(BORN 1479; DIED 1555.)
AMONG the victims immolated in Spain, in the Netherlands, and elsewhere, by the fanaticism of Charles the Fifth and his subordinates, there was one, the most illustrious of all, whose history had been long hidden by a mysterious veil. This was his mother, Queen Joanna, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. The veil has been partly lifted in our days by the discovery of some documents in the archives of Simancas. Although the information is not yet complete, and perhaps may never be so, it is nevertheless possible now to get some glimpses of the mysterious drama which darkened the life of this unfortunate princess. Few histories are more astonishing than the history of this woman, whom we see by some tragic destiny connected with three executioners — her father, her husband, and her son. These three men, king Ferdinand, the archduke Philip, and the emperor Charles the Fifth, whom she never ceased to love, and whom God had given her for protectors, deprived her of her kingdoms, cast her into prison, and had the strappado inflicted on her.’ f193a To complete their infamy, they circulated a report that she was mad. She displayed remarkable intelligence, and in this respect she would have taken high rank among princes, far above her father and her husband, if not above her son. The latter derived from her, certainly not from his father, his great abilities. Some celebrated physicians having been summoned by the Comuneros to inquire whether the alleged madness existed, and having interrogated the officers and servants who were about her, cardinal — afterwards Pope — Adrian, one of her gaolers, gave the emperor an account of the inquiry in these words: ‘Almost all the officers and servants of the queen assert that she has been oppressed and forcibly detained in this castle for fourteen years, under pretense of madness, while in fact she has always been as sound in mind and as rational as at the time of her marriage.’ f194 The desire to possess themselves of the supreme power incited these three unworthy princes to deprive Joanna and to keep her in shameful captivity.
It was to her, and not to her father Ferdinand, that the kingdom of Castile belonged after the death of Isabella. It was to her, and not to her husband Philip, nor afterwards to her son Charles, that the Spains, Naples, Sicily, and other dominions belonged. She was deprived of all by these traitorous princes, and received in exchange a narrow prison.
Joanna, the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, was born in 1479, and was brought up in Spain under the care of her mother.
Although it was not in those days the custom of the court, as it was in the time of Philip II, to attend the auto-de-fe, the whipping and the torture of heretics, these exploits of fanaticism done to the honor of Jesus Christ and his holy mother were nevertheless at this epoch the favorite subject of conversation of that devout court. The prison, the whip, the real and the stake, were the commonplaces of their intercourse. The compassionate heart, the sound understanding, and all the good instincts of the young girl rebelled against these excesses of the Roman faith and it was soon discovered that there was in her mind an opposition to the favorite notions of her mother, and a deep feeling against these punishments. It was a great grief to Isabella to see her own daughter wantonly ruining herself; for was it not her eyes ruin to doubt of the holiness of the proceedings of the Inquisition? She, therefore attempted to stifle the first germs of disobedience, She did not shrink from extreme measures to bring Joanna to a better mind. The marquis of Denia, chief gaoler of the unhappy prisoner, wrote to Charles the Fifth, on January 26, 1522, as follows: ‘If your Majesty would employ torture against her, it would be in many respects rendering service to God and at the same time doing a good work towards the queen herself. This course is necessary with persons of her disposition; and the queen, your grandmother punished and treated in this way her daughter the queen, our sovereign lady.’
When Joanna had attained the age of seventeen her father and mother began to think about a marriage alliance for her; and it is easy to understand that she was eager to accept the hand of the archduke of Burgundy, one of the handsomest knights of his age. The prince was to conduct her to the Netherlands, of which he had been sovereign since 1482, and thus he would withdraw her from the teaching of her mother.
Joanna’s readiness was very natural under the circumstances.
