Juana La Loca Prisoner or insane?

Juana La Loca Prisoner or insane

Juana La Loca.

Juana La Loca

Juana La Loca is one of those historical figures who have raised enormous passions. Queen Juana I of Castile was the daughter of the Catholic Monarchs and would go down in history with the sad nickname of Juana “La Loca”.

Queen Juana spent the last years of her life, almost half a century, locked up in the castle of Tordesillas. Juana’s captivity was imposed by the will of her father, first, and her son, later, alleging insanity and inability to govern.

Romanticism, in the 19th century, found an authentic vein in the character of Juana. Both literature and painting were nourished by Juana’s passion for her husband Felipe el Hermoso, by her unbridled jealousy and necrophilia that has never been verified historically.

For some authors, Queen Juana was crazy, for others she was demonized and needed an exorcism to free the demons that were housed in her body. Other researchers point to a conspiracy to remove her from the throne of Castile. This political plot would have used Juana’s emotional instability as a pretext to spread rumors about her madness, disqualify her from her position and lock her up for life.

Juana I of Castile was born in the Alcázar of Toledo in 1479.

Toledo, 1479. Birth of Juana.

The bells rang happily on November 6, 1479 in the city of Toledo. Queen Isabel I of Castile, better known as Isabel La Católica, had just given birth to a girl, the third of her children. King Fernando II of Aragon named it Juana, in honor of his father, Juan II El Grande, who died in January of that same year.

The carts, drawn by oxen, climbed slowly up the slope of the Arms towards the market of Zocodover. The people of Toledo, who packed the square that cold autumn day, looked up at the impressive bulk of the Alcázar, where the Royal Court was housed.

A few meters from the Arch of Blood, in a seedy tavern, an old gypsy card thrower was stirring up the clientele. In a deep, cavernous voice he announced that “ the newborn will be queen, but she will not reign. She will be the mother of kings and queens but she will die alone ” . Few should have believed the old woman, since Juana was the third in the line of succession, after her brother Juan, born a year earlier, and her older sister Isabel, who was 9 years old.

In the summer of 1482, when Juana was 3 years old, her sister María was born and a few years later, in 1485, her sister Catalina. The girl Juana lived a pleasant childhood surrounded by her brothers. She received a strict and solid education that was to prepare her for a future wedding to a European prince.

Juana’s education.

Juana and her brothers counted for their education with prestigious figures, such as Beatriz Galindo, better known by the nickname “La Latina”. This was the daughter of Queen Elizabeth’s secretary and was an outstanding writer and humanist. She acted as a tutor to the princes. She was always held in high esteem by Isabel La Católica, for her wise and prudent advice.

The infants enjoyed the presence of another great character, the Sicilian Lucio Marineo Siculo. This famous historian and professor of Greek and Latin, had come from his native land to the Castilian court. He was chaplain and chronicler of King Fernando.

At that time, the education that princesses received, who were not destined to rule, consisted of a solid religious formation, where obedience to parents, good manners, equestrian art, a love of reading, music and education prevailed. dance, as well as knowledge of Latin and Greek.

The queen mother tried to instill in Juana the religious passion, which she felt. For this, he had the help of the Dominican friar Andrés de Miranda. Everything seems to indicate that neither the mother nor the Dominican were successful in their endeavor. The girl Juana, at six years of age, showed considerable detachment from religious themes and Catholic rites. This lack of devotion mortified Queen Elizabeth. This one, felt ashamed and tried to keep secret the little religious fervor of her daughter.

Juana la Loca by painted by Juan de Flandes (Kunsthistoriches Museum).

Arévalo. The crazy grandmother.

The life of the infants ran smoothly, in an itinerant court that alternated periods of time between the royal fortresses of Toledo and Segovia. Occasionally, the children traveled with Queen Isabel, to the castle of Arevalo. His maternal grandmother, Isabel de Portugal, lived there, secluded and totally alienated.

Isabel of Portugal had married King Juan II of Castile. With him he had two children, Alfonso and Isabel. On the death of Juan II, his stepson Enrique, the fruit of a first marriage, ascended to the throne. According to the chronicles of the time, the queen went mad with pain. Enrique confined his stepmother and his brothers in the castle of Arévalo.

In the years that she lived in Arévalo, together with her brother Alfonso, the young Isabel witnessed her mother’s attacks of madness. She roamed the castle like a lost soul. She gave terrifying screams invoking the name, not of her deceased husband, but of the Constable Don Álvaro de Luna. He had been beheaded by order of the king. Possibly, in the death of Don Álvaro, Isabel de Portugal, must have played an important role.

In subsequent visits to the castle, accompanied by her children, we have to assume the strong emotional impact that the sight of their crazy grandmother would have on the infants, shouting the name of Don Álvaro.

