Meta: On the subject of Isabella I of Castile and Joanna la Beltraneja (will revise soon)


Portrait of Isabella I of Castile.

One of my favorite historical figures whom I’m extremely fascinated by is the woman known in history and to us as Isabella (Isabel), first of that name to rule the Spanish Kingdom of Castile (Castilla in Spanish) and helped bring about the later union of the many kingdoms into Spain through her marriage to Ferdinand II of Aragon.

Isabella led a very interesting life with its fair share of ups and downs, victories and losses, moments of happiness and sorrow. She was born quite fortunate as a princess (known as infanta, though I do not know if this title was already in use during her time — excuse me for my lack of knowledge but I have not yet gotten my hands on a biography of Isabella or any book, for that matter, that deals with this particular subject of titles in the Spanish monarchy, and I have, compared to others, a limited amount but more or less sufficient amount of resources on her for me), as she was the only daughter and eldest child of King John (Juan) II of Castile and his second wife Isabella of Portugal. Her birth date is 22 April 1451. At the time, Isabella’s half-brother Henry (Enrique; the son of John and his deceased first wife Mary/Maria of Aragon) was ahead of her in the line of succession to the Castilian throne and was displaced further by the birth of her younger brother Alfonso two years later.

Isabella’s father died when she was only a child in 1454 and Henry succeeded him as King of Castile (Henry IV), with Isabella, her mother, and her brother left in his care. For some reason that is apparently unknown (but much speculated on), perhaps from simple ineptitude or a pragmatic desire to restrict his half-siblings, Isabella and her family were moved to Arevalo, for while they lived in a castle, the living conditions there were poor and they often suffered a shortage of money. Isabella the elder’s mental health apparently also deteriorated there, which had begun with symptoms of melancholia and post-partum depression after the birth of her daughter. Despite all these hurdles, the three managed to survive and Isabella’s mother gave her children the best education it was possible for them to have there.

Isabella and Alfonso’s living conditions only improved upon their summoning to Segovia, the capital of Castile, for the birth of Henry’s child with his wife Joan (Juana; this can also be translated into Joanna/Joana) of Portugal in 1462. However, it appeared that there were already rumors flocking around the paternity of Joan’s child, since it was known that she could be promiscuous and her not-so-discreet philandering with men was considered scandalous. However, it was only much later when several Castilian nobles rose up against Henry because they considered his half-brother Alfonso his true heir (instead of Joanna, who was supposedly Joan’s illegitimate child by a lover) that it was openly said Beltran de la Cueva was the father and allowed them to call Joan’s child Joanna la Beltraneja (the daughter of Beltran).


Drawing of Joanna of Castile, Queen of Portugal, more commonly known as Joanna la Beltraneja.

Until this very day, Joanna remains an enigma to many of us since there’s so little known about her life compared to Isabella. Only the time when she fought with Isabella for the Castilian throne is the best-documented time of her life and even then there are many unclear things about her, including her much-disputed paternity. Even as she may have been illegitimate, many (especially those in Portugal when she married her uncle Afonso V in 1475) thought that she would be a good ruler, given time and as she was already displaying signs of her ability to govern. Like Isabella, I am fascinated by her, though I would not say that she is at the top of my list of favorite historical figures.

So for this meta, I basically broach the subject of Joanna’s legitimacy. However, it is more of my opinions/theorizing on how Isabella and Joanna (though more on Isabella) felt and thought of each other and their rights to rule/legitimacy instead of actually bringing up evidence and speculating whether Joanna was Henry’s daughter as I am no expert on that yet.

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