Joanna of Castile

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portrait of Joanna
Arms as negotiated for Joanna of Castille, Queen of England

Joanna of Castile (1479-1509) was the daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and his queen, Isabel, half-sister of Henry IV. She was also the Queen to King Richard III of England and mother-in-law to James I of England and Scotland. Her story has been the stuff of fiction and artwork for centuries.


Born in Toledo on November 6, 1479, Joanna was the second daughter of her illustrious parents. She was betrothed for a time to Philip the Handsome (1478-1506) but was instead married at age 16 to the 43-year-old King of England in 1495; Philip received her younger sister Catherine instead. Within two years their daughter Margaret of York (1497-1560) was born.

The dynastic marriage between the Houses of Plantagenet and Trast√°mara proved a less-than-blissful one. Richard was a withdrawn man over twice his young queen's age, whereas she was a foreigner in an unfamiliar and cold land. Relations between the two were somewhat strained, but not unpleasant and eventually what little time the two spent together both seemed to enjoy. Joanna focussed her energies on her daughter, supervising her education and arguing over possible matches for her.

Joanna never lived to see Margaret marry and become queen of two realms. She died at age forty, three years before her husband's own passing. Richard was buried with his two queens beside him in Westminster Cathedral.

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Even in life, Joanna was subject to songs about the "Sad Young Queen" whose husband was said to be in mourning for his first Queen and their son. She was said to have pined away, perhaps even committing suicide (although most scholars think it likely she died of pneumonia).

In the centuries since her death, Joanna of Castille has become a mythic figure featuring in many literary and dramatic works. In The Tragedie of King Richard the Third by Gwilim Trammelpila she is portrayed as having been in love with the Pretender (in real life they never met) as well as the object of the Duke of Buckingham's lustful intentions. This was also portrayed in the hit motion picture Greatheart with Gerard Gibson as George, French actress Sylvie Marceau as Joanna and Joseph McGoohan as Buckingham.

Frederich Schiller wrote an influential play about her, Königin Joanna in which she becomes the ultimate moral power behind her husband's reign. Gaetano Donizetti turned it into an opera.

Maxwell Anderson also wrote a play, The Lady of Castille in which she and Elizabeth Woodville are made out to be antagonists.

Sir Walter Scott's novel The Thistle and the Rose had Joanna as a major character, inaccurately portraying her as a motivating force behind her daughter's marriage.

Likewise Alexander Dumas wrote Joanna la Triste about her, in which he presumes that she committed suicide in a bout of melancholy.

Several motion pictures have been made of her life, many presuming a love affair between Joanna and either the Pretender and/or Buckingham.

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