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Juana the Mad: Sovereignty and Dynasty in Renaissance Europe

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Juana the Mad: Sovereignty and Dynasty in Renaissance Europe

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon August 25th, 2008, 7:17 pm

Juana the Mad: Sovereignty and Dynasty in Renaissance Europe
By Bethany Aram (non-fiction)

After watching ‘Mad Love’ I decided to investigate this queen who was the bridge between Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Of the three books I ordered, so far this one has impressed me the most. For one thing, Bethany Aram has done research beyond belief. One third of the book’s pages are devoted to an appendix which details the letters, financial accounts, and various sources she tracked down in her effort to understand what went on with Juana. She was painstakingly thorough, ‘following the money’.

Juana interested me because I have experience with schizophrenic relatives (four) and I wanted to see if the record showed her behaving in any of the ways that I was familiar with. I was particularly curious as to whether she became ‘mad’ after the birth of either of her sons, a little-known trigger for schizophrenia in women.

What I found was a woman who was pretty cagey about managing her dynastic aims, although raised to be so self-effacing that her own interests were continually submerged. But when it came to her dynasty, Juana had a will of steel.

Reading this work gave me an understanding of the moves and norms of European royalty. I felt like someone who has watched a chess game, knowing the basic moves but not understanding the strategy, who thinks that skilled players are simply moving the pieces randomly until some crisis develops. After reading Juana, I saw that in the language of pomp and power every move has significance and is related to future moves and gambits.

For instance: One of the evidences later historians have given for Juana’s madness (though none of the chroniclers of the time, oddly enough) was her famous midnight trek where she accompanied her husband’s coffin all over Spain, with the intent to inter him in Granada. At every place Juana stopped, the locals had to come out and acknowledge Philippe as their dead king-consort.

What Juana was doing had nothing to do with devotion to Philippe (he kept her imprisoned and/or surrounded by his own hired handlers, and his death was likely a relief) and everything to do with safeguarding the inheritance of her son Charles, while at the same time creating an excuse against other suitors. The most notable of these was Henry VII of England, who was actually amassing an invading army to come and marry her by force when he died. By professing overwhelming devotion to her dead husband’s body, Juana was using the only excuse allowed a royal widow in her time to put off remarriage.

As to moving the coffin all over Andalusia, there was quite a bit of controversy as to whether this newly conquered territory belonged to Aragon, and therefore King Ferdinand, or Castile, and therefore Juana and through her to her son Charles. By parading Charles’ father’s coffin through as many cities as possible, Juana was in effect laying claim to the lands for Castile. In interring him next to her mother’s sepulcher in Granada, she would have won the ‘chess game’ and had him acknowledged as equal to Isabella in importance. King Ferdinand, on the other hand, wanted Philippe buried as far north as possible, preferably back in Brussels.

As to the famous bit about not letting women near the coffin, she was aided in her vigil by Carthusian monks, who are forbidden the presence of any women with the sole exclusion of royal ones. Juana had no problem leaving Philippe’s coffin with the Poor Clares once the traveling gambit had served its purpose.

And then there is the matter of her not wearing proper clothing, or allowing her daughter Catalina to do so. Juana’s aim in life was to emulate, hopefully even join the Franciscan order of Poor Clares. She evidenced this from an early age, and wherever she went she worshipped with them and gave money to their convents. Their manner of dress was to go barefoot and wear only a coarse shift, to fast and devote themselves to prayer. None of these habits meshed well with her royal obligation to dress the part, and when her various women (selected by the males who wanted to regulate her behavior) tried to force these on her, she resisted as much as possible.

Juana would only interact with religious men and women whom she judged to be sincere. This meant that many a confessor was turned away, although those that she accepted found her perfectly sane. At one point, one of her governors was trying to get evidence that she was crazy, and after assuring her that her father and father-in-law were still alive, urged her to write to them. Juana, who had not been told of their deaths years before, did not take the bait, but replied that he should write to them for her.

Juana tried many times to rid herself of the oppressive servants which constantly surrounded her. At no time in her adult life was she free to associate with whom she liked, nor to join the religious community she craved. He response was to withdraw, and when things became too onerous, she would go on a hunger strike to force the handlers to comply, as in when they took her youngest daughter (also raised in the tradition of the poor Clares, to everyone’s horror) from her. After five days, brother Charles sent her back.

Was she crazy? She was certainly given plenty of reason to be. Probably bipolar. But she definitely does not show the earmarks of schizophrenia.

I bought this book to learn about Juana, but it has opened my eyes to the rationale behind European court etiquette and the various moves and posturing of renaissance and medieval rulers than any other work on my shelves. And the writing isn’t too stuffy, although very detailed.

Five stars as a research text.
my facebook posts https://www.facebook.com/emilylaurencotton are public, generally things I find amusing.
my passions: fair trade, ending slavery, and justice.
"Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects." Will Rogers
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User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue August 26th, 2008, 2:25 pm

I just noticed the mods put a historical nonfiction/biography thread up. This review needs to be moved into that section.
my facebook posts https://www.facebook.com/emilylaurencotton are public, generally things I find amusing.
my passions: fair trade, ending slavery, and justice.
"Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects." Will Rogers
User signature picture

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diamondlil
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Postby diamondlil » Sat August 30th, 2008, 10:36 am

As long as it is a review, then we can leave it in the book review section!


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