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A Portuguese princess in the Castilian court – or how an exiled wife put horns on her hubby

Some time ago, I wrote about the misfortunes of Blanca of Navarra, a young woman who was to be betrayed by almost everyone who should have her back—including her hubby, Enrique IV of Castile.

Enrique, as depicted by a traveller to Castile

Now, as those of you who read about Blanca may remember, Enrique had their marriage annulled after 13 years, citing non-consummation as the reason. Why it hadn’t been consummated, well, there were of course those who blamed poor Blanca—but quite a few suspected the problem lay with Enrique himself.

Anyway, a medieval king had to marry and, preferably, sire an heir or two. In the case of Enrique IV, there was an heir should he fall over and die prior to the pitter-patter of small feet, namely his much younger half-brother, Alfonso. And should something happen to Alfonso, there was his half-sister, Isabel. Not that Enrique IV seems to have been brimming with goodwill towards these his siblings—to some extent understandable as these youngsters soon became pawns in a complicated play for power between Enrique and his disgruntled noblemen.

Back to Enrique’s marital issues. No sooner had he dispatched the humiliated Blanca back to Navarra (where life would treat her very, very badly) but he decided to reinforce Castile’s alliance with Portugal by marrying Juana of Portugal. I am guessing that there would be plenty of moments in Enrique’s future when he would regret his choice of bride, because Juana turned out to be quite the handful.

Juana was the posthumous daughter of King Duarte (or Edward) of Portugal. He, in turn, was the son of Joao I of Portugal and his wife, Philippa of Lancaster. Philippa’s marriage to Joao I was part of her father’s Iberian strategy. Daddy John of Gaunt had ambitions, principally in claiming a crown for himself—hence his marriage to Constanza of Castile, daughter to Peter I of Castile. While John would never wear a crown himself, many of his children would: his son Henry became Henry IV of England, his daughters Philippa and Catherine (or Catalina) became queens of Portugal and Castile respectively.

Joao I was an impressively well-educated kings, this despite being born illegitimate. His father, Pedro, is famous for his love affair with Ines de Castro, one of those very, very sad stories that yet again prove that love hurts—a lot—at times. Anyway: once Ines was dead—murdered, no less—Pedro found comfort in other arms, hence little Joao, who at the age of seven was inducted into the monastic military order of Aviz. Think Knights Templar, men who are trained to fight like warriors while at the same time adhering to a strict monastic life. Little Joao made the best of things and as Master of Aviz he had some serious clout in Portugal—clout that would propel him all the way to the throne when his half-brother Fernando died, leaving Portugal without a legitimate male heir.

Joao I and Philippa of Lancaster getting married

For Joao, the marriage to Philippa was not only a confirmation of his alliance with England against Castile and France. It was also a way to legitimise his own claim to the throne. A Plantagenet bride sort of compensated for his own illegitimacy, and together they would have many children, spectacularly well-educated and intelligent children who are known as the golden (or illustrious) generation.

A 19th c depiction of King Duarte authoring “The Loyal Counsellor”

Duarte was not only a king, he was also a poet and author of books on ethics and morals. One of his brothers was Henrique the Navigator, another brother, Pedro, was considered the most erudite prince around. Duarte’s sister, Isabel, was to marry Philip the Good of Burgundy, her future court brimming with learned men and culture.

We don’t really know how well-educated Juana was. I suspect that as the youngest daughter of a king struck down by the plague, she was initially left very much in the hands of servants. Her mother, Leonor, was busy  trying to maintain control over the new king, the six-year-old Afonso, but a year or so after Duarte’s death, Leonor was effectively side-lined, the regency taken over by the young king’s uncle. Leonor took her baby daughter and moved back to Castile, where Juana was to spend the coming years in a convent with her mother.

In 1445, Leonor died and Uncle Pedro had Juana brought back to Portugal. I imagine a little girl who likely did not speak Portuguese, who knew no one in this strange new place, trying to find her place. Maybe her older sister, Leonor, helped her, but this young princess wasn’t going to be around for long as in 1448 she was wed to the Holy Roman Emperor, Fredrik, leaving the glories of Portugal behind for the substantially harsher and less cultured court in Vienna. (Leonor’s assessment, not mine)

Enrique IV. Obviously a man who eschewed long hair…

In 1455, Juana’s life was yet again uprooted, this time when her brother Afonso, arranged for her marriage to Enrique IV of Castile. Like for most princesses in the 15th century, her marriage was a political matter and she had no say in anything beyond being expected to say “I do” at the wedding. She was sixteen. Enrique was thirty and had a lot of stuff to sort—like reigning in the nobles who effectively ruled Castile, somehow hindering the (rather dislikeable) ambitious Juan II of Aragon from expanding his influence into Castile, mediating between his greedy supporters and, preferably, present his realm with an heir.

