Joanna of Castile didn’t become known as “Juana La Loca” for her sound rule. Yet to what extent was this “mad” Spanish queen simply a victim of bad luck and greed? As female heir to a rich country, Joanna was surrounded by male relatives who had much to gain from her loss of power.
Her husband, her father, and eventually her own son would all attempt to wrestle Castile from Joanna’s unstable hands. From rumors of her “undead” passion for her late beau to her legendary beef against nuns, the legend of this wickedly jealous ruler just won’t die.
Hide those scissors for these 42 scandalous facts about Joanna of Castile, the “Mad” Queen.
1. The Universal Language of Madness
In the annals of Spanish history, Joanna goes down as “Juana La Loca” for her “madness.” This epithet wasn’t lost in translation: her name is often Anglicized to Joan or Joanna the Mad (For the sake of simplicity, we’re going with the Anglicized epithet and will be referring to her as Joanna). Some mean names just stick.
2. Dad Will Need a Place to Crash
Born on November 6, 1479, Joanna was the daughter of two powerhouse monarchs: Isabella of I Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. Her parents’ glorious marriage—and fervor for religious enforcement—would unify Spain as we know it today. During Joanna’s lifetime, however, her parents’ separate kingdoms functioned more as an independent partnership rather than a united country.
Her father had no claim to rule Castile in his own right—a contention which boded terribly for Joanna’s future relationship with dear old dad.
3. Third Time is The Harm
Joanna was the third-born child and second daughter of her large family. With two siblings ahead of her in the Spanish succession (her sister Isabella and brother John), no one expected Joanna to inherit the crown.
4. School Can’t Prepare You for Everything
Trained in languages, literature, philosophy, and even law, the princess Joanna received one of the finest humanist educations in 15th century Europe. Alongside her sisters, she was prepped to act as a wise consort for her future husband and diplomat for her parents’ foreign interests. Let’s see how that turns out…
5. One-Woman Band
In her youth, Joanna was an especially gifted musician. She was a triple-threat, knowing how to play the monochord, the clavichord, and, of course, the guitar.
6. I Don’t Want to Believe
Joanna was not particularly pious for a girl whose parents were literally titled by the Pope as “The Catholic Monarchs.” According to some sources, she even experimented with—gasp!—skepticism in her teens! This rebellious streak, however, was just the beginning of the rollercoaster of her incredibly dramatic life.
7. Faith Shouldn’t Hurt
I imagine it’s hard to catch a break when your mom literally engineered the Spanish Inquisition. According to some sources, Queen Isabella was deeply enraged by Princess Joanna’s insufficient piety. It’s been suggested Isabella “corrected” her daughter’s religious disposition with literal torture methods such as “La cuerda,” where Joanna was hung in the air by ropes and weighted down by her feet.
We can’t imagine that felt great—either for Joanna’s body or faith in authority.
8. Too Lost in the Sauce to Confess Her Sins?
Joanna often refused to take confession—an unthinkable rejection for a Christian noblewoman of this time, and a sure sign that Joanna was doomed to the flames of hell. Naturally, Joanna’s own priests would accuse her of being “corrupted” by drunk French monks (the French detail was apparently very important to them).
9. Match Made in Heaven or Hell?
When she was just 17 years old, Joanna was formally engaged to Philip of Flanders (future Duke Philip I of Burgundy), who was the son of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I. Most noblewomen had very little say in their husbands—but luckily for Joanna, her fiancé was only a year older than her and already known as “Philip the Fair” for his hot looks.
10. Being Jilted Runs in Our Family
Joanna is famously the older sister of Catherine of Aragon, AKA the future Queen of England and first wife of the infamous Henry VIII. Like Joanna, Catherine would experience her own marital tragedies with an unfaithful husband (see: being married to Henry VIII). Catherine also was the only sibling Joanna would ever see in-person again after she married and moved to Flanders.
