Tag Archives: Where History Meets Mystery

Queen Isabella of Castile, and the Mysterious Madness of Princess Juana

It is said, madness runs in families.

Isabella I of Castile
(wikipedia)

While Isabella of Castile became one of the most powerful female monarchs the world would ever know, her daughter, Juana, could not seem to find empowerment at any time in her life, even when she became Queen of Castile. Suffering from bouts of ill temper, melancholia, jealous rages and utter despair, Juana was proclaimed “mad” early into her marriage and she never successfully alluded the title.

Both never intended for the throne, Isabella and her daughter Juana came to their prospective reigns through the untimely death of siblings, and also through powerful alliances in marriage. Both raised at court, they received the finest education a princess could receive, but their lives, and any hope at happiness in their younger years, came at the mercy of their male superiors and overbearing mothers. Isabella’s mother, known as Isabella the Mad, often flew into paranoid rants about ghosts or people wanting to kill her or her beloved.

Raised under the reign of her half-brother Henry IV, Isabella endured several betrothals and refused one or two before she married the man she had first been intended for, Ferdinand of Aragon. Knowing her half-brother wanted an alliance with Alfonso of Portugal, Isabela fled from her brother’s court to Valladolid, and married her second cousin, Ferdinand.

From that point on, Isabella and Ferdinand embarked on a quest to make Castile and Leon (now Spain) a pure nation. With Isabella at the helm, they reorganized the government and saved the kingdom from the overwhelming debt her brother Henry left behind. Isabella and Ferdinand became known as the “Catholic Kings,” after they ruthlessly resurrected the Reconquista by taking Grenada from the Muslims, and exiled Jewish subjects in the Spanish Inquisition. Isabella established Spain as a world power that lasted for more than a century with her support of Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage to the “new world.”

Although having given birth to five children, Isabella had little time to raise them. Juana, the third child, an extremely beautiful, intelligent and sensitive girl, started exhibiting strange behaviors when her mother became ill, or traveled away from court. The young princess often locked herself away and refuse to eat or sleep.

Juana the Mad
Juana de Castile (pinterest)

In 1496, Isabella sent Juana, aged 16, accompanied by a fleet of over 100 ships, to Flanders to marry Phillip the Fair, or Phillip the Handsome, the heir to the Austrian empire. The alliance would strengthen Spain’s presence against the power of France, and align it with Flanders, the top producer of Iberian wool. After the setback of a tremendous storm delayed the arrival of the princess, the two teenagers finally met, and fell in love at first sight. With the wedding set for the next day, the two decided they could not wait, and had a priest marry them immediately.

But the passionate luster soon wore off for Phillip, known to love his wine and his women. When Phillip misbehaved, Juana flew into long, drawn-out jealous rages, or took to her rooms, refusing food or drink for days.

Despite their marital troubles while living in Flanders, Juana became pregnant. She first gave birth to a daughter, Eleanor, in 1498, and then Charles in 1500. During this span of time, Juana’s elder brother John and her sister Isabella both died, leaving Juana heir to the throne of Spain. In order to keep an eye on Juana, who’s public displays of ill-temper had become renown in Flanders, and Phillip who’d become too lenient with France, Isabella and Ferdinand encouraged the couple to move to Spain. If they were to inherit the realm, they needed to be schooled for their eventual accession to power.

Finally, in 1502, Juana and Phillip arrived in Spain where Juana was recognized as Isabella’s successor and Phillip her consort. Feeling like a fish out of water, Phillip soon returned to Flanders, but Isabella would not allow Juana to leave with him.

Desperate without her husband, Juana resorted to her melancholic state and refused to eat or drink. Phillip wanted Juana back in Flanders as badly as Juana wanted to be there, but for different reasons. He wanted his wife out of Spain’s control. Isabella feared that Spain would revolt should Juana try to rule from Flanders, so the tug of war continued until 1504, when fearing for her daughter’s mental stability, Isabella let Juana return to Flanders.

juana and phillip
(pinterest)

But love and life did not improve for Juana. Phillip continued his affairs and Juana continued her embarrassing public outbursts. These public displays of outrage and then overt affection toward Phillip only made Phillip despise his wife more. He had her locked away in her rooms.

