Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Friday, December 11, 2015

Juana of Castile, "la Beltraneja"

Juana of Castile, queen of Portugal (death of her father, Enrique IV of Castile, 11 December 1474)


Born on 21 February 1462, Juana of Castile, infanta of Castile, was the daughter of Enrique IV and his second wife, Juana of Portugal. For much of her life, however, Juana of Castile's paternity was questioned, and she was disparagingly referred to as la Beltraneja--a reference to the nobleman Beltrán de La Cueva, a royal favorite who was suspected of being her father.*

A detail from a sixteenth-century Portuguese
royal family tree, showing Juana of Castile,
queen of Portugal from 1475 until her marriage
to Afonso of Portugal was invalidated
Whether she was the king's daughter or not, she was recognized by Enrique IV as his child and heir--and so I've decided to post about Juana of Castile today. On 11 December 1474, the twelve-year-old Juana might have become the queen regnant of Castile. But she did not.

Enrique IV succeeded to the throne of Castile in 1454, after the death of his father, Juan II. The year before he had become king, his thirteen-year marriage to Blanche of Navarre had been annulled; the unfortunate Blanche had "failed" to produce an heir for Castile, and despite rumors of Enrique's impotence, she was returned to Navarre in disgrace. A year after he became king, Enrique married once more; like his father, Enrique chose as his second wife a Portuguese princess, Juana.

It took Enrique and his second wife nearly seven years to produce an heir; in late February of 1462 a daughter, Juana, was born. In letters dispatched to major cities, Enrique announced the birth of the "most high Princess Doña Juana, my very dear and most beloved daughter and heir." In May the Cortes, the parliament of Castile's cities, was convened to confirm Juana as the king's successor. 

Although rebellion, civil war, and succession crises followed quickly, the problems did not result from the birth of a princess instead of a prince in 1462. It was Enrique himself who was the focus of dissatisfaction. He was accused of impotence and incompetence, of not being Juan II's legitimate son, of sympathizing with Jews and Moors, and of ignoring his "own" people, particularly the powerful Castilian grandees. 

By 1465, rumors about Princess Juana's  legitimacy had been added to the toxic mix, with suspicion falling on Beltrán de la Cueva, Queen Juana's supposed lover. Dissatisfaction, dissension, and disaffection coalesced into defiance. Enrique's opponents "deposed" their king and crowned his half-brother, the eleven-year-old Alfonso, king.

Alfonso "XII," as he was called by his supporters, never became more than "the ghost of a sovereign," as he was known by his opponents. Three years later he fell suddenly ill. On 4 July 1468, Isabella of Castile, wrote a letter reminding the people that "the succession of the reign and the dominions of Castile and León [belong] to me as legitimate heir and successor." The next day, on 5 July, Alfonso died.

Juana of Castile,
briefly queen of Portugal
The seventeen-year-old Isabella was urged to press ahead with her claim to be her brother Alfonso's successor, but she chose not to do so. Chroniclers later supplied several motivations for her decision. According to one, Isabella resisted the urging of her advisors because "the death of Alfonso might perhaps be interpreted as an indication from Heaven of its disapproval of their cause." According to another, she rejected these advisors because she wished to avoid "the hardships of war." Yet another attributed her decision to her recognition that "destruction and tyranny" would continue to "increase in the kingdom."

Whatever her reasons, Isabella signaled her decision in a letter written some two weeks after Alfonso's death, signing herself "Isabel, by Grace of God princess and legitimate hereditary successor to these kingdoms of Castile and León." Rather than claiming to be Alfonso's heir, she positioned herself as Enrique's.

Although he had assured Queen Juana he had no intention of disinheriting Princess Juana, Enrique met with Isabella and the opposition in September and signed a treaty that named his half-sister as his legitimate successor. The treaty made no specific reference to his daughter or to her claim to the throne. But by his act, Juana of Castile became Juana la Beltraneja: illegitimate daughter of a disgraced Queen Juana and her lover Beltrán de la Cueva, instead of legitimate heir of Enrique IV, king of Castile.

