Queen Juana I of Castile (1479-1555) is generally known as "Joan the Mad"1. Despite her nickname, Juana's "madness" has often been disputed; she may have been locked up for political reasons only. Either way, she was a passionate woman, who fell madly in love with her handsome husband and continued to caress him even after his death.

Juana was born on November 6, 1479, as the second daughter of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Their marriage had united Spain. Juana was a fretful, ailing baby that slowly developed into a sullen and timid child. She was prone to moodiness and melancholy and preferred solitude. Her aloofness was often mistaken for royal dignity. Juana was well taught by the famous Italian humanists Antonio and Alessandro Gerardino. She was intelligent, serious, hardworking and pious and she read a lot of books. She conversed fluently in Latin, danced gracefully and played clavichord and guitar. In appearance she resembled her father's mother, the beautiful Juana Enriquez, but in disposition she resembled her mother's mother, the mad  Isabel of Portugal.

At the age of 16, Juana was betrothed to Philip "The Handsome" of Austria (1478-1506)2, only son of the Emperor Maximilian I. A fleet with approximately 22,000 persons accompanied Juana to the Low Countries in 1496. After a dangerous month at sea with 3 ships sunken, Juana disembarked suffering from seasickness and a severe cold. Philip was in no hurry to meet his bride; his sister Margaret welcomed Juana. When Juana and Philip finally met, however, it was lust at first sight - for both of them. Although they didn't speak each other's language, they immediately ordered the nearest cleric to wed them then and there. The cleric was hardly finished before the couple vanished into their bedroom, flung off their clothes and passionately made love. The next day a church wedding officially completed the union.

For Philip the attraction to the beautiful, dark haired Juana was carnal and little more, but Juana became totally infatuated with her husband. Philip (to the right) had a large nose, long hair and an athletic figure. He was cheerful with an air of boyish zest, a jovial and gallant "Prince Charming". His favourite pastimes were archery, the chase, and playing cards.
At 18, Philip was already ruler of the Low Countries, which he had inherited from his late mother, Mary the Rich of Burgundy. Still, his life mainly consisted of feasting, drinking and chasing women - and he had no intention to change his philandering ways. For Juana, however, only absolute togetherness would do. She was too young and inexperienced to realise that she expected too much from a politically arranged marriage. Philip's flirtations and dalliances made her fly into jealous rages.

Philip was lazy and irresponsible, and he detested arguments. Juana (to the left) was irritable, haughty, touchy, and moody. Often, she was depressed and suffered from nervous fainting fits. Each time they had quarrelled, Philip punished his wife by avoiding her bedroom for days. Juana would then cry the whole night and bump up against the wall. Still, despite Philip's flagrant unfaithfulness and the way he was treating her, Juana remained madly in love with him. In 1498, Queen Isabella I send an emissary to the Low Countries to question Juana, but she did't tell him anything. The Spaniard sensed tension and unhappiness in her and reported to her mother that Juana was too unstable to extend any Spanish influence in the Low Countries.

Juana was ignorant of the political intrigues around her, and became completely isolated at court. The women in her entourage were treated badly and many of them were in actual want, but Juana could not help them for she was kept short of money herself and Philip did nothing to help. Ultimately, the only Spaniard left was Juana's treasurer, who used Juana's income to bribe the Flemish. Juana spoke several languages, but she still felt lonely in an alien country, and she was mistrustful of everyone. In these circumstances Juana gave birth to Eleanor in 1498 and Charles in 1500. The heir's birth was celebrated with great splendour and after 12 days he was baptised.

