Joanna of Castile (6 November 1479 – 12 April 1555) was the first queen regnant to reign over both the Kingdoms of Castile and of Aragon. Unfortunately, she was also referred to as Juana la Loca (Joanna the Mad.) She was the daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. She was considered a great beauty in her youth and was highly educated, speaking several languages.
In 1496, at the age of sixteen, Joanna was betrothed to Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy, and later on October 20 formally married. She gave birth to six children who would all go on to become emperors and queens. The marriage was unhappy and the couple was living apart at the time of her mother’s death in 1504. Prior to her mother’s death, her elder siblings had died and she had been recognized as her mother’s heir.
After Isabella died in 1504, her father refused to accept the loss of Castile. He minted coins in the name of “Ferdinand and Joanna, King and Queen of Castile, Léon and Aragon” and had himself appointed Joanna’s guardian due to her illness “such that the said Queen Doña Joanna our Lady cannot govern.” But her husband, Philip was unwilling to accept this situation and minted his own coins. Ferdinand also remarried in the hopes of producing a male heir to prevent Joanna, and thus Philip, from reigning in Aragon on his death.
Civil war was looming and Joanna and Philip traveled to Castile where the nobles abandoned Ferdinand in favor of Joanna. Unfortunately for Joanna, although Ferdinand formally relinquished his right to Castile, he and Philip entered into an agreement declaring Joanna unfit to rule. They still disagreed, but Ferdinand left to return to Aragon. Only a few months later, Philip died of typhoid fever again causing unrest.
When Philip died, Joanna was pregnant and her heir Charles was only six years old. She tried to exercise her power, but a regency council was set up, there was plague and famine in the kingdom and unrest was growing. Ferdinand had perfect timing this time. He waited and let the unrest grow, then returned just as the plague and famine were abating. This gave the impression that he brought peace and calm to the kingdom. He pressured Joanna to concede power to him and although she refused to sign the official document, he became the effective ruler. He had her confined to a convent and issued orders in her name, but signed by him as the King.
Ferdinand died in 1516 without another heir, making Joanna and Charles rulers of Aragon as well as Castile. Charles, who had been raised in Flanders, arrived in Castile in 1517 and officially became co-ruler with his mother. But poor Joanna continued to be confined to a convent. Now Charles I, he was elected Charles V Holy Roman Emperor in 1519.
Joanna remained confined for the rest of her life. She died on Good Friday, 12 April 1555 at the age of 75 in the Convent of Santa Clara at Tordesillas. (Originally posted on SSS News & Notes.)
Find out what else happened on April 12 in Women’s History.