Being a queen in the 14th century was a dangerous game of thrones, and no one learned that cruel lesson better than Joanna I of Naples. From the moment she was born, the ambitious Joanna had to fend off violent suitors, powerful enemies, and her own ruinous inner demons to keep her rightful crown. In the end, her failure was as gruesome as it was tragic.
1. She Was Heir To A Mighty Kingdom
Joanna’s beginnings were both extravagant and harrowing. Born sometime around 1325 as the child of Charles, Duke of Calabria, and Marie of Valois, Joanna was third in line to the throne of the medieval Kingdom of Naples. In case you don’t know, that was a big deal back then—but before long, immense tragedy hit the innocent little girl.
2. She Was A Problem Child
In 1528, when Joanna of Naples was just barely toddling around, her father Charles passed, moving her right up the line of succession as the heir apparent to her grandfather King Robert the Wise. Besides leaving the poor girl fatherless, this was actually a disaster. King Robert had been counting on a male heir, and now he only had a baby Princess. This? Was not good.
3. She Was Supposed To Make A Big Sacrifice
See, although Naples technically allowed female rulers, it had never been done before, and everyone feared the political blowback about making Joanna Queen. But that wasn’t even the worst part. If Joanna did rule, people expected her to give all her powers to her husband the minute she married. Ah, medieval life as a woman. Is it any wonder Joanna lost her mind?
4. She Was An Eligible Bachelorette
With all this power up for grabs, practically every influential clan in Europe vied for baby Joanna’s hand. In the end, Hungary eventually won the family feud. In 1333, when Joanna was still eight years old at most, she was betrothed to the Hungarian Prince Andrew, who was likely even younger than her. Oh boy, did it go south fast.
5. She Had A Strange Beauty
According to contemporary reports, Joanna of Naples was a looker. Portraits depict her with blonde hair and pale, milky skin. She also had charisma to spare; the writer Giovanni Boccaccio described her as “more renowned than other women of her time for lineage, power, and character". But you don’t get that reputation without breaking a few skulls...
6. She Had A Bizarre Upbringing
Prince Andrew probably didn’t know, but he was marrying a girl with a very eccentric upbringing. Joanna’s step-grandmother Sancia of Majorca had raised her, and she did not suffer fools. A brassy broad, Sancia insisted on living like a nun—celibacy included—despite being married to the current King of Naples. So when Joanna became marrying age herself, she followed right in grandma’s footsteps.
7. She Was A Virgin Bride
In the fall of 1333, Andrew and Joanna made it as official as two pre-teens can make it, signing their marriage contracts and receiving a papal dispensation to marry. There was just one big thing missing. Although they were now together in name, they didn’t consummate their union for literal years. The reason why…is pretty gross.
8. Her Husband Wasn’t Ready For Marriage
Although Joanna of Naples was a literal child when she married Andrew of Hungary, the poor Prince was even greener than all that. Indeed, many historians suggest that the royal couple didn’t break in their marriage bed for so long because Andrew was too young to, uh, “perform” his duties. Not that Joanna was that encouraging of him…
9. She Scorned Her Husband
Although Andrew grew up in Naples, the fact that he had Hungarian heritage made everyone, including his new bride, regard him as a foreigner. But Joanna took it to the next level. Instead of merely looking at Andrew with suspicion, Joanna straight-up made fun of him for his “strange” habits. And the humiliations didn’t stop there.
10. She Wanted To Rule Solo
Joanna of Naples had obviously captured the heart of her grandfather King Robert of Naples, because the monarch defied all convention and pressure and refused to schedule Andrew’s coronation—meaning that Joanna still had all her presumed power intact. In fact, as Robert’s health declined, he made regency plans for Joanna alone. Except he had one creepy dying wish for her…
11. She Had To Sleep With Her Enemy
After King Robert passed on January 20, 1343, Joanna was forced into a disgusting act. Although Robert didn’t want Andrew anywhere near his granddaughter’s crown, he did insist that the now-teenage couple finally consummate their marriage. Yep. So two days after Robert’s passing, the still-grieving Joanna had to go get it on with, ugh, Andrew. Don’t worry though, she got him back.
12. She Banned Her Husband From Her Presence
After giving new meaning to “bumping uglies” with Andrew, the newly-minted Queen Joanna made it very clear it was a one and done situation. Once she did her duty, Joanna insisted on living a completely separate life from Andrew, attending a different church and completely avoiding him in society. But Joanna’s biggest revenge was yet to come.
