Juana La Beltraneja

Published on 25 January 2023 at 00:27

La Beltraneja 

Juana La Beltraneja was born on Feburary 21st 1462 to Joan of Portugal, current queen consort of Castile. Right away it was questioned who her father was because of her mothers reputation. Beltraneja means daughter of Beltran rather than the father recorded, King Enrique of Castile. Nevertheless, she went on to marry the king of Portugal and fight in the Castilian war of succession against Isabella I to try and gain her place as Queen Regnant of Castile. 

Quick note 

This story overlaps a lot with both Isabellas so for my more context you can see the post before or after this one. 

Also many people in this story use more than one name because of anglicization so here's a running list of names in case you want to look them up yourself: 

Juana La Beltraeja - Joanna the bastard 

Enrique IV "El Impotente" of Castile - Henry IV "the impotent" of Castile 

Juan II - John II

Setting the stage  

Juana's father was married once before to a women named Blanche of Navarre. After almost a decade of marriage it was clear the two would never conceive a child. Blanche would publicly say that it was because her and Enrique had never consummated their marriage and he had never even tried to be intimate with her. This lead him to receive the nickname "El Impotente" which people called him openly. Now most rulers in the middle ages would not have tolerated something like this so it was weird to me that I never came across anything saying he punished anyone for these name. My guess, he only had his father Juan II as an example of what a king was supposed to act like and his father was pretty much the living embodiment of a human door mat. 

His father, Juan II of Castile, was not a very powerful king and relied solely on his advisors. Enrique's inability to have kids sent Juan's advisor into a panic about the succession of Castile. They decided that Juan would need to have another much younger son to take over after Enrique. The problem was, Juan's wife Maria was past the age she could have anymore children. His advisor  solved this problem by poising Maria to death and getting Juan a new wife Isabella of Portugal (see previous post). 

This may have given Enrique the push he needed to find his own way of replacing his wife and having an heir. He took Blanche to divorce court on the grounds that they had never consummated the marriage and Blanche had bewitched his penis causing him to be unable to be intimate with her. He got testimony from local prostitutes stating he had been with them before. Blanche had to go through an "examination of her maidenhood" which meant a bunch of court people looking at her vagina to see if her hymen was still attached and it was. Blanche was sent on her way. Shortly after his father's death, Enrique remarried Joan of Portugal. (His first cousin, barf, also his second cousin, incest) 

Joan, The Queen 

Joan was 16 when she married the 30 year old Enrique and was immediately the scandal of court. She took near total control of her husband and began to run the court the way she felt fit. Again, Enrique was not a strong king. We're not looking at a situation where the king rules with an iron fist and people fall in line, it's more like everyone knows they can push him around and he won't fight back. So for the most part, Joan and the Nobles were ruling the country more than Enrique. 

Joan wore low cut dresses and liked to flirt. Her court was a nonstop party and she didn't seem to care much about how rumors ours flew all over the country about her. With her very flirtatious and loving personality she was married to the man call "El Impotente" so she did what anyone would do and she took a lover named Beltran De la Cueva. This was all fine and well, until she fell pregnant with a little girl she named Juana. 

Juana, On the Scene 

Juana was born on February 21st, 1462 and was recognized by her father as the Princess of Asturias, meaning she was next in line to inherit the throne. Enrique demanded that the nobles swear their allegiance to his daughter, who would one day be the Queen Regnant of Castile. Most nobles agreed but it seemed like they must have had their fingers crossed because they did not believe for even a minute that Juana was really his daughter. It had taken 7 years for Joan to get pregnant, everyone knew that Enrique couldn't have sex, and everyone knew that Joan had a lover so it seemed impossible that the girl was his. 

This led to Juana being dubbed Juana "La Beltraneja" meaning daughter of Beltran. To this day if you look up Juana she is called simply "The Bastard." There's no way to prove if she was or wasn't really Enrique's at this point but I'm of the personal belief that she wasn't. 

So here is our girl Juana with all of this scandal and gossip surrounding her and she's literally an infant. 

Heir, or not? 

