|Robert the Wise|
The Kingdom of NaplesBorn in March 1328 Joanna was the fourth child of Charles, Duke of Calabria and his second wife Marie de Valois. Three siblings predeceased her; Eloisa who lived 10-11 months in 1325, Maria who was born in 1326 and died sometime in 1328 and Charles Martel who lived eight days in April 1327. A second Maria followed in May 1329, born posthumously after the death of her father on 9th November 1328.
Joanna’s father was the son of King Robert the Wise of Naples and Charles was his father’s heir. The kingdom of Naples[i] stretched from the Apennines to Calabria. Naples had been a papal fief since Charles of Anjou conquered it using papal funds. In a contract dated November 1265 Charles and his heirs had to pay the papal treasury eight thousand ounces of gold[ii] annually and a white horse every three years.
The kingdom of Naples was seen to have just laws and with a stable currency and secure roads, hostels for travelling merchants, tournaments for the nobility the kingdom was attractive to those searching for stability. Robert’s court attracted Petrarch who sought Robert’s literary approval. Petrarch wrote of him;
‘Who in Italy, and indeed throughout Europe is more outstanding than Robert?’[iii]
‘Happy, peaceful, generous and magnificent Naples with its one monarch’[v]
as opposed to his native Florence.
Charles had been a high spirited teenager and Robert had employed one Eleazar to tutor his son. Charles was given the dukedom of Calabria in his early twenties and in 1322 was entrusted with dislodging the current Aragonese king of Sicily Frederick III. Like the several attempts that Robert had made, Charles was unsuccessful but he acquitted himself with honour on the battlefield and made his name as a soldier.
When Charles’ first wife Catherine of Hapsburg, daughter of Albert I of Germany, died childless in 1323, Robert sent Eleazar to help negotiate the marriage with Marie. The fifteen year old Marie married the 26 year old Charles in 1324.
In 1326 at the age of 28 Charles was employed by the ruling Guelph[vi] Florentines to defend the city against the Lord of neighbouring Lucca, the Ghibelline[vii] Castruccio Castracani. The Florentines were prepared to pay Charles two hundred thousand gold florins[viii] and give him control of Florence.
Charles and his wife Marie moved their court to Florence, where his rule was not universally popular. Charles spent twice the allocated monies which caused upset, although his supporters claimed that the arrival of the court meant an increase in business for tailors and cloth merchants if no-one else. The wives of the Florentine burghers and merchants were quick to follow the fashions worn by Marie and her ladies;
‘In the year 1326….the Duke of Calabria, at the petition which the ladies of Florence made to the duchess his wife, restored to the said ladies a certain unbecoming and disreputable ornament of thick tresses of white and yellow silk which they wore about their faces instead of their hair.’[ix]
Joanna was born in or en route to Florence and when the family returned to Naples in 1328 Marie was again pregnant.
The Invasion of the Holy Roman Emperor
|Louis of Bavaria|
The Ghibellines invited the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis of Bavaria[x], to invade Italy. Louis, who had been refused his coronation as emperor[xi] by Pope John XXII, decided to invade the kingdom of Naples in return for Robert’s temerity in sending Charles to Florence, thus upsetting the balance of power in the region.
Louis formed an alliance with Frederick III of Sicily, one of the most inveterate foes of the Neapolitans. Louis attacked from the north and Frederick attacked from the south. Louis’ advance down through Italy was unimpeded as most city states were happy to pay tribute to be left alone. The Ghibelline cities of Milan, Verona, Ferrara and Mantua threw open their gates to the imperial forces and were rewarded with imperial titles.
Louis entered Rome in January 1328 and was crowned by one of his supporters, Sciara Colonna. It was at this point that Robert called Charles home. Florence was left to the care of a Viceroy and a standing army of 100,000 men.
From Avignon[xii] Pope John issued a bull denouncing Louis’ coronation and deposing him. In return Louis deposed the pope and set up one of his choosing. Louis stayed in Rome and had himself re-crowned by his new pope Nicholas V on Whit Sunday.