13. She Denied Her Husband’s Private Wish
The now 15-year-old Prince Andrew must not have made a very good impression in the bedchamber, because after their one-night stand, Joanna refused to even let her husband enter her boudoir without her express permission. This, in case you didn’t know, was absolutely unheard of for a woman of her time, and a big kick to the ego in any time.
14. She Was Controlling
The cherry on top of Joanna’s “I’m the boss” marriage was the fact that Andrew didn’t even have his own treasury. Joanna used this to embarrass him in one of the cruelest ways possible. Without two cents of his own to rub together, Andrew had to ask Joanna any time he needed money, and her courtiers carefully controlled his spending.
15. She Had Monster-In-Law
By the summer of 1343, practically all of Europe had got wind of Queen Joanna’s total disdain for Andrew, so Hungary sent in the big guns to advocate for him: His own mother, Elizabeth of Poland. Elizabeth spared no expense while arriving, making sure her daughter-in-law knew she was a force to be reckoned with. And she was—it’s just that Joanna was better.
16. She Wanted To Be The Boss
When Elizabeth of Poland arrived in Joanna’s kingdom, the Queen put in motion her ingenious plan. Determined to show the interfering woman that she wore the pants in her relationship, Joanna initially delayed meeting Elizabeth as long as possible. Then when she did accept an audience with the matriarch, she always wore her crown.
It was a very obvious signal that she was the Queen Regnant here, thank you very much. Before the visit was out, though, Joanna got a whole lot craftier.
17. She Was Cunning
When Elizabeth met Joanna, she quickly learned she’d gravely underestimated the whip-smart young girl. While Elizabeth pushed for Andrew’s official coronation and a transfer of power, Joanna never opposed her—openly. All the same, she also never agreed to it, and always seemed to delay nailing down any details. Clever girl. But trouble was on the horizon.
18. She Wanted To Marry Off Her Sister
Just months after she became Queen, Joanna’s family feuds went from turbulent to downright violent. Her younger sister Maria, also a huge catch for ambitious courtiers, came into the sightline of the powerful noble Charles of Durazzo. At first, Joanna was all for it, and was even present at their engagement in 1343. And then it all unraveled.
19. She Froze In Indecision
Because Maria was such a prized bride, many members of the court were outraged at—and jealous of—Charles of Durazzo’s impertinence. These rivals acted fast and tried to push for an annulment of the forthcoming union before it even happened. Joanna, caught in the middle, at first did nothing about it. This turned out to be a fatal mistake.
20. Her Sister Got Abducted
Two days after her sister’s betrothal, Joanna found herself a new and formidable enemy. Feeling the pressure, Charles of Durazzo didn’t back down, oh no. Instead, he tore a page right out of a twisted fairy tale: He abducted Joanna’s sister Maria, brought her to his castle, had a priest secretly marry them, and then he ravaged her.
As you can imagine, Queen Joanna’s response brought hellfire down on the man.
21. She Got Revenge On Her Enemies
Joanna of Naples was beyond furious at Charles for undermining her authority and, quite frankly, putting her in a tight spot with her courtiers. She launched herself into annulling the marriage herself, even writing letters to the Pope. It didn’t work. Still, Joanna didn’t back down: Although she had to begrudgingly accept the union, she cut off the entire Durazzo family from power. Yet as we'll see, Durazzo would very much come back to haunt her.
22. She Played Favorites
Thing is, for all that Charles of Durazzo was giving Joanna a royal headache, the Queen didn’t have a leg to stand on. Behind closed doors, she may have been hiding a dark secret. By 1344, Joanna started giving very nice parcels of land to her trusted “advisor” Robert of Cabannis, a man who people also whispered was her illicit lover. Well, her husband Andrew had something to say about that.
23. She Was Forced To Sleep With Her Husband
Soon enough, Andrew won one major victory against his wife when he got her to come back to the bedroom. How? He snitched on her “frigid” ways to the Pope himself, who—being a friend of Andrew’s family—then pressured Joanna back into conjugal visits. Real cool, Andrew, real cool. Yet it was still about to reach a heated climax.
