Mental illness is defined most commonly as ‘a condition which causes serious disorder in a person’s behavior or thinking’. Insanity is the point when the existing mental illness in a patient reaches an extreme level. Most mental illnesses are inherited. Just because they do not bluntly appear at birth and are developed at a later age does not mean that they never existed before. It simply means that the existing condition was dormant, just as several volcanoes peppered along the earth’s crust are. Sometimes, mental illnesses are openly visible but their symptoms are severely misinterpreted for normality. For example, extreme love of solitude at times can be interpreted for royal dignity which, is a trait that is very much acceptable and desired in a royal household. Or sometimes, the very thought of having a mental illness might be bluntly ignored by those around you because it is an absolutely unacceptable thing to suffer from. Thus, the symptoms might be bluntly ignored, and a state of delusion might be created. For example, in Tennessee William’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Blanche DuBois is very evidently suffering from a mental breakdown, which, is simply ignored by her sister and her brother-in-law, along with everyone that she interacts with. This is mainly because she is absolutely unwilling to accept that she suffers from a mental illness herself and does her best to create a façade of normality, which eventually does fail as she sinks far too deep in her own delusional world, unable and absolutely refusing to accept reality no matter what.
If this is the case for a normal individual in the 20th, supposedly ‘modern’ century, it was a million times worse for the heiress to one of the most important thrones in Europe in the 15th century. Simply accepting that there was something wrong with you at that time was absolutely unacceptable because it could possibly threaten the legitimacy of the throne itself. While, in this case, it would be very favourable to most, it could have caused absolute outrage. Moreover, with the context of the middle ages and the fact that it was Isabella I of Castile that introduced the infamous Spanish Inquisition in Spain, actually admitting that even a slight possibility of mental illness did exist would result in absolute death or torture of ‘purification’ for both the victim as well as the one who diagnosed her. Thus, it was absolutely unacceptable to even suggest such a thing. Thus, the delusion of normality and the absolute ignorance of everything and anything else was a much safer route to take. As humanity tends to gravitate towards the easier and safer route, it is not all that surprising that many historical personas who did suffer from mental illnesses have been diagnosed in the present or the 20th century that actually allowed for the possibility of insanity as well as the gradual cure for it to exist.
Juana was born on November 6, 1479, as the second daughter of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Their marriage had united Spain. As a child, she was a quiet soul, preferring quite clearly solitude and silence over the rather strenuous lifestyle of the imperial court as most royal would indulge themselves in. This however, was appreciated as it was interpreted by most as ‘royal dignity’. This also suited her rather intelligent and intellectual aura that she had developed from being taught rather well by the famous Italian humanists Antonio and Alessandro Gerardino. She was intelligent, serious, hardworking and pious and she read a lot of books. She conversed fluently in Latin, danced gracefully and played clavichord and guitar. Thus, in many senses, she was the perfect princess but that is to be expected. After all, Queen Isabella I of Castile at the time was one of the most respected monarchs of Europe, well known for accepting nothing less than absolute perfection down to the smallest details. Off course, this extended to her own children, who, from a young age were specifically groomed to expand her own kingdom.
At the age of 16, she was betrothed to Philip “The Handsome” of Austria (1478-1506), only son of the Emperor Maximilian I. In 1496, after a rather dangerous journey on which she was accompanied by 22,000 people, Juana finally did arrive in the Low Countries, that the 18 year old Philip was already the ruler of. After a rather dangerous and strenuous month at sea, she finally disembarked, suffering from seasickness and a severe cold. Her to-be-husband was nowhere to be seen. Clearly he was not all that interested in meeting her and thus, she was greeted by his sister, Margret. But when they did finally meet, both sides experienced lust to such an extent that both ordered for the closest cleric and forced a ceremony and a day later, they were officially married in public. However, neither of them was taken by each other’s personality. They simply wanted to consummate the marriage as soon as possible and thus, in great haste, they were married. By all means, both of them could not have idealized their teenage years in any better way.
