Today, we’ll be spending time with a lady named Blanca. Some of you may groan. After all, medieval history is full of ladies called Blanca or Blanche. Among the more famous is the Blanca of Castile who went on to become Queen Blanche of France and mother to St Louis of France. Hers was a good life, albeit she had her share of loss. Then there is the very sad Blanche of France who was sent off as a bride to sunny Castile in the early 14th century. Did not end well…
Today’s protagonist was not destined for a happy life. Mind you, things started out quite alright, seeing as our Blanca was born the daughter of her mother and namesake, the soon-to-be Queen Blanca I of Navarra. Her father was Juan of Aragón, an ambitious prince who rather liked that he would soon be King Juan of Navarra, even if he himself would have told you he was destined for bigger things.
Blanca’s mother and father had one son and several daughters. When Blanca was still very young, she, her brother and one of her sisters, Leonor, were all recognised as heirs to Navarra—not equally so, mind you: brother Charles was the intended heir—Blanca and Leonor were merely fail-safes, should Charles die prematurely.
Now, a young princess like our Blanca had one very important duty to fulfil: to marry as it best served her kingdom. In this case, Blanca was married to Enrique, the future king of Castile. See: our protagonist was safely on her way to the ermine and silk, a future crown hovering tantalizingly over her head. Even better, Enrique was a handsome lad—tall, fair and well-built. A bit unfortunate that he’d broken his nose as a child, thereby marring his facial perfection, but all in all, he was not bad…(I must report that opinions vary on this: due to his badly healed nose some chroniclers felt he resembled a demented monkey…)
Blanca and Enrique were of an age when they were married in 1440. She was sixteen, he fifteen—old enough to get down to the business of populating their own nursery. But there were no babies, no pitter-patter of little feet. Truth be told, Enrique was not all that keen on his wife. The marriage to Blanca was part of an alliance drawn up by the Duke of Trujillo, the domineering favourite of the weak king of Castile, and Enrique resented being a pawn to the duke’s ambitions.
In 1454, Enrique’s dear Papa died. Among the first things the newly crowned Enrique IV did was write to the pope and request an annulment of his marriage to Blanca. Why? Because a magic spell made it impossible for him to consummate the marriage. Who had cast this spell, we don’t know. Neither do we know what Blanca thought of all this, but she was subjected to a humiliating inspection that verified that yes, she was still virgo intacta, and so the Pope could in good conscience grant Enrique’s annulment. Enrique’s contemporaries snickered at the notion of a spell: instead, consensus was that the Castilian king was impotent.
Enrique hastened off to marry Juana, a Portuguese princess. The new king of Castile felt an alliance with Portugal was much more valuable than one with itty-bitty Navarra. While he never claimed he’d been hexed in his second marriage, there were clearly some intimate problems in this relationship as well. It took six years before Juana presented her husband with a daughter, but “everyone” knew the girl had been fathered by a certain Beltrán de la Cueva, hence the child was known as Juana la Beltraneja. Enrique’s second wife was banished, fell in love with a bishop’s nephew and gave her lover two children, but none of this has ANY bearing on Blanca’s life, so I must simply rein myself in and return to today’s protagonist.
It must have been a humiliating ride back home for Blanca. Now around thirty, she was a repudiated wife, and this whole witchcraft thing did her no good. After all, what if there was some truth to Enrique’s claim? If yes, had Blanca done the actual spelling? Her family did not exactly receive her home with open arms.
Blanca’s family was no longer a happy unit. Her mother had died in 1441, and her father had remarried. Blanca’s stepmother, Juana Enriquez, was as ambitious as her husband and eagerly supported Juan when he set out to deprive his son by his first wife, Charles, of his inheritance. After all, Juana had to look out for her own son, Fernando (who would grow up to be one half of that very impressive double-act known as Los Reyes Católicos—Their Most Catholic Majesties, Isabel & Fernando)
Anyway: the father-son relationship soured rapidly. The Navarrese sided with Charles, Blanca’s sister Leonor sided with her father, and when Blanca hemmed and hawed, saying something along the line that surely it was Charles who stood to inherit Navarra, not her young half-brothers, she quickly found herself imprisoned by her irate father. Juan decided that the best way to handle Blanca was to marry her off somewhere. Blanca refused. This did not endear her at all to dear Papá.
