Joanna I of Naples

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For other people named Joanna of Naples, see Joanna of Naples (disambiguation).
Joanna I
Jana1 neapol.jpg
Queen Joanna I from the Bibles of Naples
Queen of Naples
Reign 1343–1382
Coronation August 1344
Predecessor Robert
Successor Charles III
Spouse Andrew, Duke of Calabria
Louis, Prince of Taranto
James IV of Majorca
Otto, Duke of Brunswick-Grubenhagen
Issue Charles Martel, Duke of Calabria
Catherine of Naples
Frances of Naples
House House of Anjou
Father Charles, Duke of Calabria
Mother Marie of Valois
Born 1326
Died 27 July 1382 (aged 56)
San Fele
Burial Santa Chiara Church

Joanna I (Italian: Giovanna I; 1326 – 27 July 1382) was Queen of Naples and Countess of Provence and Forcalquier from 1343 until her death. She also reigned as Princess of Achaea and claimed the crowns of Jerusalem and Sicily.

Early family and political life[edit]

Born on an unrecorded date in the first half of 1326, Joanna was the eldest surviving child of Charles, Duke of Calabria (eldest son of King Robert the Wise of Naples), and Marie of Valois (a sister of King Philip VI of France). The Duke of Calabria died before his youngest child, Maria, was born. His death made Joanna, the elder of his two surviving children, first in line to the throne; she received homage as such on 4 November 1330. She was proclaimed Duchess of Calabria in 1333 and Princess of Salerno on 26 June 1344.

At the age of eight (1334), she was betrothed to her six-year-old second cousin Prince Andrew (Hungarian: Endre) of the Hungarian branch of the House of Anjou, the son of Charles I of Hungary and younger brother of Louis I. Through his father he had a claim to Naples, which could be argued to be superior to that of Robert and consequently also to that of Joanna.

Coat of arms of the House of Anjou-Naples.

When King Robert of Naples died in 1343, in his last will and testament, he formally bequeathed his kingdom to Joanna, and made no mention of Andrew, even as a consort, and tried to exclude him from rule. In the event of Joanna's death without children, the crown would fall to her younger sister Maria and not to him.[1]

With the approval of Pope Clement VI, Joanna was crowned as sole monarch of Naples in August 1344. Fearing for his life, Andrew wrote to his mother Elizabeth that he would soon flee the kingdom. She intervened, and made a state visit; before she returned to Hungary, she bribed Pope Clement to revert his decision and permit the coronation of Andrew. She also gave a ring to Andrew, which was supposed to protect him from death by blade or poison, and returned with a false sense of security to Hungary.

Joanna lost an important ally when her stepgrandmother, Sancha of Majorca, withdrew into a monastery, but kept resisting more papal interference in the kingdom. Due to her letters to the pope, he agreed that though Andrew would be crowned, only her coronation would be 'Blessed by God'.

When Joanna fell ill in the summer of 1344, Andrew caused great controversy when he released the Pipini brothers. They had been locked up by King Robert the Wise after having been convicted for murder, rape, pillage, treason and several other offences. Their possessions had been given to other nobles, which now became increasingly hostile to Andrew.

Murder of her husband and its aftermath[edit]

Hearing of the Pope's reversal, a group of noble conspirators (the involvement of Queen Joanna remaining unproved) determined to forestall Andrew's coronation. During a hunting trip at Aversa in 1345, Andrew left his room in the middle of the night and was set upon by the conspirators. A treacherous servant barred the door behind him; and with Joanna in her own bedroom, a terrible struggle ensued, Andrew defending himself furiously and shrieking for aid. He was finally overpowered, strangled with a cord, and flung from a window with a rope tied to his genitals. Isolde, Andrew's Hungarian nurse, heard his cries, and with her own screams chased the murderers off. She took the Prince's corpse to the church of the monks, and remained with it until next morning in mourning. When the Hungarian knights arrived she told them everything in their mother tongue so no one else would learn about the truth, and soon they left Naples informing everything to the Hungarian King.

She informed the papacy, as well as other states in Europe of the murder, expressing her disgust in letters, but Joanna's circle of friends were thought to be most suspect. On 25 December 1345, she gave birth to a son, Charles Martel. When she made public her plans to marry one of her Taranto cousins and not Andrew's younger brother Stephen, the Hungarians openly accused her of the murder.

