November 18, 2010
Catherine of Aragon had a famously fraught time as Queen, but for all the turmoil that her marriage to King Henry VIII entailed, Catherine was not the only woman in her family to find tribulations awaiting her on the throne. In fact, one could argue that Catherine’s older sister, Juana, as seen on this week’s episode of The Spanish Princess, had even worse luck when it came to ruling.
While Catherine’s marriage to Henry would lead to divorce, a religious revolution, and a struggle over succession that would stretch for generations, her sister would ultimately find herself, through a series of circumstances largely beyond her control, going down in history best known as Juana la Loca—Juana the Mad.
Groomed for Greatness
Sometimes Anglicized as Joan or Joanna, Juana was born on November 6, 1479, the third child and second daughter of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon.
Prior to Isabella and Ferdinand’s marriage, Castile, which made up a large portion of the northern and central Iberian peninsula, and Aragon, which encompassed the northeastern region, were separate kingdoms. Though the marriage between Isabella and Ferdinand united the two crowns, establishing the kingdom of Spain, Castile and Aragon continued to maintain their own separate political and governmental structures and functioned essentially as separate countries; despite ruling over Spain together with his wife, Ferdinand had no legal claim on the Castilian throne, nor did Isabella on the crown of Aragon—a fact that would become tragically pivotal in Juana’s life.
Juana’s mother, Isabella I, was an ardent Catholic (she was granted the right to style herself as Isabella the Catholic by Pope Alexander VI) and the Spanish Inquisition began during her reign. Juana, however, never showed the same level of religious devotion and, according to some sources, was brutally punished by her mother for her more moderate faith.
Having both an older sister, Princess Isabella, and an older brother, Prince Juan, Juana was considered unlikely to ever ascend to the throne in her native Spain, however that hardly meant that she wasn’t expected to be a Queen. Educated in politics, languages, and music, Juana was groomed from childhood to stand alongside one of the kings of Europe in a political marriage that would strengthen Spain’s foreign alliances.
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