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Philip the Handsome and Juana the Mad – The Medieval History of the Low Countries

August 11th, 2010 by Timothy N. Vandenberg
Philip the Handsome

(Felipe el Hermoso - Filips de Schone) was the son of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Through his mother Mary of Burgundy he inherited the greater part of the Burgundian state and through his wife Joanna the Mad he briefly succeeded to the kingdom of Castile. He was the first Habsburg prince in Spain and his successors reckoned him as Philip I of Spain.

Philip the Handsome of Austria was born in the year 1478 in Bruges; what is now a part of Belgium. His mother was Mary of Burgundy, (Mary the Rich), whose crucial marriage to archduke Maximilian (later to become Holy Roman Emperor) resulted in Hapsburg control of the Low Countries and thus Luxembourg. Unfortunately his mother, who was apparently fond of stag hunting with a crossbow, died when he was only four in a riding accident.

When Philip was eighteen years old he took on rulership of the inherited Burgundian lands himself, although as a youth he was known to be irresponsible and lazy. Philip carried himself in a blithe manner. With his long nose and athletic figure, he put forth a boyish exuberance and shunned any form of unpleasantness where he could.

In 1496 he married Joanna (Juana), the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, in Lier Belgium. Juana, who was often sick as a child, had developed into a sullen, reserved young woman, aloof and emotionally unstable. She was well educated, hardworking, and spoke fluently in Latin. She could play the guitar and clavichord, and was well read.

This was to be a politically arranged marriage that sought to strengthen Spain through Portugal against the French  An entire fleet of ships carrying some 22,000 persons accompanied Juana across the ocean from Spain, an ill fated winter voyage costing 3 ships.

Queen Juana I of Castile

Queen Juana I of Castile (1479-1555) is generally known as "Joan the Mad". Despite her nickname, Juana's "madness" has often been disputed; she may have been locked up for political reasons only. Either way, she was a passionate woman, who fell madly in love with her handsome husband and continued to love him even after his death.

By the time she arrived she was seasick and suffering from a terrible cold. Philip sent his sister Margaret to welcome her, himself being disinterested. However, at their first encounter they were immediately smitten with each other, demanding that they be married on the spot. For Philip, whose past-times included mostly drinking,  philandering, and feasting, his attraction was mostly carnal, but Juana, naive in her expectations of court marriage, was utterly infatuated with her new husband.

An official wedding ceremony was held the day after her arrival. The next four years were of their marriage was marred by Philip’s infidelity, and jealous fits of rage and fainting fits from Juana. Philip avoided his wife for days at a time. Juana would cry and lament nightly, throwing herself against the walls. She and her servants were often in want of money; her treasurer taking her income to bribe the Flemish. Emissaries from Spain sent by Isabelle concluded that she was unfit to exert any Spanish influence in the Netherlands.  During this period Juana gave birth to a son and a daughter. Eleanor in 1498,  and Charles in 1500.

In 1501 Philip and Juana were summoned back to Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella no doubt wanted to reconnoiter their position after the recent loss of their only male heir to the Spanish Crown, the son of her sister Isabel, (who also died), and her elder brother.  This left Juana as sole heiress to Spain, Mexico, Peru, and the whole of the Caribbean!

Philip had a lousy time in Spain. The continual religious rituals, the awful heat, and the  fact that Spanish kept all the women hidden away somewhere, sent Philip running and screaming back to Flanders. Juana’s sanity seemed to worsen under the cold discipline of her mother. Indeed, when she attempted to fly after Philip she was imprisoned by her mother in Castle La Mota. Isabella would not hear of Juana’s rejoining Philip until she had been properly tutored in Queenship. Juana, who tried to escape but was thwarted by her mother, went from periods of brooding silence to frenzied fits of rage.

In 1503 Juana gave birth to baby Ferdinand, and in 1504 at her mother’s pardon she was allowed to return to Flanders. When she arrived in Flanders she found Philip had taken a mistress. She seized the woman and proceeded to cut off her hair. Philip struck Juana in the face and she retired to her room for several days. This time she concocted a scheme devised by her hand maidens involving love potions, and hunger strikes. Philip ordered her servants to leave. He does this, she does that, they make up, they break up. The battle waged on until 1506 when they were both ordered back to Spain again.