More sad news would reach Juana a few months later when she learned that her mother, Isabella, had died. Her father, Ferdinand, in order to keep control from Phillip, claimed Juana incompetent to rule, and he intended to rule as regent until his grandson Charles became of age.

To thwart her father’s plan, Juana and Phillip sailed for Castile in the hopes that powerful nobles who opposed Ferdinand would side with Juana. They did. Ferdinand then remarried hoping to beget another son to take the throne from Juana’s control.

In 1506, perhaps tired of working around Juana, Ferdinand and Phillip made an alliance. Without Juana’s knowledge, the two men met and declared Juana unfit to rule. Ferdinand turned Castile over to Phillip and Juana in a monetary exchange, knowing that Phillip would wrest control from Juana, but also that Spain would likely not accept a foreign ruler.

To everyone’s surprise, in late 1506, Phillip fell ill with fever (some say poison.) Juana nursed him around the clock for six days until he finally succumbed. Bereft, Juana, according to chroniclers of the time, had her husband’s coffin reopened on several occasions so she could caress his face and look upon him.

These claims were probably exaggerated by Ferdinand and then later, Juana’s son Charles, to discredit her and thwart any hope of her rising to power, again. To Ferdinand’s relief, Juana had no interest in ruling, and in 1507 she turned the government over to him. In return, he had her imprisoned in Tordesillas castle, where she continued her bouts of refusing to eat or sleep.

When Charles finally came into power after the death of Ferdinand, he did not treat his mother much better than Phillip or Ferdinand had. But, the people loved her, and often rallied to her cause, but Charles clamped down even harder on his mother because of her popularity. She finally enjoyed about 8 months of freedom before she died.

Was Juana actually mad, or did she possess a tender heart and have a sensitive nature? Did she suffer from bi-polar disease, or did she pose too much of a threat to the men in her life who wanted power above all else? We may never know. I wonder if Isabella had lived longer, would she have come to the defense of her daughter, or would she have treated her as ruthlessly as she did the others she deemed weak? I would hope the former, but then, I’m an eternal optimist.

Eleanor of Aquitaine – and the Mystery of Love and Incest

Eleanor of Aquitane
Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine, the most sought after daughter in medieval Europe, became the most wealthy and powerful woman during the 12th and 13th centuries. At 12-13 years of age, Eleanor inherited the Duchy of Aquitaine when her father, William X, died. Orphaned, Eleanor came under the guardianship of King Louis VI of France. Three months later, she married the King’s son, Louis VII. Shortly after the two teenagers wed, the King, known as Louis the Fat, died of dysentery leaving Louis the Younger and Eleanor the Kingdom.

As with most women of power, many of Eleanor’s critics claim she came by that power, and possibly held onto that power, through dubious and immoral methods–meaning, she used her feminine wiles and uncontrolled sexual passion to gain the upper hand. One of the most popular rumors about Eleanor is her alleged incestuous affair with her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers.

Historians agree that Eleanor, reputed to be beautiful, intelligent, and wise beyond her years, enchanted her husband Louis with her wit and charm. Despite his intense love for her, the couple’s 8-year relationship slowly disintegrated as they could produce no male heir. Of course, as with most infertile royal couples of the time, the fault lay with Eleanor, despite the fact she gave birth to a daughter, Marie in 1145.

When Pope Eugene III requested Louis lead a second crusade to the Middle East to rescue the Frankish Kingdoms from the Muslims, Eleanor encouraged her husband to rise to the occasion. She also requested to accompany him. It is debated whether Louis agreed to allow his beautiful, flirtatious bride to join him to keep her under close watch, or he simply desired her company. Eleanor, along with her royal ladies-in-waiting and 300 of her courtiers boarded the ships to Antioch for the campaign.

When the royal couple arrived, they accepted the hospitality of Eleanor’s handsome uncle Raymond, Prince of Antioch. Raymond and Eleanor spent constant time in each others company. It didn’t take long for rumors to spread that the two engaged in an incestuous affair. Louis, appalled and affronted with the rumors, pulled up stakes left after only two weeks in Antioch.

