Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Monday, September 7, 2015

Joanna of Castile, Regent of Spain

Joanna of Castile, queen of Portugal and regent of Spain (died 7 September 1573)


Born in Madrid on 24 June 1535, Joanna of Castile, archduchess of Austria, was the daughter of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and his wife, Isabel of Portugal, about whom we will hear more next month. She was named in honor of her paternal grandmother, Juana of Castile, a woman whom we have met before on numerous occasions, and about whom I will post later in the year. (In order to distinguish between the elder and younger women, I've referred to this Juana, the younger woman born in 1535, as "Joanna.")

Joanna of Castile,
painted by Sofonisba Anguissola
After the death of their mother, Isabel, in 1539, Joanna and her siblings were placed under the guardianship of one of their mother's principal attendants, the Portuguese noblewoman Leonor de Mascarenhas. Although there were many tutors for their brother Philip, Joanna and her sister Maria were educated by Leonor, who made sure to teach them Portuguese, which would prove to be very important for Joanna. (Leonor was so capable she would later be entrusted by Philip with his own children's care and instruction.) 

On 11 June 1552, a seventeen-year-old Joanna was married to her fifteen-year-old first cousin, João Manuel, prince of Portugal (we have already encountered his mother, Catherine of Spain, who was the sister of Joanna's father, Charles, both children of Juana of Castile--got that?).

The marriage was short-lived, however, because João died on 2 January 1554. Joanna was pregnant at the time, and three weeks later, on 20 January she gave birth to João's son, Sebastian, who would one day before King Sebastian I of Portugal. 

But Joanna would not remain in Portugal. Soon after her son's birth, Joanna's brother Philip, then acting as regent of Spain for his father, the Emperor Charles V, needed Joanna in Spain--Philip had just married Mary Tudor, queen of England. He turned to his sister to act as regent of Spain in his place. And so the widowed Joanna, "discreet" and "religious," left behind her infant son to be raised by his grandmother Catherine, regent of Portugal. On her way home from Portugal, before assuming her role as regent, she visited her grandmother Juana of Castile--the actual queen of Spain--in Tordesillas.

As Joanna traveled to Spain and Philip prepared to leave, their father wrote to Philip about Joanna's role as regent. The emperor agreed with his son about his proposals for the government of Spain in his absence, calling them "very prudent": 
I also agree with your choice of the Princess [Joanna], my daughter, so I am sending you the powers signed and suppose you will already have sent for her to come from Portugal. Above all, let me urge you to see to it that the counsellors who are to surround her be dispassionate men of character and authority. Lay down rules for their guidance in case of conflicts, and try to limit the sphere of each one as far as it is possible without hindering them in the exercise of their offices.
As regent, the widowed Joanna would need "some woman of position and exemplary character to be near her," Charles advised, but he cautioned that his son should "specify the number of ladies she may have, so that they [presumably courtiers or advisers] may not always be importuning her to accept more." Charles thought that Joanna had lived lavishly in Portugal and he emphasized that that Philip should make sure her household was "of reasonable size," for the money needed to keep her in the state she enjoyed in Portugal would be "altogether too much."

Joanna of Castile, regent of Spain
As Philip's recent biographer, Henry Kamen, notes, Joanna of Castile "chose to spend the rest of her life in the service of the crown." Although there is no biography of Joanna, a few details of her regency can be gleaned from those of Queen Juana of Castile and of Philip II.

In 1555, for example, when Juana of Castile had become gravely ill, Joanna wrote of her "great sorrow" at hearing the news and wrote to ask Philip for permission to leave Madrid so that she could go to Tordesillas "to cure and to serve" her grandmother. 

After Juana of Castile's death, Joanna oversaw the dispersal of the queen's household, but she kept many of Juana's possessions for herself. Although her brother regarded them as "trinkets and things of little value," Joanna clearly regarded Juana's rosaries, devotional books, religious images, and portraits of Isabella of Castile (Juana's mother) and Catherine of Aragon (Juana's sister), as important items worth cherishing for their family connections. She also arranged for memorials to her grandmother, to be held throughout Spain.