Louis of Taranto was a seasoned warrior, who understood Neapolitan politics from his lifetime experiences, raised at the court of Catherine of Valois, Joanna's aunt. After Joanna stated her intention to marry him, his brother Robert banded together with his cousin and erstwhile rival Charles of Durazzo against them. Some of Joanna's courtiers and servants were tortured and later executed including her Sicilian governess Philippa the Catanian and the latter's family. Louis was successful in driving his brother's forces back, but just as he reached Naples, it became known that the Hungarians planned to invade. Joanna made a pact with the Kingdom of Sicily, preventing them from invading at the same time and married Louis. Following the mysterious assassination of Joanna’s first husband, Andrew of Hungary, a conspiracy that many attributed to Joanna herself despite her proclaimed innocence and a lack of evidence connecting her to the murder, Joanna fled to Avignon. [2] This event resulted in Andrew’s brother, Louis of Hungary, conquering Naples and taking Joanna’s throne away from her. It was also at this time that Joanna’s popularity within her own Kingdom had fallen. [3] However, over time, the Hungarians came to be viewed as barbarians by the Neapolitan people, including Giovanni Boccaccio , who described Louis as “’rabid’ and ‘more vicious than a snake.’” [4] While Joanna had been tried by the Papal Court for the murder of Andrew, she was eventually exonerated for the crime by Pope Clement VI. [5]

She married twice more; to James IV of Majorca and Prince of Achaea and Otto, Duke of Brunswick-Grubenhagen. Her one son Charles, by Andrew, died at a young age, as did her two daughters by Louis, Catherine and Francois.

Political intrigues[edit]

Her reign was marked by violent political struggles among the members of the Angevin house. The assassination of Andrew brought about the enmity of King Louis I of Hungary and his invasion of Naples. Robert of Taranto and Charles of Durazzo deserted them, when the size of the Hungarian army became known. Joanna was forced for a period to flee to Avignon and to pay for her return to her kingdom by selling her rights over that city to Pope Clement VI; after several reverses of fortune, both Joanna and Louis agreed to the papal request for a truce. The matter was to be solved by a new trial over Andrew's assassination, to be held in Avignon. Joanna was acquitted of all charges, and she could return.

Her second husband, Louis of Taranto, was crowned as king consort in 1352, the only one of her husbands to whom she willingly accorded that status. In 1373, her cousin and former brother-in-law Philip II of Taranto resigned to her his rights to the Principality of Achaea, as did her third husband, James, before his death in 1375.

Miniature of Joanna.

Administration and her court[edit]

By the Treaty of Villeneuve (1372), Joanna recognised as permanent the loss of Sicily, suffered ninety years earlier in 1282. Joanna immersed herself fully in the running of her kingdom, and enjoyed every aspect of government. Although she was a fair and judicious ruler, no law or edict, however minor, was ever carried out without her personal approval and seal.

Joanna's reign was also marked by her support and protection of local businesses, the creation of new industry, and her refusal to debase the currency. Crime was greatly reduced and she was an ardent promoter of peace within her vast realm of which she expanded to briefly include Sicily and Piedmont.

Despite Joanna's deep spirituality and friendships with Catherine of Siena and Saint Bridget of Sweden, her court was notable for its extravagance with her collection of exotic animals and servants of various origins including Turkish, Saracen, and African.

The contemporary writer Giovanni Boccaccio has left us with the following description of Queen Joanna in his On Famous Women: "Joanna, queen of Sicily and Jerusalem, is more renowned than other woman of her time for lineage, power, and character".

Extant images reveal her to have been blonde-haired and fair-skinned.

Troubles with the Papacy[edit]

Joanna supported the Avignon Papacy during the Western Schism and allied herself with France, adopting Louis I of Anjou, a younger son of John II of France as her heir. France and antipope Clement VII counted on Naples to give them a foothold in Italy, if it came to resolving the schism by force. However, Joanna’s support for Clement VII stemmed from Urban VI’s attempt to take Joanna’s crown away from her and to cede part of her Kingdom to his nephew, Francisco Prigano.[6] In retaliation, in April 1380, Pope Urban VI declared her a heretic and her kingdom, a papal fief, to be forfeit and bestowed it upon Charles of Durazzo, her niece's husband and heir. She reacted by switching the inheritance to Louis I, Duke of Anjou, brother of King Charles V of France. This move, however, favoured Charles of Durazzo, as Louis was forced to remain in France after his brother's death. Charles was recognised King of Naples by Urban VI on 1 June 1381 and, with Hungarian support, advanced on Naples, where Joanna had entrusted her new husband Otto (whom she had married in 1376) with the few troops she could muster. After Otto's defeat at Anagni, and bypassing the Neapolitan defences at Aversa, Charles entered Naples on 26 July and besieged Joanna in the Castel dell'Ovo. In late August, Otto again attempted to free his wife but was crushed and made prisoner. She was forced to surrender, and was imprisoned in the fortress of San Fele, (near Muro Lucano).

