La Loca?

“Doña Juana de Castilla toured these streets in August 1496. After 17 days in Laredo she sailed to Flanders.”

I find it hard to lift my face to the sun, for I know not what awaits me.  These narrow streets provide comfort only from the searing heat.

I am followed everywhere, my very thoughts are reported back to my mother.  How many times have we fought?  I no longer remember an end to our disagreements.  Why would she provide for my education so well if I were not to learn to think?

Instead she would subject me to the indignity and the pain of ‘la cuerda’* as I would question her devotion to the church.  What mother would subject her own child to the Inquisition?  I suffer it still.

The answer is before me clearly, though I resent it greatly.  I have no hope of queendom, my brother and sister are heirs before me.  My education serves only to marry Spain to another realm in order to strengthen our position in Europe.

Still I am tortured.  At sixteen, I am cast to the winds with a retinue designed to impress enemies rather than protect my interests.  In seventeen days we shall embark for Flanders where I shall see for the first time the object of my betrothal.  Felipe the handsome, they say, but will my eyes find him thus?

I know my role.  My marriage will strengthen ties between Spain and the Hapsburgs, lessening my parents’ fear of France.

“These six streets are the same as those of the 8th century citadel raised by King Alfonso I, facing the old villages of Laredo, to defend the coast from pirates.”

Never have I felt so forlorn.  My spirit has never descended to these murky waters of gloom I now see before me.  Laredo proffers to lift my spirits, I am welcomed by the fisherfolk with warmth and generosity.  I try to keep my attention upon the history of these streets and walls built almost eight hundred years before me.  Alfonso I, el Católico, so like my parents in his devotion to Rome, raised this citadel in the defence of our territory.

Tired of the pretence of gladness, I seek solace in the church of Santa María de la Asunción.  The naves are cooling to both body and spirit and the sacred silence allows me undisturbed contemplation.  I am asked if I would make my confession.  I refuse.  It raises brows and I’m sure my folly will be punished by my mother.

La iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción.  The church was built in several stages dating from the XIII century.

My meditation aided the restoration of my equilibrium and I now prepare for the waters of the Bay of Biscay, with more mastery over my composure.


I cannot overly express my joy.  I have met with such good fortune.   Having been blessed with a calm passage, I spent much time in the air and feared that I would arrive with the look of the fisherfolk that I left behind.  My fears were but a vanity.   Felipe lives up to his name and I condescend to his obvious affection and attraction to me.


I have had news of the worst kind from Spain.  My sister and brother have succumbed to illness that has plagued their families.  We have had the misfortune of four funerals.  There is a cloud over me that I cannot shake, and cannot find the strength to attend to my personal affairs.  There is no pleasure in food and my sleep is constantly disturbed by my distress.  Felipe does not condescend me with his presence at night and I am obsessed by thoughts of his infidelity.


Since it has become known that I am now heir of Castille and Aragon, I have enjoyed the return of my husband’s affections.  I am again with child** and he can barely hide his ambitions for the future.  But it is I who shall be queen and he but my consort.  I will not surrender my sovereignty to his vanity.  This news has brought about a resolve which has lifted me out of my melancholy.  We will travel to Spain to receive the fealty of the Castillian court.


I cannot confess to any feeling of loss at the death of my mother.  Her absence rests my mind more peaceably.   My reign has been assured, with my father acting as regent in my absence.  However, I am sure that he will not be pleased with only a position of proxy and we will need to embark the shores of Spain once again to ensure the consolidation of power.  Felipe is of a similar mind in this, though I suspect his own ambitions over mine.


It is decided, we are to leave for Spain during this year of 1505.  My father’s presumptions to his superior position have left my own more precarious.  He has failed to acknowledge Felipe as king and places himself instead upon the coins of Spain.  It is too much for my husband’s own pretensions; he has subsequently issued coins in the name of Felipe and Juana to rival that of my father’s issue of Ferdinand and Juana.  I feel like a pawn in their games.  I pray for quick passage that I might put an end to their schemes.


Our fate was doomed, our fleet demolished by the tempest that awaited and our own ship run aground on English soil.  Yet there is yet some salvation, for I have not seen my sister, Catalina, for ten years.  In London, we are now guests of Henry VIII and my sister,  Katherine of Aragon, as she is known to their people.  I am gratified that she is received so well by them, for indeed it appears that they do love her.  My stay is too short and I am heartbroken at the brevity of our meeting, but we must toward A Coruña go, to petition the court in Felipe’s favour.  I am optimistic of success as my father’s remarriage has not proved popular.


