Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Lost Remains of Queen Joanna I

The Odious Women Tour: Purported nymphomaniac and brothel owner, Queen Joanna I (1328-1382) was orphaned at the age of five and married at the age of seven. She lived most of her life at the Castel Nuovo. Very likely one of her best memories was when her grandfather, King Robert the Wise, in 1341 publicly tested Petrarch's knowledge for three days straight, after which he granted him the title of Poet Laureat.

Joanna was crowned queen at the age of sixteen. Two years later, unknown bandits murdered her cousin-husband, Andrew, at the royal court's summer castle in Aversa. Joanna was six months pregnant. Andrew's brother -- Louis, King of Hungary -- took advantage of Joanna's vulnerability and invaded Naples. Without a comparable army, the Queen finally fled to Provence, France, but fearing her son wouldn't make the trip, she left him with some of her staff at the Castle dell’Ovo.

Louis of Hungary then entered the city, but Neapolitans revolted. They built fortifications out of cobblestone streets and threw rocks at his army, beating them back. The protests remained so fierce that Louis one night disappeared on a boat back to Hungary. He took with him Joanna's toddler son, who died on the trip back.

Presumably, while in France she opened a brothel in Avignon used by the nobility of Europe. But once Louis had gone, Joanna returned to Naples and married the son of the empress of Constantinople, Louis of Tarant. The Pope who married them observed the wishes of Robert the Wise and granted power only to Joanna. This infuriated her new husband and their relationship quickly devolved into political rivalry. Privately, it was said that Louis spoke to her in lowly terms and even beat her. Nevertheless, she became pregnant with his child and gave birth to a girl, Catherine -- but she died. A wave of Black Death in Naples then took the life of her husband.

With many suitors constantly courting her, Joanna felt her most prudent course was to re-marry quickly. With permission from the Pope, she betrothed James III of Majorca. Seemingly a grand warrior, he’d spent twelve years in prison and soon the Queen realized he was also unsound of mind. In a letter to the Pope, Joanna recounted how in front of all her counselors James III had beaten her and called her a whore. He maintained that she slept with other younger men. And indeed, this rumor seemed to stick and heighten. Several chroniclers claimed she was a nymphomaniac. Nancy Gladstone, her biographer, says slurs were easy to launch against a woman, but highly unlikely given that Joanna had a strong Catholic practice and faith.

In spite of her matrimonial problems with James, the Queen became pregnant at the age of 39 and was excited about an heir. But she lost the baby through miscarriage. Three years later, James III also died.

At the age of forty-two Joanna had to find another husband. She settled on the lesser-known Otto von Brusnwick, a German man a few years her senior and an excellent warrior who would defend her realm without seeking the rights of ruling as king. The couple may have been happy for a time.

But political intrigue brought them both down. When Urban VI, a Neapolitan, became Pope, he enraged cardinals in Rome with his cruel and irrational behavior. The moment the Pope lowered the number of meals for cardinals to one per day, half of them launched a 'great schism'. They elected their own Pope, Clement VI (of French origin), and claimed Urban VI had been unlawfully elected.

Historically, the Vatican and the Kingdom of Naples were closely tied together, so Joanna had a difficult decision to make. Rude and abrasive, Urban VI had already written letters to the Queen saying that a woman shouldn’t rule and that she should lock herself in a nunnery. He also refused to commute her annual tribute which Joanna said she couldn’t pay it because she had sent military reinforcements to the Pope the year before. All this meant that Joanna decided to support Clement.

In reaction, Urban excommunicated her. Worse yet, when the people of Naples found out their Queen had acknowledged a French Pope, they rebelled. Mass protests took place outside her Castle Nuovo and Joanna became locked inside with dwindling provisions. The Hungarians took advantage of the situation and invaded. Although her husband launched a battle, he was captured and imprisoned. Forced to surrender, the Hungarians took Joanna to the Castle Muro and held her in isolation. There, four men came upon her either in her chapel or in her bedroom and strangled her. Her remains were then dumped in the wall somewhere in the Santa Chiara Convent.

Queen Joanna's excommunication remains in effect today. If you visit Santa Chiara to ask about Joanna's remains, most likely you will be given blank looks. But a few aficianados will come to your aide, showing you stairs that lead to a locked door. Some say, Joanna lies somewhere behind them.

(Shown Above: The entrance to the Santa Chiara convent. The hallway that leads to steps. The steps lead to a locked glass door. Inside the door is another smaller door with frescoes all around it. Is Joanna inside here?)

Recommended Reading: The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily by Nancy Gladstone. (2009)


Diana and "Guido" said...

The more I blog, the more I realize the care and research that go into yours. Brava!

Barbara said...

Thanks, Diana. I love this city and its history. I only wish I had more time to dig even deeper.

And back'atcha -- your blog is truly divine. :)