For Joanna's support of the Avignon Papacy, Catherine of Siena portrayed Joanna as a demonically misguided ruler because of her support for the Avignon, Clement VII, over Pope Urban VI.[7] Her letter to Joanna, she stated that Joanna was led astray by demonic forces: “You who were a lady have made yourself a servant, and a slave of that which is not having submitted yourself to falsehood, and to the devil…” St. Catherine also Joanna’s advisors made her see “falsehood for truth” because of her support of Clement VII.[8] While St. Catherine expressed concern for Joanna’s spiritual well being, her letter to Joanna was also a politically motivated criticism because St. Catherine and Joanna found themselves on opposing sides regarding the Great Schism. While Catherine Benincasa was a Dominican tertiary and was associated with the Catholic Church, she was also a huge advocate in favor of returning the seat of the Papacy to Rome following the Pope’s relocation to Avignon. Despite the expression of concern for Joanna’s soul, St. Catherine was also acting as an agent of Catholic Church in order to gain Joanna’s support [9] Catherine Benincasa also branded Joanna as a traitor to the cause of the Catholic Church. In her letter to Joanna written in trance, Catherine told Joanna to consider her temporal position invalid by supporting the Pope in Avignon: “And if I consider your condition as to those temporal and transitory goods that pass like the wind – you yourself have deprived yourself of them by right.” [10] What St. Catherine was referring to was the legal position of Naples in relation to the Papacy. While Joanna I had been established as the legitimate ruler of the Neapolitan Kingdom, she was also under the rule of the Pope in Rome. The Neapolitan throne had been under legal oversight of the Papacy “since the mid-thirteenth century, and the kingdom was a valuable source of revenue, prestige, and soldiers for the Church.” [11] With Joanna’s decision to side with the Avignon Pope, Clement VII, she was essentially withdrawing her moral as well as material support from Pope Urban VI. St. Catherine, an associate of the Catholic Church, was essentially branding Joanna not just a heretic, but a traitor to their cause in the midst of the Great Schism.


Preoccupied by the coronation of Louis at the hands of Antipope Clement VII, and by Louis' military power, Charles of Durazzo had Joanna killed on 27 July 1382 at the age of 56, in revenge for the assassination of Prince Andrew of Hungary. In his official statement, Charles claimed Joanna died of natural causes however other documentary sources unanimously claim she was murdered. Because of the nature of the remote and clandestine act, the accounts of the manner in which Joanna was slain vary. The two most authentic sources: a) Thomas of Niem, secretary to Urban VI states Joanna was strangled with a silken chord whilst kneeling in prayer in the private chapel at Muro castle by Hungarian soldiers; b) Marie, wife of Louis of Anjou states Joanna was killed by four men, presumably Hungarian, her hands and feet tied and then smothered between two feather mattresses.Since there were no witnesses present at the time of her murder, it is impossible to say definitively which of the reports is accurate. Another account states she was smothered with pillows.[12]

Her body was brought to Naples where for several days it was put on display to the public as proof of her death. As Urban had excommunicated Joanna, the queen could not be consecrated in church property and was therefore tossed into a deep well on the grounds of Santa Chiara Church. The Neapolitan kingdom was left to decades of recurring wars of succession. Louis of Anjou was able to retain the mainland counties of Provence and Forcalquier. James of Baux, the nephew of Philip II of Taranto, claimed the Principality of Achaea after her deposition in 1381.


In total, Joanna had three children from her first two marriages:

From her first marriage to Andrew, Duke of Calabria, Joanna had one son, Charles Martel (Naples, 25 December 1345 – Hungary aft. 10 May 1348).

From her second marriage to Louis, Prince of Taranto, Joanna had two daughters, Catherine and Frances. Both died in infancy; after the latter's death, Joanna had no more children.