11. Waiting Is for Ugly People
Joanna of Castile was a beauty of her day, inheriting the House of Trastamara’s disposition to fair skin, blue eyes, and strawberry-blonde to auburn hair. Her husband, Philip the Fair (who, as you can tell by the nickname, was a contemporary hottie himself), was mutually pleased with his beautiful bride—with scandalous results.
According to legend, Joanna and Philip ordered their priest to marry them immediately upon their first meeting—even though the formal wedding ceremony was already staged for the next day. Yes, this very likely means Philip wanted to get it on with Joanna in the bedroom—with the Church’s blessing—as soon as he possibly could.
12. Not Enough Room in This Bed for All of Us
Joanna’s marriage to Philip was one of mutual but lopsided passion. Joanna worshipped him; Philip found Joanna beautiful and charming, but not worth staying faithful to. Her Burgundian beau quickly began to see other ladies on the side. His infidelities often sent Joanna into jealous rages and depressive tailspins—and as we’ll see, they were the least of his betrayals.
13. Can We Reschedule?
Joanna almost didn’t survive her bridal voyage to meet her Prince Not-So-Charming. On the ship ride to Flanders, Joanna suffered from severe seasickness and even caught a near-fatal fever. Then, setting the tone for their marriage, Philip was not even there to meet his recovering bride upon her arrival. He sent her sister, Princess Margaret of Austria, as his initial proxy.
14. It’s Survival of the Fittest
Shortly after marrying Philip of Burgundy, Joanna was pushed to the forefront of the Spanish succession upon a series of quickly timed family tragedies. First, in 1497, her brother John died unexpectedly at the age of 18. He left no heirs but a stillborn daughter. Next in line to the throne was Joanna’s oldest sister, Isabella—but she too died.
With the death of Isabella’s only son Miguel, Joanna was suddenly heiress to a (potentially) unified Kingdom of Spain.
15. A Man’s Job No More
In 1502, Joanna was formally recognized as heir to the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. She was conferred the title “Princess of Asturias,” a seat typically given to the male heir of her mother’s realm.
16. Swipe Left at the Boiling Cauldron
Joanna of Castile was ready to fight for her man—at any cost. According to some legends, she even indulged in “love potions” and other supernatural snake oils to keep her husband’s interests. Philip, a classic Renaissance man, was not turned on by witchcraft, and simply continued having his many extramarital affairs.
17. Going Out for a Pack of Smokes…
Some men can’t handle their wives making more: the pressure of being Castile’s heir put a strain on Joanna’s marriage to Philip of Burgundy. He had moved his court to be with Joanna in Castile as the country’s heirs, but their arguments intensified until he eventually left Joanna pregnant and alone in Madrid.
18. Time to Unwind
As you might expect, Joanna did not take Philip’s abandonment very well at all. In a dark omen of things to come, she fell mentally and physically apart when he left: The heiress indulged in the rather unroyal conduct of crying herself to sleep every night, refusing lavish meals, and flinging her royal body against the walls.
19. I Hope This Doesn’t Become a Habit…
Joanna frantically wished to follow her husband, who had retreated to his home in Flanders. Unfortunately, her mother Queen Isabella strictly forbade it, and had Joanna sequestered to her rooms in the Castle La Mota at Medina del Campo. It was there she continued her mental breakdown—and things took an even darker turn. She began pacing all day, babbling in tongues, and still denied herself food and sleep.
Of course, there’s another, darker side to her madness that we’ll get to later…
20. The Family That Does Everyone Together
Together, Joanna and Philip had six children. Most famous of them was Charles, who would go on to be the first King of Spain and also Holy Roman Emperor. Joanna’s youngest daughter, Catherine, even became Queen of Portugal…by marrying the widowed husband of her oldest sister. Royals: they’re just not like us.
21. Poor Little Rich King Consort
In November 1504, Joanna officially became Queen regnant of Castile upon the death of her mother, Isabella I. Her husband Philip was made king jure uxoris, which means he was “only” a consort, who would only have power if Joanna was declared unfit to rule. Something tells us that the proud Philip wasn’t too happy with this designation.