24. She Almost Got Excommunicated
Although Joanna had caved in to the Pope’s demands about the bedroom, she stood her ground when it came to her crown and her power. Much to the Vatican’s dismay, she still refused either to coronate Andrew or stop giving away land to her favorites. The Pope’s response was chilling. He threatened to excommunicate the bad girl unless she at least stopped the gift-giving. Ha, you think that will work on Joanna?
25. She Got An Unhappy Surprise
Sometime around the summer of 1345, Joanna of Naples received some pretty earth-shattering news. Her little bedroom visits to her hated husband Andrew had, darn it all, actually worked. Probably to her horror, she was now pregnant. While for some people this would mean slowing down and putting their swollen, pregnant feet up, for Joanna it meant…ending and treason.
26. She Abandoned Her Husband
The beginning of Joanna’s rumored treachery started with a bang. Under increasing pressure from the Pope and Hungary to crown her freaking husband, Joanna just full-on abandoned Andrew. To add insult to injury, some people even claimed the Queen took up with yet another lover during this time, her cousin Louis of Taranto. Then the plot thickened.
27. The Pope Made Her His Enemy
In the late summer of 1345, with Joanna heavily pregnant, the Pope decided to take advantage of her bodily weakness and set a date for Andrew’s coronation once and for all, no matter what the disobedient Queen of Naples had to say about it. The Pope had even picked out a Cardinal to perform the ceremony—and then disaster struck.
28. Her Husband Was In Danger
On the late evening of September 18, Joanna’s husband Andrew was out on a hunting trip and ambled out of his room in the middle of the night. It was a fatal mistake. Out of nowhere, a group of pro-Joanna conspirators jumped on him, barred a door behind him, and push him, all with the pregnant Queen sleeping in a room nearby. But there was worse in store for Andrew.
29. Her Husband Met A Brutal End
Andrew began screaming for help, but his shrieks failed to bring someone quickly enough. With a mighty struggle, the conspirators strangled him. They then performed what might be the single most gruesome act in history: They tied a rope to his, ahem, nether regions and flung his body from a window. Yeah. That happened. Only, the dust hadn’t settled on that horrific night.
30. Her Supporters Got Caught Red-Handed
Immediately after the group threw Andrew’s lifeless body from a window, his Hungarian nurse—having heard his cries for help—rushed into the room and chased them off, just seconds too late. This was bad for Andrew, but worse for Joanna. The nurse waited for Hungarian knights to arrive, and then told them everything she had seen…and suspected.
31. She Was A Suspect
Surprise, surprise, Queen Joanna was right in the middle of the firestorm that rained down on Naples in the wake of Andrew’s bloody demise. After all, there was no way in heck Andrew was having a coronation now, just like Joanna had always wanted. It wasn’t long before she and her inner circle were the top suspects, though no one could prove it. Still, Joanna had something else on her mind…
32. Her Son Was Born Fatherless
On Christmas Day, 1345, Joanna gave birth to Prince Andrew’s posthumous child, a boy she called Charles Martel. The little, fatherless newborn was named Duke of Calabria and a Prince of Salerno the next year, but even the good PR of a bouncing baby boy didn’t help dispel suspicion from the Queen. And, well, Joanna’s next move sure didn’t help.
33. She Wanted To Marry Her Cousin
Right after Andrew met a short end at the long end of a rope, Joanna made a scandalous announcement. Everyone expected her to re-marry to Andrew’s younger brother Stephen, since it was only proper to keep it in the family. Instead, Joanna told them she had decided to wed her old rumored lover, her cousin Louis of Taranto. It did not go down well.
34. Her Betrothal Was Fatal
Joanna’s upcoming nuptials unleashed literal explosions across Europe. The Hungarians accused her of murdering Andrew with a renewed hatred, while Louis of Taranto’s family members erupted into infighting because he was chosen over them. Seriously, people actually passed when Joanna said Yes to the Dress. Hope it was worth it! Well, spoiler alert…it wasn’t.
35. She Defied The Vatican
In August 1347, Joanna and Louis married in defiance of, well, basically everyone who knew them. They even made an enemy of the Pope—again—when they refused to seek his official dispensation for the semi-risque marriage, seeing as they were cousins and all. Ah, if only “semi-risque" was the worst this nightmare union had to offer…
36. Her Second Husband Controlled Her
In the blink of an eye, Joanna realized she had made a grave error. After spending all her first marriage desperately clinging to her power, it only took a couple of years for Louis to wrest everything from her. By 1349, both their faces were on the Neapolitan coins, with Louis’ name coming first and with everyone treating him as King. Yet within the castle walls, it was an even darker story.