Throughout the period of rebellion and civil war that lasted throughout the second half of Enrique's reign--from 1464, through the 1468 succession agreement, until Enrique's death in 1474--various marriage proposals were suggested as a way out of the political crisis. In 1464, before "deposing" Enrique and proclaiming Alfonso king, rebellious nobles had negotiated with the king to name his half-brother as his heir and to arrange for the boy's marriage to Princess Juana, who for the purpose of this agreement was regarded as legitimate. This plan fell apart a few months later.

Isabella was also the focus of various marital projects intended to settle the crisis. In an effort to gain an ally in his struggle with rebellious grandees, Enrique had proposed Isabella as a match for Edward IV of England, an offer that Edward declined. In another effort, the king turned to Afonso V of Portugal, his wife's brother and a recent widower. To prevent this Portuguese alliance and to neutralize Isabella's marriage as a political tool in Enrique's hands, the opposition met with the king in 1466 and proposed instead her marriage to Pedro Giron, one of the rebel leaders. In spite of his Isabella's objections, Enrique accepted the compromise, but the bridegroom died on his way to celebrate the union.

By 1468 the political situation changed dramatically. Following Enrique's "decision" to name Isabella as his heir, a double marriage was considered: Afonso V of Portugal, Queen Juana's brother, was again proposed as a match for Isabella, while Juana, princess or la Beltraneja, would be married to the Portuguese king's son and heir, Joaõ. Enrique considered this proposal carefully, even asking his queen to travel to Portugal to discuss arrangements with her brother, but Queen Juana refused.

Louis XI of France then suggested Isabella's marriage to his brother and heir Charles, duke of Berry and Guyenne. From England came the possibility for an alliance with one of the brothers of King Edward IV, possibly Richard. All of these marriages--with the widowed Portuguese king, with the heir of the king of France, with a brother of the king of England--would have removed Isabella from Castile and almost certainly have jeopardized her claim to the crown.

By the terms of their 1468 agreement, Enrique could arrange a match for Isabella, but he could not force her to accept it; Isabella, for her part, had promised not to marry without Enrique's permission. But in 1469, taking the question of her marriage in her own hands, she chose an alliance with Ferdinand of Aragon. She wrote to Enrique announcing her intention and seeking his permission. She began by reminding him of their agreement: "I agreed to submit to your wishes . . . in which it was agreed that the true succession of these said your kingdoms would belong to me as your legitimate heir and successor." Then she sought his permission for her proposal, asking that "Your Highness would . . . consent to the marriage with the . . . prince of Aragon."

Although Enrique's permission was not forthcoming, Isabella and Ferdinand were married on 18 October 1469. The terms of the marriage contract ensured Isabella's rights and her independence: Ferdinand would be prince-consort of Castile, not its king. Ferdinand had to promise "virtual obedience" to Isabella; among other "capitulations," he agreed to live in Castile, to seek permission before leaving the kingdom and before taking any children they might have out of the kingdom, to renew none of his father's claims to Castilian possessions, and to make no government appointments without Isabella's consent. Further, he agreed to provide Isabella a sizeable marriage gift and to serve as her military defender.

By February 1970, Isabella was pregnant. At last, on 26 October, more than a year after his half-sister's marriage, Enrique replied. Declaring Isabella could no longer be considered his heir, he once again declared that Juana of Castile was his legitimate daughter and, therefore, his heir. 

Despite Enrique's assertions of her legitimacy, the succession question had not been settled when the king died in December of 1474. Conflicting accounts of his dying wishes reflect the confused state of affairs. One report claimed that Enrique had told his confessor, "I declare my daughter to be the heir to the kingdom." Another claimed that, when pressed about his wishes for the succession, the dying king would say nothing. Still another said that Enrique had appointed counselors "who knew his conscience" to settle the succession question, four of them favoring Isabella. In other accounts, Enrique had left a will designating Juana as his heir--a will that was spirited to Portugal for safekeeping, a will that never was found.

