Joanna la Beltraneja

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Joanna of Castile
Joana, a Excelente Senhora - The Portuguese Genealogy (Genealogia dos Reis de Portugal).png
Queen consort of Portugal
Tenure 30 May 1475 – 28 August 1481
Spouse Afonso V of Portugal
House House of Trastámara
Father Disputed: Henry IV of Castile or Beltrán de la Cueva, 1st Duke of Alburquerque
Mother Joan of Portugal
Born 21 February 1462
Died 12 April 1530(1530-04-12) (aged 68)
Religion Roman Catholicism
Crown of Castile
Royal dynasties
House of Trastámara
Royal Coat of Arms of the Crown of Castile (15th Century).svg

Henry II
Children include
   John I
   Eleanor, Queen of Navarre
John I
Children include
   Henry III
   Ferdinand I of Aragon
Henry III
Children include
   John II
   Maria, Queen of Aragon
John II
Children include
   Henry IV
   Isabella I
   Alfonso, Prince of Asturias
Henry IV
   Joanna, Queen of Portugal
Isabella I with Ferdinand V
   Isabella, Queen of Portugal
   John, Prince of Asturias
   Joanna I, Queen of Castile
   Maria, Queen of Portugal
   Catherine, Queen of England
Joanna I
Children include
   Charles I
   Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor

Joanna la Beltraneja (21 February 1462 – 12 April 1530) was a claimant to the throne of Castile and queen of Portugal as the wife of her uncle, King Afonso V.


Henry IV of Castile married Joan of Portugal, the youngest sister of King Afonso V of Portugal, on May 21, 1455.[1] Seven years later, a daughter, Joanna, was born.

Henry had previously been married to Blanche of Navarre. After thirteen years, that marriage was annulled on the grounds that it had never been consummated.[2] This was attributed to a curse, which only affected the king's relationship with his wife; a number of prostitutes from Segovia testified that they had noticed no impairment.

The king had no other children and was rumoured to be impotent. Whether true or not, it was widely circulated by Henry's opponents that the little infanta was the child of Beltrán de La Cueva, a royal favorite at court.[1] They called her la Beltraneja, (a mocking reference to her supposed illegitimacy).

Her mother was banished to Bishop Fonseca's castle where she fell in love with Fonseca's nephew and became pregnant. Henry divorced her in 1468.

Heir to the throne[edit]

On 9 May 1462, Joanna was officially proclaimed heir to the throne of Castile and created Princess of Asturias. Henry had the nobles of Castile swear allegiance to her and promise that they would support her as monarch.

Many of the more prominent nobles, seeking to increase their own power, refused to recognize Joanna, and insisted that Henry name his younger half-brother, Alfonso, heir.[1] Armed conflict broke out and in 1464 the league of nobles forced Henry to repudiate Joanna and recognize Alfonso as his heir. Alfonso then became Prince of Asturias, a title traditionally held by the heir apparent. Henry agreed to the compromise with the stipulation that Alfonso someday marry Joanna, to ensure that they both would one day receive the crown.

In 1464, however, her father was forced by a rebellion to promise her in marriage to his half-brother, Infante Alfonso, her uncle, who was proclaimed her future spouse and co-monarch. In 1468, her half-uncle died and she was stripped of her succession-rights by the separation of her parents. Her half-aunt, Infanta Isabella, was placed before her, on condition that Isabella marry a man chosen out by the monarch, although Joanna was considered the heir after Isabella.

Joanna was kept hostage by the Mendoza family from 1465 to 1470, and by Juan Pacheco from 1470–1475. In 26 October 1470, she was engaged and then married by proxy to the Duke of Guienne, and again proclaimed as legitimate heir to the throne. The duke died in 1472. There were many marriage negotiations in order to marry her to someone who could defend her succession. After a few unsettled arrangements, which included French and Burgundian princes, Joanna was promised in marriage to her maternal uncle, King Afonso V of Portugal, who swore to defend her (and his own) rights to the crown of Castile.

When Henry died in 1474, she was recognized as monarch by some noble factions, while others recognized her half-aunt as Queen Isabella I of Castile initiating a four-year War of the Castilian Succession.

In addition to the King of Portugal, Joanna was supported by some of the high Castilian nobility and descendants of Portuguese families that settled in Castile after 1396: the Archbishop of Toledo (Alfonso Carrillo de Acuña); the mighty Marquis of Villena Diego López Pacheco; the Estúñiga family, with lands bordering Portugal; the Marquis of Cádiz (Rodrigo Ponce de León); and the Grandmaster of the Order of Calatrava (Rodrigo Téllez Girón). On the other hand, Isabella was supported by the Prince heir of Aragon, Ferdinand (whom she married), as well as by most of the Castilian nobility and clergy: the powerful Mendoza family; the Manrique de Lara family; the Duke of Medina Sidonia (Enrique Pérez de Guzmán); Beltrán de la Cueva; the Order of Santiago and the Order of Calatrava, except its Grandmaster.