37. Her Love Dealt Her A Heartbreaking Betrayal
If Joanna had been attracted to Louis’ raw power, that power turned on her in no time flat. A brutal husband, Louis quickly purged Joanna’s entire court of her supporters, even having one of her favorites, a man named Enrico Caracciolo, executed for adultery. And while this was going on, poor Joanna’s life got even more complex.
38. She Was A Bad Mother
This will probably surprise no one to hear, but Joanna wasn’t exactly the best mother to her son Charles. In fact, she was pretty horrible. During the massive conflicts surrounding her marriage to Louis of Taranto, Joanna panicked just a tad and summarily abandoned Charles, packing him off to his uncle in Hungary. And that’s not even the worst part.
39. She Left Her Son To The Wolves
While Queen Joanna was causing scandals left, right, and center around this time, her young son Charles met a dark end. In May 1348, when he was still only a toddler at two years old, the Queen’s son and heir perished. Needless to say, things were not going Joanna’s way in the 1340s, but they’d get a whole lot more tragic.
40. She Lost All Her Children
In 1348, Joanna was pregnant again, this time with Louis of Taranto’s child. If none of that sounds very good to you, well, it wasn’t. Though she gave birth to a daughter, Catherine, the girl didn’t survive into her first year. In 1351, tragedy struck twice when her daughter Francoise also perished before her first birthday. Joanna never had another child with Louis—and soon enough, she didn’t have a husband.
41. Her Second Husband Perished
Joanna’s union with Louis was ruthless, barren, and also scandalously cut short. In 1362, a strange karma came for the horrific King. After all Louis’ power-hungry grasping, he met his end by a quick twist of fate. One day, he caught a cold while bathing and simply never recovered. By May 1562, the ruler was gone…and Joanna found herself with a terrifying amount of influence.
42. She Became A True Queen
After fighting since she was a baby to step onto her throne solo, Joanna grabbed life without Louis with both hands. She issued a series of pardons, replaced a bunch of her advisors, and was basically the fierce Queen she always wanted to be. For a couple of months, it all seemed great. And then Joanna’s eternal Achilles’ heel struck again.
43. Her Third Husband Wasn’t Good Enough For Her
On December 14, 1562, Joanna got married again, this time to James IV, the titular King of Majorca. And look, I don’t know who hurt this girl (actually, I do), but she had bad taste in husbands. For one, James was a bit of a slacker in the royal department. After all, he was just the “titular” ruler of Majorca, and he didn’t actually have power over it. Oh, but it gets so much grimmer.
44. Her Third Husband Was Insane
Maybe Joanna should have done a background check on her new beau, because this guy was deranged. No, literally. James’s uncle had kept him imprisoned in an iron cage for 14 years, and the trauma had, pretty understandably, done a number on his mental state. It also did a number on his marriage. The new union was, to put it mildly, “turbulent".
45. She Made Her Husband Sign A Pre-Nup
One of the biggest sore spots in Joanna and James’s marriage was the fact that—surprise!—her man wanted to take all her power for himself. James kept insisting that she include him in her government, but Joanna was smarter than that now. She’d even made his exclusion from the throne part of their marriage contract. And James didn’t respond well to this little ploy…
46. Her Husband Left Her
Once James gave up on convincing his wife to hand over the reins, he dealt her a cruel kick. Feeling a little low on self-esteem, James did as most medieval macho men would. He went off to start a battle, trying to recapture Majorca and reinstate himself as King. Not only did this fail, it failed spectacularly—and he dragged Joanna right into it.
47. She Had To Save Her King
Joanna’s husband fell right on his face in his attempt to reclaim Majorca: After very little success, King Henry II of Castile captured the rival “King” and threw him back behind bars. Red with shame, Joanna had to rescue to poor sot, paying a pretty hefty ransom to get her good-for-nothing husband back. Did James thank her? No. Instead, he took revenge.
48. Her Husband Double-Crossed Her
You’d think James would be all, “I owe you one, your highness” when Queen Joanna saved his skin from a savage and embarrassing fate, but nah. Once Joanna paid his ransom, James stayed only briefly in the safety of Naples before abandoning her once more and never coming back. Honestly, good riddance to bad rubbish on that one.
