Joan the Mad Becomes Queen of Castile Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Joan the Mad’s reign and Ferdinand II’s concurrent regency showed combined powers that secured the unity of the Castilian-Aragonese crown and paved the way for a new royal dynasty in Spain, the House of Habsburg.

Summary of Event

Joan the Mad was the third child of Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II, the Catholic Monarchs. Joan became heir to the throne of Castile on the death of her brother, John, her elder sister Isabella, and Isabella’s son, Michael. In 1496, she married Philip I, archduke of Austria, ruler of the Spanish Netherlands, and son of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Their marriage was problematic. Joan the Mad Ferdinand II (1452-1516) Isabella I Philip I Isabella I (queen of Spain) Ferdinand II (king of Spain) Philip I (king of Spain) Charles I (king of Spain) Jiménez de Cisneros, Francisco Joan the Mad

First, the princess was vulnerable emotionally, and she fell into fits of understandable jealousy because of Philip’s infidelities. It is possible that her mental disability was inherited, although her madness is disputed by historians. Second, the Catholic Monarchs were vexed at Philip’s political alliance with France, which was then at war with Spain. All of this, however, did not prevent the cortes, or parliament, of Castile—assembled in Toledo on May 22, 1502—from conferring on Philip and Joan the title of prince and princess, respectively, of Asturias, and thus confirming them as heirs apparent to the throne.

Joan and her husband had arrived in Castile early that year, but in January, 1503, Philip chose to return to Flanders, where he was serving as ruler of the Spanish Netherlands, leaving Joan behind. Joan became very depressed, particularly after she gave birth to her son Ferdinand on March 10, 1503. Joan’s obsession with returning to her husband led to a series of notorious episodes of rebelliousness that increased everyone’s fears about her mental health. In the light of these events, the cortes—assembled in Madrid and Alcalá de Henares—voiced its doubts about Joan’s ability to rule, urging Isabella to appoint a regent who would prevent Philip from taking power in Castile. With her mother’s strong opposition, Joan traveled to Flanders in May of 1504. In the Flemish court, her personal situation got worse. News reached Castile that her fits of jealousy were increasing in number and that Philip was contemptuous, even cruel, toward her. The clash between husband and wife was complete.

On October 12, 1504, Isabella I dictated her will, which stipulated that Joan, being the universal heir to all of Isabella’s territories, would be crowned queen of Castile, with Philip, her husband, as king consort; Isabella’s husband and Joan’s father, Ferdinand II, would have absolute power as regent of the kingdom until Charles I, Joan and Philip’s son, reached the age of twenty. Isabella had finally recognized her daughter’s unfitness for rule.

On November 26, 1504, Isabella died in Medina del Campo. The town’s main square was witness that same day to Ferdinand relinquishing his royal duties in Castile, transferring them to his daughter and son-in-law, who were at the time in Flanders, but keeping the title of regent for himself.

The queen’s will was not to Philip’s liking, however; he wanted to be king and not simply king consort, something that Ferdinand would never allow. On January 23, 1505, the cortes of Castile, worried by Joan’s evident mental instability, assembled in Toro to declare Ferdinand administrator and governor of her realm, in agreement with Isabella’s will. Later that year, Philip and Ferdinand signed the Agreement of Salamanca Salamanca, Agreement of (1505) (November, 1505) which stipulated that Ferdinand would have complete power until the royal couple returned to Spain.

In the meantime, Philip was subtly approaching from Flanders the Castilian nobility and high clergy so as to win them for his cause, which he said was also that of Joan, the heir apparent to the throne. The Castilians, for their part, were deeply disappointed with Ferdinand’s alliance with King Louis XII of France and with Ferdinand’s marriage to Germaine de Foix.

On April 25, 1506, Joan and Philip disembarked in La Coruña from Flanders. Upon their arrival, Philip prevented Joan from meeting her father, while he negotiated with Ferdinand the government of Castile. The two were trying to declare the queen’s unfitness to rule, but both men knew well that to govern they needed Joan’s consent. Ferdinand, without much support, signed the Villafáfila Agreement (1506) Villafáfila Agreement (1506) , which left all power in Philip’s hands. Two weeks later, the procuradores, or town clerks, sitting at the cortes of Valladolid, swore loyalty to Joan and Philip, and declared Charles—Joan’s firstborn and heir—the queen’s legitimate successor. Ferdinand, hurt by the treason of the Castilians, left Castile and retired to Aragon.