22. Equals or Else
Joanna’s widowed and grieving father Ferdinand refused to surrender control over his late wife’s lands so easily. Although Joanna’s will gave dear old dad power if she proved unable, or unwilling, to rule on her own, that simply wasn’t enough. Ferdinand pettily minted coins that read “Ferdinand and Joanna, King and Queen of Castile, León, and Aragon.”
23. You Can Be Replaced. Or Not.
After years of troubled marriage, Joanna and Philip finally had a common interest: an enemy in Joanna’s own father, Ferdinand. The couple refused Ferdinand’s attempts to seize Castile from under them. In turn, Ferdinand re-married so he could father a son who would rival Joanna’s power. If successful, this move would push Joanna from the inheritance of Aragon.
In practice, this unpopular marriage actually pushed more people to the side of Joanna, who finally felt safe to return to her birthright in Castile.
24. Here Lies One Dead Bro
The pivotal tragedy of Joanna’s life occurred in 1506: her beloved Philip died suddenly at the tragically young (but still beautiful) age of 28. The cause of his untimely death was ostensibly typhoid fever…but it was believed by many—including a very paranoid Queen Joanna, reportedly—to be the result of poison.
25. Not Seen, Not Heard
Philip’s death, not surprisingly, hit Joanna incredibly hard, and she let her kingdom fall to ruin while in the throes of grief. Her father even took the chance to seize Castile as governor and administrator—but he didn’t stop there. He then physically confined his own daughter to the Royal Palace in Tordesillas, all but imprisoning her.
At this point, the wilder stories of Joanna’s “madness” really start to take off; she was no longer around to defend herself. However, one story in particular about her reaction to Philip’s death takes the absolute cake…
26. Mommy and Me Politicking
In 1516, Ferdinand II of Aragon passed away. He had failed to get another male heir off his second wife, so the crown of Aragon passed into a co-rulership agreement between Joanna I and her son, Charles I. At least, that was the theory; Joanna continued to stay in luxurious confinement, leaving the ruling to her son.
27. Father-Daughter Visitation Hours Are Over
In total, Joanna’s father kept her in jail for seven years. It’s reported Ferdinand made no more than two personal visits to his daughter during the entire ordeal.
28. Princess of Keeping Mom Together
Joanna at least had the pleasure of raising her youngest daughter Catherine, albeit during her unending royal confinement. But even this small happiness was endangered: When her son, Charles V, ascended to the throne, he removed Catherine from their unstable mom’s custody, throwing Joanna into another tailspin.
Catherine was only returned when Joanna went on a grueling hunger strike to get her back.
29. Their Work Trip Became a Staycation from Hell
In 1506, Joanna and her husband became fatefully shipwrecked en route to claim Castile. After a storm washed them on the shores of Dorset, the couple found themselves guests-come-hostages of Henry VII of England. It wasn’t all bad: Joanna got to reunite with her sister, Catherine, and also meet Prince Henry of Wales, AKA Henry VIII.
While the sisters reconnected, Prince Henry also became a fan of Joanna’s husband. The buff and charming Renaissance man Philip of Burgundy is frequently cited as a model to which the eager-to-impress Henry VIII would aspire. Yep, a handsome, excessive, and philandering King sounds exactly like Henry VIII to me.
30. An Offer You Literally Cannot Refuse
Henry VII of England turned Joanna’s shipwreck into his gain. Stranded on the British Isles, her husband Philip had no choice but to sign King Henry’s treaty with between Burgundy and England…under dreadfully unequal terms, of course. In fact, it became known as the “evil treaty”—which is still a really cool name, as treaties go.
31. Mother of the Year?
In 1520, Joanna almost dethroned her son…but not on her own accord. The so-called Revolt of Comuneros briefly freed Joanna and tried to put her back on the throne in an ill-fated attempt to push Charles off. Before she could legitimize the rebel’s efforts, however, Joanna backed out; her confessors and advisors convinced her not to jeopardize Charles’ inheritance.