Little could Juana suppose, the cruel parallelism with her crazy grandmother, that destiny had in store for her. Years later, she would be the one who would be locked up in the castle of Tordesillas. There she was imprisoned under the accusation by her father, King Fernando, of being crazy and unable to direct the destiny of the kingdom of Castile.

Marriage alliances. Travel to Flanders.

The Catholic Monarchs had designed an intelligent marriage policy for their children. The ultimate goal of this strategy was to isolate his enemy, the King of France, from possible allies. With this objective in mind, the wedding between Archduke Philip, son of Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg, and Princess Juana was agreed. At the same time, the wedding was set between Prince John, heir to the Catholic Monarchs, and Princess Margaret of Austria, daughter of the Emperor.

An impressive naval fleet left the port of Laredo in the summer of 1496, heading for Flanders. Queen Elizabeth spent the last night before departure with her daughter in one of the ships. Her father, Fernando de Aragón, did not come to see her off. Juana was a little girl, not yet seventeen years old.

The trip was long and bumpy, losing one of the ships where all of Juana’s dresses were going. To make matters worse, her fiancé did not come to meet her upon arrival.

Although Felipe de Habsburgo, was a handsome young man who would have received the nickname “The Beautiful” by the King of France, all the chroniclers agree that the truly beautiful was his fiancée Joan.

When they finally met, love at first sight emerged between them. That same day they were married unofficially, in order to unleash their passion.

Thus began one of the most turbulent love and jealousy stories in history. Soon after, they were officially married. Juana settled in a court that was completely alien to her and where she felt like a stranger.

Felipe El Hermoso – Portrait of Juan de Flandes

Passion, infidelity and jealousy.

Archduke Felipe soon began to show signs of lack of interest in Juana, who had become pregnant. Juana discovered with pain and surprise, that in the voluptuous court of Burgundy, there was no lack of opportunities for her husband to cheat on her with ladies and servants.

Marital infidelity was not something new to Juana. She herself had seen with her own eyes, her mother harshly criticize the infidelities of her father, King Ferdinand. She had inherited from her mother the distrust of her husband’s fidelity. This distrust was totally justified in both her mother’s case and her own, since both her father and her husband were prone to continuous love affairs.

The outbursts of anger and jealousy began to be known in the Flanders court. Felipe’s infidelities followed one after another, arousing the jealousy of his wife, the reprimands of the archduke, the fights, the periods of mutual anger and the passionate reconciliations.

Juana’s children.

As a result of this tortuous story of love and jealousy, first Leonor (1498) and later, Carlos (1500) were born. The chronicles say that the birth of her first-born took place in the toilets of the palace of Ghent, during a party to which Juana insisted on attending in an advanced state of pregnancy, because she did not trust her husband. A year later, in the summer of 1501, another daughter was born. Juana named her Isabel, in honor of her mother.

Leaving aside the outbursts of anger and outbursts of jealousy, totally justified by Felipe’s frivolous attitude, the reports that reached Spain about Juana left no room for the slightest doubt about her excellent health. The Bishop of Córdoba sent a letter to the Catholic Monarchs, where he informed them that Juana “was considered very sane and very settled.”

Juana de Castilla – Master of Affligem, Joseph Sequence

Heir to the crown of Castile and Aragon.

The unexpected death of her brother Juan, her older sister Isabel and her son, unexpectedly made Juana, in the year 1500, heir to the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon.

In 1502, the couple returned to Spain after a long journey lasting almost six months. Juana was recognized by the Castilian Cortes as a legitimate heir taking the oath in the Cathedral of Toledo. Queen Elizabeth had planned to leave Juana as queen and her husband Felipe as consort.

Felipe El Hermoso, soon tired of the austere Castilian court and returned to Flanders leaving Juana pregnant with her fourth child, who was to be called Fernando, like her grandfather the King of Aragon.

Queen Elizabeth wanted Juana to learn the tasks of government as soon as possible, but she wanted to return to Flanders with her husband, an attitude that deeply contradicted her mother.

The confrontation between the two over this issue reached such a point that the queen locked her daughter in the castle of La Mota, in Medina del Campo and flatly refused to listen to Juana’s requests.

Death of Queen Elizabeth.

What Queen Elizabeth could not expect was the strange behavior of Juana. As a sign of protest, the latter spent a whole winter night outside in the parade ground of La Mota castle, barefoot and without warm clothes. Faced with this irreducible attitude, which endangered her life, Isabel listened to her daughter and let her go to Flanders.

This episode embittered the last days of the queen, who suffered severe abdominal pain, caused by a cancer of the uterus in a very advanced stage.