Both were far too careless to begin with and thus, it should not be a surprise at all that both suffered a rather unhappy life. However, Philip was attracted to her, acting upon his own carnal desires. Juana on the other hand, became absolutely infatuated with her husband, both for his cheerful, boyish personality, which would have been rather refreshing for her as she was used to her mother’s regime of frozen perfection. She was also infatuated with his physical appearance that she found rather appealing. She was not the only one though. One of Philip’s greatest pass times were chasing after the women in the Court. Therefore, his tall, athletic build as well as his long blonde hair would have been appealing to more than just a few. Interestingly enough, he was only nicknamed Philip ‘the handsome’ after his death, never once during his life. Philip had absolutely no intent on amending his philandering ways. However, Juana had inherited her mother’s perfectionist ways and expected a much more composed and scrutiny-free marriage. At this point itself, it is evident that their reckless wedding would cause both of them severe unhappiness till their death.
His flirtations set off her jealous rages, which would be a constant theme in their through the course of their married life, as well after his death. Philip was lazy and irresponsible, and he detested arguments. Juana was irritable, haughty, touchy, and moody. Often, she was depressed and suffered from nervous fainting fits. Each time they had quarreled, Philip punished his wife by avoiding her bedroom for days. Juana would then cry the whole night and bump up against the wall. Still, despite Philip’s flagrant unfaithfulness and the way he was treating her, Juana remained madly in love with him. It was quite clearly an unhealthy relationship.
Juana gave birth to Eleanor in 1498 and Charles in 1500. The heir’s birth was celebrated with great splendor and after 12 days he was baptized. In the period 1497-1500, Juana’s elder siblings, Juan and Isabel, and Isabel’s baby son, all died, leaving Juana as heiress of Spain, Mexico, Peru and the Caribbean islands. Therefore, Juana and Philip were requested to visit Spain. On arrival in Toledo, Juana threw herself in her father’s arms, and hugged and kissed him. Queen Isabella I, however, was too devout and too self-disciplined to feel much sympathy for either her overwrought daughter or her pleasure-loving son-in-law. Due to her mother’s chilly treatment, Juana’s nervousness increased. Cheerful Philip found the grim court life in Spain both tedious and trying. The sequence of religious services seemed endless, and the summer heat blazed like a furnace. To his abhorrence, the Spaniards either kept their women hidden or used formidable chaperones. Philip got the measles, too. Once he was recovered he wanted to leave as soon as possible, but Juana was pregnant again. After a violent quarrel in December 1502, Philip left Juana behind. When she learned of it, she went berserk. Juana wanted to ride after him immediately, but her mother had her locked up in castle La Mota. Juana lapsed into brooding silences, knowing that Philip, back in Flanders, would surround himself with Austrian beauties. She refused to come back inside for 36 hours, despite the fact that it was freezing outside, demanding to follow him, her choices fuelled by her obvious irrationality. She ‘threw herself at the iron bars of the gates until exhaustion overcame her’ and even went as far as to threaten the bishop with life imprisonment and torture if he did not allow her to leave. When her mother did come to visit, Juana insulted her with a particularly foul language. At this point, she was clearly not within the realm of ‘normality’ which had been narrowly and sharply defined by the social convention of the time.
Naturally, when she did return to Flanders, the infamous incident of Juana cutting off Philip’s mistress’ hair, followed by a series of long quarrels which lead to her protests involving hunger strikes and then her infamous indulgences in love potions and sorceries under the influence of her maids followed. Disgusted, Phillip had the girls dismissed and had Juana confided to her room. Post this; their quarrels became more and more intense. It is reported that she would lunge at the people around her with a broom stick. Her descent into her supposed insanity had now begun clearly.
In 1504, Queen Isabella I of Castile officially died and that was the point when Juana’s life was thrown into absolute chaos as no longer there was any strong, demanding woman to dominate the men around her into acceptance. Amusingly, she had left the throne of Castile to Juana alone. As for Aragon, they would not accept a female ruler and thus, the throne returned to her father. However, the men around her were greedy, clearly not content with the fact that now she ruled over one of the most powerful empires of Europe. Phillip was not content in being King Consort. He simply had to rule as King of Spain but her worst betrayal came from her own father who asked the Spanish Treasurer in Flanders to read out his notes about her insanity to the Cortes. Worried, they proclaimed Ferdinand II of Aragon as curator. The problem was, her mother’s will allowed for Ferdinand to rule Castile if she was unwilling to do so or in her absence. However, for as long as Juana did rule, Ferdinand was not allowed to be the King of Castile. Overcome by greed, he chose to claim the throne for himself, regardless of his daughter’s existence and claim to it.
