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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Halloween is coming, so it’s a good time for spooky jewelry! Yesterday, I gave you bats. Today I give you skulls. My Juana Skull Necklace is now available in sterling silver with white sapphire eyes for $500.

Juana Skull Necklace
© Wendy Brandes 2007-2008
Want it? Email me at wbjewelry at hotmail dot com.

The silver necklace is the most affordable of my Juana pieces, which started with my 18K gold and ruby Peekaboo Skull Necklace.

Juana Peekaboo Skull Necklace
18K gold and rubies
© Wendy Brandes 2007-2011

My whole Juana jewelry concept was inspired by Juana of Castile, better known to history as “Juana la Loca” (“Juana the Mad”). Juana, born in 1479, was an older sister of Katherine of Aragon of Henry VIII fame. More importantly, she was the second eldest daughter of “the Catholic Monarchs” who united the Spanish kingdoms: Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. You may recognize the latter names because Isabella was famously a patron of Christopher Columbus; her support enabled his expedition to reach the Americas in 1492. That just so happened to be the same year that Isabella and Ferdinand — after asking for the Pope’s permission — signed a decree ordering the expulsion of all Jews from Spain within four months. The alternatives were conversion or death. In other words, don’t hold your breath waiting for me to do an Isabella of Spain jewel. I usually appreciate a murdering queen, but this large-scale Jew-killing spree really rubs me the wrong way. (Note: Isabella and Ferdinand had it in for Muslims and Protestants too.) Seriously, even the Pope who approved the Spanish Inquisition complained that it went too far. That’s why my Isabella jewelry is named for an Isabella with much more acceptable killing habits. No “jew”elry for you, Isabella of Castile!


Anyjew, back to Juana. In 1496, just before Juana turned 17, Isabella and Ferdinand married her off to Flemish Archduke Philip, known as “Philip the Handsome,” the son of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Keeping it all in the family, Philip’s sister Margaret was married to Juana’s only brother and the heir to the Spanish throne, Juan.

Philip the Handsome. Seriously.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Juana’s elder sister, another Isabella, was married to Manuel I of Portugal. Even before these married siblings had a chance to have any kids, Juana was a distant third in line to the throne. She was basically like England’s Prince Harry is today, relative to Queen Elizabeth II. Imagine how shocking it would be if, during Queen Liz’s lifetime, Princes Charles and William were tragically removed from the line of succession and party-loving Harry became King Henry IX. We would all be like, “Holy shizz!” Well, that’s what happened to Juana. Her brother Juan died six months after his marriage to Margaret and Margaret’s child was stillborn. In 1498, Juana’s sister Isabella died in childbirth. Then the son Isabella gave birth to died in 1500. Suddenly, Juana became very important. In 1502, she was officially recognized as the heiress to the Castilian throne and Philip was recognized as her consort. Apparently, no one thought she was too crazy for the job at the time.


When Juana’s mother, Isabella, died in 1504, Juana became Queen of Castile. Juana’s father, Ferndinand, remained King of Aragon but lost his title of King of Castile. Dad was not happy with this. He felt that he and Juana should be considered joint rulers of ALL the Spanish territories. But, he said, Juana was now crazy so he would be a good father and rule in her name. Naturally, that made Philip unhappy. His opinion was that if anyone was going to rule Castile on behalf of crazy Juana, it should be her husband. Ferdinand’s response was to quickly get married again to try to produce some more heirs of his own. (And you thought your family dynamics sucked?)


Was Juana really crazy or just the victim of power-hungry men who wanted to rule the kingdom that was rightfully hers? It’s difficult to say. You can’t trust the opinions of Ferdinand, Philip or any of their supporters. As we’ve seen, men tend to be unreliable narrators when it comes to women who threaten their power. On the other hand, there was a family history of mental instability. Juana’s maternal grandmother, yet another Isabella, suffered from severe post-partum depression that deteriorated into madness when she was forced into lifelong seclusion by her stepson in — surprise! — an earlier power struggle over a throne. Certainly, any problems that Juana had may have been worsened by her lousy family life. She was, no pun intended, madly in love with Philip. While he spent enough time with her to father six children, he was frequently unfaithful, which caused wild jealous outbursts on her part. A long, tense visit with her parents in Spain in 1501 – 1502 worsened her mood, especially when Philip left her there –pregnant — to go home to Flanders and his many mistresses. Juana wanted to follow him, but her mother locked her up. You see how someone who was a little high-strung could lose it in that environment.

Too bad there was no Prozac in the 1500s.