Philip I, however, died soon afterward in Burgos, a victim of fever. Scholar-official Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, who had assumed control of the interim government, wrote to Ferdinand, begging him to return to Castile. In July, 1507, Ferdinand disembarked in Valencia and began traveling to the north. By then, Joan had been trying to fulfill her husband’s last will: to be buried in Granada beside Isabella’s grave. From Burgos in December of 1506, she set off with his coffin in a funeral procession that traveled by night only, surrounded by hundreds of torches, resting during the day in monasteries but never in nunneries. They stopped in January, 1507, in Torquemada, where Joan gave birth to her fifth child, Catherine, but four months later the nightly processions resumed. On August 29, Joan and Ferdinand finally met, and she gave her father unlimited power as long as she was granted complete authority over her husband’s remains. The funeral cortege started again and stopped only when it reached Arcos, early in 1509.

Joan’s father wanted her in Tordesillas, and she agreed to his wish in February, 1509, on condition that she could take Philip’s body with her. Her husband’s coffin was laid in the monastery of Santa Clara, where she could see it from a window of her palace. From that time forward, she took little part in the government’s affairs. Ferdinand was granted until his death the governments of Castile, Leon, and Granada in a treaty he signed in December, 1509, with Maximilian I of Austria and, nominally, with Charles I (later Charles V) and Joan. Charles would reign when he came of age. The cortes of Castile and Leon confirmed Ferdinand as administrator and legitimate governor in his daughter’s stead. They also confirmed Charles as Queen Joan’s successor. Joan’s authority became virtually insignificant.

On January 22, 1516, Ferdinand dictated his will. It confirmed Joan’s rights as universal heir to all his territories; it also appointed regents until sixteen-year-old Charles could occupy the throne. The following day, Ferdinand I died. In Brussels, Charles soon proclaimed himself king of Castile and Aragon, ignoring pleas from the Royal Council of Castile for him not to adopt the title of king while his mother was alive. The fact that official documents would include his mother’s title in front of his own shows that Joan’s son was confirming her right to govern but limiting that right to her presence in the royal signature “Doña Juana, Reina de Castilla” (Joan I, queen of Castile). The people and history would favor her other title, Joan the Mad.


The reign of Joan the Mad of Castile was a period marked by the consolidation of some of the projects of territorial expansion and pacification initiated by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, including the annexation of Navarre to the kingdom of Castile and the increased presence of Castile in North Africa.

Joan’s reign also prepared for the future unity of the Spanish territories under the new dynasty of the Habsburgs Habsburg Dynasty . While Joan kept the title of queen in name, Ferdinand’s regency preserved the unity of the Crowns of Castile and Aragon that had begun with the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs. The way was paved for the most important dynastic transition in the history of the Spanish monarchy: the arrival in Castile of the House of Habsburg with Charles, Joan’s son, the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Aram, Bethany. “Juana ’the Mad’’ Signature: The Problem of Invoking Royal Authority, 1505-1507.” Sixteenth Century Journal 29, no. 2 (1998): 331-358. Analyzes the political motivations that could help reinterpret Joan’s madness, an analysis based on a famous letter written by Joan.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Aram, Bethany. “Juana ’the Mad,’ the Clares, and the Carthusians: Revising a Necrophilic Legend in Early Habsburg Spain.” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 93 (2002): 172-191. This article attempts to present a new vision of the shifting, and often competing, devotional and dynastic commitments of Joan of Castile.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dennis, Amarie. Seek the Darkness: The Story of Juana la Loca. 5th ed. Madrid: Impresores Sucesores de Rivadeneyra, 1969. A biography of Joan of Castile colored with a taint of romanticism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Townsend. The Castles and the Crown: Spain, 1451-1555. London: Victor Gollancz, 1963. An excellent approach to the crossed lives of Isabella, Ferdinand, Joan, and Philip, with a special focus on Joan and Isabella.

Oct. 19, 1469: Marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella

Aug. 17, 1477: Foundation of the Habsburg Dynasty

1482-1492: Maximilian I Takes Control of the Low Countries

Jan. 23, 1516: Charles I Ascends the Throne of Spain

1520-1522: Comunero Revolt

1576-1612: Reign of Rudolf II

Categories: History