In the historical corners of Madrid, the intriguing figure of Juana la Beltraneja emerges, a name that resonated in the struggles for the throne and the most astonishing chapters of Spain in the 15th century.
The Enigma of a Questioned Heiress
Juana la Beltraneja, whose full name was Juana de Castilla, entered the world with a mystery. Doubts were raised about who her father truly was, whether the legitimate king, Enrique IV de Trastámara, or Beltrán de la Cueva (hence the nickname “Beltraneja”). The question of her true paternity opened the door to a succession dispute that would make the Kardashians envy the level of intrigue. Allegations of the queen’s infidelity and even claims that the king was either homosexual or impotent were made. These accusations lack any evidence to support them to this day. However, what we do have is a hint of an incredible scientific discovery: the Jewish doctor Samaya Lubel may have performed the first artificial insemination on the queen, Juana’s mother, to conceive her. Facing difficulties in getting pregnant, the queen looked for the doctor’s help, and he, with the design of a golden cannula, made fertilization possible. This fact was even used as an argument against the supposed impotence of the king, suggesting that the queen could have been “fertilized without losing her virginity” as a way to emphasize her purity and to make the idea of infidelity inadmissible. With no concrete evidence of Juana’s illegitimacy, we have to accept the possibility that she might have been the first child conceived through assisted reproduction in history.
Nevertheless, in the 15th century, her legitimacy remained an unsolved enigma that threw Spain into a power struggle between Juana and her aunt, who later became known as Isabel the Catholic.
The Castilian War of Succession: Battles and Palace Conspiracies
Indeed, this question unleashed the known Castilian War of Succession (1475-1479), an era marked by battles, shifting alliances and palace conspiracies. In the middle of this power storm, Madrid was the epicenter of action. On one side, there was Juana la Beltraneja, who had the support of a faction of Castilian nobles and Portugal, thanks to her marriage to their king, Alfonso V. On the other side, there was Isabel de Castilla, already married to Fernando de Aragón (do the Catholic Kings sound familiar?), who formed a powerful alliance by uniting their realms.
After being defeated in the Battle of Toro (1476) and with the crucial support of Pope Sixtus IV, who recognized Isabel as the legitimate queen, Juana’s cause received less and less support, and she found herself increasingly isolated. Eventually, in 1479, her husband Alfonso V signed the Treaty of Alcáçovas, and the Portuguese withdrew.
Following this signing, Juana retired to the Convent of Santa Clara de Santarém, compelled to take the veil and remain as a cloistered nun. After a year as a novice, she took the vows and lived until 1530, signing until her last day as “I, the Queen.”
The story of Juana la Beltraneja reminds us that even in the most tumultuous times, flesh and blood individuals left an indelible mark. In Madrid, history comes to life through the remnants of palaces and the streets she and other protagonists walked. If you want to discover more about illustrious Madrileños, don’t miss our free tour Madrid . We welcome you with a big smile and lots of stories!