A Glimpse into the Circumstances of the Life of Queen Juana I of Castile

The Catholic Monarchs and the Infanta Dona Juana. Image from the “Rimado of the conquest of Granada”, by Pedro Marcuello


Reading about Queen Juana I of Castile (and Aragon) is just heartbreaking.  Imagine growing up and being given a fine humanist education and speaking extemporaneously in Latin.  Imagine having loving but extremely strict parents who teach you to believe, as a woman, you are totally subservient to the men in your life:  father, husband, son, councilors, etc.  Imagine you were never meant to be a ruling monarch but suddenly you are your mother’s heir and successor when your brother, elder sister and nephew die unexpectedly.  Imagine you make a long journey from Spain to the Low Countries to marry.  Your husband is handsome and there is a great deal of sexual attraction with him.  Then, he takes away your Spanish ladies, allows you absolutely no income, keeps you pregnant and locks you up.

Once your revered mother dies, you are suddenly Queen of Castile and you are hundreds of miles away with little self-esteem or confidence and perhaps, suffering from a low grade or even moderate clinical depression.  Together with your husband, you travel to Spain where warring factions, including your husband and your father, are manipulating the situation, denigrating your mental health and taking away your kingdoms and your right to govern them, all in the name of familial and fatherly love.

Your husband dies suddenly when you are eight months pregnant.  There are disparate factions with their own agendas who are giving you conflicting advice and it’s nearly impossible to make critical decisions.  You hold out until your father returns, banking on his sage advice and assistance.  But he proceeds to appropriate your entire kingdom, locking you up in a fortress and ruling in your name.  Then, when your father dies, you are not told for years while your son defies Castilian law and declares himself king without informing you and proceeding to govern in a newly declared, illegal dual monarchy.

With your one chance at freedom after years of incarceration, the rebel Communeros obtain access to you.  They speak eloquently, begging you to rule and administer their agenda.  You enjoy your moment in the spotlight, dressing sumptuously and holding audiences just like your beloved mother used to do.  But you rightly insist on speaking with the Royal Council, the one thing the Communeros and your son do not want to happen.  You issue orders for the Royal Council to come to you but no one carries out the command because your son won’t allow it.

Eventually, reality hits.  The rebels only want your signature on their documents to give them legitimacy and they have no intention of allowing you to govern them.  You acquiesce to your son, saying everything that is yours belongs to him as well.  The crisis is averted but you are back where you started, lonely and depressed in a mighty fortress, having little to no contact with the outside world. Any unusual behaviors being exhibited, like refusing to eat or dress properly and declining to hear mass can be attributed to depression and protesting your unwarranted treatment.

This story has plenty of drama and is, quite frankly, pathetic.  The Castilians had female rulers in the past.  There was no effort to create a Salic Law type scenario like the French perpetrated to bar women from the throne.  Juana was highly intelligent and she had learned from the best, sitting at the feet of her mother.  She probably even learned a great deal from her cunning-as-a-fox father too.  There were so many factions in Spain at the time that ruling would have been difficult even in the best of circumstances.

Queen Isabel’s will and the rule of law in Castile designated that Juana was queen and many never stopped believing she was their monarch. To insist she was loca or mentally ill was particularly egregious.  And to imprison and torture her was unforgivable.  Juana was never allowed a reasonable and adequate opportunity to govern with her own initiatives as there was always someone who thought they could do better.  They literally expropriated her power and authority.  If she had been given a chance and had the right advisers, there is no telling what she would have been able to accomplish.


Further reading:  “Juana I:  Legitimacy and Conflict in Sixteen-Century Castile” by Gillian B. Fleming, “Juana the Mad:  Sovereignty and Dynasty in Renaissance Europe” by Bethany Aram



9 thoughts on “A Glimpse into the Circumstances of the Life of Queen Juana I of Castile

  1. Juana, Queen of Castile was very capable of ruling but her husband, her father and to some extent, her son kept her from ruling. Her husband, Philip of Flanders abused her physcologicallly and emotionally to great extent. Taking away her Spanish ladies was very, very bad.


  2. Henry VIII was well aware of this, since Juana was Catherine’s sister. While he may have been misguided in many ways re; a woman as ruler, he was looking for precedents of successful queens and did not want Juana’s turmoil to happen in England, which served to strengthen his desire for a male heir.


  3. What a sad life for a woman who should have ruled in her own right. Her illness maybe the result of depression, anxiety and pressure, which was exaggerated by the men in her family, who wanted to rule her kingdom.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There was a lot more at stake in the world when Juana was ready to rule than when her mother was crowned. Ferdinand was always the avaricious half of the pair. When Isabel died, Ferdinand was desperate to control both nations. He would gladly sacrifice his daughter, rightful Queen of Aragon, to keep power in his hands.

    Remember a whole new set of land masses had recently been discovered, and riches had just started pouring in. In addition, continental crown jockeying included the marriages of Juana’s children: something else ol’ Ferdie just had to handle.

    Isabella had a restraining influence while she lived: wanting her new domains to be Christian first, everything else second. Ferdie could not afford to allow Juana the same power and leverage as her mother. Too much at stake by then. He and Phillip were cut from similar cloth. Together, they played the head games that turned a promising young infanta into a seeming wreck of a woman, unfit to rule. Juana’s inability to gain traction just fed her menfolk’s assumptions that they had a right to do what they did. Simply put, they knew they were screwing her. It was the only way to keep her out of the picture.

    Henry VIII used similar methods to convince himself her sister wasn’t really his wife. Whatever works . . . . .

    I think Juana’s children had to have been whisked away from her at early ages, before they could bond. This could have explained why Charles continued the ruse. Perhaps those times he had real contact with his mother, things were staged to skew his perception of her competence.

    Mission accomplished.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What if they were right and she really wasn’t able to rule? The knowledge of Latin does not guarantee leadership qualities. I wonder what Catherine the Great, or any other strong woman, would do with the situation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.