Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview
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JUANA OF CASTILE
(1479-1555)

Spain
Queen

" Juana la Loca" was queen of Castile from 1504 and of Aragon from 1516 to her death in 1555. Although technically queen, she spent most of her long reign imprisoned and declared mad by first her husband, then her father, and finally her son. Juana was the third child of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, but the deaths of her older sister and brother meant that by 1500 she had become the heir to the combined thrones of Aragon and Castile. Juana always greatly preferred her father to her mother, and her loyalty to her father led to difficulties with her husband, whom she also passionately loved. Despite her deep feelings of affection, she was to be betrayed by all the men in her family. Although Juana did clearly have mental problems, many of the stories about her are myths developed by her enemies. Scholars debate just how "mad" Juana actually was and at what point in her life she really became irrational.

Isabella had insisted that all her children--daughters as well as son--be well educated, and Juana spoke French and Latin as well as Spanish. Juana may well have been the most brilliant of the five children. She also danced well and played a number of instruments. At sixteen Juana was betrothed to Philip the Handsome of Burgundy, the only son of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian; her brother Juan was at the same time betrothed to Philip's sister, Margaret. This alliance was part of Ferdinand's plan to secure allies against France. Philip and Juana married in October 1496 in Flanders; five months later the other wedding was celebrated in Spain. The marriage of Juan and Margaret was short-lived. Juan died in October 1497, six months after the wedding, leaving a pregnant wife. Three months later that child was stillborn. The Cortes of Castile (the equivalent of Parliament) recognized Juana's older sister Isabel, Queen of Portugal, as heiress to the throne, but the same year she died giving birth to a son Miguel. At first Juana and Philip's marriage looked to be much

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