as well. Sometimes, when one person is in charge of two countries, they leave one country to one relative, and another to another relative (like Juana’s son, Charles V would). Fernando and Isabella only had one son, Juan, so once one parent died, he’d inherit that parent’s kingdom, and after the next parent died, he’d inherit that parent’s kingdom, and then Castile and Aragon would be under one ruler, not just a married couple.
So, because Juan was the son, he was going to become King next, so obviously, he was being raised for that role. But at least Juana’s mother wasn’t educated well. It wasn’t a good thing for her, but it was amazing for Juana and her four sisters because Queen Isabella knew how important education was and made sure all her daughters had a good education. None of them were expected to be monarchs in their own right because Juan was around, but of course, they were supposed to become good consorts for their future royal husbands.
I’m not going to say much about Juana’s parents, because that’s a whole new story we might talk about someday soon, so now, I’ll introduce you to Juana. She had beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes and was an introvert who liked to read. She was very smart and learned many languages, and she was also good at pretty much everything else. Isabella wanted to educate her daughters well, and they were; they learned history, law, philosophy, math (yep, she had to deal with that too), and a whole lot more. Queen Isabella was a very strong woman and all her daughters inherited that trait, especially Juana. And because of that, Juana and Isabella, obviously, didn’t get along amazingly.
Queen Isabella was a very Catholic kind of person and having the woman who helped start the Spanish Inquisition as your mother is a little scary. But Juana was a rebellious child and wasn’t Catholic enough for her mother. That made Isabella angry, so she tortured Juana. One form of torture that may have been used on the young princess would’ve been “La Cuerda”, which basically meant that Juana’s arms would be tied with ropes (and the ropes would be tied to something which she would hang from), and her legs would have weights tied to them. The point of this absolutely terrible type of torture was pretty much to leave the person there until their arms and legs fall off (wow, Isabella), but thankfully, that never happened to Juana. It’s important to mention that Isabella might not have actually done this to Juana; they might’ve just been like every regular mother and daughter and probably just yelled at each other or something.
Juana, the third child, surely would never become Queen; her brother, Juan, would inherit first, and after him, her sister Isabella would inherit both kingdoms. There would never be a need for Juana to come and inherit something, all she had to do was get married. Which, of course, is about to happen.
In 1496, sixteen-year-old Juana was betrothed to the eighteen-year-old Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy. Philip was the son of the Duchess of Burgundy, Mary, a truly amazing woman from who he got his title. He was also the son of Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor, so that helped. One thing that didn’t help? Even though his name was “Philip the HANDSOME”, he was really, really ugly. Sometimes, names can be misleading. I’ll let you decide if he was really “handsome”:
It didn’t matter if Philip was handsome or ugly, because Juana and Philip were going to get married anyway. It was a great alliance for her parents, and Juana got lucky because she didn’t have to marry some weird old dude. So off she went!
Juana arrived in Flanders, where Philip was, and it was “love at first sight”. Philip and Juana were so attracted to each other in the beginning that they didn’t want to wait until the day their marriage had been planned, and decided they had to get married at that moment. They ran off to consummate their marriage the literal second they were married. And of course, Juana was quite in love with Philip. And he wasn’t.
Philip is an absolute piece of trash, and someday I’ll write something titled “The Horrible Men in Juana the Mad’s life”, but for now, just know he’s horrible. Even though he’d seemed to be super in love with Juana in the beginning, he soon proved to be horrible. Just horrible. He had lots of affairs and wasn’t really that secretive about it. Juana basically came from Spain, where, at this time (let me know if I’m wrong), most people would keep their affairs secret and found herself living with this piece of trash who was having affairs with literally everyone and also telling literally everyone. Philip’s father, Maximilian, who had had a very close relationship with Philip’s mother, Mary of Burgundy, probably tried to make Philip have a little more respect for his wife, but that didn’t really work.
Philip was always having affairs and stuff, right? Does that mean he took some time to spend with Juana, who was completely in love with him? Nope. Juana’s parents hadn’t been in love or anything, but you can see that they respected each other. Juana, on the other hand, was stuck with this guy who didn’t pay attention to her or respect her. Juana, understandably, was pretty angry about this. She would yell at Philip and was generally not happy about all this affair stuff. Remember that, because that really does become important later on, when Philip becomes an even worse guy.
But remember how Philip had fallen in “love” with Juana when he first saw her? Well, she was still really pretty, as it hadn’t been long since they’d married. So, Juana, over the next ten years of her marriage to Philip, — and yes, she dealt with him for ten whole years — had six children. First, there was a daughter, Eleanor. Eleanor became Queen of Portugal by marrying a guy whom two of her aunts, Isabel and Maria, had previously married. Gross, I know. She then married someone whom her aunts hadn’t married, Francis I of France. Then came Charles V, future Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. Remember him, we’ll talk more about him in a moment. After Charles, Juana gave birth to a second daughter, Isabella (because literally everyone in today’s story is named Isabella), and she became Queen of Denmark. After her, Juana had Ferdinand, another future Holy Roman Emperor, whom I’ll mention later. After him, Juana had a third daughter, Mary, who would become the Queen of Hungary and Bohemia by marrying King Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia. Juana’s last child was born shortly before everything started to go wrong for poor Juana. Her name was Catherine, and she would later become Queen of Portugal by marrying King John III.
Some fun facts about how horribly Juana was being treated (and these all only come from one source, so they might not be accurate, but I think it’d be nice if I listed them here: apparently, Philip treated Juana like a prisoner, and basically locked her up and didn’t let her leave their castle. He also may have, after Juana gave birth to her first daughter, not given her any money to support the child because it wasn’t a son. And he may have also not been giving Juana money to support herself, so she may have not had enough money to like, do royal stuff and wear royal clothes and things like that. Philip is such an awesome husband.
Now, you might think things are looking good for Juana because she has so many children now, and you’re also probably in a good mood because births tend to seem happy. But while Juana was giving birth to a ton of kids, everyone else was dying. Her older sister Isabel died in childbirth and was quickly followed by her son. And then, her older brother Juan died, but at least his wife was pregnant. (Fun fact: after Juan died, Philip started using the title “Prince of Asturias”, which had been Juan’s old title. I wonder how Juana felt about that.) But then Juan’s wife gave birth to a stillborn daughter. AND, Juana’s two sisters were both younger than her. Where did that leave Juana? Well, that meant that Juana was the heir to Castile now. So off she went with her terrible husband to go and become Princess of Asturias (which is pretty much what the heir to the throne was called in Spain, like the Prince/Princess of Wales over in England).
So, Juana had to go back to Spain, because she was now the heir. In 1502, she was given the title Princess of Asturias. And because everyone was dropping dead, and also because Philip wasn’t treating her awesomely, Juana wasn’t doing so well mentally. And Philip was like, “um, I can’t deal with you, so like, I hope you won’t mind,” and he left. He literally left Juana, came back once he let her cool off, and left when she started getting mad at him for having affairs with everyone again. And, he also started telling close to everyone that Juana was mad because she couldn’t put up with his crappiness.
Now that Juana was Princess of Asturias, she outranked Philip, which wasn’t exactly something he was too happy about. They argued more, now that Juana was more important than him, and THEN, Philip does something really horrible, again. Philip is just the best, isn’t he?
So, to recap, most of Juana’s siblings are dead, so she’s the heir now, her husband treats her like crap, and she’s already had three kids: Eleanor, Charles, and Isabella. And guess what! Juana just happens to be pregnant again! This time, Philip stays in Spain with his wife and apologizes for being a shitty husband, and they live happily ever after! Wouldn’t that have been nice?
So, basically, what happened this time is that Juana’s mother, Isabella, was dying. Juana was devastated that her mother was dying because it’s her mother, so that’s understandable. She was so sad that she stopped sleeping and eating. Then, Philip, the very courteous Philip, just went back to Burgundy while his mother-in-law was on her deathbed and while his wife was literally not sleeping and eating because his mother-in-law was on her deathbed.
Juana, who had always been in love with Philip, wanted to go get Philip and begged her mother to be allowed to go. But Isabella — and this definitely makes me think she never tortured Juana with that “La Cuerda” thing — didn’t let Juana go. It was literally the 15th century, though, so travel was pretty dangerous. Juana was also pregnant, which meant that things would be even harder for her. So, Isabella didn’t allow Juana to leave Spain. I really hope that Isabella thought her son-in-law was such an asshole, because wouldn’t that be nice? The daughter is in love with Philip so much that she wants to go through a dangerous journey to see him, but the mother knows he’s horrible.
