Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Monday, February 2, 2015

Joanna II, Queen of Naples

Joanna II, queen of Naples (died 2 February 1435)

Joanna was the second queen regnant of Naples--she was preceded on the throne by Joanna I of Naples (b. 1328), who ruled from 1343 until her assassination in 1382. The second Queen Joanna was born in 1373, the daughter of Charles III of Naples--the very guy who deposed the first Queen Joanna, had her killed, and then assumed her throne.

But the reign of the first queen Joanna had set a precedent for a queen regnant in Naples. Joanna II's mother, Margaret of Durazzo, had provided yet another model of a woman wielding political power. When Charles III died in 1386, Margaret governed Naples as regent for the son and heir, Joanna's younger brother, Ladislaus. But when Ladislaus died in 1414, after three childless marriages, Joanna was able to follow him onto the throne, becoming queen of Naples in her own right.

Joanna of Naples with her second husband,
James of Bourbon, Count of La March,
in stained glass, Chartres Cathedral
At the time of her accession, Joanna was forty years old, a widow and childless. In order to gain French support in Naples, she married James of Bourbon in 1415, but he proved to be a less than supportive partner--instead of bolstering Joanna in her position as queen, he imprisoned her and sought sole power for himself. After Joanna's supporters managed her release, she reestablished herself as a ruling queen. The situation in Naples was finally settled enough by October 1419 that she could celebrate her coronation.

The next few years of Joanna's reign were difficult, complicated by the continued designs of powerful men who wished to displace the queen and rule Naples themselves and by Joanna's own relationships with a series of male favorites. But Joanna managed to stay in power, using skill and finesse to play potential heirs to the throne of Naples against one another, alternately favoring one, then his rival. Perhaps that's why she so aggravated her contemporaries.

Despite the tensions, conflicts, and controversies, her two decades on the throne were relatively peaceful. Even so, this Encyclopedia Britannica Online summary of her reign is typical in its dismissive assessment: her "long reign (1414–35) was marked by a succession of love affairs, by continual intrigues, and by power struggles over her domain between the French house of Anjou and that of Aragon, in Spain." (For which powerful king weren't love affairs, intrigue, and power struggles all part of the job, business as usual?)

Joanna died without children. She named René d'Anjou, the brother of one of those long-time rivals, to follow her on the throne.

There is no full-length biography of Joanna II of Naples--and she certainly deserves one. Although the nineteenth-century historian Anna Jameson is every bit as condemnatory of Joanna II as the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica, she at least gives the second queen Joanna an extended--if scandalized--biographical treatment in the first volume of her 1838 Memoirs of Celebrated Female Sovereigns, which you can read on Google Books.

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