Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Lady Queen : the notorious reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily - Nancy Goldstone

I know very little about Italian history & even less about Italy in the medieval period so, when I picked up this biography of Joanna I of Naples, I was interested to learn more. What a fascinating journey it turned out to be.

Joanna was born in 1326, and, after being orphaned very young, grew up at the Court of her grandfather, Robert the Wise, King of Naples & his second wife, the very religious Sancia of Majorca. Robert was a descendant of the Angevin rulers & held his kingdom of Naples as a fiefdom of the Papacy, paying a yearly tribute for the privilege. Robert's reign was a golden age of prosperity but there were problems, mostly of Robert's own making. Robert's second marriage, to Sancia, was childless, mostly because she was extremely religious & would not allow him his conjugal rights. As Robert had no living sons, this was a problem for the succession. He made his granddaughter, Joanna, his heir but, in so doing, dispossessed his nephew, Carobert, the son of Robert's elder brother. Carobert was sent off to Hungary to become King in due course. However, the long-term consequences of this decision would have a catastrophic effect on the security of the kingdom during Joanna's reign. Robert attempted to address Carobert's grievances by offering to marry Joanna to his son, Andrew. The boy was a year younger than Joanna & arrived in Naples at the age of six. Joanna & Andrew were married soon after & Robert made all his nobles swear allegiance to the couple as the future king & queen. It was hoped that this would satisfy the Hungarian claims to the throne of Naples.

Joanna came to the throne at the age of 17. She had had a thorough education in courtly ways from her grandfather & in religious matters from her step-grandmother, Sancia. Joanna's marriage, however, was not a happy one, despite the birth of a son, Charles Martel. Although Joanna & Andrew had been brought up together, they were not close. There was prejudice against Andrew by the leading nobles, both because he was Hungarian & because his marriage to Joanna prevented one of their sons from becoming king. Andrew was also compared unfavourable with Joanna's cousins, the Durazzo & Taranto families, who also aspired to the crown. Joanna faced many challenges during her years as queen but none was more confronting than the murder of Andrew by a group of jealous nobles in 1345, just two years after she came to the throne.

Joanna's Hungarian in-laws were outraged & Andrew's brother, Louis, now King of Hungary & his formidable mother, Elizabeth, demanded justice. They also used the murder as a lever to push Louis' own claims to the throne of Naples. Joanna was accused of involvement in the murder & was forced to flee Naples & seek the Pope's protection at Avignon. She was then forced to go on trial for her husband's murder at the Papal Court before Pope Clement VI. Joanna convinced the Pope of her innocence although she wasn't able to save the lives of many of her closest friends & supporters who were imprisoned, horribly tortured & executed by the Hungarians, who ruled Naples after her flight. Joanna had to leave her young son behind & he was taken back to Hungary by his relations, where he died soon after.

Joanna knew that she had to remarry quickly. She needed a champion, a proven warrior who would help her regain her kingdom. She chose Louis of Taranto, who had his own claim to the throne of Naples. Eventually, after bribing the Pope with the transfer of the city of Avignon to his authority, the Pope recognized Joanna's marriage to Louis & advanced the money they would need to amass an army to drive the Hungarians out of Naples. They were successful & by 1349, Joanna had reclaimed her kingdom. Unfortunately, Joanna's personal life was never easy. She & Louis had two daughters, who both died young. Their marriage collapsed soon after the return to Naples & Louis was accused of treating Joanna very badly, attacking her physically & flaunting his affairs. Joanna married twice more. After Louis' death in 1362, she married James IV, King of Majorca. This was another disaster. James had been imprisoned as a young man by the King of Aragon for over 15 years & emerged from this ordeal with this health shattered, both physically & mentally. After James's death in 1375, Joanna finally found the husband she had needed all along. At the age of 49, she married 55 year old Otto of Brunswick. Otto was a member of a minor German noble family, a very inferior match in worldly terms. However, he was a fine soldier, had no claim to the Neapolitan throne & no expectations of usurping Joanna's prerogatives. Unlike her first three husbands, Otto had no prospect of being crowned King Consort & doesn't seem to have expected it.

Joanna's relations with the Papacy were also fascinating. She was bound very closely to the Pope of the day because of Naples' status as a vassal of the Papacy. Joanna's relations with successive Popes were vital, both because the Pope had such power over the kingdom & its people in both a spiritual & a practical sense. Joanna was excommunicated several times & Naples placed under an Interdict. However, Joanna mostly managed to steer clear of major disruptions, quite a feat during this time when the Pope had been forced to flee Rome for Avignon &, near the end of Joanna's reign, she became involved in the Great Schism, when there were two Popes vying for legitimacy.

It can be very difficult to get a sense of the life of an individual woman in the Middle Ages, especially when there are no private letters or diaries to consult. Joanna speaks to us in the form of official letters but also in her actions. She was remarkable because she was the only woman in this period to rule in her own right. Although she needed to marry to support her rule, she never allowed her consorts to rule alongside her. She was incredibly unlucky as her reign coincided with outbreaks of plague & the growth of the Free Companies, bands of mercenaries let loose across Europe after the conclusion of wars. Economic conditions were also bad, with poor harvests & the collapse of the great banking families who had financially supported Joanna's grandfather, Robert the Wise. Joanna faced constant plotting by her Hungarian relations as well as her Neapolitan family, all of them ruthlessly ambitious. She also had no heir, which only increased the plotting as the factions circled her throne.

Joanna has had a reputation as a wicked adulteress, murdering her first husband & committing almost any crime. However, these stories seem to have more to do with the fact that she was a woman than with any truth about the accusations. She was the last ruler of Naples to hold Provence & to extend her rule to Sicily & Piedmont. She was a solicitous ruler to her people & did what she could to relieve the many privations they suffered due to plague & disaster. She built hospitals & tried to promote justice for all her subjects. Pope Clement VII wrote of Joanna after her death,

Of all the illustrious women of this world, Joanna, radiant rose among thorns, infolded us, the whole Roman Church and her subjects in an amazingly sweet scent ... She passed on from the misery of this world to the beatitude of God's kingdom where she lives and reigns and where, despising and mocking her adversaries, she recovers the sceptre that has been taken from her and receives her crown among the same martyrs.

Clement owed his position to Joanna as she had supported him during the Schism so his accolades are not entirely objective. However, I certainly agree with Nancy Goldstone that Joanna was a remarkable ruler who achieved an enormous amount for a woman in the 14th century. Goldstone tells a complicated story with great clarity. I was able to keep track of the many different factions & families even though I listened to the book on audio. I also have her book, Four Queens, about the Provencal sisters who all married European kings, on the tbr shelves & I'm looking forward to reading it, as well as reading some more Italian history.

No comments:

Post a Comment