Role in literature[edit]

  • Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a biography of Joanna in his series of biographies known as On Famous Women. Boccaccio devoted part of his biography of Joanna to dispelling any idea that Joanna was not the rightful ruler of Naples, which Boccaccio did by proclaiming that Joanna was a descendent of noble bloodline. Boccaccio claimed that Joanna I’s bloodline could be traced all the way back to “Dardanus, the founder of Troy, whose father the ancients said was Jupiter." Boccaccio also definitively and unequivocally proclaimed Joanna to be the lawful ruler of Naples by discussing the manner in which she ascended the Neapolitan throne. Boccaccio mentioned in his biography of Joanna that she rightfully inherited the kingdom from her grandfather because Joanna’s father had died in his youth. In addition to demonstrating for his readers that Joanna was the rightful Queen of Naples, Boccaccio revealed his personal support for Joanna amongst the chaos of her reign and the controversy surrounding it. In Boccaccio’s view, the question of whether a woman could reign or if there were other nobles who were more fit to rule was irrelevant because of Joanna. Boccaccio also discussed her capabilities and the aspects of her reign that made her a great ruler in his eyes. When Boccaccio summarized all of the areas and provinces that Joanna ruled over, he described Naples as having remarkable towns, fruitful fields, great nobles, and great wealth, but he also emphasized that “Joanna’s spirit [was] equal to ruling it” Additionally, Boccaccio claimed that the reason why Naples was a prosperous Kingdom was because it was no longer inhabited by the Hungarian Royal Family and their supporters that he disliked. Boccaccio claimed that Joanna “bravely attacked and cleaned out the bands of wicked men” who had occupied Naples.[13]
  • Alexandre Dumas, père wrote a romance, Joan of Naples, part of his eight-volume series Celebrated Crimes (1839–40).
  • A fictionalised account of her life can also be found in the novel Queen of the Night by Alan Savage.
  • László Passuth wrote a novel Napolyi Johanna (Joanna of Naples, 1968) about her life.

Titles and styles[edit]

Joanna's full style as queen was: Joanna, by the Grace of God, Queen of Jerusalem and of Sicily, Duchess of Apulia, Princess of Capua, and Countess of Provence, Forqualquier, and Piedmont.[14]



  1. ^ Ronald G. Musto, Medieval Naples: A Documentary History, 400-1400. A Documentary History of Naples. [1]. New York: Italica Press, 2012, pp. 234-98
  2. ^ Casteen, Elizabeth (3 June 2011). "Sex and Politics in Naples: The Regnant Queenship of Johanna I". Journal of The Historical Society 11 (2): 193. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5923.2011.00329.x. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Casteen, Elizabeth (3 June 2011). "Sex and Politics in Naples: The Regnant Queenship of Johanna I". Journal of The Historical Society 11 (2): 193. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5923.2011.00329.x. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  4. ^ Casteen, Elizabeth (3 June 2011). "Sex and Politics in Naples: The Regnant Queenship of Johanna I". Journal of The Historical Society 11 (2): 194. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5923.2011.00329.x. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  5. ^ Casteen, Elizabeth (3 June 2014). "Sex and Politics in Naples: The Regnant Queenship of Johanna I". Journal of The Historical Society 11 (2): 193. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5923.2011.00329.x. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  6. ^ Steele, Francesca. "The Beautiful Queen, Joanna I of Naples". Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  7. ^ Benincasa, Catherine. "Letters of Catherine Benincasa". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Benincasa, Catherine. "Letters of Catherine Benincasa". Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  9. ^ Benincasa, Catherine. "Letters of Catherine Benincasa". Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Benincasa, Catherine. "Letters of Catherine Benincasa". Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  11. ^ Casteen, Elizabeth (3 June 2011). "Sex and Politics in Naples: The Regnant Queenship of Johanna I". Journal of the Historical Society 11 (2): 187 Extra |pages= or |at= (help). doi:10.1111/j.1540-5923.2011.00329.x. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  12. ^ "Joanna". Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  13. ^ translated, Giovanni Boccaccio ;; introduction, with an; Guarino, notes, by Guido A. (2011). On famous women (2nd ed. ed.). New York: Italica Press. p. 248-249. ISBN 978-1-59910-266-5. 
  14. ^ Pearson's Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 1, Page 25


External links[edit]

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Queen of Naples
with Louis I (1352–1362)
Succeeded by
Charles III
Countess of Provence and Forcalquier
with Louis I (1352–1362)
Succeeded by
Louis II
Preceded by
Philip III
Princess of Achaea
Succeeded by