In the early 1500s, Juana of Castile, the eldest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabel of Castile and Aragon, inherited her mother's crowns. Soon thereafter there were rumors of Juana's insanity and the need to sequester her in a palace, out of the public eye. Was she truly mad or was she misused by her brothers and father who wanted her throne? Lynn Cullen explores Juana's life in Reign of Madness, historical fiction just out in paperback.
I looked up with a grin only to find Mother staring at me from the high table, her face slack with disappointment. I turned away. I would not show emotion. Strike me all you want, I was an anvil like Papa. It was I who had stayed by him when that monster had stabbed him in the neck as we were leaving the palace. While my sisters had clung to one another in a wailing heap, and my brother had stormed the plaza with his sword drawn in a futile show of revenge, I had followed Papa to where his men, shouting and weeping, had lain him on the floor of the Salo del Tinell. He was bleeding onto his own cape, carefully folded under his head.—Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen (Penguin USA / Berkley Books, paperback edition 2012)
He had opened his eyes when I stepped near. "Isabel."
"No, Papa—it's Juana." (p. 23)
When people think of the connection between England and Spain they may remember that Henry VIII's first wife was Catherine of Aragon or that the British (and the weather) defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. What they might not know is that Catherine's oldest sister, Juana I, queen of Castile and Leon, had caught the attention of her sister's father-in-law, Henry VII.
I asked author Lynn Cullen to talk to us about the connection between Henry VII of England and Juana, the mad queen of Spain.
Could Juana of Castile (right), the "mad" Spanish queen in Reign of Madness, have met Henry VIII, the Tudor king known for his appetite for wives? At first guess, it might seem unlikely that in the day of sea travel in ships little larger than a modern RV, a Spanish queen would have a chance to meet an Englishman on his own turf. But chances are that she did meet the then teenage prince, in 1506, when her caravel was shipwrecked off English shores during a voyage from her husband's court in present-day Belgium to Spain. Her mother, Isabel of Castile, the monarch who had sent Columbus on his voyages of discovery, had died, and Juana was to return to Spain to inherit her mother's crowns.
What is certain is that Juana met Henry's father, Henry VII, at this time. Although Juana was on her way to her own coronation and Henry VII was the reigning king, and as such, the two were among the most powerful people in the Western world, they almost didn't get together. Juana's husband, Philippe, Archduke of Austria, better known as "Philip the Handsome," had his own idea of who should inherit the Spanish crowns—himself—and tried to prevent his wife from consorting with the English king.
Philippe (left) went to great lengths to keep them apart. After recovering from the shipwreck, during which he hit the panic button while Juana calmly put on her jewels so that her body could be identified, he locked Juana in the inn in Falmouth where they were sheltered. He galloped off to Henry VII's court at Windsor, where he told the king that Juana "had a small incident" that kept her from joining him "for the moment."
During this episode, Philippe was so ridiculously unscrupulous in real-life that I had little embellishing to do when writing Reign of Madness to make him look villainous. While his wife, the rightful queen, was kept locked in her room, he made merry in Henry VII's court, partying and magnanimously pledging his son Charles to Henry's daughter Mary, a promise he had no authority to make. He also tossed his unwilling sister, Marguerite, into the deal, promising her to Henry VII himself—anything to ingratiate himself to the British king.
Eventually Philippe ran out of excuses for his wife's absence. For appearance's sake, he let Juana join him at Henry's court. But Juana had more than political reasons to meet with Henry. She wanted to see her sister. Catalina (Catherine of Aragon; right, as a young girl) had been sent to England in 1501 to marry Henry VII's oldest son, Arthur. Like all princesses married off to seal treaties or to forge political bonds, Juana and Catalina never expected to see each other again when Juana was sent to the Habsburg Netherlands (modern-day Belgium) in 1496. They couldn't believe their luck when a shipwreck brought them together. The sisters had been close while growing up, and It was particularly cruel of Philippe to keep them apart during this unplanned visit.
Thoughtless and domineering as usual, Philippe cut their reunion short. There was little time for talking, let alone dancing. Juana was at court only long enough to approve an agreement for commercial cooperation between England and Spain and to see her sister briefly. Philippe then forced the sisters apart, a move that seemed unnecessarily harsh even to Henry, who was not known for his sentimentality. Henry wanted Juana to stay but was advised by his councilors to "not intervene between husband and wife."
Two years later, Henry VII (left) spoke of his meeting with Juana:
When I saw her, she seemed very well to me, and spoke with a good manner and countenance, without losing a point of her authority. And although her husband and those who came with him depicted her as crazy, I did not see her as other than sane.As a matter of fact, Henry wished to marry Juana in 1507, after the handsome Philippe died. Some scholars think that Juana traveled with her husband's body for a long period following his death because she was trying to avoid being forced into marrying Henry and other suitors. She claimed to be taking Philippe's body to Granada to be buried with her mother, but was she actually just trying to slip from the bonds of wedlock? Her father saw an opportunity to rule as her regent if she appeared incapable of governing. And thus he promoted the myth of Mad Juana, the queen who was so in love with her gorgeous husband that she could not part with his body. After convincing her subjects that she was insane, her father, and then her son, ruled in her place, imprisoning her in a palace in Tordesillas, Spain for 46 years.
Maybe she should have married Henry. (All images in the public domain; click to enlarge.)
Thanks so much, Lynn. Juana's story sounds fascinating, and her visit to the Tudor Court is not often discussed in nonfiction or in historical fiction.
The Giveaway: Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of Reign of Madness to give away to one reader with a USA/Canadian mailing address. All you have to do to enter for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via a random number generator on May 8. Good luck!