So, Juana’s mental state got even worse because she wanted to be with Philip, but her mother wouldn’t let her. Juana stayed until she gave birth to a son named Ferdinand, then, she begged her parents to let her leave again. They said no, and Juana was Juana, so she wasn’t going to put up with that. Juana literally threw herself onto the castle gates screeching, and only stopped when she was super tired and couldn’t continue screaming. Juana only wants to go back to her husband, but her parents aren’t letting her because they know he’s horrible, and also because they hate him. I honestly think that even though they weren’t good parents before and after this, they were being good parents now.
A year after Ferdinand was born, Juana’s parents let her go back to Philip, who was in Flanders. Flanders and Spain (I’m calling it Spain, but it was still all those little kingdoms I mentioned at the beginning of this post) were really far apart by 15th-century standards, and that’s why Isabella and Fernando weren’t letting Juana go — it was too long and dangerous for Juana, even more so because she was pregnant.
Juana, after that long and dangerous journey, arrived in Flanders. She literally ran to Philip, and when she was in her room, guess what she saw? Philip was literally actively committing adultery right there in front of her (is “committing adultery” the proper term??). So, obviously, it was an awkward moment, because Philip was committing adultery and then Juana just walked in. Juana never liked being treated badly like Philip, and remember, she outranked him now, so she wasn’t putting up with him committing adultery. And also, she’d just gone through a long and horrible journey from Spain to Flanders in the literal 15th century, and just found her husband committing adultery, so what else was she supposed to do? And oh, yes, she did something!
So, what Juana (allegedly) did was grab some scissors that were sort of just sitting around there (??), and stabbed this lady in the face after cutting off her hair. Okay, if that didn’t get Philip to at least think about her a little, what else could? Well, Philip just shrugged and took another few lovers, which obviously didn’t make Juana feel any better. Juana wasn’t mad, the people around her were the ones who made her mad.
So, because Philip doesn’t even care that his wife stabbed his lover, what does Juana do? She gets some love potions, because oh yes, she does. All the witches must have just stolen her money and given her defective potions because they didn’t work. I guess even witches couldn’t fix the horrible Philip. On top of all this, guess what happened next? Nothing big, just that Queen Isabella died and Juana was the new Queen of Castile.
Before Isabella died, her husband, Fernando, had a fair amount of power in Castile, but now that Juana was monarch, it definitely wasn’t going to be that way anymore. Also, Philip, who would definitely have wanted to be her co-monarch, was just her consort, and could only take power if Juana wasn’t able to rule — and if she was mad, she wouldn’t be able to. Luckily for Juana, though, Isabella had despised Philip, and in her will, she had made sure that it would be pretty hard for Philip to have any sort of power in Castile. But luckily for Philip, even though his father-in-law wasn’t fond of him, they both had a similar goal: to make sure everyone thought Juana was mad so that they could rule Castile.
So, even though they both wanted to overthrow Juana or something like that, they didn’t like each other, so even though they had the same goal, they weren’t working with each other or anything. Fernando decided to remarry so he might be able to have another son, and therefore, Juana wouldn’t inherit Aragon. His new wife was Germaine of Foix. The poor lady was eighteen, and Fernando was fifty-four. I wonder how she felt about that.
Anyways, Juana hadn’t returned to Castile yet, and how was she going to rule Castile if she wasn’t there? So she and Philip decided to go back, but they got shipwrecked. That turned out to be a good thing for Juana because they landed in England, where Juana’s sister, Catherine of Aragon, was. What was Catherine of Aragon doing there? She’d just married Henry VIII and would become Queen of England really soon. Juana was super happy to have met her sister again since she hadn’t seen any of her siblings after all of them got married. Catherine was also very happy to see Juana again, and I just think it was a really good time for both of them before both of their lives became pretty horrible. But of course, it couldn’t last forever.
Juana eventually had to leave and go to Castile, where her crappy life resumed. At least pretty much everyone in Castile liked her and Philip instead of Fernando and Germaine of Foix because Germaine was French, and Castile and France weren’t really good friends at the time. Fernando knew what was going on, so he basically told Philip, “hey, you can rule Castile, but my daughter is totally insane, okay? She’s unfit to rule, understand?”
