Juana was born in Toledo on the 6th of November 1479 as the second daughter of Ferdinand V and Isabella I, the monarchs who united Spain. She was a gifted child, interested in religion and music. She read a lot, spoke Latin fluently, and played both the guitar and the clavichord. Juana is also said to have been a timid and melancholy person who kept a lot to herself. However, in her youth she showed no signs of madness.
In order to keep peace with the other countries of Europe, her sisters Isabella and Catherine were wedded to the Portuguese and English kings, respectively; Juana was betrothed to Archduke Philip of Habsburg when she was sixteen.
They got married one year later and seemed to find pleasure in one another. The couple settled in Brussels, as Philip had become the ruler of the Low Countries. They had six children, two sons and four daughters.
King Philip of Austria was commonly known as the Handsome because of his good looks, which he used with great advantage to seduce beautiful women of the court. Juana was insanely jealous, and is said to have attacked a woman of her own entourage who held Philip's fancy. Later she would only surround herself with ugly and old women. A Spanish emissary reported back to her mother that Juana seemed too unstable to extend any Spanish power her way.
When Queen Isabella died in 1504, the crown of Castile, including sovereignty of the American colonies, went to Juana, since her brothers and older sister were dead. However, the way to the throne was blocked by men. Juana's father Ferdinand was still alive, and wanted co-rule. Her husband wanted influence as well. Eventually, the two men agreed to divide power between themselves, trying to have Juana declared unfit to rule.
Philip became suddenly ill and died in 1506. Juana, pregnant and grieving, may have suspected her father of poisoning him. She had her husband's coffin opened several times, wanting to make sure his body hadn't been stolen from her. Once she started kissing it and refused to stop.
Juana set out on a long journey to Granada, where her mother had been entombed, bringing her husband's coffin with her. She would stop at every monastery along the way to hold funeral services for her beloved, but kept the coffin away from all women, including nuns. She had her last child on this journey and stopped for several months in a village to recover from the birth.
The journey came to an end, not when they reached Granada, but when the Cortes (Spanish Parliament) declared her insane and had her imprisoned in the small castle of Tordesillas. King Ferdinand went on to rule Spain alone until his death in 1516, when Juana's son Charles V took up the rule in her name.
Juana died in 1555, at the age of 75. Her story, or perhaps rather her madness, has been depicted in paintings, plays (Locura de Amor by Manuel Tamayo y Baus), an opera, (La Loca by Giancarlo Menotti), and novels (Terra Nostra by Carlos
Juana is also known as Joan, Joanna, and Juanna, but always, it seems, as the mad.