In 1558, Joanna of Castile received advice from her father, Charles, shortly before his death. Although he had abdicated his title of Holy Roman Emperor in 1556 and retired to a monastery in Spain, his retirement did not keep him from writing to Joanna and warning her to "take a hard line against the Lutheran cells" in Castile. 

In 1559, "in letter after letter," her brother Philip pleaded with her for more money for his on-going wars: "The lack of money is so great that I don't know what to say," he wrote, continuing, "I am in worse straits tha[n] you could possibly imagine." "You need to find money from there," she replied to him at one point, "because here all is consumed and spent." Later in that year Joanna and her council "sanctioned an ill-fated military expedition into North Africa."

In the same year she was again faced with "alarming" news about Lutherans in Valladolid. Philip urged her to monitor the situation with "all care and diligence," while her father urged her to take measures against the "heretics."

Joanna issued a strict censorship order, had a new Index prepared, increased the activity of the Inquisition, and, at a series of autos da fé, several heretics were executed.

In December of 1559 Philip returned to Spain, preparing for his third marriage, this one to Elizabeth of Valois. Joanna was called upon to arrange for the new queen's reception. She was also entrusted with the guardianship of Don Juan, her father Charles V's illegitimate son, who had been born in 1547. After Philip's return to Spain, Juana's regency ended.

A plaque on the Convent of Our Lady of Consolation
noting its foundation by Joanna
Aside from her role as regent of Spain, Joanna was deeply involved in religion and with a number of religious foundations.

Like her guardian Leonor de Mascarenhas, Joanna founded a convent for the Franciscan order of Poor Clares in 1559, the Convent of Our Lady of Consolation (Nuestra Señora de la Consolación). 

And, again like Leonor de Mascarenhas, Joanna of Castile was a supporter of the newly established Jesuit order. Joanna repeatedly intervened on behalf of the new order, and she was a friend of its founder, Ignatius of Loyola. She conducted a correspondence with her confessor, Francisco de Borja and Ignatius using the pseudonym Mateo Sánchez, perhaps even requesting that she be admitted into the order under this name. 

The Convent of Our Lady of Consolation, Madrid
now known as the
as the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales
After her regency ended in 1559, Joanna retired to the convent she had founded. In 1569, Joanna and Leonor de Mascarenhas welcomed the mystic, writer, and theologian Teresa of Ávila when she visited Madrid.

Juana died in the Convent of Our Lady of Consolation, now known as the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales, on 7 September 1573; she was just thirty-eight years old. In 1582, when Joanna's sister, Maria, the Holy Roman Empress, returned to Spain (where she had also been a regent, from 1548 to 1551), she and her daughter, Margaret, would take up residence in this convent. 

About Joanna of Castile, Kamen concludes:
The princess [Joanna], always relegated to the background by historians because she abstained from any political role after her short regency in 1554-9, was the effective centre of Philip's family circle. When Philip returned to Spain in 1559 she bought a group of houses in the middle of Madrid . . . [which] became her home and retreat. All her energies were dedicated to helping her brother. Philip in his turn lavished affection on her. She was the inseparable companion of queens Elizabeth [of Valois] and Anne [of Austria, Philip's fourth wife]. In 1572 she fell seriously ill, and never recovered. Her early death, in September 1573 at the age of thirty-eight, was a severe blow to the king, who had leaned on her for advice and affection. Philip was at her bedside when she died.
There is, unfortunately, no biography of Joanna of Castile. Her story can be put together only in bits and pieces. I have used Andrew Wheatcroft's The Habsburgs Henry Kamen's Phillip of Spain, and Bethany Aram's Juana the Mad: Sovereignty & Dynasty in Renaissance Europe.