The plot thickens in every way imaginable on this week’s The Spanish Princess when Catherine’s sister, Joanna of Castile, comes to town. Catherine and Harry are still stealing kisses in various fields and cloisters waiting for her dowry and papal dispensation. The odds stack against them with the news that Isabella of Castile has died, lessening Catherine’s political value and complicating her ability to secure her dowry. Not to mention Lady Margaret is still very against this marriage and conspires to prevent it any way she can.
Joanna also brings a host of other problems with her, including her philandering husband Philip and her struggles to assert her own power. Things go from bad to worse for Maggie Pole as her husband’s death leaves her increasingly destitute and unable to feed her children. Meanwhile, Lina strengthens her bond with Oviedo, promising to marry him. And Rosa faces further heartbreak, abandoned by Lord Stafford and then losing her baby. The show continues to build on its themes of sisterhood and how Catherine surrounded herself with strong women throughout her life as she and her ladies support each other through uncertainty and tragedy.
Here are five historical observations from “A Polite Kidnapping.”
A Destitute Maggie
When the crown comes to collect their taxes, Maggie is left in dire straits — barely able to keep clothes on her back or food in her five children’s mouths. And every bit of this is true. When Richard Pole died, he left Maggie with a very limited plot of land, no income, and no prospects given that she’d been exiled from court.
Maggie was so bad off, she sent her son Reggie to the Church at a young age (he ended up having a lengthy career but resented what he perceived as her abandonment). Maggie herself moved into Syon Abbey and lived among Bridgettine nuns because she could not afford to maintain her own household.
Joanna of Castile
Joanna of Castile is one of those women who has been done dirty by history. She’s known colloquially as Juana de Loca, which translates to Joanna the Mad. At various points, Joanna’s father, husband, and her own son declared her “mad” in efforts to usurp her power. They used this as an excuse to imprison her in a royal palace in Tordesillas in 1510, where she remained until her death in 1555. Even her son Charles I maintained her life of incarceration, as it legitimized his rule.
Historians still widely debate whether Joanna might have suffered from any kind of mental illness, be it schizophrenia, a psychosis, or depression. At any rate, many have perceived or portrayed her as unstable, but The Spanish Princess offers an explanation for this. A combination of childhood trauma, a lack of love from her parents and her husband, and continual attempts to thwart her rule simply because she was a woman make for a queen who is calculating, even fiercely cruel.
Here, Joanna is a queen who is spitting mad at her lot in life and possibly mentally unwell because of the various traumas she’s suffered. Her husband is unfaithful, her mother was unspeakably cruel, and now everyone seeks to rob her of her throne. It’s no wonder she’s angry.
Thus far, The Spanish Princess has done a lot to show the power of women in Tudor England, from Catherine’s ferocity to Lady Margaret’s iron fist. But in many ways, especially in the political landscape, women were subject to the whims and prejudices of men. It was a difficult time for them to claim even a modicum of power with everyone from their husbands to their advisors seeking to undermine their rule — and perhaps few women were treated so poorly as Joanna of Castile.
Both her father and her husband attempted to claim power by having coins minted with their faces on them (as is mentioned in the episode), and ultimately imprisoned her to keep her out of the way. Kudos to The Spanish Princess for stepping into this still hotly debated historical topic and giving Joanna back some of her agency, as well as showing the degree to which women in power were often victims of gaslighting as an attempt to rob them of their status and birthright.
Joanna cares little for the death of her mother, Queen Isabella of Castile. She calls for Spanish music and dancing and refuses to attend a mass offered in her mother’s memory. And she offers Catherine a horrifying story as an explanation for her hatred — in the face of her atheism/lack of Catholic devotion, her devout mother tortured her, hanging her from beams and hooks, sometimes tying weights to her feet.
Historical records indicate this is true. Isabella was a woman so devoted to Catholicism she established the Spanish Inquisition. It stands to reason she wouldn’t be able to stomach any so-called heresy from her own child. Letters from Ferdinand’s gentleman of the bedchamber, Mosen Luis Ferrer, mention Juana being subjected to a punishment known as “La cuerda,” which involved being suspended by a rope with weights on her feet just as she describes here.
Mad for Philip?
When Joanna comes to England, she tells tales of her unhappy marriage to Philip, saying he has her “heart in a noose.” She details his multiple affairs, telling Catherine she’s tried everything from hacking off one of his mistress’s hair to giving him love potions. This sounds like a woman crazy in love, but it’s all true! History has it that Catherine did chase one of Philip’s lovers in Flanders and chop her hair off and even turned to love potions to attempt to win his fidelity.
Philip’s nickname was “Philip the Handsome” or “Philip the Fair” — and as such, he was a renowned womanizer. But in spite of this and a fruitful marriage (Joanna had six children in nine years), Joanna was by all accounts desperately in love with him. So much so, that his very untimely death at the age of 29, plummeted Joanna into desperate grief that led many to call her “mad.” Indeed, legend has it that she refused to allow his body to be buried and brought his corpse with her everywhere she went, often opening the coffin to embrace it.
Prisoners in England
The title of this episode, “A Polite Kidnapping,” alludes to the fact that after Joanna and Philip made an emergency landing in England when their ship required repairs, they were kept in the country against their will. They were given excuses about their ship not being ready, but they were essentially political prisoners. Even their horses were relieved of their shoes to prevent them from leaving the country until Henry VII forged a new alliance.
It is true that in 1506 Philip and Joanna were shipwrecked in England and essentially held as hostages in the country for six weeks. Eventually, Philip (in his capacity as Duke of Burgundy) signed a treaty, dubbed the Malus Intercursus, a.k.a. the “Evil Treaty,” so named by the Dutch because of how much it favors the English. The treaty included a trade agreement allowing the English to import cloth duty-free into the Low Countries, as well as a mutual defense pact and, as we see here, the promise to extradite rebels, most notably Yorkist claimant to the throne, Edmund de la Pole.
Here, Philip makes Henry promise he will not execute Edmund, which Henry makes a holy vow to uphold. It’s unclear if this was part of the official treaty, but Henry VII did keep Edmund in the Tower as a political prisoner for seven years without ordering his execution. Though, he did supposedly order Harry in his will to execute Edmund as one of his first acts as king, which Henry VIII made good on in 1513.
We also see more marriage negotiations occurring, negotiations which threaten Catherine’s ability to marry Harry. Determined to undermine Catherine, Lady Margaret instead brokers a new alliance, betrothing the youngest Tudor, Princess Mary, to Joanna’s son, Charles. The alliance is also to Joanna’s benefit since it forwards her offspring rather than her sister. Charles would later become the Holy Roman Emperor, but the betrothal was eventually called off in 1513 and instead Mary was wed to the King of France.
This betrothal was really agreed upon during Joanna and Philip’s stay in England, as was another marriage agreement not addressed here — Henry VII contracted to marry Philip’s sister Margaret, but that was yet another marriage Henry proposed and never saw through.
- The Spanish Princess to expand to finish telling Catherine of Aragon’s story
- The Spanish Princess recap: Catherine’s struggle to follow her heart and other historical observations
- The Spanish Princess’ Charlotte Hope on why Catherine of Aragon is like Scarlett O’Hara