After Juana’s departure, there was a clear divergence between mother and daughter. The situation became so tense that the queen modified her will. In it, he left a note where he said that “if his daughter did not want or could not attend to government affairs, it would be her father, King Fernando, who would exercise the role of regent . 

A few months later, in November 1504, Isabel la Católica died.

Queen Isabel La Católica on her deathbed – Portrait of Rosales.

Fight for the throne.

While her mother died, Juana starred in another notorious scandal at the Brussels court. There, she tried to cut the hair and mark the face with a pair of scissors to a lover of her husband. Felipe considered confining Juana. The news about the death of his mother-in-law, Isabel la Católica, made him be more diplomatic to get the throne of Castile.

La Concordia de Salamanca.

In the cathedral of Santa Gúdula, in Brussels, Felipe held a funeral for the dead queen and tried to proclaim himself king, to the surprise of Juana, who did not suspect her husband’s wishes to take over the crown of Castile.

While still in Brussels, Felipe began to weave alliances with the Castilian nobles. This earned him the enmity of his father-in-law, Fernando. The latter ruled Castile, claiming Juana’s inability to lead the kingdom. The confrontation between Felipe and Fernando reached such a point that both parties decided to sign the Salamanca concord in 1505. In this agreement the power was divided between Juana, Felipe and Fernando.

La Concordia de Villafáfila.

Juana gave birth that same year to her fifth child, a girl they named Maria. Felipe was eager to return to Spain to seize the throne. In 1506, together with his wife, he began an eventful sea voyage.

Due to a strong storm it lost an important part of its fleet. Finally they reached La Coruña and went to meet Fernando. Along the way, they gained the loyalty of most of the nobility.

Fernando, recognized his defeat and signed the Villafáfila concord. In it, he renounced Castile and retired to Aragon in exchange for financial perks. A few days after the signing, Juana led to another much-talked about incident.

Juana was riding a horse through the gardens of the Count of Benavente. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, he galloped off on his horse. Later, he shut himself up on a peasant woman’s farm. Neither Felipe el Hermoso, nor his German soldiers, nor the Castilian nobles, who surrounded the house, managed to convince her to leave.

Philip the Beautiful – Portrait of the Master of Affligem, Joseph Sequence.

Felipe I, king of Castile.

The Cortes of Castile, meeting in Valladolid, appointed Philip the Fair King of Castile in 1506. His reign was short-lived, lasting only a few months. In September of that same year, he died mysteriously in Burgos. After playing a ball game with a Biscayan captain, he drank a jug of ice water after the game. It is believed that he could have suffered pneumonia.

Much has been speculated about a possible poisoning, caused by his father-in-law. It seems that the most probable cause of his death was an outbreak of plague. Indeed, that same year, an epidemic of bubonic plague would ravage the Iberian Peninsula.

The myth of Juana la Loca.

With the death of Felipe el Hermoso, Castile was left without a king. Juana was pregnant with her sixth child and at the same time devastated by the death of her husband. He was only thinking of moving Felipe’s corpse to the family crypt in the cathedral of Granada. Everyone assumed that he was incapable of ruling in that state.

His heir, the six-year-old young Carlos, was in Flanders. Fernando saw an auspicious opportunity to seize power. While planning his return to the Castilian court, he appointed Cardinal Cisneros as provisional governor.

According to the writer Pedro Mártir de Anglería, Juana ordered the coffin to be opened. While  in the Carthusian monastery in Burgos, she had  the remains of her husband’s body exposed. There, he forced those present to contemplate the macabre scene. Then he carried the coffin onto a cart and began a long pilgrimage to Granada.

In December 1506, in the middle of winter, Juana leads a sinister retinue. Accompanied by an entourage of friars and nobles, she crosses the Castilian plain, transporting the body of Felipe. A long procession of torches illuminates the roads and sows terror among the locals. The procession did not get very far and had to stop at the town of Torquemada. There, Juana went into labor and had her daughter Catalina.

The dementia of Doña Juana – Lorenzo Vallés (Museo del Prado).

The captivity in Tordesillas.

In 1509 she was confined by her father in the castle of Tordesillas. There she would remain locked up until her death. In 1516 King Ferdinand died. His grandson, young Carlos, is crowned Carlos I of Spain.

Queen Juana was never dispossessed of her queen title. His name appeared on royal edicts. His son made sure that he never governed and remained in his confinement oblivious to political events. At the time of her detention, Juana was 30 years old and the mother of six children.

Juana was accompanied during her confinement by her daughter Catalina. In the year 1525, she married Juan III of Portugal.

During her captivity in the castle of Tordesillas, Queen Juana suffered humiliating physical and psychological treatment by the guards, especially by the Duke of Denia, who showed special harshness when treating the queen and her daughter. .