Juana’s mother had died in 1504 and she had been proclaimed Queen of Castile. Both Ferdinand and Philip pressured her to give over control to them, arguing that she was more insane then either of them put together. They secretly moved to have her declared incompetent, but they were found out and she was furious.

Then in September of 1506 Philip fell ill for six days and died at Burgos. He was 28 years old. Scholars assert that Philip was most likely poisoned by Ferdinand. Juana, who had sat at his side up until he died turned into a complete crackpot. She refused to leave his corpse but for short periods and she wore only black. Philip’s coffin was eventually moved to a monastery, but five weeks later she had him exhumed amid rumors that for some crazy reason his body might have been stolen. She tried to kiss his very dead feet and had to be forcibly removed from the tomb.

When a plague broke out in Burgos she decided to make off for Torquemada, take the coffin with her, and leave it en-route at Granada. There she was compelled again to check to make sure he was still in there.

She had the coffin guarded by armed escorts, and other women were warned to keep away. Traveling only at night, resting at monasteries whilst avoiding nunneries, she moved along stopping finally at a small village where, refusing the help of mid-wives, she gave birth to a daughter, Catalina. By this time Ferdinand had ordered her back home where she was once again locked up in the castle. But before she left she had the coffin opened just one more time, just to make absolutely sure that Philip, the very likely not-so-handsome-anymore, was still in there. And sure enough…they found he hadn’t gone anywhere!

Juana lived out the rest of her life in Tordesillas caring for her young daughter Catalina. Her son Charles became King when Ferdinand died in 1516. Charles, who visited his mother twice, was distressed at the state of his sister who was clad in a sheepskin coat, and whose only amusement was to look out the window. She died on April 13th, 1555. Juana lived to be 75 years old, out living Philip by 50 years.

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5 Responses to “Philip the Handsome and Juana the Mad – The Medieval History of the Low Countries”

  1. [...] an avid huntress, met her end in a horse accident on March 27th, 1482, her eldest son Philip the Handsome being left her dominions under the guardianship of his father. Share and [...]

  2. [...] often served as prisons and La Mota was no exception. It was here the Juana la Loca was kept during the 15th century. In the 16th century the castle housed such infamous prisoners as [...]

  3. [...] Philip the Handsome and Juana the Mad – The Medieval History of … [...]

  4. avatar Vasco says:

    Meus Caros, A história que tenho de Joana a Loca é outra:-Joana filha dos Reis Católicos,foi prometida por seus País ao Princípe de Medina com o qual casou..Êste casamento foi para que podessem correr com os Mouros de GRANADA,e,assim o conseguiram quando o mandaram decapitar o que após o terem feito,mandaram apresentar de BANDEIJA a sua Cabêça a sua Esposa
    D.Joana. Devido a isto e a partir dêste Acto é que D.Joana FICOU LOUCA!!!
    Portanto pergunto a mim mesmo qual a verdade!.

  5. avatar Timothy N. Vandenberg says:

    @Vasco – Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately I don’t speak Spanish but I took and ran you comment through Google Translator to get the gist of what you are saying.

    For other folks who can’t speak Spanish:
    “The Story of Joan I have the Loca is another: -Jane daughter of the Catholic Kings, was promised by their country to the Prince of Medina with whom .. This marriage [was so they] could run with the Moors of GRANADA, … so … they could decapitate [Philip] after what they have done, they sent BANDEIJA [his head on a tray?] to display … to his Wife D.Joana. Because of this and from this act [is why] D.Joana WAS CRAZY!! So I ask myself what the truth!”

    Interesting.. I’d never heard anything remotely like that. Are you saying somebody decapitated Philip? I’ve read of rumors that he was poisoned but can find no evidence that he was beheaded. The translator may have messed up your post but why would they want to “run with the Moors”?

    But yes, History is often written by the victors and in some cases we may never hear the whole story. So, yes, what is the truth?

    Thanks again

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