The Tragic Story of Joanna the Mad

The Tragic Story of Joanna the Mad

By Fernando Espi Forcen

The Journal of Humanistic Psychiatry, Vol. 2:2 (2014)

Joanna depicted by Charles de Steuben (1788–1856)
Joanna depicted by Charles de Steuben (1788–1856)

Introduction: Joanna (1479-1555) nicknamed “The Mad” (In Spanish Juana la Loca), was the daughter of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. The monarchs union, along with the conquest of Granada in 1492, contributed to the formation of Spain as it is known today. During her adolescence, Joanna was a good-looking and avid student who mastered the major Iberian peninsula (Castilian, Catalan and Galaico-Portuguese) romance languages, as well as French and Latin.

In 1496, at the age of 16, Joanna married Philip The Handsome, Duke of Burgundy and moved to Flanders to live with him. There, she had three children. One of them was Charles, who would later become the first Spanish Emperor. While she was still in Flanders, Joanna‟s elder brothers and sister passed away and the Cortes of Castile recognized her as the heiress of the throne.

In 1504, Isabella became sick with a fever and Joanna went back to Castile to visit her. At that time, Joanna was eating and sleeping very little. An altercation happened between her and her mother. After that, Joanna planned to leave Castile and return to her husband. At that time, a return to Flanders through France was very dangerous since Castile was at war with France. Despite this, Joanna insisted she was going, claiming that Castile was at war but she wasn’t. To prevent her reckless plans, her travelling companion Bishop Fonseca took the horses back to the stable. Joanna reacted by yelling and shaking the bars of the stable. She remained up all night, contributing to the drama by refusing blankets or any kind of comfort.

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After her mother’s death, Joanna became the Queen regnant of Spain, a battle for the Castilian throne began and Joanna‟s father Ferdinand made an attempt to mint coins under his name and Joanna‟s. Her husband Philip, in an attempt to become the King of Castile, also minted coins under his name and Joanna’s. During this time, in response to accusations throughout the empire that she was insane, Joanna wrote a letter to Señor Vere denying insanity, stating that she simply had jealousy issues that she believed she had probably inherited from her mother. The succession battle for the throne ended with Ferdinand abandoning his interest in reigning Castile, leaving such ambitions and responsibility to his “beloved children.” Some time after that, Philip and Ferdinand signed an agreement asserting that Joanna was mentally incapable to rule Castile and should be replaced. Philip became the King regnant but would die only a few months later from a fever. It is recorded that Joanna took care of her husband religiously during his final days.

Click here to read this article from the Journal of Humanistic Psychiatry

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