49. She Was Extravagant
In case her erratic decision-making hasn’t made it clear, Joanna had a dual personality thing going on—and so did her court. Although she was friends with puritanical figures like the pious Catherine of Siena, her palaces were bursting with menageries of exotic animals, and she collected foreign servants just like she collected these pets. Why am I not shocked that her royal life was a hot, chaotic mess?
50. She Got Married A Fourth Time
By 1375, Joanna was desperate for a surviving heir, so she made one last-ditch effort. She married again (!), this time to Duke Otto of Brunswick-Grubenhagen, who I sure hope was more handsome than his name. Still, Otto was happy to play the supportive and un-ambitious husband in the background, so that was a change. Unfortunately, he still helped get her ended.
51. She Held Out Hope For A Baby
Joanna’s marriage to Otto coincided with another extremely tense period of her reign, and she wouldn’t get out of this one alive. Her old enemy Charles of Durazzo had, for reasons completely unknown to me, been hoping Joanna would somehow make him her heir. Naturally, then, her new union and its baby-making potential had already set him on edge—so he was absolutely livid at the next turn of events.
52. She Named A Surprising Heir
In the end, Joanna and Otto never conceived, and in 1380, the Queen finally gave up and named an heir to succeed her throne and her power. To Charles of Durazzo’s shock (and no one else’s), she didn’t name him. Instead, she chose the dark horse Louis I of Anjou to carry on her legacy when she was gone. As it turned out, she wasn’t around much longer.
53. Her Old Enemy Got Her Back
At this point, Charles was apoplectic with rage, and he exacted bloody revenge on Joanna. He mustered all his men and attack Naples in June 1381 with a massive force. The city didn’t stand a chance. In late summer, Charles entered Naples, besieged Joanna’s castle, and forced her to surrender, imprisoning her shortly after. Then he truly had his fun.
54. She Passed In Fear
After capturing Joanna, Charles of Durazzo got word that Louis of Anjou was coming to rescue his Queen and benefactor with force that would surely trounce him. “Oddly” enough, the Queen passed mere days after the news hit, passing on July 27, 1382, at the age of 56. Charles claimed she passed of natural causes…but nothing could be more unnatural than her end.
55. She Met A Violent End
Although we can’t know what Joanna’s final moments really were, most historians agree that Charles had the Queen executed—and the possibilities are harrowing. One account claims that men strangled her with a silk cord while she was on her knees praying. Yet the more accepted version of events is somehow even more gruesome than all this.
56. There Are Dark Rumors About Her Passing
According to multiple accounts, Queen Joanna met her end gasping for breath. In particular, Louis I of Anjou’s wife Marie of Blois claimed that four men slew the Queen, tying her hands and feet and then smothering her in between two luxurious feather mattresses. It was not a way to go…and there were two final indignities left.
57. The People Watched Her Body Rot
In order to prove to citizens that their Queen was gone, Joanna’s enemies publicly displayed her body as proof of her demise. Although this was somewhat common in the Medieval age, it really doesn’t make it less disgusting to imagine poor Joanna’s body, bloated and rotting, in front of everyone. But the next insult came from the right hand of God himself.
58. The Pope Finally Got The Best Of Her
Before her brutal passing, Joanna of Naples was in yet another fight with the Pope, and this one was a real doozy. In the infamous Western Schism of 1378, Joanna stayed true to her bad girl roots and backed a different Pope to take power. It…didn’t work out in her favor. As a result, the Pope had excommunicated her at long last—and now he had come to twist the blade in.
59. The Pope Refused To Bury Her
Because of Joanna’s “excommunicated” status, the Pope refused to bury her body in consecrated Church property anywhere in her vicinity, treating her like he would a demon. Yep, this holy man of God just had to get one last posthumous snub in there to our girl. So where did the great Queen Joanna of Naples end up? Ugh…
60. Her Grave Is A Cesspool
With no legitimate graveyard to put her in, the Pope thought he knew just the place to put Queen Joanna: A dirty well. Yes, attendants really unceremoniously dumped the Queen’s body at the bottom of a well on the grounds of Santa Chiara Church. It was an inglorious end for a woman who had reached so high and fallen so very far.