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Juana the Mad: Sovereignty and Dynasty in Renaissance Europe (The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science) [Hardcover]

Bethany Aram
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Book Description

20 Jan 2005 The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science (Book 123)

Born to Isabel and Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarchs whose marriage united the realms of Castile and Aragon, Juana "the Mad" (1479–1555) is one of the most infamous but least studied monarchs of the Renaissance. Conventional accounts of Juana portray her as a sullen woman prone to depression, a jealous wife insanely in love with her husband, and an incompetent queen who was deemed by her father, husband, and son, unable to govern herself much less her kingdoms.

But was Juana truly mad or the victim of manipulative family members who desired to rule in her stead? Drawing upon recent scholarship and years of archival research, author Bethany Aram offers a new vision of Juana's life. After the deaths of three relatives directly in line for the throne, Juana became heir to her parents' realms. As queen, Juana worked tirelessly to assure the succession of her son Charles V to the throne and thereby to establish the Habsburg dynasty in the kingdoms that others managed to govern in her name.

In this part biography, part study of royal authority, Aram rightly asserts that Juana was more complicated than her contemporaries and biographers have portrayed her. Not the frail and unstable woman usually depicted, Juana employed pious practices to defend her own interests as well as those of her children. She emerges as a woman of immense importance in Spanish and European history.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (20 Jan 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801880726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801880728
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 16 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,099,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Juana the Mad sheds light on attitudes toward female rulers and the Habsburg accession to power in the Spanish kingdoms, and can tell us a great deal about cultural attitudes toward madness in the sixteenth century. Aram's work provides a theoretically sophisticated new look at the queen, one that challenges long-accepted 'truths' about Juana. Aram's material is excellent—well presented, effectively and logically organized, detailed and compelling. The implications of her findings are far-reaching for both Spanish and European historians.

(Magdalena S. Sánchez, Gettysburg College)

A welcome new perspective on the important role of a proprietary queen... We cannot but agree with Aram's assertion that 'madness, like gender, proved a flexible concept in the realm of sovereignty'.

(Times Literary Supplement)

This book gives us a fresh look at the poor queen, nicely illustrated with fresh archival records.

(Thomas Dandelet Renaissance Quarterly)

This is a very good first book: it is thoroughly researched, well written, and full of new information and insights into the poorly understood life of one of Castile's most unfortunate queens.

(Sara T. Nalle Sixteenth Century Journal)

The amount of scholarly work that Mrs. Aram has expended is amazing and exciting to read.

(Bibliotheque d'Humanisme et Renaissance)

An enlightening and indispensable book... For all who are interested in the themes of monarchical identity and European court customs, this study will prove a fascinating and rewarding work.

(William H. Clamurro Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching)

About the Author

Bethany Aram is professor of Spanish and European history at the Institute of International Studies, Seville, Spain.


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tough Love 18 Sep 2007
Format:Hardcover
It is impossible to read this slim yet incisive volume by B. Aram without admiration for her skills as a historian. Admiration and relief! Aram dispenses with the sentimental approach common to Juana's biographers in this sober account of the Queen's life. Aram also manages to dispel any illusion that Juana was madly, hopelessly in love with Philip, the Handsome. Instead she interprets the complex system of codes, symbols, and courtly practices that governed Juana in matters personal and political, and makes known the multiple reasons why, ultimately, the life of the woman known as the "mad queen" turned out as it did.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars detailed research text with loads of references 25 July 2011
By lauren sylvan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
After watching `Mad Love' I decided to investigate this queen who was the bridge between Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Of the three books I ordered, so far this one has impressed me the most. For one thing, Bethany Aram has done her research: one third of the book's pages are devoted to an appendix which details the letters, financial accounts, and various sources she tracked down in her effort to understand what went on with Juana. She was painstakingly thorough, `following the money'.

