Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Lady Queen - Book Review

The Lady Queen
The Notorious Reign of Joanna I - Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily
by Nancy Goldstone
Walker Publishing 2009
Joanna of Naples - Wikipedia
Genealogies of Italian nobility - scroll down to the bottom for Naples

Called Joanna in English - Giovanna in Italian - Joanna was the queen of Naples & Sicily and the Countess of Provence (in France) in the 1300s. Since this was during the time of the Anti-Popes (1305 - 1377), with the papacy based at Avignon in Provence, Joanna was ruler of the popes for several years. This afforded her excellent protection and was probably the major reason why she was able to rule for so long, at a time when men expected to be the rulers.

Joanna's father was Charles of Calabria, and her mother was Marie of Valois. These were minor players in the royal stakes. Marie's grandfather was King Philippe III of France. Philippe's parents were King Louis IX of France (later Saint Louis) and Marguerite of Provence.

Joanna inherited the throne of Naples from her grandfather - Robert the Wise. Joanna was the first women to rule a country in her own right - but she was still fought over by the kings of Europe because Naples was a major prize.

Joanna was married 4 times - the first time at age 6 to her cousin Andrew (Endre) of Hungary. Andrew was immature, given to extravagance, and mercilessly egged on by his parents to insist on having equal rights with Joanna in ruling Naples. Joanna did not want this at all. In fact she had no intentions of sharing her power with anyone. And eventually, Andrew would be murdered in a spectacular fashion by some Neapolitan aristocrats. The fallout from this would be serious for Joanna, barely twenty years of age, and facing immense odds from forces inside and outside of her kingdom.

And in the years of her reign, they would be many. Her first set of in-laws, the Hungarians, would ruthlessly persecute her, insisting that it was she who arranged for Andrew's murder, if not actually participating in it. There was her sister, Maria, whose husband Charles was made Count of Durazzo (a city on what is now Albania). Charles and Maria constantly stirred up trouble and looked to replace Joanna as Queen.

There were also troubles that no one could have predicted, most devastating being the Black Death that came through Naples on a regular basis. This depopulation not only wrecked a vibrant economy, it also left the country open to invasion. Warfare was something that Joanna would know on a regular basis, and more often than not she chose her next three husbands as much for their military prowess as for their ability to get her with an heir.

Over 4 marrriages, Joanna gave birth to 3 children - but none of them survived to adulthood. They all died as children - her daughter Catherine died at age 15.

Joanna was eventually assassinated on 12 May 1382 by her sister's husband, Charles of Durazzo. Joan was smothered with pillows, in revenge for the method of Duke Andrew's assassination. The kingdom of Naples was left to decades of recurring succession wars.

Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the Decameron - a series of stories that take place during the Black death plague - during this time. Boccaccio even lived in Naples for a while, as well.

The ghost of Andrew, her first husband and his death would always haunt Joanna, and she would go down in history as a woman who was deceitful, lustful, depraved and murderous. This is a myth that the author, Nancy Goldstone, carefully picks apart in her history.

This book was relatively easy to read although some parts of the papal politics became repetitive and boring. Joanna herself was never boring.


Anonymous said...

I've never heard of Joanna before. She certainly lived an interesting life. I would love to read more about her but not if there are too many boring parts about religion.

Historia said...

The parts about the popes, and the papal states are far more concerned with politics, than with religion.
There are very few mentions of the crusades, the inquisition or the vatican, and if they are mentioned, it is only in passing. The books is definitely not trying to prosetylize.
The pope had far more political control back then, than he does now.
If you like history, I still think you will like this book.