In 1462, Charles died, leaving no heirs.
“Yes!” said Juan, pumping his fist in the air.
“Hang on,” said the Navarrese, “if Charles is dead, then it follows Blanca is now our rightful queen.”
“What???” Juan likely went an unbecoming shade of puce.
There followed an armed conflict—a rebellion, according to Juan, a fight to maintain their independence according to the Navarra rebels, loudly proclaiming they had a new queen, Blanca II. Said queen was hastily sent off to stay with her sister Leonor. Some time later, Blanca was opportunely dead, having been poisoned on the instructions of her father and sister.
All in all, a sad life, don’t you think? A life with nothing left to show for it, somehow. Along the way, Blanca comes across as very alone. One hopes she had some sort of relationship with her brother as her husband, her sister, her father, seem to have disliked her intensely. Who knows? Maybe she was a very unlikeable person. Or maybe those that should have been there for her – like her father – considered her expendable. This rather un-endearing trait Juan passed on to his son, Fernando, who in the fullness of time would treat one of his daughters, Juana, just as shoddily as his father treated Blanca.
8 thoughts on “Married, spurned, poisoned – not a life to aspire to”
I often think it would have been better to be the daughter of very minor knights back than rather than nobles or royalty. The likelihood of a sad life and untimely demise seems to be rather frequent for those born to the purple, doesn’t it? Except for those who were themselves causing unlikely demises for others, of course.
I agree. A happy life in relatively well-to-do obscurity, thank you very much.
I don’t often comment, but I want you to know how much I have always enjoyed reading your posts..l.and enjoyed your books too! Thanks for the hard work!
Thank you for taking the time to leave such a lovely comment!
Interesting post. Concise and to the point.
Rumour has it that her mother Blanca (I) had been poisoned too by her husband, who had fallen in love with the much younger and hyper-ambitious daughter of the Admiral of Castile, his cousin, Juana Enríquez. And she was a woman whom nobody would dare to mess around. When Juan and Juana were married and became King and Queen of Aragón in their own right, those who dare to even raise an eyebrow at the “lower” (which of course, was not, but still) birth of Juana, had the tendency to fall drop death mysteriously.
However, Juana (II)’s sister, Leonor (I) outmanoeuvred both her father and stepmother, she got to be the Queen of Navarre, a direct ancestor of Henry III, King of Navarre, later Henry IV, King of France and Navarre (French Navarre, mind you, Spanish Navarre having been conquered by Leonor’s half-brother, Ferdinand) and the first Bourbon King of France.
This little known drama played in Navarre for centuries and it deserves much more attention than what is given.
Anyway, excellent post.
Thank you for stopping by & your kind comment – and yes Navarra and its history deserve way more attention. It seems always to live in the shadow of Castile and Aragon. I was a bit confused though: Leonor whom you refer to was Blanca’s sister, not Juana’s right?
Yes, Blanca’s sister, who became Queen Regnant of Navarre in 1464 and who had married the no less ambitious Gaston IV, Comte de Foix et de Bigorre, etc. Their granddaughter (Catalina), inherited her brother Francisco I “Phoebus,” King of Navarre, Comte de Foix, etc. This Catalina married Jean, sire d’Albret (who became King of Navarre Juan II, jure uxoris). At the same time, both Catalina and Juan, lost the Spanish Navarre to Ferdinand (Fernando), King of Aragón and, jure uxoris, Castile (husband of Isabel La Católica). So, they only reigned over what is known as French Navarre. Juan II (d’Albret) and Catalina (de Foix) were parents of Henri II, Roi de Navarre, who whas the maternal grandfather of Henri III, Roi de Navarre, later Henry IV, King of France and Navarre and first of the House of Bourbon.
Thank you, José.
And so, through the future Henri IV, Charles the Bad at last realised his own ambitions to become King of France. It took a couple of generations, though 🙂