I am most astonished and suspect some plot against me, though I cannot know possibly its nature.  My father agreed to relinquish his reign and is to leave Castille with a stipend from the court.   I cannot believe his condescension towards us.  He would not give up his position so soon.  He is either ill or engaging in some conspiracy to deny my inheritance.   Yet it is but I and Felipe who are recognised as King and Queen of Spain, I am unable to conceive of such fortune.


I have never before felt such a fire in my belly as is stoked by the infidelities of my husband.  Though he professes undying admiration and devotion, his eye wanders and he does not so oft come to my bed.  I confess to causing embarrassment to the court, for I am unable to control my temper or keep my mind to itself.  We have had such terrible arguments and I feel that I am going mad.  My jealousy supersedes all other enjoyment of life or the blessing of yet another life within me.  I fear that my outbursts only encourage his excuses and he punishes me by flaunting another conquest beneath his sheets.  I despair.  I must go, for my father has summoned Felipe.  They profess to have such dislike, but spend time together like they were friends, I must know what they are about.


I am victim of a most cruel device.  My father has acted on reports of my melancholy after the death of my siblings, and the quarrels I have with Felipe.  Having witnessed first hand my temper and in being told of my suspicions of conspiracy, my father has declared me mad and incited Felipe to act against me.  To Felipe alone fealty is now given and I am divorced from the effects I deigned to provide to the people of Castille and Aragon.  What sorrow and anger I feel at such betrayal.  How is one to prove one’s sanity at the hands of all the malicious actions that assault my senses?


I have no hope of declaring sanity, for all is lost.  Felipe has suffered the most dreadful of plagues and I cannot suffer so deep a loss.  I battle with the court the right to keep my husband close, for I cannot bear this separation.  Yet my father torments me further, declaring I am more mad than before and is now keeping me prisoner in my own kingdom.  How will I ever endure this indignity?  I have hope only in my dear children who will help to restore our claim over his own.  They will surely save us from this discomfiture?



*La cuerda was a form of torture where the victim was stripped naked, and hung by from the wrists, sometimes accompanied by weights to the feet.  It led to disfigurement and death in many cases.  I am unsure of the consequence to Juana, but there is a reference in letters that suggest she was subject to this treatment due to her Lutherian sympathies.

**Juana bore six children who all gained positions of power during their lifetime.

Author notes:

I based this story on the photograph I took of this artist’s impression of Juana I de Castilla on an old doorway in the old town of Laredo.  I found myself lost in research and felt the desire to tell her story in her own words as it were.  The style was inspired by letters conveyed in Jane Austen novels (sorry – the eras don’t match and I have no idea how educated early 16th Century Spanish nobility would have narrated their story).   I’ve tried to stay true to what is common knowledge and also depict a little of the controversy surrounding the assertion that she was indeed mad.  Her story does not have a happy ending.  After her father’s death, her son kept his mother incarcerated until her death, he becoming the next ruler.



Recently we rode out on Easter Sunday to Covadonga in Asturias where Alfonso I (referred to above) established a shrine which is still well-attended as you can see from the following picture.


During the eighth century, the Arabs invaded Andalus, (the name of Spain when ruled by the Visigoths).  Early resistance was unsuccessful, and what remained of the Spanish Visigoths retreated to the north and occupied the caves there.  It is believed that one Spanish ruler, Pelayo met a hermit in the caves of Covadonga who had hidden a statue of the Virgin Mary.  Pelayo believed that the success of his next battle, the first to thwart the Moors, was due to his prayers to the figure symbolised by the statue.  Later, Alfonso I, continuing the Spanish resistance, created a shrine in thanks to la Señora de Covadonga.  The buildings may look more modern to you, as they were destroyed in a fire during the eighteenth century, and later rebuilt.

Rough translation: “Here on Mount Auseva is the immemorial Virgin who renewed Christianity with the great victory of Pelayo and his followers against the enemies of the cross. Years 718-722”

In addition to the former coincidence, a neighbour at Snail Cabin encouraged us to attend a motorcycle meet in Castilla y Leon during February.  It was held in the same town where Juana was incarcerated.  She was held at the Real Monasterio de Santa Clara in the town of Tordesillas where the Motauros was held.

Emilio Zamora performing at the Motauros


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