Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mad Juana

It is a mystery to me why all the children of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile had such difficult and tragic lives. Poor Katherine, look at what happened to her. In the light of Katherine's doomed marriage to Henry VIII, people tend to forget about her sister Mad Juana, or Juana la Loca. The torrid film from a few years ago introduced her to many; it was a film that was not too far from the truth. Juana was considered the most beautiful and mercurial of the daughters of Isabel and Ferdinand. From the moment she and her husband Philip the Handsome first saw each other they had an extremely passionate relationship. Like any wife who is deeply in love would be, Juana was destroyed to discover that Philip was unfaithful to her. It might have been more prudent for her to be kind to the mistresses rather than attacking them with scissors. Not that it would have been right to show approval, but looking the other way possibly would have been better in terms of dealing with Philip. Deep down he probably did love her, but no doubt he found her excessive preoccupation with himself to be a bore. He enjoyed the chase, and took Juana for granted.

Juana, however, was not someone who could hide her emotions, which became more obsessive. Some historians now speculate that she was not mentally ill, merely distraught over Philip, and misunderstood by the Flemish court. However, the way she turned on her mother, screaming at her in public, says to me that there was a psychological disorder of some kind. She had six children and with every pregnancy her behavior became more aberrant. As one site says:
The Spanish Sovereigns hoped that Juana's wild moods and lamentations were due to her pregnancy, but after little Ferdinand's birth in March 1503, Juana grew more frenzied than ever. She yelled at the servants and cursed the clerics. She wanted to return to her husband as soon as possible, but she couldn't leave, because hostilities had broken out between Spain and France. Queen Isabella I, fearing Philip's influence, insisted that Juana remained in Spain for a time in order to prepare for Queenship. On a cold November night Juana fled, half-clad, from the castle. When the city gate closed before her, she threw herself against the iron bars, while screaming and hurling abuses until exhaustion overtook her. She fought off all efforts to protect her against the bitter wind. She even threatened the bishop with death and torture for keeping her locked up. When her mother arrived, Juana insulted her with foul language.
I think such behavior is a bit beyond being merely headstrong and passionate. It would be interesting to read a psychiatric evaluation of Juana. Once Philip died, she really appeared to become unhinged. Her son Emperor Charles V had her locked away. It is sad, since even in those days there might have been some way to stabilize her moods. But perhaps not.



Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I'm also fascinated with Juana the Mad. If she had six children in six years, I wonder if she suffered from severe post-partum depression. It seems that she had little time between giving birth to one child, and then getting pregnant again. Combine that with her husband being unfaithful, being at a strange court, and it is no wonder that she cracked. Although you would think that since her father was constantly unfaithful to her mother, that she would have followed in her example.

Alan Phipps said...

To my great shame and ignorance, I had no idea she existed. Thank you for this great introduction to this interesting woman.

elena maria vidal said...

Elizabeth, you might have something there. That post-partum deprression can be lethal. Maybe seeing herself betrayed the way her mother was betrayed helped push her over the edge, too. Great insights!

Thanks, Alan, Juana is interesting indeed. She was the Queen Regnant of Spain for a short time.

BTW, my friend Elisa sent in the following information:
"Christopher (C.W.) Gortner has an upcoming historical novel about Queen Juana titled The Last Queen due out in August. Here's his website:
The "Juana's World" section contains some great portraits and photos of the time period.

Thank you, Elisa!

Julianne Douglas said...

C.W. Gortner has sent me an advanced reader's copy of The Last Queen, which I'm reading in order to do a review and interview on my blog. It's a wonderful read so far! I'll be running the interview around the publication date, July 29th. Please be sure to stop by and read it. Writing the Renaissance

elena maria vidal said...

Can't wait to read your review, Julianne!

Enbrethiliel said...


You and Elizabeth seem to have covered all the relevant points, Elena, but I thought I'd add my own two cents anyway . . .

When reading your (fascinating) post, I got the sense of a young woman with legitimate grievances--who knew she had legitimate grievances--being told she had to suffer in silence. She must have been as hurt by her father's unfaithfulness to her mother as by her own husband's infidelity. What happened to her was not fair--and bad enough without her believing that nobody (not her mother, not her husband, and not even the bishop) was taking her seriously.