Enrique died on 11 December; two days later, on 13 December 1474, Isabella was proclaimed "Queen Proprietess" of Castile. Ferdinand, "as her legitimate husband," was recognized as king. Isabella and Ferdinand were still to face five years of civil war, at least in part motivated by those who defended the twelve-year-old Princess Juana's rights to the throne. 

Although by February of 1475 most of Castile had recognized Isabella, not all the rebellious grandees had. The marquis of Villena, for one, had not. He refused to surrender Juana until a marriage was negotiated for her, a condition Isabella and Ferdinand would not accept. Meanwhile, "Juanista sentiment" was revived in Portugal, where Afonso V, Juana's uncle, decided to intervene. He would marry Princess Juana and invade Castile.

By the end of May the Portuguese king was in Castile. He reached the city of Plasencia, which opened its gates to him. There the forty-three-year-old Afonso, who had once negotiated for Juana as a match for his son, was himself betrothed to the princess. They were jointly proclaimed king and queen of Castile and issued a statement in defense of Juana's claims to the throne. Juana herself claimed that Isabella and Ferdinand had poisoned Enrique and illegally seized the throne.

One of the letters sent by Juana and
Afonso in 1475, declaring her
status as queen of Castile
Ferdinand's initial encounter with Afonso was a disaster, his retreating army pillaging the Castilian countryside. But the Castilian army recovered, and Afonso and Ferdinand fought on until 1477, when at last Ferdinand declared victory. For his part, Afonso returned to Portugal, taking Juana with him. 

In 1478 two events signaled an end to the conflict between Portugal and Castile. In June, Isabella gave birth to a son, Juan, and in December the pope revoked the dispensation he had issued to Afonso so that the Portuguese king could marry his own niece. Afonso attempted one more invasion of Castile, but when this failed, Juana's fate was sealed.

To negotiate a peace settlement with Isabella, Afonso sent Beatriz, duchess of Viseu. The two women met in March of 1479. Beatriz was Afonso's sister-in-law, the wife of his brother. But Beatriz was also Isabella's aunt, her mother Isabel of Portugal's sister. The two women were thus joined by family ties even as they were separated by opposing political interests. 

By the terms of the treaty the two women eventually negotiated, Princess Isabel was to marry Afonso of Portugal, King Afonso's grandson and heir of Prince Joaõ. She would be sent to live under the guardianship of Beatriz of Viseu, who would also be Princess Juana's guardian. Juana could either marry Prince Juan, waiting thirteen or fourteen years until the prince was old enough to be married (by which time Juana would be at least thirty), or she could enter a convent. In either case, she was to give up her claim to the throne of Castile.

In light of these prospects, Princess Juana announced her intention of becoming a nun. Her decision was hardly a happy one, despite the reports of Isabella's chroniclers who attributed to her a variety of pious sentiments. 

She entered a convent in Portugal in 1479, then left it. She was forced into another convent in 1480, Isabella's own confessor witnessing Juana's profession of her vows. This was not the end of her usefulness as a political tool, however. When Afonso V died in 1481, his son, Joaõ II, renewed the promise that Juana should remain in Portugal "unmarried and a nun," then turned around and supported her claim to the Castilian throne in a dispute with Isabella. Juana's attitude to her "choice" of a religious life can best be assessed by her subsequent behavior:

During her long life La Beltraneja was to leave the convent repeatedly and live in ducal homes and palaces under the protection of Portuguese kings. Each time she made a lengthy excursion into the Portuguese court, Isabella and Ferdinand protested and enlisted the help of the pope to force her back into the convent. 

Neither monastic walls nor stark chapels would, however, change La Beltraneja's conviction. To the last days of her life in 1530 La Beltraneja continued to sign her letters Yo la Reina, or "I the Queen."

*This post has been adapted from The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan).