Reign of Madness
From the author of The Creation of Eve comes a tale of love and madness, royal intrigue and marital betrayal, set during the Golden Age of Spain.
Juana of Castile, third child of the Spanish monarchs Isabel and Fernando, grows up with no hope of inheriting her parents' crowns, but as a princess knows her duty: to further her family's ambitions through marriage. Yet stories of courtly love, and of her parents' own legendary romance, surround her. When she weds the Duke of Burgundy, a young man so beautiful that he is known as Philippe the Handsome, she dares to hope that she might have both love and crowns. He is caring, charming, and attracted to her-seemingly a perfect husband.
But what begins like a fairy tale ends quite differently.
When Queen Isabel dies, the crowns of Spain unexpectedly pass down to Juana, leaving her husband and her father hungering for the throne. Rumors fly that the young Queen has gone mad, driven insane by possessiveness. Who is to be believed? The King, beloved by his subjects? Or the Queen, unseen and unknown by her people?
One of the greatest cautionary tales in Spanish history comes to life as Lynn Cullen explores the controversial reign of Juana of Castile-also known as Juana the Mad. Sweeping, page-turning, and wholly entertaining, Reign of Madness is historical fiction at its richly satisfying best.
2 May anno Domini 1543
A birdcage might be gilded, but it is still a cage. And so it is said of the palace at Tordesillas. For all its lovely balconies overlooking the churning waters of the Duero, its sun-warmed tile roofs, its royal pennants of scarlet and gold snapping merrily in the breeze, the townsfolk know the true purpose of the building. This is why farmers cross themselves as they pass before it with their wagonloads of wheat. Why the sisters of the convent of Santa Clara keep their eyes averted when in its vicinity. Why boys throw stones at its empty windows before they are rushed off by their scolding tutors. People are afraid of the place, as if the wrong that has been inflicted on its inhabitant might be catching.
Now its stone walls ring with the sound of trumpets, followed by the de¬termined tap of fine kid shoes against tile. A page shouts, “His Majesty Don Felipe!” although everyone in the palace and in the windswept Castilian town over which it towers knows the identity of the slight young man leading the group of nobles dressed in velvet doublets and fur-trimmed robes. The young man—a youth, truly, new to the blond beard sprouting from his prominent chin—forges deeper into the palace. He strides past empty cham¬bers that smell of the river, then through the arcade, which is shuttered though it is a mild day in early May, and past a chapel with a single votive flickering wanly in the dark. He comes at last to a door and waits, twitching his jaw, a surprisingly heavy feature in his otherwise graceful face. A Ger¬man guard, steel armor clinking, works the lock then throws open the bolt.
“His Majesty Don Felipe, Prince of Spain, Naples, Milan, Sicily, the Netherlands, and the Indies!” cries the page.
A woman whose bloom has long since faded looks up from the book she holds to the light of the only window of the chamber. She is dressed in the plain coarse gray of the Poor Clares. A wooden rosary hangs from her waist. Only the delicate Flemish linen of the coif beneath her thick veil—too fine for a simple Poor Clare—hints that she might not be a sister of that hum¬ble religious order.
The young man hesitates for a moment, working his considerable jaw, then strides before her and falls to his knees. “My Lady Grandmother, I wish to kiss your hands.”
She hides her hands, one still clutching the small leather-bound book, in the folds of her rough skirt. “No.”
The youth sits back on his heels as if snapped at by a dog he had judged friendly. The nobles behind him cease their jostling for position and ex¬change glances.
The lines etched around the woman’s mouth speak of sorrow, aging her beyond her sixty-three years, but now, when she smiles with affection, it is possible to imagine how beautiful she once was. Indeed, in spite of her graying skin and brows, and having borne six children, all of them kings, queens, or emperors, in her mind she is still a young maiden. “Stand up, Felipe.”
She holds out her arms. “Come.”
After they embrace, he says, “I have come to ask permission to marry.”
Her smile fades. “My ‘permission’?” She sighs. “Who?”
He pauses. Behind him, a cardinal coughs into his scarlet sleeve.
“My cousin, Maria Manuela of Portugal.”
“Catalina’s child? My own daughter Catalina’s child? Catalina has not written me about it. No one has. But you would think at least Catalina . . .” She stops, then takes a breath. “When is the wedding?”
“As soon as you allow it.”
She exhales. “When, Felipe.”
He lowers his eyes. “November.”
“Thank you.” Seeing his guilty look, she asks quietly, “Is she beautiful?”
