Although born to proud and devious parents, none of her portraits beheld a lady of any haughtiness – there was no richness, none of the sumptuary honor which only a royal child could wear. Instead, her eyes were shadowed with religion and the various arts of an heiress. Her face was as round, as meek, and as pale as a saucer of milk. And in time that milk would sour: for history – with all the cruelty of the schoolyard – would always know her as "Juana La Loca."
What lurked beneath that white modesty? What monsters in her DNA traveled down a weakened ancestry, down broken and diseased stairs? Did sickness and incest weave through her lineage, a worm eating at a threadbare tapestry?
But maybe the myriad condemnations of birth weren't to blame – and names could be given to the people who drove Juana, the trained Iberian Infanta, to despair.
In 1496, when she was 16, Juana married Philip, the Duke of Burgundy. Her flaxen, Flemish husband was called "The Handsome" – and although only a teenager like his bride, there was already a cruel seduction in his lush mouth and swollen eyes.
Juana had to accept the courtly abuses inflicted upon a woman born into royalty: infidelity, political resentment…a jealous husband. Soon stories of her depression and neuroses – dark, invisible wings beating in her ears – began to circulate. It was even said that she was imprisoned by hyer husband – annoyed and embarrassed by such a petty annoyance as a wife in torment.
By 1506 Philip was dead. But Juana would live for almost 50 years more. Affairs of state coiled about her like snakes – a Medusa's head of government and greed. When her mother, Isabella I of Castile, died, Juana became Queen, but found herself battling with both her husband and her father for control of that arid and medieval province. Her father, Ferdinand II, convinced the Castilian Cortes to admit that Juana's "illness…is such that the said Queen Dona Juana our Lady cannot govern."
But she remained defiant – her thoughts cloudy and dim, a vague storm. Juana would not sign the Cortes' demands, and for her courage was confined to the Santa Clara convent by her father. All of her servants were dismissed. She was alone, save for one person – she still kept her faithless husband's corpse with her. It was 1509.
In 1516 her father was dead. The following year, Castile went to Juana's son Charles I. Officially it was his mother's, but a kingdom can't be given to a woman who is unable to change her own clothes.
Juana, raised on the rules of religion, the grace of languages and the gentility of her birthright, now found it difficult to eat, sleep or bathe. She tasted poison in her food, felt it in her subconscious – her body was awash with it. She even believed that the convent nuns wanted to kill her. Charles confided in them, "It seems to me that the best and most suitable thing for you to do is to make sure that no person speaks with Her Majesty, for no good could come from it."
Juana died in 1555, at the age of 75. She was still in her holy prison. She had been betrayed by her father, her husband, her son…her heredity. No good had come from it.