Soon after her arrival in the Netherlands it was observed that feelings to which the cruelty of the Inquisition had given birth in her noble heart were developing themselves — indignation against the persecutors, and love for the persecuted. It is known that in these parts were to be found some of the Vaudois, the Lollards, and the Brethren of the Common Life, all alike inspired with a true religious spirit. The fresh information which Joanna now received strengthened her previous impressions of hostility to Roman superstition. The Catholic Isabella, alarmed at the reports which reached her, sent to Brussels the sub-prior of Santa Cruz, Thomas de Matienzo, to see what the facts were, and to arrest the evil. The princess, who tenderly loved her mother, was cast down on hearing of her displeasure, and tears started to her eyes. But her resolution did not give way. The sub-prior took all possible pains to draw from Joanna some answer to the questions which Isabella had charged him to ask. He was very coldly received; and on Assumption Day, when two of the confessors of the princess presented themselves for the purpose of receiving her confession, she declined their services in the very presence of her mother’s envoy. Her former tutor, Friar Andrew, who felt much anxiety for the soul of his pupil, entreated he to dismiss certain Parisian theologians, who seem to have been more enlightened than the majority of the priests, but whom Friar Andrew called drunkards. At the same time he begged the princess to supply their place by taking for her confessor a good Spanish monk. But all his entreaties were fruitless. Nothing could overcome the repugnance which she felt towards the Roman religion. On several occasions she refused its rites, but she did not advance nor take any active steps. Her strength was passive only.
On February 24, 1500, Joanna gave birth to a son, who was to become the emperor Charles the Fifth. Conspicuous amongst the magnificent presents offered to the young prince was the gift of the ecclesiastics of Flanders, who laid before him the New Testament, splendidly bound, and bearing the inscription in letters of gold — Search the Scriptures.
Isabella was deeply distressed to see her daughter thus drifting away from Spanish orthodoxy. It was not a complete rebellion; Joanna did not openly profess all the doctrines called in Spain heretical. But the queen had ordered hundreds of her subjects to be burnt for slighter opposition than that of the princess. Would Isabella’s devotion to the Virgin go so far as to sacrifice to it her daughter? Even had she desired it, it would not have been easy; for Joanna as the wife of a foreign prince, was emancipated from her mother’s control. Besides, it must well be believed that Isabella would not have committed such a crime. Still, the question arises, would she allow a heretic to ascend the throne of Castile?
Would she expose the Inquisition, an institution so dear to her, to the risk of being suppressed by the princess who was to succeed her? Never. Her whole being revoked against such a thought. The priestly party rejoiced to see these scruples of the queen, and endeavored to increase them. King Ferdinand himself, Joanna’s father, but not a tender-hearted father, felt that it was for his own interest to embitter more and more the feeling of her mother.
As early as 1502 Isabella’s plan was formed. She would keep the heretic Joanna from the throne which belonged to her after her own death. On the meeting of the Cortes, at Toledo, in 1502, and at Madrid and Alcala de Henares, in 1503, the queen caused to be laid before them a project of law by virtue of which the government of Castile should belong after her death to Ferdinand, in case of Joanna’s absence, or of her unwillingness or inability personally to exercise the rights which belonged to her. This resolution was voted by the Cortes, and was inserted by Isabella in her will, in which she set forth the conditions which she had at first laid down.
The pope confirmed the arrangement. Thus was Joanna to be set aside from succession to the throne which belonged to her on account of her opposition to the Inquisition and to other Roman practices. But Isabella took care not to state this, because she perceived that such an avowal would be dangerous. The priesthood and the holy office were almost universally detested, and, therefore, it, was necessary to avoid asserting that they were the cause of the exclusion of Joanna, for this would have rallied to her cause the majority of the nation. Some pretext must, however, be found. It should be reported that she was mad. This is nothing but the truth. thought the priests. Is it possible that anyone not mad would reject Rome and her decrees, and put in their place some other senseless doctrines?
In 1504 Isabella died. Ferdinand publicly announced to the people, assembled in front of the palace of Medina del Campo, that although the crown belonged to his daughter he should continue to govern during his lifetime. Joanna and Philip, her husband, were still in the Netherlands. It appeared that Joanna bore with meekness this robbery of the crown by her father; but it was otherwise with her husband. Philip energetically protested against this act of spoliation. ‘Ferdinand,’ he said, ‘has put into circulation a false report of the madness of his daughter and other absurdities of the like kind solely with a view to furnish himself with a pretext for seizing her crown.’ It has generally been stated that it was Philip’s mother who had caused the madness of his widow. But this report, it is evident, was already in circulation at a time when she had, without contradiction, the full possession of her reason. We have seen from what source the report came, and the interest which her father had in causing it to be believed.