His fool, a gangling fellow with eyes set impossibly close together and a head furred with melon-colored hair, jogs forward and knocks the prince with his elbow. “Is she beautiful? ¡Que bonita! Who would not want to eat her peaches?”
“Manuelito,” Felipe says, “you’ve not seen her.”
The fool slides forth a petulant bottom lip. “I have seen her picture.”
Felipe glances at the walls, bare save for a painting of the Virgin Mary that is black with age. He reddens. He has not thought to bring a portrait.
The woman smiles gently. “You will find yourself more foolish than a fool if she does not seem beautiful to you once you have seen her.”
Felipe’s short laugh is one of sheepish gratitude. “Surely I will admire my cousin,” he says lightly. “She has my same blood.”
“Yes,” says the woman. “She has my blood, too. Though that might not be the best recommendation.”
Felipe reddens again. The woman sighs. She did not mean to embarrass him. This is what comes from being alone too much, she thinks to herself. I no longer know how to behave.
“She should count herself lucky to be of your line,” Felipe says.
The boy has her delicate skin and its propensity to give away emotions, the woman thinks. He is a poor liar, just like her. Interesting, how lin¬eage will tell, no matter how much you wish that it would not. Looking at this boy, she can see her husband’s heavy jaw and swollen lips, though on Philippe they were considered quite attractive, if you measured by the number of ladies who fell across his bed. There are women who, after gain¬ing the affection of such a handsome man, must possess him completely or go mad. Philippe never seemed to worry about this.
He should have.
15 April anno Domini 1543
I had gone to get Estrella. She was in my chamber on the second floor of the palace in Barcelona, chewing a slipper, no doubt. She was losing her puppy teeth, and I, the proud bearer of nearly fourteen entire years, believed with the confident certainty of a physician at Salamanca that her gums did pain her. I thought that my company would aid her. I would keep her in my sleeve, where she could burrow to her heart’s delight. She would not piss if the ceremony did not take too terribly long. Surely a reception for a sailor, even one who claimed to have found a shortcut to the Indies, would not last longer than a Mass. She had made it through many a Mass when I thought that even I should burst.
My chance to escape came when Mother was deep in one of her discussions with her confessor, Fray Hernando de Talavera. The two of them were roasting themselves before the fireplace, which in the Saló del Tinell was large enough to house a peasant family and their beasts. My mother was the Queen of Castile, León, Ara¬gón, Granada, Naples, Sicily, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Mallorca, Seville, Sardinia, Corsica, Murcia, Jaén, the Algarve, Algeciras, and, let us not forget, Gibraltar, with its apes, one of whom tried to bite me when I gave it an orange. But Heaven was not yet one of the places she ruled, and so she listened to Fray Hernando with a reverence she afforded few men. Certainly not Papa.
Fray Hernando was leaning over her, his head tilted to hear her over the din around them, an affectionate smile upon his handsome smooth-skinned face, when my brother, Juan, and his household clattered into the hall. Most of Juan’s pimpled gallants had in¬sisted on wearing their armor and, typical boys of fifteen years or so, were enjoying the pain they were inflicting on everyone’s ears with their clanking. All they earned from Mother was a twinge of a frown, but my little sisters María and Catalina gazed at them worshipfully, as if they might be knights from one of the tales of chivalry that María so loved to read. My elder sister, Isabel, how¬ever, was not amused. Widowed and worldly at twenty-two, she was Queen in her own mind, even though, as a woman, she was behind Juan in the succession.
But while Juan acted like a clown, at least he was clever enough to realize that not even he was likely ever to be King, not with Mother’s bear-grip on life. Good luck, Señor Death, trying to reel in Queen Isabel of Castile before she was ready. She had fought to win her crowns, battled the Moors to near extinction, and united the Spains, all the while wearing a man’s breastplate as she urged her men on, her wavy strawberry-gold hair blowing in the wind. The woman was too ferocious to die. And though the motto she took with Papa was “Tanto monta, monta tanto, Isabel como Fernando”—Isabel and Fernando, they amount to the same—it was her fierce will and not Papa’s quiet strength that was recognized as the force behind these wonders, as unjust as I thought that was. No, this was not a person who would lie down meekly to be col¬lected by the Reaper. Perhaps this was why my sister Isabel took such pleasure in trying to dictate everyone’s actions. In her heart, she knew it was as close as she would ever come to ruling.