Louis VII
Louis VII
(Biography.com)

Eleanor implored her husband to let her stay under the protection of her uncle, but he refused her plea, and bade she accompany him on the rest of the crusade. When they returned to France, the rumors of Eleanor’s infidelity with her uncle further alienated her from Louis, and she asked Pope Eugene for an annulment. She claimed to want the annulment on the grounds of consanguinity—the close familial relation to her husband, her fourth cousin. The Pope refused and tried to reconcile the royal couple.

In 1150, Eleanor gave birth to another daughter—another disappointment that further alienated Eleanor from her husband. The Pope finally relented, and in 1152 gave Eleanor the annulment on grounds of consanguinity, but gave custody of her daughters to Louis.

The second famous rumor about Eleanor concerns the mystery of her Court of Love. After her annulment, noblemen and Kings lined up to win Eleanor’s hand. Still the most powerful woman in Europe, she again became a most sought-after bride. Even if it meant kidnapping her. Eleanor got wind of at least two of these plots, and sent word to Henry, her third cousin, the Duke of Normandy and future King of England, imploring him to marry her. He didn’t refuse.

Eight weeks after her annulment to Louis, Henry and Eleanor married. Although they had 8 children together over 15 years of marriage, the two often bickered and fought. Henry spent much time away from England, and also with other women. During this time, Eleanor returned to her castle in Poitiers, France, where she is said to have started the Court of Love.

Eleanor
Eleanor
(www.telegraph.co.uk)

Discouraged by her own two marriages, Eleanor set out to educate men in the areas of romance, love, and chivalry. Noblemen brought their relationship problems to a jury of nearly 60 women, (the Court of Love) including Eleanor and her daughter Marie, Countess of Champagne, in search of answers. The women directed the love-lorn men how to dress, speak, and act with their women, including writing poetry, playing music, and taking an interest in the arts–a far cry from manly behavior of the middle ages.

Many historians deny the existence of Eleanor’s Court of Love, but others say it contributed to the literature, music, and  arts of the time, and into the future. The art of courtly love also grew in popularity from this period on.

Henry and Eleanor’s marriage would see greater decline when their son, Henry the Younger, led a revolt against his father for the crown of England. Eleanor sided with her son, and for this, Henry imprisoned her for the next 16 years. At the death of her husband, her third son, Richard, became King. One of his first acts as King of England? To free his mother from prison.

Though her critics, and her husbands, tried to discredit her time and time again, Eleanor proved to be a woman empowered, and a woman who found a way to survive and prevail. She lived into her early eighties. The mere fact that she obtained an annulment from a King who still ruled, is unfathomable—considering that a woman in the 12th Century, even a ruling woman, only existed as a means to an end—to better the lives of men.

We may never solve the mystery of Eleanor’s relationship with her uncle, or her reported infidelities in the French court, or whether or not she developed a “Court of Love” in Poitiers. We can only go by the records that exist in history, and no one knows whether all the records are true or not. Sometimes, it is up to us to decide. Despite the claims of her critics, Eleanor still remains one of the most beloved, and most empowered women in history.

For more information on Raymond of Antioch, read this blog post by Elizabeth Chadwick.

Photo found in French Quarter Magazine

Elizabeth I and the Mysterious Death of Amy Robsart Dudley

For over 400 years, historians have been trying to discern the mysterious death of Amy Robsart and whether her husband, Robert Dudley, had anything to do with it.

Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I – The Rainbow Portrait (Wikipedia)

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and Queen Elizabeth I played together as children, but their relationship may have deepened while both imprisoned in the Tower of London by Mary Tudor. While Mary executed Dudley’s father, the Duke of Northumberland, and his brother, Guilford Dudley, for the family’s plot to set Lady Jane Grey on the throne in early 1553, she pardoned Robert in October of 1554. Elizabeth, accused of plotting against Queen Mary, her half-sister, in February 1554 with the Wyatt Rebellion, also miraculously escaped Mary’s wrath. In May, Mary sent Elizabeth to Woodstock where she remained under house arrest for another year. Yet, for four months of their captivity in the Tower, Elizabeth and Dudley had plenty of time to enjoy each other’s company, despite periodic visits from Dudley’s wife of 4 years, Amy Robsart.