In 1506 Philip, accompanied by Joanna, arrived in Spain for the purpose of assuming himself the power which his father-in-law had usurped. The majority of the people soon declared themselves on the side of Joanna; and Ferdinand, in a fit of anger was on the point of encountering his son-in-law with capa y spada, intending to plunge his sword into his bosom. But he observed ere long that a party was forming, and was becoming more and more numerous, at the head of which was the constable of Castile, whose object was to set aside both Philip and Ferdinand, and to place the legitimate queen on the throne. Ferdinand was perplexed, finding that he had two rivals, his son-in-law and his daughter. It was clear to him that Joanna, as Infanta and lawful heiress, would easily win all the hearts of the people, and that Philip, as a foreigner and usurper, would find it hard to gain acceptance. He resolved, therefore, to unite with Philip against his own daughter. He gave him an appointment to meet him at Villafafila, on June 26 (1506). The king determined to assume an appearance of amiability. He took with him only a small number of attendants, dressed himself plainly, mounted an ass, and thus arrived in the presence of his son-in-law with the air of a gallant country gentleman, an amiable smile upon his lips, and saying that he came ‘with love in his heart and peace in his hands.’ Philip received him attended by a considerable number of grandees of the Netherlands and of Spain, besides a large body of men-at- arms. Philip himself, who was surnamed the Handsome, was in the pride of his youth and strength. Ferdinand having dismounted from his ass and saluted his son-in-law, begged him to follow him alone into the church. All the members of their suite were forbidden to accompany the two princes, and guards were stationed at the entrance to prevent anyone from penetrating into the church. There, at the foot of the altar, these two traitorous men were about to conspire to ruin, the spoliation, and we might saw the death of their innocent victim, daughter of one of them and wife of the other. The interview began. The sentinels were able occasionally to catch glimpses of the two princes, and even to hear their voices, but they could not understand what they said. Ferdinand spoke much and with animation; Philip made only short answers and at times seemed to be embarrassed. The father-in-law pointed out to his son-in-law that Joanna was on the point of being placed on the throne by the people, and that both of them would thus be deprived of it; that they ought to exclude her, and that they would assign as their motive that she was incapacitated for reigning by reason of ‘here malady,’ which propriety did not permit them to name. It is evident that the reference was to the alleged madness. Whether Philip, who lived with Joanna, and knew her real state, had also protested against this false accusation, gave way at once, we cannot tell. However this may be, Ferdinand, who for a long time had not seen his daughter, succeeded in persuading his son-in-law to adopt this pretext. It likewise appears that there was already some talk about imprisoning the queen. While Ferdinand thus sacrificed his daughter, he felt no scruple about deceiving his son-in-law. An agreement was concluded between the two conspirators that the government of Castile should belong to Philip; and in the instrument signed the same day it was alleged that Joanna refused to accept it herself. Meanwhile the courtiers were awaiting the two princes; and the guards having reported the visible animation and eloquence of the father-in-law, it was expected that he would come away triumphant. Great, therefore, was the astonishment when it became known that he had yielded everything to his son-in-law.
Thus the story of the madness of Joanna, first invented in the interest of Rome, was confirmed by her father, by her husband, and afterwards by her son Charles the Fifth, in their own interest, and with a view to despoil her of the crown of Spain, of Naples, Sicily, and her other dominions.
But what is to be thought of Ferdinand’s concession? It was a mere piece of acting. His ass, his modest suite, his plain unarmed arrival, had been nothing but a comedy, the object of which was to put him in a position to allege that he had fallen into the hands of his son-in-law, and that the latter had compelled him to sign the agreement. He immediately prepared a secret protest, in which he declared that Joanna was kept prisoner by Philip on false pretenses, and that he considered it his duty to deliver her and to place her on the throne. He then set out for Naples, delegating as his representative with Philip his well-beloved Master Louis Ferrer, who enjoyed his entire confidence, desiring him to look after his interests. He had hardly set out when, after an illness of three or four days, Philip died.