While Charles defeated the rebels, he would continue to sequester Joanna—just in case—for the rest of her life.
32. No One Likes a Chatterbox
In her final years, a paranoid Joanna even accused her nuns of trying to kill her. As the queen’s mental and physical state continued to deteriorate to levels still unknown and unmeasured today, her son King Charles simply told her keepers to limit his mother’s conversations with other people, “for no good could come from it.”
33. The Blood Runs Hot
Joanna had a family disposition to mental illness. Some historians have retroactively diagnosed Joanna of Castile with a depressive disorder or even schizophrenia. It’s worth noting that her maternal grandmother, Isabella of Portugal, experienced similar bouts of paranoia, alongside a host of other mental health issues.
34. Too Much off the Top
During Joanna’s period of abandonment with Philip, her mother eventually allowed her to follow him back to Flanders. She arrived home to the worst possible sight: Philip had taken an in-house mistress. Not one to be usurped without a fight, Joanna allegedly started hacking off her rival’s hair with scissors. When this act of violence failed to heal Joanna’s heart, she simply stabbed the woman in the face.
35. Your Loss Is My Gain
One thing to bear in mind with all these tales of Joanna’s madness: many historians are beginning to doubt their accuracy. Both Joanna’s father and later her son, Charles V, had personal incentive to uphold the rumors of Joanna the Mad; her inheritance was just too tempting, and “crazy woman” rumors were a common way to discredit a female rival at the time.
36. I’m Big Enough to Say, “She’s Crazy”
Joanna’s insanity, however, has an even darker and more personal side: Recent scholarship has suggested Joanna’s own beloved husband spread the rumors of his wife’s “insanity.” While Joanna’s real behavior hardly helped, the ambitious Philip had incentive to push the image of his wife as an incapable ruler. He was certainly insecure about his role in Joanna’s regime and looked to usurp her authority.
37. Daddy’s Little Incompetent
Her father Ferdinand II also heavily promoted the legend of “Joanna the Mad.” Upon Joanna’s ascension to Castile, Ferdinand immediately began a campaign to discredit his daughter as mentally incompetent. In early 1505, he declared to the court that Joanna was so ill she could never govern in her own right, getting himself appointed as the realm’s administrator.
38. A Matter of New Life and Death
When her beloved (and traitorous) husband Philip died, Queen Joanna didn’t just grieve in the normal way; in fact, it sent her into her worst emotional tailspin yet. For a considerable period, she refused to leave her husband’s already-embalmed body. During this time, she was pregnant with their final child, Catherine.
39. Together Forever and Ever and Ever…
But it gets worse: the widowed Joanna couldn’t even accept Philip’s mortality after he was buried and in the ground (at her father’s insistence). Shortly after his death, she reportedly ordered his body exhumed, had the casket opened, jumped to his side once again, and kissed his dearly departed feet. From this point, wherever Joanna went, so did Philip’s casket.
40. Eternally Hers
Joanna’s jealousy over Philip’s love also continued after his death. While “accompanied” by her late husband’s casket, it’s rumored Joanna would only travel at night; she didn’t want other women tempting Philip of Burgundy’s corpse during those sexy daytime hours. Her entourage avoided nunneries for this reason—you can never be too careful, even around holy sisters.
41. You’ll Always Be With Me
For the most part, Joanna had the sense to keep her husband’s casket closed. It was simply transported to be with her at meals and her bedside. She only occasionally opened it to gaze upon her beloved’s pretty (and rapidly decomposing) face. Only years later was Philip finally laid to rest again. Of course, this was apparently right outside of Joanna’s window, where his notorious eye could wander no more.
42. Reunited and It Feels… Okay
Joanna hardly lived a charmed life, but she lived a long one by the standards of her day. At the age of 75, “Joanna the Mad” passed away in confinement (where she had been for decades) at the Royal Palace at Tordesillas on April 12, 1555. She was buried alongside her parents and (at last) her beloved husband, Philip of Burgundy.