The heir part was where Juana was expected to play a part. But it took seven years before Juana presented the people of Castile with a baby. A girl, named after her mother. Problem was, that there was a lot of murmuring regarding the baby’s paternity. Quite a few insisted there was no way Enrique had sired the little girl—there was a reason the man went under the nickname “the impotent”. Besides, Queen Juana had been seen enjoying the company of a certain Don Beltrán de la Cueva, the king’s closest counsellor, and soon enough the gossipers decided that this was the baby’s real father, thereby nicknaming the little princess La Beltraneja. Oh, yes, the people whispered, no doubt it was Don Beltrán who’d stepped in to compensate for the king’s…umm…inadequacies, thereby fathering the princess—and the unfortunate male babe Queen Joanna miscarried a year or so later.

This is where we all need to take a step back. Yes, there were rumours about Enrique’s incapacity in bed, there were rumours he preferred men, that his member was malformed. But. Major but. Many of those rumours spring into life around the birth of baby Juana, which, if one takes into consideration that many of the powerful Castilian nobles were hoping to see Enrique’s much younger brother Alfonso on the throne, makes it all sound like a well-executed smear campaign.

In fact, Enrique had the newborn girl proclaimed as Princess of Asturias, legitimate heir to the throne, which indicates he did believe the child was his.  But gossip, as we know, has a tendency to stick, which may be why Enrique had his wife forcibly removed from court and sent to live at Castle Alaejos under the beady eye of one of his most trusted counsellors, Bishop Fonseca. Alternatively, of course, he knew that the baby wasn’t his, but damned if he was going to admit it by proclaiming his half-brother his heir. At a distance of five hundred years, we will never know for sure who fathered baby Juana.

Juana of Portugal

Anyway: there was Juana, locked up in the back of beyond with a grumpy bishop. This she did not like—at all. If there was any truth in the story about her and Don Beltrán, maybe she missed her vigorous lover. Or, incensed at being accused of adultery while innocent, she decided she might as well live up to her reputation. The bishop wasn’t exactly a candidate for a romp in the bed—or so one hopes. Besides, there was a much more attractive option, namely the bishop’s nephew, Pedro de Castilla y Fonseca. This young man was of an age with the queen and was presently serving as her chief waiter and taster. To judge from his nickname, “el mozo”, I get the impression this Pedro was not hard on the eyes. As an added plus, he had royal blood flowing through his veins, his great-grandfather being Pedro I of Castile. (Which, IMO, is not necessarily a good thing as Pedro I comes across as severely unbalanced—and cruel, just ask Blanche of France!)

Now, a good, discarded medieval royal wife was expected to retire into a quiet existence and work on her needlework, something Juana showed little inclination to do. Instead she acted on her attraction to Pedro and hopped into bed with him. Much more fun to enjoy cuddles and sexy times with Pedro than to act with decorum, I suppose. Truth be told, I can’t help but cheer Juana along: she was not given much say in her life, but when the opportunity arose, she grabbed on to it and lived a little.

In 1468, Juana gave birth to twin sons,  thereby presenting everyone with irrefutable proof that she had the morals of a cat in heat. “Aha! Told you so,” people likely said. “Just goes to prove we’re right, doesn’t it? She’s been putting the horns on our impotent king for years, and that Princess of Asturias is no more princess than you or me.”

Obviously, Enrique couldn’t condone having a wife who cheated on him, so he initiated proceedings to divorce her. By then, he had already agreed to disinherit his little daughter by proclaiming his half-brother as heir (with the caveat that his half-brother Alfonso marry Enrique’s daughter, thereby ensuring she ended up a crowned queen).

Meanwhile, Juana somehow “escaped” her prison and went to live with distant relatives. I have no idea if she took her sons with her—I hope so—but some years later she’s in a convent, a humiliated, divorced ex-queen, and she would not have had her boys with her there.

Enrique IV died in 1474 and one year later, Juana followed him into the afterlife, all of thirty-six years old. Her two sons went on to have long lives, lives which included wives and children. Her daughter was not to be as fortunate—trueborn princess or not, she was obliged to live with the rumours regarding her paternity for the rest of her life. More of that, I think, in another post!

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