The current rumor was that he had been poisoned. Some persons declared that they knew he had received a dose of poison in his food (bocado.) But the scandal of a trial was dreaded, and the matter was hushed up. The guilty Ferdinand remained master of the situation. Joanna had been placed in confinement by her husband immediately after the interview of Villafafila, After the death of Philip, Ferrer took possession of her. Several princes, particularly Henry VII of England, aspired to the hand of this widow, heiress of several kingdoms; but Ferdinand hastened to write in all directions that to ‘his great vexation’ his daughter could not possibly think of a second marriage. This gradually gave wider currency to the fable of her madness.
The queen was then at Burgos, and it was determined to remove her thence to Tordesillas, where they intended to keep her in confinement. Philip had died at Burgos, and his body was to be transferred to Granada, to be there interred in the sepulchre of the kings. This involved a journey from the north to the middle of Spain, and Tordesillas lay on the road. The scheme was to have the queen set out at the same time as the body of her husband.
One and the same escort would thus serve for both. It has been supposed that there might be financial reasons for this arrangement. In our days, it has been said, no one would ever think of such economy. But at that time the want of money was incessantly obtruding itself, and people might be well pleased to save a thousand scudos. This conjecture is admissible, but there were other reasons. The journey was made slowly. On two or three occasions the queen was removed from one place to another by night. But it is of little moment whether the journey from Burgos to Tordesillas was made by night or by day. In any case it was a strange spectacle, the grand funeral car, with its dismal but splendid accompaniments, and after these the carriages of the captive queen, about whom the most extraordinary reports were already in circulation. It been stated that the death of Philip had cost Joanna the loss of her reason; it has been said that had so much affection for her husband that she to have his body always near her, as if it were still living; that she was jealous even of her husband, and would not allow her women approach his corpse? f198a It was rumored at the time that the queen, watching for the moment of his return to life, refused to be separated from the lifeless; and this very journey was referred to as an proof of her madness. But these allegations are belied by facts. As the tomb at Granada as not yet ready, the body of Philip remained for years in the convent of St. Clara at Tordesillas and the queen did not once go to see it nor did she even express a wish to do so.
She used to of Philip as any faithful wife would speak of her deceased husband. Her excessive tenderness for Philip, who had behaved infamously towards her, her resolution never to be separated from his corpse — these are fables of modern history, invented by those were determined to deprive her of her rights to thrust themselves into her place.
Joanna arrived at Tordesillas under the guardianship of Ferrer, the man who, it was believed, had poisoned her husband. The palace was a plain house, situated in a barren country; the climate was scorching in summer and very severe in winter. Joanna was confined here in a narrow chamber, without windows, and lighted only by a candle; she was not allowed to walk, even for a few minutes, in a corridor which looked out upon the river. She was thus refused a liberty accorded even to murderers. She was there, without money, attended by two female keepers, and unable to communicate with the outer world.
The mother of Charles V continued to show in the prison of Tordesillas her dislike to the Roman ceremonies. She refused to hear mass; and the main business of her keepers was to get her to attend it. The cruel marquis of Denia, count of Lerma, who succeeded Ferrer, endeavored to compel the queer to practices which she abhorred. ‘There is not a day passes,’ he wrote, ‘on which we are not taken up with the affair of the mass.’ f198b At length the queen consented to attend mass, at the end of the corridor either from fear of the scourge, the pain of which she knew, or perhaps in order not to sunder herself from the religion of Spain, of which she constantly hoped to be acknowledged as queen. But when they brought her the pax, the paten which the priest offers to great persons to kiss, she refused it, and commanded it to be presented to the Infanta her daughter, whom they had not yet taken away from her.
At Christmas 1521 matins were being sung in the chapel which had been fitted up at the end of the corridor. The Infanta alone was present.
Suddenly Joanna appeared, wretchedly attired for a queen. She did not attend the mass herself, and even wished to prevent her daughter from attending it. She interrupted the service, ordered with a voice that reechoed from the walls that the altar should be taken away and everything else that was used in the religious ceremonies, and then laying hold of her daughter she dragged her away from the place. Nothing could at this time bend her; she resolutely refused to attend mass or any other Catholic services. In vain did the marquis of Denia entreat her to conform to the Roman practices; she would not hear of such a thing. ‘In truth,’ wrote the marquis to Charles V, ‘if your majesty would apply the torture (premia), it would be doing service to God and to her highness.’ f199 The mother of Charles V was plunged into the deepest melancholy by the treatment to which she was subjected. Her days were a constant succession of sorrows. Her passage through life was from one suffering to another. All her desire was to get out of that horrible prison; and in striving to attain this object she displayed much good sense, earnestness, and perseverance. She begged the marquis of Denia to allow her to quit Tordesillas, at least for a time. She wished to go to Valladolid. She alleged as a reason the bad air she breathed and the acute sufferings it caused her.