‘The installation of the anti-pope was a miscalculation of the first order and helped John XXII to a cheap victory.’[xiii]
The magnificent coronation ceremony cost so much Louis was unable to pay his soldiers. Consequently, when the citizens of Rome rebelled in August 1328 Louis was forced to retreat to Germany.
Even so disaster struck the Neapolitan royal family; Charles died suddenly in November 1328, from a fever brought on by over-exertion in Charles’ favourite sport, falconry. This left the infant Joanna as Robert’s heir. Two years later in 1330 she was given homage by the members of her grandfather’s court as his heir; a ceremony that her great-uncle Philip and aunt Catherine de Valois[xiv] refused to attend.
A Tumultuous Childhood
Joanna lived at her grandparents’ court at Castel Nuovo from the age of five. Her grandmother Queen Sancia was Robert’s second wife[xv]. Robert’s first wife, and mother of his sons[xvi], Yolande was the daughter of the King of Aragon, Peter III. Castel Nuovo became a centre of a ‘spiritual’ movement; Franciscans flocked to Naples. The queen’s brother, a friar James of Majorca begged on the streets of the old town.
One of the most important persons during Joanna’s childhood was her nurse Philippa, who had been a wet nurse working for Joanna’s paternal grandmother Yolande. Before she died in 1332 Marie made Philippa guardian of Joanna and Philippa’s husband[xvii] was made Robert’s Seneschal. Boccaccio was distinctly unimpressed;
‘What a ridiculous thing to see an African from a slave prison, standing before Robert, the king, performing royal service for the young nobleman, governing the court and making laws for those in power!’[xviii]
|Sancia of Majorca|
The ultra-religious and ascetic Sancia undertook responsibility for Joanna and Maria’s education after Marie’s death. Sancia’s influence was diluted by the other members of the royal entourage. There were plenty of relatives who all too ready for political intrigue and infighting; the ambitious focussed their intrigues on Joanna, the power to come. But Boccaccio claimed that;
‘Nothing serious, arduous or great was accomplished unless it was approved by Robert, Philippa or Sancia.’[xix]
Also living in Naples, although she held a separate court, was Catherine of Valois, married to Robert’s younger brother Philip of Taranto. By 1332 Catherine was widowed; she was the titular empress of the Latin Empire of Constantinople[xx]. Catherine, eager to make good her claim to her inheritance for her three sons Robert, Louis and Philip, had a court of her own close to Castel Nuovo. Catherine enjoyed earthly pleasures and had a string of lovers including Niccolo Acciaiuoli, a Florentine banker.
Catherine was arrogant and as such offended her brother-in-law John of Durazzo and his second wife Agnes de Périgord who also had three sons; Charles, Louis and Robert. The rivalry between the two women deepened when John died and his eldest son, the 13 year old Charles became Duke of Durazzo[xxi]. Agnes was ambitious for her sons and felt very deeply the difference between their ranks and those of their cousins.
Chronicles – Froissart, Penguin Classics 1968
The Holy Roman Empire – Friedrich Heer, Phoenix 1995
Joanna – Nancy Goldstone, Phoenix 2010
Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011
A Distant Mirror – Barbara Tuchman, MacMillan London Ltd 1989
[ii] Later reduced to seven thousand ounces of gold
[iii] Joanna - Petrarch
[v] A Distant Mirror - Tuchman
[vi] A political party favouring the pope
[ix] Joanna - Goldstone
[x] Also known as Ludwig
[xii] Where he was residing as a result of the dispute between the popes and the king of France
[xiii] The Holy Roman Empire - Heer
[xiv] Marie’s older sister
[xvi] Their second child Louis, died at the age of 9
[xvii] An Ethiopian former slave
[xviii] Joanna - Goldstone
[xxi] Who was to marry Joanna’s sister Marie