Carry On My Wayward Son

The Players

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

During her day and age, women of Juana’s status knew that they married out of duty, but that did not mean that they didn’t yearn for love as well. When Juana and Philip first met following their betrothal, there was no denying the spark between them. After all, they did end up with six children. But it became apparent early on in the relationship that Philip had no interest in a monogamous marriage and he didn’t bother hiding it; his philandering ways were well-known. Understandably, this was a constant state of emotional strain for the devoted Juana, as we saw in Week 1 when she attacked one of her husband’s supposed lovers.

But more insidious than being an adulterer was Philip’s determination to control every aspect of Juana’s life, including her title to the Castilian throne. And so throughout their marriage, and in particular following the death of Isabella, Philip maintained a gaslighting campaign intended to suppress Juana’s independence and convince Castile’s elite that she was incapable of effectively holding her title. Unfortunately for Philip, Juana “continued to behave perfectly on public occasions, casting doubt on her husband’s claims” (Fox). And so he was forced to stoop so low as to forge her signature on letters to her father Ferdinand in which he claimed that Juana “wanted her husband to rule in her place” (Fox). *Clueless voice* As if! Philip’s scheming came to an end with his premature death, but unfortunately, too much damage to Juana’s reputation had been done, regardless of her stable behavior in public.

Where There’s a Will, There’s His Way

Juana’s husband ended up being the least of her troubles. Her mother, Isabella, could see the writing on the wall with the struggle for power over Castile once she had passed and attempted to secure her daughter’s path to the throne. Unfortunately, the will she left behind handed the men in Juana’s life the legal foundation they needed to keep her off the throne. Because Isabella didn’t trust Philip as far as she could throw him, she specified in her will that Philip could only ever be a king-consort (basically he was a king because he was married to a queen, not a king in his own right) “unless [Juana] proved unfit to rule, in which case [her father] was to take up governance as a regent until Juana’s son Charles came of age” (town and country). And there we have it – the phrasing in Isabella’s will may have protected Juana from her power-grabbing husband, but it left the door wide open for Ferdinand (and subsequently, Charles) to turn any of Juana’s unpredictable behavior into a legitimate reason for him to rule over both Castile and Aragon.

At the Council of Toro in 1505, [Ferdinand] secured what amounted to a regency over Castilian lands. To do so, he presented evidence to the councillors that Juana was not mentally capable of governing, thus invoking Isabella’s will” (113, Fox), essentially claiming that his daughter was mad. The following year when Philip died, Juana’s (alleged) dramatics did nothing to change this narrative. With Philip no longer in the way, Ferdinand was his daughter’s lone challenger. It was now the word of a girl in her mid-20s vs that of a respected and powerful king. Even in 2020, the odds would have been against Juana. 

In 1509, Juana began living at Tordesillas under close watch, with her youngest daughter as her only companion. Where she went, who she saw, even who she wrote to was carefully controlled; and sadly “once she was imprisoned in Tordesillas, there are no records of her ever writing anything again” (Fox). There could be no evidence that Juana was actually rational, reasonable, and fit to rule. When Ferdinand died in 1516, no one told his daughter. Her days carried on the same, and she had no idea that her son Charles had taken up the role of her jailer. And he would be even worse than her father had been.

The Hoes Ain’t Loyal

Charles was only 16 years old when his grandfather died, but he was legally of age to rule. In order for him to be the undisputed king while his mother was alive, it was in his best interest to keep Juana out of the public eye and maintain the narrative that she was crazy (maybe my mom should stop complaining that her son never calls her and just be thankful he hasn’t locked her up yet!). And perhaps his cold attitude towards his mother should not have come as a total surprise, as Charles had spent the majority of his life in the Netherlands being raised by his father’s sister. In fact, he had no familiarity with Spain and didn’t even speak the language. This complicated his path to the thrones of Castile and Aragon. Isabella had written her will to avoid putting Philip on her throne, in part because she knew Castile would not readily welcome a foreign king. Because of Charles’ foreign upbringing, it took the help of powerful Spanish allies operating outside of Castile and Aragon to declare him king in 1516.

Pope Clement must have forgiven Charles for holding him prisoner because he crowned Juana’s son Holy Roman Emperor in 1530.