Juana eventually got back to Philip, of course, and after Isabella’s death, they went to Spain to claim Juana’s inheritance. Juana and Philip prevailed long enough to be sworn in as rulers in 1506, only for Philip to die of typhus months later, while Juana was pregnant with her sixth child. Legend has it that after her beloved’s death, she refused to be parted from him and took his coffin on her travels around Spain, frequently opening the coffin to kiss her dead husband. That’s what inspired my Juana peekaboo skull jewelry. (How’s that for a good story, skull haters?) The story I prefer to believe is that she opened the coffin only in response to a rumor that the corpse had been stolen. Nevertheless, it was the gory version that seized hold of my imagination as a designer.

Juana Peekaboo Skull Ring
18K gold, diamonds and white sapphires
© Wendy Brandes 2007-2008

After Philip’s death, Juana did try to secure the throne for herself, but she didn’t have the money or the men, plus there were increasingly alarming rumors about her sanity. Ultimately, her loving father locked her up and ruled in her name. He never did manage to have a surviving son with his second wife, so upon Ferdinand’s death in 1516, Juana’s son Charles inherited both Aragon and Castile and ruled in his and his mother’s name until her death in 1555. The same son went on to become the Holy Roman Emperor. Eventually, he was succeeded in that role by Juana’s other son, another Ferdinand. Her four daughters all became queens. And whenever any of Juana’s royal descendents showed any sign of craziness, guess who got the blame?

If you’re looking for more Juana reading, I highly recommend The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner, a novel told in Juana’s voice. Gortner’s Juana is a passionate and impetuous woman who doesn’t lose her mind until everything is taken from her. And you’ve got to love any historical fiction that has a classic line like this on the third page: “‘Fie.’ I gave a toss of my head. ‘Let her first show respect for Spain.'” I need to say “Fie!” much more often.

There was a Juana movie in 2001. I’ve never seen it.

Really, all of the recent writing on Juana questions whether she was loca. The Scroll of Seduction by Gioconda Belli interweaves the fictionalized story of Juana with the purely fictional story of Lucia, an orphan living in a convent school in Spain in the 1960s. The Juana portions are excellent, but the Lucia parts … not so much. This is what I wrote in my Amazon.com review of the book: “Lucia is being told Juana’s story by an obsessed 40-year-old historian, Manuel, who lures Lucia away from her boarding school on the weekends, brings her to his apartment and insists the 16-year-old wear a historically appropriate costume in order that she can better identify with Juana (and give Manuel insight into Juana’s psyche) during the story-telling sessions… The framing device of Manuel’s relationship with Lucia is a gothic Flowers in the Attic catalog of lies and sordid behavior that seems unnecessary and over-the-top.” Or, to make a long review short: “Fie!”

I just discovered another novel, That Other Juana by Linda Carlino, on Amazon UK so I’m going to read that next. As far as I can tell there’s no inappropriate 1960s relationships in it. For nonfiction, there’s Juana the Mad: Sovereignty and Dynasty in Renaissance Europe by Bethany Aram. Make sure you get these books from the library rather than the bookstore, because you need to save your pennies for jewelry shopping. Here are the rest of my Juana pieces:

Also, check out my previous post on a band called Mad Juana.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

38 Responses to “Thursday Book Club: Juana La Loca”

  1. Oh Lady E says:


    I have yet to come up with a costume (or a party to go to). What will you be dressing as, m’dear?

  2. WendyB says:

    If I go to a party…Anne Boleyn, of course! I’ve been wanting to do that since I made my necklace in 2006 but have had a couple of years of no parties/traveling that day. Very depressing.

  3. Lynette says:

    Interesting post, WendyB. I like that name, Juana.

  4. Whiskeymarie says:

    I would like the fancier pieces, but my sensible side wants to know more about the sterling and sapphire Juana necklace.
    My husband would question a “greater than a thousand” purchase right now.
    Damn house.
    e-mail me.

  5. Skye says:

    It’s so fascinating the way women were called crazy (whether they were or not) and removed from power so much more often than actually completely insane men were allowed to rampage around freely.

  6. Siljesfashion says:

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Annie says:

    !!! The locket! Pure genius. I love it.

  8. Sharon Rose says:

    A fantastic post, thanks for sharing your inspiration with us!! Your pieces are all stunning as usual!!

  9. josephine says:

    ooh, i love the Juana Peekaboo Skull Ring – delish!

  10. Songy says:

    Great stories to go with great jewellery.

    Juana Peekaboo Skull Necklace with white gold and black diamond is my favourite.