Now my sister was exchanging disapproving glares with her ladies. Their own furrowed brows were tepid imitations of hers— indeed, some of their glances at the boys were passing flirtatious. Bueno. Let everyone chat, flirt, worship, or clank. I could slip from the chamber to get Estrella.
I had not gotten far—only to the chapel of Santa Agata, which Mother had newly redone, like everything else in the Spains— when I thought I heard a woman laugh. I stopped to listen.
Behind me, from the other side of the iron-strapped door I had so carefully closed to the saló, came the muted music of Mother’s lutenists and the muffled din of the grandees, priests, and ladies waiting to receive Colón after his voyage. To the right of the saló, on the steps to the Plaça del Rei—those same steps on which a wretch had tried to take Papa’s life only five months earlier—I could hear the pikemen stationed just outside the palace door, banging their poles and stamping their feet against the chill of the drizzly April morning. Drums pounded in the distance: Colón’s procession. To judge from their sound, he had entered the walls of the city. In less time than it takes to sew on a button, I had to get Estrella in the far reaches of the palace, return, and melt back into the gathering, unnoticed.
But there—I heard it again. A soft titter, behind the heavy carved doors of the chapel, one of which was ajar.
I knew that laugh yet could not quite place it. And in Mother’s chapel? Who would be in there now? All of us and our households were to be in the Saló del Tinell: Mother’s orders. She believed Colón’s claim that he had found a better way to the Indies—at least to the outlying islands—so the rest of us must be there to receive him, no matter if some, like Papa, whose line in all things I staunchly followed, were not convinced.
I heard the rustle of heavy cloth from inside the chapel.
I glanced around guiltily. Colón’s drums were slowly near¬ing. My sister would note my absence at any minute and report it to Mother, bringing down both me and my former tutor, now gov¬erness, Beatriz Galindo, who was expected to keep control over me. But I had to see who was in there. Had one of Mother’s ladies disobeyed her? Or, Hostias en vinagre, had one of my sister’s? I would not want to be this person when Isabel found out. Even at my tender age I understood that a would-be monarch could be more tyrannical than a crowned one.
Carefully, as not to make the thick iron hinges creak, I put my shoulder to the door and leaned into the chapel.
Honey and orange peel. That’s what I smelled, not the oily scent of the incense from Mass or Mother’s musky perfume. Mother did love a good strong stink of civet. She dabbed a fortune of it on the nape of her neck each day. No, this was honey and orange, for certain. It was familiar to me, but how?
A woman murmured.
I followed the sound with my gaze to the portable prayer booth in which Mother was taken to Mass each day like a relic being carried to its shrine. The rustling came from inside the cloth-of-gold curtains. Whoever was inside was making the cur¬tains sway.
I drew up short: There was a man in the booth. I could hear him breathe. Even a child knows whether it is a man or a woman by the sound of the person’s breath.
I heard the smack of moist flesh. ¡Hostias! Hostias! There were two people in there. I knew what they were doing.
My heart pounding, I took a step back and crunched on some¬thing hard. I lifted my heel. A ruby the size of a hazelnut.
I scooped it up and ran out to get Estrella.
When I returned to the saló, the drums of Colón’s procession were rattling the timber floors of the chamber. He was entering the Plaça del Rei outside. Mother and Papa had taken to their thrones at the far end of the room; Papa was whispering in Moth¬er’s ear. She did not seem to see me slip between my little sis¬ters, but Beatriz did. She rounded her eyes at me in outraged disbelief. Beatriz Galindo was only five years older than I, and already famed for her skill in Latin, having attended university in Salerno. She had been a brilliant tutor, but she was a terrible gov¬erness and for that I loved her. I feared that Mother would catch on to how lax a prison guard she was and relieve her of her duties. A chill from almost being caught raised the hair on my arms.
I was still breathing hard from my run, when, to the blare of trumpets and the pounding of kettledrums, Colón entered the hall.
Though he had met with my parents several times before his voyage, this was the first that I had seen the sailor. He was tall like Mother, and big-boned. He had her red-gold hair, too, but his chin-length locks, limp and darkened from the drizzling rain, were liberally shot with pale gray. He had a strong hooked nose and thick proud-set lips, and though he swept off his velvet cap in deference, he held up his chin when he dropped to his knees be¬fore Mother. Perhaps she recognized something of her own proud self in him, and favored him for it, for she raised one corner of her mouth in a smile. Papa, however, buckled his dark brow at Colón’s arrogance. As with so many things, my parents’ opinions differed markedly, and we children were left to take sides. My lot, as ever, was with Papa. I frowned at the puffed-up mariner.