In the period 1497-1500, Juana's elder siblings, Juan and Isabel, and Isabel's baby son, all died, leaving Juana as heiress of Spain, Mexico, Peru and the Caribbean islands. Therefor, Juana and Philip were requested to visit Spain. After the birth of another daughter in 1501, they finally set out, leaving their children behind in Flanders. They met the French King in Blois, and didn't arrive in Spain until early 1502. In Burgos they watched a bull fight. On arrival in Toledo, Juana threw herself in her father's arms, and hugged and kissed him. Queen Isabella I (to the right) , however, was too devout and too self-disciplined to feel much sympathy for either her overwrought daughter or her pleasure-loving son-in-law. Due to her mother's chilly treatment, Juana's nervousness increased. Cheerful Philip found the grim court life in Spain both tedious and trying. The sequence of religious services seemed endless, and the summer heat blazed like a furnace. To his abhorrence, the Spaniards either kept their women hidden or used formidable chaperones. Philip got the measles, too. Once he was recovered he wanted to leave as soon as possible, but Juana was pregnant again. After a violent quarrel in December 1502, Philip left Juana behind. When she learned of it, she went berserk. Juana wanted to ride after him immediately, but her mother had her locked up in castle La Mota (below). Juana lapsed into brooding silences, knowing that Philip, back in Flanders, would surround himself with buxom beauties.

Castle La Mota

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.

Eventually, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand had to let their daughter go. Leaving her son Ferdinand behind, Juana returned to Flanders in April 1504. She found out that Philip had taken a mistress and in a quarrel Juana cut off the woman's long hair. Philip hit Juana in the face and she retired to her room, where she remained for several days. Then Juana began to use love potions and other sorceries, devised by her Moorish serving maids. In disgust Philip ordered the girls dismissed and had Juana confined to her room. In protest Juana went on a hunger strike. A few days later the pair reconciled, but soon more violent quarrels followed. During her rages, Juana would lash out at the people around her with a stick.

In November 1504, Isabella I of Castile died and Juana (to the right) was proclaimed Queen of Castile. Ferdinand II of Aragon asked his officials to read to the Cortes some notes of the Spanish treasurer in Flanders, portraying Juana's instability. The worried Cortes named Ferdinand curator. Both Philip and Ferdinand tried to persuade Juana in handing over the government to them. Meanwhile, Juana gave birth to a daughter Mary in 1505. In January 1506, Juana and Philip left for Spain to claim Juana's inheritance, but during a storm they found safety in English waters and paid a visit to the English Court and Juana's sister, Catherine of Aragon3. On arrival in Spain, Philip and Ferdinand used an mediator to negotiate an arrangement for the government of Castile without consulting Juana. She reacted furiously. Together the men tried to have Juana declared incompetent to rule.

In September Philip began suffering from chills and a fever. After a few days he was hardly able to swallow or speak and he sweat a lot. Juana, pregnant again, stayed constantly at his bedside and cared for him. Within six days Philip the handsome died at the age of 28. The sudden death of her beloved husband toppled the delicate mental balance of the pregnant Queen. She gave way to a storm of grief. She could scarcely bare to be parted from the corpse and continued to caress it. From then on Juana wore only black. Many people believed that Philip had been poisoned by Ferdinand of Aragon, because they had been quarrelling constantly. Juana, too, may have wondered if her ambitious, Machiavellian father had poisoned her handsome husband.

Philip's embalmed body was temporarily interred in a monastery near Burgos. Stories were spread that the Mad Queen had the coffin opened every night and then embraced her beloved dead. In fact, Juana (to the right) did have the coffin opened once and then looked at her husband's remains, but not until five weeks after his death, as a response to rumours that his body had been stolen. When the wrappers were removed from the corpse, Juana began kissing its feet. She had to be removed from the vault with force. When Burgos was struck by a contagious disease, Juana decided to move to Torquemada. She wanted to take the coffin with her, because it was en route to Philip's final resting place, Granada. The coffin was opened for a second time to ensure that Philip's remains were still there. Thus, Juana had his coffin carried about on her journeying. It was guarded by an armed escort and she had ordered that females were to be kept at a distance. She travelled by night only and during the day they rested in monasteries, deliberately avoiding nunneries.