There's so much pain in the past that it seems we can only remember it in small doses.

Sanctus Belle said...

With the reading I've done on the medieval royal families of England, including Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon - quite frankly I'm surprised that more did not go mad. Women of this time seemed to have had little to no say in the direction of their lives. Those of royal birth were political pawns and were often mistreated. I wonder given these circumstances, how many of us would have become defiant - or gone mad. Perhaps at that time defiance was taken as madness? Just a thought...

elena maria vidal said...

Great reflections. I think that for Juana, although hers was indeed an arranged marriage, she and Philip shared a great love, une grande passion. For Philip to betray that love was for Juana an incomprehensible outrage. We will never know her pain.

Yes, I often wonder why Catherine of Aragon did not go mad. She was a very strong.

Enbrethiliel said...


I also wondered about that, Elena. What heights and depths of grace make the difference between a Juana and a Catherine?

elena maria vidal said...

We all know that Catherine's faith got her through her trials. I do not know anything about Juana's spiritual life. If genuine mental illness is involved, then the person's culpability for their actions is either erased or mitigated, depending upon the individual. Perhaps Juana was deep inside the closest to God; we will never know. It is hard to say which sister had the greatest personal immolation.

elena maria vidal said...

BTW, I think we should look at Juana's children, some of whom were singularly amazing people in the history of the world, and defenders of the Faith.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that Joanna suffered from the 'legitimists' school of thought prevalent under the Salic laws of primogeniture? She had no inherent power as monarch, she represented only a "means" to power for her husband (jure uxoris) or on behalf of her son (jure matris).

Perhaps in her youthful infatuation she had hoped to escape her mother's fate and became despondent when she realized she was doomed to repeat it? Thus I take any talk of "love" in royal circles with a hefty pinch of salt - when a relationship hinges on its value to the heirs born of it, the spouses are not free to consummate their union, a wife is being sired like a mare in a stud farm not entering a conjugal union (the opposite of love isn't hate, its "use", rendering the subject of one's relationship to a utilitarian "object" of selfish desire not mutual respect among souls of equal dignity in God's sight).

Perhaps the lack of self-control expressed in a reported animosity to her husband's mistresses was not so much mental illness as a pressure cooker valve releasing a deep seated personal grievance: while other women usurpers "privatized" the gains of association with her beloved King, the responsibility for maintaining the legitimacy of his rule was "socialized" as losses to be dutifully born by the Queen. And to add insult in injury after the death of her beloved King (as from the frying pan into the fire) her Father continued the abuse of power: remarrying in the hope of siring a son and bypassing his grandchildren as the "socialized losses" of a deceased son-in-law! I think she's a saint for not spitting at him!

The men in these stories come across as most unattractive chaps, lacking in the Christian virtues, almost barbarian in their lust for wealth, power and fame. Is it any wonder than Europe fell apart under the economic forces that befell the parcels of Terre Salica that were being bandied back and forth like chips in a game of poker? As I posted to Fr. Z.

" Many of the splits in Christendom (like many of the divorces in Christian families) can be laid at the feet of “economic” malfeasance with the civil powers usurping the natural law. The clerical classes were recruited to find arguments to advance the Regents’ concupiscence, in England Thomas More lost his head for refusing to comply."

P.S. Could it be that the term "fleeced" originated in antipathy to the successes of Hapsburg mercantilism in an impoverished English court? see pictures juxtaposed on the website cited above:
Henry VIII's power grab was as much an economic one as it was a theological one - do you think he would have had sufficient assets to repay his wife's dowry if his annulment had been successful? Highly unlikely! He played the "Vatican" card as much to keep her money as to gain a male heir.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Clare. Excellent points. Yes, I think that Juana was reacting to the fact that she saw herself becoming a betrayed wife just like her mother. However, unlike Isabel, Juana lost what little political influence she possessed, and eventually even the crown of Castile to which she was the rightful heiress.