Mother let him kiss her hand, then Papa’s, then drew him up. “Cristóbal Colón, please show us what you have brought from the Indies. Come sit. Sit.”
The grandees glanced at one another as Mother beckoned for a page to bring a chair. None of them had ever been offered a seat in my mother’s presence. Nor, I realized at that moment, had I.
The crossed gilt legs of the chair groaned as Colón eased his large person onto the leather seat.
“Your Sacred Majesties Doña Isabel and Don Fernando, I thank you. With God’s great blessings, I have brought you all nature of wondrous things.” He clapped his hands. As the crowd murmured with approval, sailors dressed in red breeches and white shirts brought forth treasures: An open chest filled with nuggets of gold. Lengths of precious aromatic wood. Screech¬ing green parrots in a silver cage. Exotic foods. One shriveled red fruit was so spicy that tears came to Mother’s eyes when she tasted it, though she liked the toasted seeds called maiz. How she laughed when a pair of long-legged rodents were led in on leashes.
Colón grinned at her delight. “Hutias, they are called. Very good to eat. They taste much like rabbit.”
Papa sat back as the hall stirred with increasing excitement. He was a listener, and a thinker, and, I thought then, the kindest person I knew. There was a reason he took the anvil as his per¬sonal emblem—you can strike it all day and it will remain silent and unbreakable. As much as Mother and others made of the perfection of their marriage, I did not think she appreciated him enough. Tanto monta, monta tanto—did it ever occur to her that he might be the stronger one?
“Did you bring back any other Eastern beasts?” Papa asked. “Marco Polo talked of monkeys, tigers, elephants. I don’t recall any tales of edible rats.”
“In truth,” said Colón, “they are more like rabbits.”
Papa studied him calmly. “Perhaps these rats were too un¬important for him to mention.”
The smile faded from Colón’s heavy lips. He gazed at Papa as if judging him anew. “Your Sacred Majesty, in the lands I claimed for you and Her Sacred Majesty the Queen, there were plenty of monkeys—a very loud type, as a matter of fact. I would not wish for their howling to disturb your peace.”
Papa looked unmoved. “You are most thoughtful, Colón. Per¬haps these, these—what did you call these rats?”
“—these hutias came from the City of Gold that Marco Polo referred to. Perhaps they are known to the Great Khan of Cathay.”
“Perhaps,” Colón said warily. “I have not had the privilege of meeting him yet, as I have already written in my letter to you. I did not linger in the Indies, for I wished to hurry home as quickly as possible to share the good news with Your Sacred Majesties. However, I was able to bring you these.” He nodded at a sailor standing at the door.
The sailor disappeared for a moment. When he reappeared, every¬one fell silent. Six wildmen, naked save for red breeches, edged into the chamber at the point of their captors’ pikes. They each had a gold ring in their nose, fish bones bristling from their earlobes, and dull brown hair, as long as a girl’s but stiff, atop which feathers were fixed. Colón’s men held tightly to the chains that bound them as they crept forward, now lurching, now crying out, now staring wide-eyed at the crowd gaping back at them.
“Judas’s soul!” My brother Juan peered at the men crouched shakily before him. “What are they?” Armor clinking, he reached out to one of them in wonder.
The creature flinched, then shouted at him in a foreign tongue.
The nobles, the ladies, Juan’s boys, even the musicians, went rigid. Colón swelled up as if he would have liked to leap from his chair to murder the beast. This savage had shown disrespect to the heir of the crowns of the Spains. With held breath, everyone looked to Mother.
She gazed thoughtfully upon the wildman, who now cowered as though he knew he’d done wrong. “So.” She tapped her finger against her lips. “These are my new subjects.”
The hush in the chamber rose like a loaf of resting dough.
Slowly, she brought her hands together in applause. “Bravo, Cristóbal Colón, bravo.”
Papa pulled his glance from something in the crowd, then clapped along with her. “Yes. Bravo.”
His enthusiasm rekindled by relief, Colón animatedly described how he had found the strange men on what must be an outer is¬land of China—perhaps near the famed isle of Cipangu. These were Chinamen or Cipangos or some such persons of the Far East. Men of the Indies, or “Indios,” he called them.
“The land is populated with thousands more, just like these,” Colón said.
“Are they cannibals?” asked my brother.
“In spite of their rough appearance,” said Colón, “no. These men don’t eat human flesh. Indeed, you have never seen a more gentle, childlike people. They are affectionate and without covetousness. They love their neighbors as themselves.”