When Juana was seized with labour pains on her gloomy procession in January 1507, she refused the help of midwives and gave birth alone to a daughter, Catalina. Meanwhile, the coffin was placed in a nearby church before the altar, and Juana jealously ordered that women were forbidden to come near it. After four months she started out again with the coffin. When suddenly a storm broke, she refused to take shelter in a nunnery. Again she had the coffin opened to gaze at the smelling remains of her once handsome husband. She stopped in a little village and stayed there for some more months, keeping the coffin with her. When she received word that her father had returned from Naples, she opened the coffin a fourth time before she set out to meet her father.

After his return, King Ferdinand had Juana shut away under close watch in the castle of Tordesillas. Once more, he took over the regency in her name. Juana's elder children, Charles, Eleonor, Isabella and Mary, had been left behind in The Netherlands and found a new mother in Philip's sister, Margaret of Austria. Juana clung desperately to her youngest daughter as a last relic of her adored husband. She thought her husband talked to her trough the prattling of her little daughter, and she guarded her jealously. She let Catalina (to the right) sleep in an alcove that could be reached only by crossing Juana's own room. The child's only amusement was to look out of a window, but no one dared to take the little Princess away from her hysterical mother. Two female servants kept them company.

Ferdinand, King of Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearics, died early 1516 without further surviving issue. Juana's son Charles came to Spain to claim his inheritance and took his sister Eleonor with him. First, they went to visit their mother in Tordesillas. In a tower overlooking the river Duero, Juana lived with her daughter Catalina, then 10 years old. Charles was distressed by the sorry sight of his sister, who wore a sheepskin jacket, but he, too, left her with his mother4. He wrote to their guardian: "It seems to me that the best and most suitable thing for you to do is to make sure that no person speaks with Her Majesty, for no good could come of it." Juana's food, usually just bread and cheese, had to be left outside her door, because she refused to eat if anyone were there to witness it.

Juana's madness is disputed, because Juana was clearly a victim of the power-hungry men around her. Her father, husband, and son all wanted to rule Castile for her. Their descriptions of her "hysterical tantrums" can easily be explained by her passionate nature and the ruthless way she was treated by her loved ones. One wonders if they would have left her youngest daughter with her, if Juana had really been a dangerous lunatic. Surely, she was moody, melancholic, hot-tempered, irresolute and extremely jealous, but those symptoms are not factual proof of madness. On the other hand, she much resembled her mad maternal grandmother, Isabel of Portugal, and strange behaviour was a distinct feature of her in-breed descendants. After all those centuries, it is impossible to determine if Juana merely suffered from a mild personality disorder or that she was actually mad.

Early 1520, Charles V (to the right) paid another visit to his mother. In September rebels seized the town of Tordesillas and with it Juana la Loca. Mistrustful as always, Juana continued to ponder over their proposals and refused to sign anything. She was "released" by a sudden counter attack in December, and, again, shut away in the castle of Tordesillas.
To Juana's dismay, her daughter Catalina finally left to marry her cousin, King John III of Portugal (1502-1557), around 1525. Agitated and lonely, Juana was to survive her husband by half a century. Often she slept at the floor and refused to change clothes. She died on April 13, 1555, at the age of 75. When Charles V was informed of his mother's death, the tiding induced his melancholy and thoughts of death. It made him advance the date of his abdication. Crippled with gout, he retired to prepare for his own departure from life.
Juana and her handsome husband were reunited in death; they were interred together in the Royal Chapel in Granada.

Copyright © 2003, 2009 by J.N.W. Bos. All rights reserved.


1 Joan the Mad (English), Juana la Loca (Spanish), Johanna die Wahnsinnige (German), Johanna de waanzinnige (Dutch).
2 Philip didn't receive his nickname "the handsome" until after his death. Another nickname was "Philippe Croit Conseil", because he did regularly consult his advisers.
3 Catherine of Aragon was the 1st of the 6 wives of the notorious King Henry VIII of England.
4 At the age of 18 Catalina was married to her cousin, King Joao III of Portugal. She was the grandmother of Don Carlos (1545-1568).


Content: Joan Bos. Design: Klaas Vermaas. Info: FAQ.