Juan de Padilla and Juan Bravo.

The Castilian nobles, Juan de Padilla and Juan Bravo, led in 1520 an uprising of the Castilian towns against the reign of Carlos. The city of Tordesillas was taken over by the community members. They stormed the castle and demanded to speak to the queen whom they recognized as their sole sovereign. The Castilian nobles were impressed, as they expected to find an alienated woman. However, they found a sane woman, albeit disoriented and confused. She had not even been informed of the death of her father Fernando.

The comuneros wanted to show the people of Castile that the queen was not crazy. They needed to obtain a signature from Juana to be able to endorse their agreements. However, Juana, knowing that her signature could mean the end of the reign of her son Carlos, never signed any document.

Some time later the comuneros were defeated in the battle of Villalar. Padilla, Bravo and Maldonado were beheaded by order of King Carlos. The Marquis of Denia was restored to his position as jailer and Juana returned to her confinement in the castle.

Statue of Juana I of Castile in Tordesillas.

San Francisco de Borja.

From then on, his physical and mental health worsened considerably. He could barely move and his hygiene was very poor. He accused the family of the Marquis of Denia of stealing his jewels and being demonized. In reality, it was his own relatives, the ones who stole the little jewelery he still owned, in the few visits he received.

He refused to confess and receive communion. A rumor began to spread in religious circles that she might be demonized. His grandson, Felipe II, sent a Jesuit friar to visit the queen. The Jesuit, who years later would be canonized as Saint Francisco de Borja, concluded by saying that there was no basis for such accusations and that the patient’s situation was the result of not having had the necessary care.

On Good Friday 1555, Queen Juana died at the age of 76. In the solitude of his captivity, he muttered a few last words before expiring: ” Jesus Christ, crucified, help me .”

All his children were kings or queens consorts. However, at the time of her death she was completely alone. A few family members attended his funeral, invited by his son Carlos. Juana’s corpse rests in the cathedral of Granada next to the body of her husband Felipe El Hermoso.

After his death, all the existing correspondence between the queen’s jailers and the kings, Fernando, Carlos I and even his son Felipe II, was destroyed.

Carlos V in Mühlberg by Titian – Prado Museum.

Juana’s disease.

Much has been written about the nature of Juana’s illness. There are totally opposite versions. There are those who defend her madness and those who maintain that she was the victim of a conspiracy between her father, Fernando, and her son, Carlos, to remove her from the throne.

The first researcher, who pointed to the conspiracy theory , was Gustav Bergenroth , in 1860, after finding unpublished documentation, in the Simancas archive, pointing in this direction.

In 1977, the Spanish psychiatrist Juan Antonio Vallejo-Nágera , in his work “Locos Egregios” pointed to a paranoid schizophrenia as the cause of Juana’s madness. His daughter, also a psychiatrist Alejandra Vallejo-Nágera, supports her father’s thesis.

In 2000, the emeritus professor of psychiatry Francisco Alonso Fernández , in his work “Personal History of the Spanish Austrias” writes that Juana’s illness was a celotypic delusion, which evolved into a fantasy schizophrenia or phantasyphrenia.

Other authors think that it was a deep depression or a depressive disorder. The psychiatrist Francisco Javier Torras , thinks that it was more of a schizoaffective psychosis , where schizophrenic symptoms coexist with affective symptoms (depression and mania). Another psychiatrist, Luis Mínguez Martín , opts for a psychotic condition rather than bipolar disorder.

Video about Juana La Loca.


The main problem when reaching a diagnosis is that we must interpret the descriptions of their symptoms, made by people without psychiatric training, and assign them a meaning that may be very different from what they had in their time.

Historian Bethany Aram has compiled extensive information for more than 10 years, consulting archives and new bibliographic sources, national and international. The result of this research was the publication of his book: “La reina Juana. Government, piety and dynasty ” published in 2001.

In his work Bethany Aram, he dismantles the entire romantic legend about his necrophilia. It further states emphatically, when pronouncing on its alleged insanity, that there is insufficient historical evidence to address this issue.

Aram presents an image of Queen Juana, as a woman who suffered the incomprehension of those around her, who lived deprived of affection, in a world marked by the political intrigues of the men of her family: her father, her husband and her child. Despite everything Juana fought at all times to be a good daughter, wife and mother, defending her royal rights over the crowns of Castile and Aragon.

As for the possible conspiracy to remove her from power, Aram argues that, initially at least, it   was the result of a pact with his father, King Ferdinand, to preserve the crown of his son, Emperor Charles. With her seclusion in Tordesillas, Juana avoided being wanted as a wife by the greedy European kings.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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