Juana the Mad by Lynn Cullen

Thank you for inviting me to guest post today.  I’m delighted to discuss your question:  what led me to write about Juana the Mad?
The same lurid story about Mad Queen Juana that has fascinated people for 500 years attracted me to writing a contemporary novel about it.  The legend has all the juice necessary for a novel:  Juana, the most intelligent and beautiful daughter of the monarchs who sent Columbus on his voyages of discovery, fell so deeply in love with her husband that she went mad with possessiveness.  You see, her husband, who was so gorgeous that he was commonly called Philip the Handsome, couldn’t remain true to her.   His infidelity drove her insane, making her dangerous not just to his mistresses, but to herself.  When he died, she refused to bury his body, but instead traveled with it over the Spanish countryside.  Each night she would open the coffin, just to be sure that she possessed him at last.  She was captured by her father and locked away in a palace in Tordesillas, Spain, where for 46 years she pined away for her beloved Philip.
Juana de Castile – Was she mad?
What a great story!  Europe and Central and South America have eaten it up since 1507.  Yet, in researching for a novel, I found that the real story behind Juana’s “madness” to be more satisfying.  In my mind, the true story about Juana of Castile is much more about the difficulty of keeping together a marriage than about any sort of mental instability.  Like her parents, Juana and Philip experienced some of the same problems we struggle with in our contemporary marriages.  Kings and queens have emotions, too.  It’s just that their marital problems could result in major shifts in world history, even as they felt private heartache.
From my research, I saw Juana and Philip (or Philippe, as he would have been called in his native French,) as a typical young couple when they were first married.  Theirs was an arranged marriage. They were both around sixteen at the time, and like many teenager couples, their love had a major lust component to it.  The minute Philip first saw her, he insisted on marrying her right then and there so that he could hustle her off to bed.  (I’m not making this up!)  I envisioned them as having a great marriage those first few years, mostly based on sex--Juana wouldn’t have been the first woman to have confused sexual desire for love.
Philip the Handsome – Love vs. lust
But after the children came, there was a cooling off period.  Philip takes mistresses.  Juana becomes focused on her children.   It seemed to me that while Juana grew up, Philip did not--and a man who refuses to mature is not a pretty creature, as I try to portray in REIGN OF MADNESS.   Only a spoiled boy could treat his wife the way Philip treated Juana.   Along with other historians, I argue that the legend of Juana’s madness originated in the mind of this spoiled brat—he had a chance of taking over the crowns that Juana was to inherit if he could prove her unfit to rule.   The depth of Philip’s self-adoration is revealed by the story that he cooked up to undermine her:  She was so jealous of his lovers that she went mad.
An examination of the marriage of Juana’s parents, the Spanish monarchs Isabel and Fernando, provided another strong storyline in REIGN OF MADNESS.   If you go to Spain today, you will still find the yoke and the arrows, the symbols of this power couple, as well as their motto which essentially means, “We are equal,” plastered all over the walls and ceiling of the palaces, monasteries, and hospitals built during their reign.  They were the Bradgelina of their time.  All of Europe marveled at their strength and popularity.  Yet, in real life, they were not equal at all.  Legally, Isabel had much more power than Fernando.  Mentally, she was much the sharper of the two as well.
Wedding portrait of Isabel and Fernando—“We are equal”
  I wondered how Fernando tolerated being the weaker part of this famous marriage.  As in modern marriages when there is an imbalance of power, would the lesser partner have acted out in some way?  It turns out that, yes, Fernando did.  He dug at Isabel in the only area in which she was powerless: his sexual conduct.  He had mistresses galore, resulting in five known illegitimate children.  And like many a wife before or since, it completely infuriated Isabel even as she had to put on a happy face.
And so while the tale of Juana’s madness has titillated for centuries, I find that the real story of these failed royal marriages, and how these women learned to cope with them, gives us much more to think about.  I hope you will enjoy reading about them in REIGN OF MADNESS.