Joanna de Castile… Juana La Loca

I think it’s been some time since I recommended a film. Over the rainy weekend my interest to know more about the life of Queen Joanna de Castile was piqued. Of course this particular queen and I share the same name, and I quickly became immersed in her fascinating story. I watched Spain’s 2002 Academy Awards entry, “Juana La Loca” or “Mad Love,” the name it was released by in the USA.

Did Joanna ever have royal ancestry! She was the first queen regnant queen to rule over both the Crown of Castile and the Crown of Aragon. As well as the Spanish kingdoms, she ruled Sardinia, Sicily and Naples in Italy; a vast colonial empire in the Americas; and was Countess of Burgundy and as the consort of the Burundians Netherlands, she initiated Spanish interests there. She was the last monarch of the House of Trastámara and her marriage to Philip, Duke of Burgundy initiated the rule of the Habsburgs in Spain. Throughout most of her long reign she was under the regency of either her husband, father or son, who all in their turn confined to a nunnery under the pretense of mental illness. She wasn’t the first or last powerful woman to be declared “mad” so that her rightful position could be usurped.

Joanna was born in Toledo. Her parents none other than Isabella I and Ferdinand II.  She was an intelligent child and student, accomplished in religious studies, court etiquette, the arts of dance and music, and equestrian skills. Joanna mastered all of the Iberian romance languages.  She also was fluent in French and Latin. Joanna was said to have been an extremely attractive woman.

In 1496 Joanna, at the age of sixteen, was betrothed to Phillip the Duke of Burgundy also known as “Phillip the Handsome” – reportedly the best looking man in Europe in his day! whose father was Maximillian I (the Austrian monarch). Once she left her home, she would never see her mother or siblings again, except for her sister, Catherine of Aragon. Between 1498 and 1507, she gave birth to six children: two emperors and four queens.

In 1502 the Castilian Court of Toro recognized Joanna as heiress to the Castilian throne and Philip as her consort. She was named Princess of Asturias, the title traditionally given to the heir of Castile.

Upon the death of her mother in November 1504, Joanna became Queen of Castile and her husband its King. Under unfortunate circumstances, (their ship was wrecked off the coast of Britain) the couple were guests of Henry, Prince of Wales (later King Henry VIII) and Joanna’s sister Catherine of Aragon.

On  September 25, 1506 Philip died suddenly in the city of Burgos in Castile. Some suspected that he had been poisoned by his father-in-law Ferdinand II who had always disliked his foreign Habsburg origins. Her son and heir-apparent, Charles (later Charles I) was a six-year old child being raised by his aunt in northern Europe.

Without the protection of her husband, Ferdinand II forced her to yield up her power over the Kingdom of Castile and León to him. He had Joanna confined in the Santa Clara convent.

When Ferdinand II died in 1516, the Kingdoms of Castile and León, and Aragon and their associated crowns, territories and colonies passed back to Joanna I and Charles I.

In October 1517, Charles I arrived in Asturias. On November 4th, he met Joanna at Tordesillas – there he secured from her the necessary authorization to allow himself to rule as her co-King of Castile and León and of Aragon. Since Charles I now ruled the Kingdom of Aragon and its territories, and the Kingdom of Castile and Leon and its territories, the two kingdoms were officially unified into one country: SPAIN in 1519. King Charles I of Spain was able to create the most powerful country in the world at the time, by building on the achievements and colonial wealth of his mother’s parents. Isabel and Fernando.

His mother remained confined for the rest of her life in the rooms of the Convent of Santa Clara.                                     

Joanna died on April 12, 1555 at the age of 75 in the Convent of Santa Clara. She is entombed alongside her parents Isabella I and Ferdinand II, her husband Philip I

The story of Queen Joanna has attracted authors, composers and the 19th century romanticists. These are four of the premier works her life inspired:

  • Doña Juana la Loca (late 19th Cent.) — Emillio Serano. Opera.
  • Juana la Loca(2001) — directed by Vicente Aranda and starring Pilar Lopez as Joanna, was nominated for 12 Goya Awards, and was released in the US as Mad Love.
  • El Pergamino de la Seducción (2005) —Gioconda Belli.Novel in Spanish.
  • The Last Queen (2007) —C.W. Gortner. Novel in English and Spanish

I believe that Joanna was not ‘mad’ as mad is commonly portrayed. Most historians now agree that she had either melancholia or severe clinical depression. The way she was used, I think she could hardly help that…


All visuals are from Google Images:


For more information on Joanna de Castile, visit my source:

Trailer for “Juana La Loca”:





Filed under Writing

4 responses to “Joanna de Castile… Juana La Loca

  1. Robert Allen

    There was an earlier Spanish film called Juana La Loca also. I remember seeing it when I lived in Spain as a youth in the mid-1940s. It too was excellent, but I can find no references to it anywhere. It portrayed Juana as mad, carrying her husband’s corpse in a coffin around for years.

    • Oo-oo-oo… she would have to be mad to do that. However, I doubt it could have been years… Who can know the truth; but I feel that women are often more harshly judged than men.

  2. Juanita

    What an interesting story about your namesake! And like her, you are also an intelligent, accomplished woman!

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