By the time Juana is two people are really fed up with Enrique being such a crappy king. He has such a weak will and his father was the exact same way, so they have not had a strong ruler in decades. The country is drowning in debts and people are not happy. Maybe if Enrique was a better king Juana would have been more accepted but at this point there seemed to be a much better option at hand. 

Remember how Juan had remarried with the hope of having a much younger son? Well he did. Juan and Isabella had a daughter named Isabella and a son name Alphonso. They were both incredibly intelligent and already seemed like they would be better rulers than Enrique as teenagers. 

In 1464 the nobles had had enough they demanded that Juana be replaced as heir by Alphonso. Enrique, being who he was, didn't know how to fight the nobles on this so he relented and named Alphonso the new Prince of Asturias on the condition that he would one day marry Juana and they would rule together. Let's all take a moment to collectively gag because that's her uncle. Even if Enrique wasn't her bio-dad they were still closely related because incest absolutely abounds in royalty. 

This decision to cast off their daughter enraged Joan. I'm not sure if she ran off or if she threw a fit big enough to get Enrique to send her away but one way or another she left court to never return after this event. 

We can all agree now that Enrique is not a cool dude. A year or two later he goes back on his word and decides the Juana is once again his heir and he has no need for those stupid half-siblings who he hates. 

King, or not? 

Since no one in this story has any chill of course Enrique's "backsys" plan didn't go over well and led to what was called the Farce of Avila. Basically, what happened was a bunch of nobles got together and built a big stage and put up an effigy (basically like a wooden statue or a scarecrow type deal) of Enrique complete with his clothes, crown, and scepter. Reading this it seems like such a funny moment, like it was just supposed to be something to tick off Enrique but I think it was actually something that was taken very serious. They all took mass, then proceeded up to the stage and read all the charges against Enrique, mainly not being the father of Juana and trying to make her the heir. They took away the crown and scepter and gave it all to Alphonso. Then they kicked the effigy over and declared preteen Alphonso the new king of Castile. 

Just to catch us up, Juana is still running around, a toddler, and an entire civil war is now ripping through Castile. Originally the fighting had been about if Juana would be next but now there is an entire faction of the country claiming that Enrique was no longer king at all. For the next three years there was essentially two kings of Castile. Alphonso was giving away lands and favors as if king while Enrique held onto what power he could. 

To add to everything Enrique, in his infinite wisdom, officially divorced Joan which made Juana kind of double illegitimate. 

In 1474 Alphonso abruptly died (not confirmed but probably poison). Now his supporters turned to Isabella (Enrique's other half-sibling) and asked her to take up as the new queen. 

Enter her biggest rival 

Isabella had seen how much war had torn the country apart and she knew that there needed to be peace quickly if there was going to be anything salvageable left for her to rule someday. So, she turned Alphonso's supporters down. She announced that so long as Enrique was alive he was the only king. 

Enrique made Isabella the heir and Juana would come after her. Then it was a question of who would Isabella marry (don't get me wrong, this had been a question since the day she born she was a medieval princess after all and had already had several engagements). The one most important to this story is Alphonso V of Portugal who really wanted to marry the future queen of Castile and was offering a lot of money to Enrique to let him marry her.

I'll go into a lot more detail on the whole thing when Isabella gets her own post but essentially Isabella knew that Enrique sucked and Alphonso V was 20 years older than her and he was the best option Enrique was gonna give her so she decided to sneak off and marry her pick, Ferdinand of Aragon. 

Catching up with our girl 

There's not a lot of information about what was going on with Juana personally at any point in her life which I really hate so we'll have to do a lot of inferring based on the information we have. From the time she was 3-8 years old she lived with the Mendoza family. At this point it wasn't super trendy to educate women well but Juana was so high in rank I imagine she must have been taught at least the basics. We know for certain she could read and write so it's safe to say she studied language, probably also religion, sewing, dancing, "lady things," and some sort of politics given that she was being raised to be the Queen. 