Yet they were chained as if dangerous. I did not understand. Only enemies of Mother or the Church were treated in such a way, like the Moors after Mother’s defeat of Málaga. When I was seven, most of the population of that town—men, women, and children—had been put into chains for defying her. She had said that it was necessary, that they hated her, and the Church, and even me, and were threats to our security. When I asked her if even the children hated me, she sent me to Fray Hernando to be instructed, though it did me little good. Fray Hernando, with his warm brown eyes and smooth skin, had been so handsome and kind that I could not bear to look at him, let alone hear a word he uttered.
“Your Sacred Majesty,” Colón said, “you should hear them speak. My Indios—”
“Your Indios?” Mother said.
Colón closed his mouth, then bowed. “Your Sacred Majesty, the deepest of pardons. My haste in marching to you from Seville must have weakened my brain. What I was trying to say was that your Indios have the sweetest speech in the world.”
“Oh?” said Mother. “Have one speak.”
Colón motioned for his man to rattle the chains of one of the Indios. He then said something to the creature in a foreign tongue.
The Indio shivered, be it from the cold of the stone hall, bone-chilling even in April, or from fear or illness, but he did not speak.
“Your Sacred Majesty, I apologize,” said Colón. “As sweet a people as are your Indios, they must be taught how to behave. They are as unschooled and innocent as newborn babes.”
Mother waved her hand. “Never mind. Tell us, how quickly can they be brought to the understanding of our faith?”
I studied the shivering man as Mother, Colón, and Fray Her¬nando discussed the conversion of the savages both at hand and across the Ocean Sea. Did no one else notice that the man was miserable?
Colón stopped speaking. Mother watched, puzzled, as he wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his blue velvet gown.
“Your Sacred Majesty,” he said, composing himself, “forgive my tears of joy. I am overcome by how miraculous it is that we should be speaking of these things now, with these riches from my voyage before us, after so many years of opposition by so many of the principal persons of your household”—he paused, avoiding Papa’s cool gaze—“all of whom were against me and treated this undertaking as a folly. I thought I would never see this day.”
Mother leaned forward. “Look what you have done with three ships and your own implacable will. This is what makes the success of your voyage so precious to me. It proves the theory dearest to my heart: that if a person so wills it, he can achieve anything.”
Papa pursed his lips.
Mother settled back. “I should like to greet your sons.”
Colón bowed, unable to conceal his pleasure. “Your Sacred Majesty, we would be deeply honored.”
He turned toward the boys in my brother’s household, who until now had been holding their clanking to a minimum. Metal struck metal as they moved to allow one of Juan’s pages to step forward.
The youth looked to be close to Juan’s age of nearly fifteen; he held the hand of a little boy of perhaps four or five. Both were dressed in my brother’s particolored livery of scarlet and green.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Colón said, “for allowing my sons, Diego and Fernando, to serve your illustrious son the Prince.”
Haltingly, Colón’s sons advanced on Mother’s throne. I had seen the older boy, Diego, before, with Juan’s household, but did not know he was Colón’s son. He was always on the edge of Juan’s crowd, though he was handsome, in a somber way, with a narrow face, smooth black brows, and hair the shining brown of a bay stallion. I could not remember him jousting with the other boys, nor was he one to tease me when I passed, like the others. I had thought that his indifference to me was due to his being the ambi¬tious son of a foreign duke, that he had found my rank in my family too low for his aspirations. I was appalled, therefore, to learn that I had been shunned by the son of a sailor. He must think me as ugly as a sheared ewe.
This Diego stopped before Mother and fell on his knees. Then, just as he leaned in to kiss her hand, his little brother dashed for¬ward and pecked it. Laughter echoed from the low stone arches of the hall.
Mother pronounced, “This younger one has his father’s bold will.”
Diego Colón sank back on his heels, shock, love for his brother, and shame chasing across his face.
At that moment, one of the long-legged rats slipped its leash. Estrella, tempted beyond limit of reason, leaped yipping from my sleeve and chased the creature under Mother’s throne. I screamed as her guard thrust his halberd at my pup. The Indios thrashed against their chains and wailed in terror.
“Juana!” Mother’s glare was more terrible than her cry.
I pulled Estrella from under the gold fringe of her throne.
“No harm done, Isabel,” said Father. “It’s just a rat.”
I stood up, Estrella squirming in my arms. It was then that I noticed the row of hazelnut-sized rubies on the collar of Father’s robe. One of them was missing.
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