Juana interested me because I have experience with schizophrenic relatives (four) and I wanted to see if the record showed her behaving in any of the ways that I was familiar with. I was particularly curious as to whether she became `mad' after the birth of either of her sons, a little-known trigger for schizophrenia in women.

What I found was a woman who was pretty cagey about managing her dynastic aims, although raised to be so self-effacing that her own interests were continually submerged. But when it came to her dynasty, Juana had a will of steel.

Reading this work gave me an understanding of the moves and norms of European royalty. I felt like someone who has watched a chess game, knowing the basic moves but not understanding the strategy, who thinks that skilled players are simply moving the pieces randomly until some crisis develops. After reading Juana, I saw that in the language of pomp and power every move has significance and is related to future moves and gambits.

For instance: One of the evidences later historians have given for Juana's madness (though none of the chroniclers of the time, oddly enough) was her famous midnight trek where she accompanied her husband's coffin all over Spain, with the intent to inter him in Granada. At every place Juana stopped, the locals had to come out and acknowledge Philippe as their dead king-consort.

What Juana was doing had nothing to do with devotion to Philippe (he kept her imprisoned and/or surrounded by his own hired handlers, and his death was likely a relief) and everything to do with safeguarding the inheritance of her son Charles, while at the same time creating an excuse against other suitors. The most notable of these was Henry VII of England, who was actually amassing an invading army to come and marry her by force when he died. By professing overwhelming devotion to her dead husband's body, Juana was using the only excuse allowed a royal widow in her time to put off remarriage.

As to moving the coffin all over Andalusia, by parading her husband's coffin through as many cities as possible, Juana was in effect laying claim to the lands for his sons. In interring him next to her mother's sepulcher in Granada, she would have won the `chess game' and had him acknowledged as equal to Isabella in importance. King Ferdinand, on the other hand, wanted Philippe buried as far north as possible, preferably back in Brussels.

As to the famous bit about not letting women near the coffin, she was aided in her vigil by Carthusian monks, who are forbidden the presence of any women with the sole exclusion of royal ones. Juana had no problem leaving Philippe's coffin with the Poor Clares once the traveling gambit had served its purpose.

And then there is the matter of her not wearing proper clothing, or allowing her daughter Catalina to do so. Juana's aim in life was to emulate, hopefully even join the Franciscan order of Poor Clares. She evidenced this from an early age, and wherever she went she worshipped with them and gave money to their convents. Their manner of dress was to go barefoot and wear only a coarse shift, to fast and devote themselves to prayer. None of these habits meshed well with her royal obligation to dress the part, and when her various women (selected by the males who wanted to regulate her behavior) tried to force these on her, she resisted as much as possible.

Juana would only interact with religious men and women whom she judged to be sincere. This meant that many a confessor was turned away. At one point, one of her governors was trying to get evidence that she was crazy, and after assuring her that her father and father-in-law were still alive, urged her to write to them. Juana, who had not been told of their deaths years before, did not take the bait, but replied that he should write to them for her.

Juana tried many times to rid herself of the oppressive servants which constantly surrounded her. At no time in her adult life was she free to associate with whom she liked, nor to join the religious community she craved. He response was to withdraw, and when things became too onerous, she would go on a hunger strike to force the handlers to comply, as in when they took her youngest daughter (also raised in the tradition of the poor Clares, to everyone's horror) from her. After five days, brother Charles sent her back.

Was she crazy? She was certainly given plenty of reason to be. Probably bipolar. Maybe schizophrenic. That condition runs in families, and her Grandmother and great-grandson also showed clear symptoms.

I bought this book to learn about Juana, but it has opened my eyes to the rationale behind European court etiquette and the various moves and posturing of renaissance and medieval rulers than any other work on my shelves. And the writing isn't too stuffy, although very detailed.
11 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Juana la Loca 15 Mar 2006
By M. Cooley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Exceptionally well written account of the life of Juana, so-called The Mad, and her role in securing the Habsburg control of the Iberian pennisula for the next two hundred plus years.
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