And so Juana, because of all the horrid men in her life, had no power and was living the worst life possible. I start researching someone, I think their life is horrible, and then I always find someone whose life was worse. And then there’s Juana, I don’t think any royal woman has lived a worse life than Juana out of the ones I’ve researched so far, and I hope I don’t find anything worse.
And then, something even worse happens to Juana. To me, nothing better could’ve happened, but the way Juana reacted is just really sad. Philip died! But remember how Juana was madly in love with him? Well, she wasn’t as happy as we are. Juana went “completely mad” according to all the horrible men in her life. She didn’t want to leave Philip’s corpse, and allegedly treated it like a living human: she ate next to it, slept next to it, and honestly, Juana’s not mad, even though she’s doing all this. Juana was pregnant at the time Philip died, and she gave birth to a little daughter, Catherine. And also, even though his daughter is clearly busy with a new daughter and her husband’s corpse, Fernando is still going around telling everyone his daughter is mad, and that he should be ruling Castile. Oh, and by the way, he might have just poisoned Philip.
When the plague came along, and Fernando, back in Aragon, decided to come back to Castile. When he did come back, fewer people started dying of the plague, and because everyone was really superstitious at the time, they were like “King Fernando’s stopping us from dying, Queen Juana isn’t, so what could that mean?” Well, it obviously meant that Fernando was better than Juana, and therefore, Juana was unfit to rule, and ALSO, Fernando was telling everyone she was mad, people mostly chose Fernando over Juana.
Fernando tried to make Juana sign papers that basically gave all her power to him, but she refused, so he had to force her into it. Juana was pretty much imprisoned in a convent because she was “mad”, and was also separated from all her children, who were going to be raised by her dead husband’s sister. Juana didn’t allow her youngest daughter, Catherine, to be taken away from her, so Catherine was raised in the convent while Juana was imprisoned.
Fernando died a little later, and he’d had no children with Germaine of Foix, so Juana was now Queen of Castile and Aragon, but she was imprisoned in the convent, so obviously, she had no power. Her son, Charles, came from Flanders to become king of everything but didn’t let his mother out of the convent. At least he didn’t kill her like how Emperor Nero killed Agrippina the Younger.
A few years after Charles took over, there was a teeny-tiny rebellion to remove Charles, because he hadn’t been raised in Spain, and was more Habsburg than the people would’ve liked. His little brother, Ferdinand (the one Juana had had when Philip left and all that stuff), had been raised in Spain, and Fernando (the father) had wanted to name Ferdinand as his heir because of that. Also, you could technically call them both Fernando or Ferdinand, but I’m calling them by different names so you’re a little less confused.
So, anyways, Juana was Queen of Castile, so as long as the people revolting could get their blessing to like, reinstate her or keep rebelling, I guess, they were fine. And so, it was Charles, Juana’s son, trying to get his mother to approve of him, but at the same time, the people rebelling against him were also trying to get Queen Juana to approve of their rebellion. I didn’t research this whole thing so much because I already knew how it would end, and that was not an ending I was pleased with. Juana ended up waiting for a long time before replying to either side, and finally, she decided to give her support to Charles instead of the rebels. And guess what Charles did? He freed his mother! How amazing would that have been?
So, Juana, who had been imprisoned in the convent for quite a while by now, was actually starting to appear a teensy bit insane. The nuns in the convent were supposed to take care of her, but she thought that they were trying to kill her, and honestly, that’s a perfectly rational fear. Her horrible son made sure that nobody was able to even speak to Juana. Remember her daughter, Catherine? Well, Juana didn’t even have her anymore. She was married off to King John III of Portugal, not the King of Portugal her aunts and sister had married, thankfully.
We don’t know what sort of condition Juana would’ve had, but it got worse and worse until Juana actually did appear to be very insane. After forty-six years of being stuck in a convent, becoming just as insane as her horrible son, father, and husband had told everyone she was, Juana died at the age of seventy-five, on April 12th, 1555. Forty-six years of being imprisoned, even though she most likely wasn’t mad. I don’t think I’m going to find a story worse than this, but I’m going to try and look for one.