Over the next decade, Charles found himself embroiled in the continual drama of European politics. If you will recall way back from our series on Henry VIII, this was around the time that Juana’s sister Catherine was fighting for her marriage in England. And now we see why the English government was so hesitant to support Henry’s bid for divorce – Catherine’s own nephew had the backing of the Catholic Church (who alone had the power to grant the annulment) and was himself a powerful European monarch. Catherine was essentially counting on her nephew’s allegiance to her to deter Henry. But if we have learned anything about Charles it’s that he could give a rat’s ass about family loyalty – just ask his mother, who by now was living entirely alone, having lost her daughter and only companion when she left to be married. Charles’ motives were personal — aka in pursuit of his own power. In 1527, Charles and his troops took part in an attack on Rome (there was a lot going on at this time, just look it up…) and took Pope Clement VII as prisoner. This succeeded in delaying any decision the Pope would have made regarding Catherine and Henry’s marriage but ultimately the delay was just one of several factors that pushed Henry towards his breaking point with the Catholic Church. Clement was eventually released but Charles’ influence is believed to have continued to deter the Pope from granting the English king an annulment. As we know, Henry went ahead with his divorce anyway and cast aside his wife. Charles never came to his aunt’s aid following her banishment from court and she died in England in 1536, three short years after the divorce. 

Spoiler alert, Charles actually abdicated his thrones between 1554 and 1556 and gave them to his son. This map shows the reach of his rule by that time.

Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool

Juana may not have been able to reach her potential as a Queen, but she crushed her role as a royal woman of her time by bearing children to carry on the family legacy. Juana spent the majority of her life alone and isolated at the castle in Tordesillas, virtually forgotten by history, “but her descendents dominated Europe for at least two centuries after her death”. We already know about her first-born punk, Charles. Her second son, Ferdinand, was made Holy Roman Emperor after Charles died in 1558. Her oldest daughter, Eleanor, was married to two different kings, first of Portugal then of France, making her a Queen consort x2. Next was Isabella, who was at one point Queen consort of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. In 2007, Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark had a daughter whom they named Isabella, after her great-grandmother x15! 

Princess Isabella of Denmark, the great-granddaughter x15 of Juana’s daughter Isabella.

Juana’s third daughter, Mary, was the Queen consort of Hungary and Bohemia (predecessor of the Czech Republic). When her husband, the king, died, Mary’s brother Ferdinand was actually named as the new king, and he appointed Mary as his regent. It seems she had inherited Juana and Isabella’s political skills, as she was quite successful in her role. And last, but certainly not least, was Catherine, Juana’s youngest child and companion for many years in captivity. She left to be married to her first cousin (honestly, just keep me in captivity), the most recent King of Portugal. When Catherine’s husband died, she became regent for their young son. All of Juana’s children had children (except Mary, who was a badass and didn’t need no man or children), and they also went on to rule throughout Europe and produce heirs of their own. 

Don’t Forget to Remember Me

Juana of Castile was able to accomplish what her sister, Catherine of Aragon, had so desperately wished for. And yet, she had so much more to offer than just being a mother. The best years of her life were stolen by the men around her and no doubt pushed her farther into the depression that was often seized upon as evidence of her unfitness to rule. Her marriage to Philip was passionate but turbulent – she was just sixteen when they wed and over the course of a decade, Philip all but neutralized her role as princess and heir of Castile. Juana’s emotional outbursts and propensity for intense periods of sadness were no doubt a sign of the deeper pain she was experiencing in her marriage. A pain that was only exacerbated by Philip’s death.

Under the “care” of Ferdinand and Charles, Juana was placed in conditions that could only have worsened her depression, as she was denied contact and communication with the outside world. The damage done to her reputation by these men was so profound that 500 years later, all she is known for today is being “mad”. Would history perhaps have been different if Juana was Queen of Spain as her sister suffered in England? Would she have come down more harshly on Henry than her son Charles had? Or perhaps her absence was what allowed her children to spread their wings and marry into Europe’s greatest families, ensuring a royal legacy that would last for generations.


Azcona, Tarsicio de. “Ferdinand II.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 6 Mar. 2020,

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Joan.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 8 Apr. 2020,

Ferdinandy, Michael de. “Charles V.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 17 Sept. 2020,

Fox, Julia. Sister Queens: the Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile. Ballantine Books, 2011.

Lauren Hubbard Writer Lauren Hubbard is a freelance writer and Town & Country contributor who covers beauty. “What Was Catherine of Aragon’s Sister, Juana La Loca, Really Like?” Town & Country, 10 June 2019,

“The Madness of Juana of Castile.” The Tudor Society, 2 Mar. 2017,

Tremlett, Giles. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen. Bloomsbury, 2017.

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