Her health required a change of air, and she must at least undertake a journey. Her deep feeling moved her barbarous gaoler himself. For a moment pity touched that heart of stone. ‘Her language is so touching,’ wrote Denia to the emperor, ‘that it becomes difficult for the marchioness and myself to withstand her appeals. It is impossible for me to let anyone go near her, for not a man in the world could resist her persuasion. Her complaints awaken in me deep compassion, and her utterances might move stones.’ This is not how Denia would have written to Charles if he had been speaking of a mad woman. Moreover he requested him to destroy his letters. At times she remained silent; and we know that the grief which does not utter itself is only the more fatal to the sufferer. At other times her distress broke forth. One day (April 1525) she contrived to find access to the corridor and filled it with her sighs and moanings, shedding the while floods of tears. Denia gave orders immediately that she should be taken into her narrow chamber, so that she might not be heard. At the same time he wrote to Charles V: ‘I have always thought that in her highness’s state of indisposition, nothing would do her more good than the rack; and after this that some good and loyal servant of your majesty should speak to her. It is necessary to see whether she will not make any progress in the things which your majesty desires.’ By these things he means confession, the mass, and other Roman rites.
In 1530, despairing of seeing the queen confess, ‘I cannot believe,’ he wrote, ‘that so fortunate a thing can happen. However I will use all needful endeavors.’
The officers of Charles V, and the monks who had incessantly labored for the conversion of Joanna to Romanism, multiplied their efforts as her death approached. She withstood their pressing entreaties to receive the rites, the symbols of the papacy, and people heard the cries which she uttered while they put her to torture. She would have neither confession nor extreme unction.
Had Joanna become acquainted with the Reformation and the writings of the Reformers, and with the doctrines which they professed? This has been doubted; but it seems improbable that she should have been ignorant of them. Joanna was a Lutheran, says one of the learned writers who have devoted most attention to this subject. This statement is perhaps too definite. But the evangelical doctrines were penetrating everywhere; and they must have reached the prison of Joanna. It has been asserted that Luther at this time had more numerous adherents in Spain than in Germany itself. The keepers of the prison perhaps prevented evangelical works from reaching the queen. There is, however, a light which no hand of man can intercept. The theologian de Soto celebrated for his acquirements, as well as for his piety, came to her on the morning of her death; and he appears to have thought her a Christian, but not a Roman Catholic. He said: ‘Blessed be the Lord, her highness told me things which have consoled me.’ Here is the Christian. He adds: ‘Nevertheless, she is not disposed to the sacrament of the Eucharist.’ Here is the enlightened woman who rejects the rites of Rome. ‘She committed her soul to God,’ said the princess Joanna, granddaughter of the queen, ‘and gave thanks to Him that at length He delivered her from all her sorrows.’ Her last words were: ‘Jesus Christ crucified, be with me .’ She breathed her last on April 12, 1555, between five and six o’clock in the morning.
Thus died the mother of Charles V at the age of seventy-six years. She had been at various times kept in prison by her husband, Philip of Austria; for ten years by her father, Ferdinand the Catholic; and for thirty-nine years by her son, the emperor Charles V. She is a unique example of the greatest misfortunes, and her dark destiny surpasses all the stories of ancient times. The heiress of so many famous kingdoms, treated as the most wretched of women, was in her last year strictly confined in her dungeon, and lay in the midst of filth which was never removed. Covered as she was with tumors, in anguish and solitude, can we wonder that strange and terrifying images were sometimes produced in her brain by her isolation, melancholy, and fear? But while she was the victim of the gloomiest fanaticism ever met with in the world, she was consoled in the midst of all these horrors, as her latest words prove, by her God and Father in heaven.
The time has come for posterity to render to her memory the compassion and the honor which are her due.