When Mary Tudor died in late 1558, Elizabeth acceded to the throne of England. The next morning, she appointed Dudley her Master of Horse. The position suited Dudley, an expert horseman and breeder of fine horses, and put him in close proximity to the new Queen. The position required daily, if not hourly, time in the Queen’s presence. This appointment resulted in Dudley spending months away from his wife, Amy, who lived with friends in different parts of the country, far from court. Elizabeth rarely let Dudley leave her side.

Rumors abounded of an affair between the Queen and Dudley, and Elizabeth often brazenly showed her affection for him. Meanwhile, England needed an heir and Elizabeth’s chief advisor William Cecil pressured her to marry. Several foreign suiters vied for her hand during this time, and while she considered some, she ended up refusing them all.

painting of amy robsart
Amy Robsart – Countess of Leicester (Wikipedia)

In mid-1559, Dudley went to Throcking, Hertfordshire for a short time to visit Amy who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Talk at court stated that Elizabeth and Dudley planned to wait until Amy died, and would then proceed with marriage, making Dudley King Consort. Amy, no doubt had heard the rumors, and knew of her husband’s ambition, which must have added to her stress.

Later that same year, Amy traveled to London to visit her husband for one month, but after that never went back to court, or saw her husband again. During her time at court, it is said she ate sparingly, and according to some accounts, “was careful of her food.” Could she have suspected Elizabeth, jealous of anyone’s time with Dudley, of trying to poison her? Or could Dudley be so in love with Elizabeth, or in love with the power he’d gain by marrying the Queen, that he would want Amy dead?

By December of 1559, Amy moved to Cumnor Palace, rented by a family member, Sir Anthony Forster. Amy occupied the upper story of the palace, and supported a large household with the proceeds from her family’s estate. She soothed her worries and loneliness by ordering dresses and finery.

In September of 1560, on the day of the fair at Abingdon, Amy encouraged her servants, Sir Anthony, and his wife to attend the fair. One friend, Mrs. Odingsells, refused to leave the ailing Amy, but later retired to her rooms. When the others returned from the fair, they found Amy at the foot of the stairs with a broken neck.

A messenger from Cumnor dispatched the news to Windsor Castle where Dudley was in residence with the Queen. Dudley called for an immediate inquest. The coroner and a jury of 15 local gentleman called the death an accident. Relieved, but wanting to be sure—or ensuring that no guilt would be placed on him, Dudley called for another investigation. The coroner again assured him, the fall down the stairs caused two head injuries and the breaking of Amy’s bones which had become brittle due to her illness. No evidence could be found of wrong-doing on Dudley’s part.

Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester
Robert Dudley – Earl of Leicester (Wikipedia)

The mysterious circumstances of Amy’s death haunted Dudley for the rest of his life. Because of the scandal created by Elizabeth and Dudley’s relationship, and his wife’s early demise, it didn’t prove wise for the two to marry. Robert continued to remain close to the Queen.During the next several years, princes and noblemen from all over Europe continued to vie for the hand of England’s Queen. She refused all marriage proposals. Dudley greatly disappointed and angered Elizabeth when he wed Lettice Knollys in 1578. Still, once the anger wore off, Dudley remained among Elizabeth’s closest circles until his death in 1588. At Dudley’s death, Elizabeth went into deep mourning and did not leave her rooms for three days.

History leads us to believe that Robert Dudley could well have been the love of Elizabeth I’s life. Her refusal to marry and share her crown with anyone else proved she had a staunch will, confidence in herself and her rule, and no desire to share the emotional intimacies of marriage.

Did Dudley, or even Elizabeth, impetuously plot to remove Amy from their lives without thinking of the consequences? Had Amy died of natural causes, would history be altered? Would Dudley have shared Elizabeth’s crown, her rule, and her life? Did Elizabeth use her crown and her power to alter the evidence or the outcome in the case? It’s hard to say. Speculation has endured for centuries, but one thing is clear, only she and Dudley knew what truly happened.

For more information on Queen Elizabeth go to Elizabethi.org –  click here.