In 1505, Juana gave birth to a daughter, Mary and the following year in 1506, Philip and Juana set sail for Spain to claim her inheritance. Upon their arrival, Philip and Ferdinand used a mediator to negotiate an agreement for the government of Castile, without consulting Juana even the slightest. Naturally, she reacted furiously and they exploited this to make her seem far too incompetent to rule. The following month, Phillip came down with a fever and chills. Within a few days, he was unable to swallow and speak, all while he suffered from profound sweating. Pregnant again, Juana stayed by his side constantly and within 6 days; he was officially proclaimed to be dead. Several claim that it was Ferdinand II of Aragon that had him poisoned as a way to appease his daughter who was engaged in constant and violent quarrels with her husband prior that. Another thought expresses that Ferdinand did poison his son-in-law but only to reduce a future competitor to the throne and this is the thought that I am inclined to agree with, especially considering he really was not too bothered about his daughter’s very existence if he could not accept her to be the future ruler of Castile.
Whatever happened, most would expect her to be much happier as one major threat to her throne had vanished. Moreover, she would not have to be thrown into violent arguments with him any longer. Most would expect her to be rejoicing at her long awaited solitude. But that never happened. In fact, quite the opposite happened. After his death, Juana gave birth to a girl child who she named Catalina after her sister. Heavily pregnant and grief-stricken, Juana clearly lost her clear thought process. While accompanying his body to Granada for the burial, she demanded that the casket be opened. She demanded that they travel at night to avoid women being tempted by his remains. It is reported that she would stroke his remains and it is unclear as to how much of this is actually true and how much was simply fabricated by her father who used her behavior as the perfect opportunity to steal Castile from her and locked her up in a castle, where she would remain until her death. If she was not insane before, she would clearly be insane now and off course, insanity did run and quite evidently that too in her blood, both Hapsburg and Trastamara. Her maternal grandmother, Queen Isabel of Spain was considered to be insane and was as well, locked up for years. Here, Juana is said to have developed a series of mental illnesses such as Manic-depression or bi-polar disorder as well as Post-traumatic depression. As for Ferdinand, he remarried to Germaine de Foix, the niece of the King Louis XII of France, Spain’s traditional enemy and lived a life plagued by series paranoia. He never did have the son he hoped to have.
After his death, Charles, Juana’s son became the King of Spain as Charles V of Spain. Briefly, she was released from her 11 years of prison and she was absolutely disoriented, completely unaware of what was going on. She had no idea that her father was dead and that her son was now King. However, according to Castilian law, Charles would not fully be recognized as King until Juana’s death, and he refused to release her from her imprisonment. He finally abdicated in 1555, retiring to a monastery, dying three years later. His son became Philip II of Spain, husband of Mary Tudor, who ushered in Spain’s Golden Age. Juana’s other son, Fernando, inherited the Holy Roman Emperor. Juana’s youngest daughter Catalina remained at Tordesillas with her mother for sixteen. However in 1625, Catalina was stolen away in the night and married off to King Juan III of Portugal. Juana was plunged into deep despair at losing her last child. After forty-six years of captivity, Juana of Castile died at the age of seventy-six. She was buried beside her husband Philip in the cathedral in Granada, across from the tombs of her parents Ferdinand and Isabella.
The question however remains; was Juana of Castile sane or not? Mental illness seemed to run in the Trastamara and Hapsburg dynasties, which can be attributed to the tradition of incest that seemed to run strong, not only in those dynasties but in most royal dynasties. After all, the aim of all royal dynasties was to keep the money and influence within the family and not to butcher it between different individuals. Juana was either schizophrenic or bi-polar. It should also be noted that ‘insanity’ was an all purpose diagnosis used to control women who were considered out of hand, too intelligent, or dangerous. Could she have ruled her country? Historians have been debating this question for centuries. Since she never got the chance, the world will never know what Juana might have been capable of but it seems clear given how her sister Catherine fought against Henry VIII’s attempts to divorce her that the women of Castile were absolute warriors. Moreover, similar traits have been observed between Queen Isabella I of Castile and Juana, her second daughter. Thus, if she was allowed to rule, perhaps she would be as great as her mother, despite the fact that her mother did introduce the Inquisition in Spain. Nevertheless, she was betrayed by the men around her- her father, her husband and then, even her own son.