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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Last Years of Queen Johanna

By Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886)

From the ‘History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations’

THE OLD hereditary faction of the Nuñez and Gamboa, whose heads were Najara and the Condestable, had already again showed themselves among the grandees. What was next to come depended chiefly upon the Queen’s state of health. The disease from which she was suffering first declared itself on Philip’s journey to Lyons; that is, in the year 1503. After taking leave of him with many tears, she never more raised her eyes, or said a word save that she wished to follow him. When she learnt that he had obtained a safe-conduct for her also, she heeded her mother no longer; but ordered her carriage to proceed to Bayonne; thence—for horses were refused her—she attempted to set out on foot; and when the gate was closed, she remained, in spite of the entreaties of her attendant ladies and her father confessor, in her light attire, sitting upon the barrier until late into the November night; it was only her mother who at length contrived to persuade her to seek her chamber. At last she found her husband. She found him devoted to a beautiful girl with fair hair. In a momentary outburst of jealous passion, she had the girl’s hair cut off. Philip did not conceal his vexation. Here—who can fathom the unexplored depths of the soul, see where it unconsciously works, and where it unconsciously suffers; who can discover where the root of its health or sickness lies?—her mind became overshadowed. In Spain her love for Philip, and in the Netherlands her reverence for her father, were her guiding passions: these two feelings possessed her whole being, alternately influenced her, and excluded the rest of the world. Since then, she still knew the affairs of ordinary life, and could portray vividly and accurately to her mind distant things; but she knew not how to suit herself to the varying circumstances of life.

Whilst still in the Netherlands, she expressed the wish that her father should retain the government in his hands. On her return to Spain, she entered her capital in a black-velvet tunic and with veiled face; she would frequently sit in a dark room, her cap drawn half over her face, wishing to be able only to speak for once with her father. But it was not until after her husband’s death that her disease became fully developed. She caused his corpse to be brought into a hall, attired in dress half Flemish, half Spanish, and the obsequies celebrated over it. She never, the while, gave vent to a sob. She did not shed tears, but only sat and laid her hand to her chin. The plague drove her away from Burgos, but not away from her loved corpse. A monk had once told her that he knew of a king who awoke to life after being fourteen years dead. She took the corpse about with her. Four Frisian stallions drew the coffin, which was conveyed at night, surrounded by torches. Sometimes it halted, and the singers sang wailing songs. Having thus come to Furnillos, a small place of fourteen or fifteen houses, she perceived there a pretty house with a fine view, and remained there; “for it was unseemly for a widow to live in a populous city.” There she retained the members of the government who had been installed, the grandees of her court dwelling with her. Around the coffin she gave her audiences….

In Tortoles the King met his daughter. As soon as they set eyes on each other, the father took off his hat, and the daughter her mourning-veil. When she prostrated herself to kiss his feet, and he sank on one knee to recognize her royal dignity, they embraced and opened their hearts to each other. He shed tears. Tears she had none, but she granted his desire; only she would not consent to bury the corpse. “Why so soon?” she inquired. Nor would she go to Burgos, where she had lost her husband. He took her to Tordesillas. Here the queen of such vast realms lived for forty-seven years. She educated her youngest daughter, gazed from the window upon the grave of her dear departed, and prayed for his eternal happiness. Her soul never more disclosed itself to the world.