In 1470 (at 8 years old) she was married by proxy to brother of King Louis XI of France, Charles Duke of Guienne. She was then moved into the household of Juan, Marques de Villena who seemed to have a few children around Juana's age so hopefully she got to have some semblance of a childhood at least for a few years with her marriage squared away. However, Charles died in 1472 and left Juana a widow. 

The Marques fully backed Juana as the next heir and started scrambling to find a strong husband who would help her get the crown when Enrique eventually died. I've seen a lot of speculation about Juana not wanting the crown but I disagree. The crown was her birth right, she was chosen by God to be there and to lead these people. Also based on her life later and how she behaved I believe she absolutely wanted to be the queen. Several men were brought around that would strengthen her authority but none of them would really make her on a personal level.

To complicate things more Enrique died in December of 1474 and Isabella rushed in and was crowned before his body was even cold. She declared herself the sole ruler of Castile and Ferdinand the consort. 

In may of 1475 Alphonso V of Portugal in invaded Castile and married Juana. Remember the guy who really wanted to marry Isabella? That guy?  He wanted to be king of Portugal and Castile. This did make Juana Queen of Portugal at 13 years old. She personally sent out letters to major cities in Castile explaining why she should be the queen (another indicator she did want this) but didn't find much support. 

Joan was a huge supporter of her daughter and tried to pull any political strings she had left but, left in disgrace their wasn't much she could do. Sadly she passed away in June of 1475. 

Side note: In the mean time, Joan had taken a lover and given birth to two illegitimate children during all of this. I imagine that given the reputation Juana has had her entire life, she did not approve of that whole situation. 


Ferdinand and Alphonso went to war and it came to a head on March 1st, 1476 at Toro. Now to be totally honest with you, I don't totally understand battle strategy or how things go down in war so we're skimming over things a lot but basically the battle ended in a draw and neither side knew who won. But, Ferdinand was better with optics that Alphonso. He started spreading word that Castile had just wiped the floor with Portugal and it was a knock down victory. This led to a lot of people leaving Juana's side. 

In 1478 Isabella and Ferdinand did something Juana and Alphonso just couldn't compete with. They had a son, thus proving they could continue on the dynasty. 

Juana's marriage was annulled on the insistance of Isabella (who the pope really liked) based on them being too closely related.. (Lets keep in mind Isabella and Ferdinand are also related). 

They gave Juana a choice, she could either go into a nunnery and take the vows or she could wait and marry their son when he was old enough, if he wanted that. Alphonso died very soon after 


Juana was totally defeated. There was no path forward that she would find happiness. The best case scenario she could wait 15 years to be married to the sun of the two people who had ruined her life and stolen her inheritance. She had lost two husbands, both her parents, her titles, and her dreams. She chose to go into the nunnery. Isabella was there for her ceremony and praised her good decision making. 

She was eventually moved to Saint George's Castle where she was ordered by Isabella to do daily compulsory prayers. A glimmer of hope arrived for her in 1482 when the nephew of King Louis XI proposed to her and offered to help her take back her crown. Isabella had done some things to tick of France and they wanted to get back at her. Sadly for our girl, he died almost immediately after. She watched on the sideline and Isabella had 6 children, ruled her kingdom, started the age of exploration, made an unbelievable fortune, and married all her children into powerful alliances. Including Portugal, Isabella's daughter (also named Isabella) was married to Juana's former husband's son. I can feel the rage and helplessness coming through the centuries of Juana absolutely boiling over this. 

Isabella's eldest two children died, meaning that the new heir was her third child (also named Juana which I'm sure also ticked her off unendingly) was the heir of Castile. Isabella died in 1504 leaving her daughter as the new queen. Her daughter, however, had some mental health concerns that the crappy men around her used to keep her from gaining more power. 

Very quickly after Isabella's death Ferdinand, wanting to gain full control over Castile but not being able to with his children around, proposed to Juana La Beltraneja in order to take the country back. You see there's only thing worse than being a displaced queen and that's having to be married to Ferdinand of Aragon and Juana rejected him. 

She never stopped thinking of herself as the rightful ruler and for the entitreity of the rest of her life she signed her name as Juana, the Queen. She passed away on April 12th, 1530 at the age of 68. 

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