  11. Ashe Mischief says:

    Amazing post, Miss Wendy! I do think I realized how much I missed your lessons in history (and jewelry design) until this post…

    “No “jew”elry for you, Isabella of Castile!”
    Best. Line. Ever.

  12. Princess Poochie says:

    I love all your posts soooo much!

    Great way to start my morning.


  13. enc says:

    Since I’m not up on my 1400s-1500s history of the Spanish Monarchy, this was really helpful in giving me a look at the players. And all the insanity.

    People really wanted to be in charge, and did anything and everything inadvisable and insane to reach the top. And it wasn’t just the rulers of Spain: Locking people up, marrying in haste, jockeying for position, having people killed, all this went on in other European courts as well. And now? Hmmmm.

    I’m glad I don’t have the job of Queen, it’s a lot of responsibility. And if I make one wrong move, someone will try to gaslight me!

    I love all the Juana jewelry, but my favorite is the Peekaboo Skull Necklace, because every locket should have a secret.

  14. Bella says:

    I’m in-love with your Juana Peekaboo Skull Ring!!! Wow!

  15. La Belette Rouge says:

    The gold Juana necklace is on my list of things to get should I become queen of any country.

  16. Emily says:

    that peekaboo skull necklace is AMAZING.

  17. stef m says:

    I’ll say it again: if I had you for a history teacher in high school, I might have gone on to become a historian myself. Seriously, you need to write a book. “History’s Coolest Chicks” or something

  18. pretty face says:

    I love reading/hearing stories like this – it makes you realise how huge history is.

    On another note, I also love the name Juana. x

  19. DaisyChain says:

    Thank you for the kind comment.
    Your jewellery is wonderful!

  20. Make Do and Mend says:

    Very interesting and inspiring. I’m still all for the wolf jewellery!

  21. Couture Carrie says:

    I love this post, Wendy! The history and inspiration are enchanting, and that peek-a-boo ring is so fantastic!
    Treat, indeed!


  22. ♥ fashion chalet says:

    Halloween fun. 🙂
    I love those necklaces.

    And, thank you 🙂

    xo/ fashion chalet

  23. Cakespy says:

    Dammit this is sheer brilliance. I have to tell you, your jewelry is on my “I WANT IT” list, of which Mr. Cakespy is oh so painfully aware. It’s so much cooler still to get some background and see what makes you tick.

  24. Danielle says:

    Philip the Handsome – ummm…not so much. I love the bat pendant below.

  25. Isabel says:

    I love that skull ring! It makes me think of Iggy Pop. You are brilliant.

  26. Ashlee says:

    Love the story…your pieces are fabulous.

  27. lisa says:

    That’s a great skull ring story–and this coming from a girl who isn’t too crazy about skulls! =)

  28. pistols at dawn says:

    The artist couldn’t cover up Ferdinand’s drunk eyes in the painting? I’d have had him killed.

  29. fashion herald says:

    the peekaboo skull is now top on my list.

  30. Spandexpony says:

    Dude. That peekaboo skull ring is fabulous to the extreeeeemmmmee!!! PS I love your history lessons!

  31. -h of candid cool says:

    i love the peek a boo/coffin connection.

  32. Diabolina 3.1 says:

    god your jewelry and inspirations KILL ME. why can’t i be rich. f. have no idea what to be this year.

  33. Nick McGivney says:

    I don’t really know how I ended up here, but I’ll blame enc. Anyway, wow on the blog and this on the juana:

    Nothing is new.

  34. Shannon says:

    I love Thursday Book Club. you research and write so well.

    If I lived in the 1500s I’m pretty sure I’d have been locked up by now… Poor mad (or not) queens.

  35. xenalyte says:

    Gorgeous jewelry! Am trying like mad to justify it … this season will be my third to portray Juana at the Texas Renaissance Festival, and she would totally love a skull necklace.

    FWIW, I play her as a Young Skinny Elvis type of Juana – freshly married, madly in love with Philip, and utterly obsessed with him. She’s a blast to play!

  36. Holy crap. That is some complicated throne juggling. Well, if she did indeed have a habit of looking at her husband in the coffin, he must have really earned his nickname to still give her the sweats as a corpse.

  37. Anna says:

    I’m just curious, how did you get to a position where you are able to make jewellery out of such precious stones and metals?

    • WendyB says:

      I’m not sure exactly what your question is … If you’re looking for advice about how to get started, I originally went into business with a partner who had 25 years of experience in the diamond business. I definitely wouldn’t have gone into this area without her knowledge. If you don’t have someone to advise you like that, you could start with a gemology course.