• Justine McLellan

Joanna, Queen of Naples

Joanna the first inherited the throne of Naples from her grandfather in 1344. She knew she would have to share power with her cousin and soon-to-be husband, Andrew of Hungary, because he too had a strong claim to the throne. The thought of sharing power enraged Joanna; she and her allies convinced the Church that she should rule alone. Joanna was crowned on the orders of Pope Clement VI .

Joanna’s marriage to Andrew was not a happy one. Her spouse was constantly fearing for his safety- rightfully so, because two attempts were made on his life while her was in his wife's court. The first, a staged hunting accident, was foiled. Andrew was not so lucky the second time around when a group of assassins strangled him and threw him out of the window. Some sources claim he was strangled with a cord and flung from a window with a rope tied to his junk.

Joanna was utterly uninvested in the catching of Andrew’s killer, which made her look very guilty in the eyes of the the Vatican and Andrew’s powerful Hungarian relatives. When she made public her plans to marry one of her Taranto cousins and not Andrew's younger brother Stephen, the Hungarians openly accused her of the murder. In 1348, Hungary invaded Naples, so Joanna fled to Marseilles.

Not only did Joanna have a taste for power, she also had a vast appetite for riches. Some sources claim that in 1347, under papal sponsorship, she opened a holy brothel cheekily named “The Abbey”. The brothel looked just like a monastery, the women attended daily mass, abstained from work on Sundays, and served only the most elite Christians.

While it may seem that this Catholic façade would be meant to disguise the carnal entertainments inside, the Abbey was widely known as a whorehouse, and operated with the blessing of the pope. At the time, prostitution (and sex with prostitutes) was considered to be a tolerable sin by the Catholic church. When ranking rape, homosexuality, and the ‘seduction’ of a noble woman, prostitution was the lesser of these evils. In the eleventh century, the Catholic church, fearing that its vast properties risked getting inherited by the children of clergymen, prohibited priests from getting married. Clergymen were expected to be celibate; however, relations with prostitutes, as they did not threaten the church’s properties, were tolerated. Sleeping with a prostitute was considered a forgivable sin, marrying a reformed whore was a noble act, but consorting with a ‘pure’ woman while she was still in the life was a mortal sin-so men were encouraged to police their women to protect their own souls.

In 1380, she landed on the wrong side of a papal dispute when she backed the French anti-pope Clement VII against Urban VI. Urban VI took her crown, imprisoned her, excommunicated her, and gave her throne to her niece’s husband, Charles of Durazzo.

She died in prison at the age of 54. The official death statement claims that Joanna died of natural causes. However, most sources agree that she was murdered in an act of vengeance for the death of her first husband Andrew. Some claim that she was strangled with a silk chord while she was praying, while others argue that she was smothered with a pillow.

As she had been excommunicated by Urban VI, she was prohibited from receiving a catholic burial. She was unceremoniously tossed in a well instead.


Nancy Goldstone "Joanna: The Notorious Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily"

©2019 by Kaytlin Bailey and Justine McLellan.