Throne claimant[edit]

Main article: Battle of Toro

On 10 May 1475 Afonso V invaded Castile and married Joanna in Plasencia, 15 days later. Joanna and Alfonso held court at Toro, and she was considered a promising ruler by her courtiers, though too young. Joanna sent a letter to the cities in which she explained the will of her father that she should rule, and proposed that the cities vote for which succession they wished should be recognized.However, they found fewer supporters than expected and Ferdinand II of Aragon, Isabella I's husband, advanced against the Juanista army.

Both armies met at Toro (1 March 1476) and fought an indecisive battle:[3][4] Prince John of Portugal became master of the battlefield, after defeating the Castilian’s right wing and recovering the lost Portuguese Royal standard, but Afonso V was beaten by the left and centre of Ferdinand’s army, fleeing from the battlefield. The prestige of Juana and Afonso dissolved.

Spanish academic Vicente Palenzuela: "That is the battle of Toro. The Portuguese army had not been exactly defeated; however, the sensation was that D. Joanna’s cause had completely sunk. It made sense that for the Castilians Toro was considered as the divine retribution, the compensation desired by God to compensate the terrible disaster of Aljubarrota, still alive in the Castilian memory"[5]

After this, Afonso V tried to procure, without success, an alliance with Louis XI of France. In 1478, the marriage between Joan and Afonso was annulled by Pope Sixtus IV on account of their family relation. She was then forced to renounce her titles as Infanta of Castile, Queen regnant of Castile, and also as Queen consort of Portugal.

Later life[edit]

In 1479, the king of Portugal gave up on the pretension and signed a treaty with the Catholic Monarchs. Joanna was given the choice to marry the son of Isabella when he became an adult and if he then chose to consent, or to enter a convent. Joanna entered the convent Santa Clara in Coimbra, and the ceremony was witnessed by Isabella, who praised her decision. She was not incarcerated in the convent, and was eventually allowed to reside in the Castle of São Jorge in Lisbon. In 1482, King Francis of Navarre, nephew of Louis XI of France, proposed to her as a French warning to Castile, who threatened Roussilon, but he died soon after. At the death of Isabella in 1504, Ferdinand is alleged to have proposed to her to keep the throne from his son-in-law, but she refused.

Joanna signed her letters "La Reina", meaning "the Queen", until the day she died. She died in Lisbon, having survived her aunt Isabella I. Joanna's own claim to the throne passed to her cousin, Queen Isabella I's daughter Joanna, who was already monarch of Castile.

In fiction[edit]

A drama entitled "Juana la Beltraneja" has been published in Liceus El Portal de las Humanidades by the author Santiago Sevilla. Here the role of Juan Pacheco and Beltrán de la Cueva shows the pernicious influence of certain members of the nobility towards princess Joanna.

Spanish television series, Isabel, also features Joanna as the niece of Isabella I of Castile. Joanna is played by Carmen Sánchez


  1. ^ a b c Hunt, Jocelyn. Spain 1474–1598, p. 5, Routledge, 2013, ISBN 9781136759093
  2. ^ Testimonial of the divorce ruling between Prince Henry and the infanta Blanche, included in Collection of unedited documents on the history of Spain, vol. XL, pages. 444-450.
  3. ^ Irish historian John B. Bury: “After nine months, occupied with frontier raids and fruitless negotiations, the Castilian and Portuguese armies met at Toro…and fought an indecisive battle, for while Afonso was beaten and fled, his son john destroyed the forces opposed to him." in The Cambridge Medieval History, Macmillan, 1959, Volume 8, p.523.
  4. ^ Spanish historian Juan B. González: “(…) In the (…) battle of Toro, which although of uncertain outcome, Ferdinand skilfully was able to exploit for propaganda.” in España Estratégica, guerra y diplomacia en la história de España, Sílex ediciones, Madrid, 2007, p.222.
  5. ^ Vicente Á. Palenzuela- La guerra civil Castellana y el enfrentamiento con Portugal (1475-1479)




Joanna la Beltraneja
Born: 1462 Died: 1530
Portuguese royalty
Preceded by
Isabella of Coimbra
Queen consort of Portugal
30 May 1475 – 28 August 1481
Succeeded by
Eleanor of Viseu
Spanish royalty
Preceded by
Prince Henry
Princess of Asturias
Succeeded by
Infante Alfonso
Preceded by
Infanta Isabella
Princess of Asturias
Succeeded by
Infanta Isabella