Felipe el Hermoso, who ruled Spain in the 15th Century, is interesting in a “gossipy” kind of way, as he has gone down in history as the man who drove Juana la Loca to madness with his infidelities.
I could have also talked about Felipe González, who played an important part in post-Franco politics as the leader of the PSOE, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party.
Or this post could also be about Felipe de Borbón, Spain’s handsome Prince. It will be interesting to see what happens to him as the country becomes disenchanted with Spain’s monarchy (the King breaking his leg while shooting elephants in Botswana in the middle of the crisis, his son-in-law being judged for corruption and his nephew shooting himself in the foot, literally.)
In the end, I have gone with Felipe el Hermoso, because of his connection with Juana la Loca, Spain’s mad queen. (Who knows, I might have to come back to write about Felipe de Borbón and his fairy-tale marriage to ex-journalist Letizia soon.)
Felipe El Hermoso
Felipe el Hermoso heads a story of intrigue, scandal and power struggle.
Felipe “the handsome one”, ruler of Burgundy, became part of Spain’s royalty when he married Juana, daughter of the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Kings) in 1496. This arranged marriage protected their kingdoms from the French threat. It suited Felipe, who already owned a few dukedoms, (Luxembourg and Flanders amongst others) and was hungry for power, just fine.
When the Queen of Castille, one of Spain’s biggest kingdoms, died in 1504, Felipe began to lick his lips as he saw himself sitting comfortably on the throne next to his wife Juana, who would inherit the land. However, the Queen had asked in her will that the throne remain with her husband Fernando if Juana showed any signs of madness. Oops, Juana eventually became Juana la Loca, and already then she began to show signs of mental instability.
Juana’s jealousy was slowly beginning to drive her mad and became visible in actions such as her attacking with a comb one of the court’s women, whom she suspected of having an affair with Felipe (or pulling out her hair with her hands, depending on which internet source you believe). However, King Fernando was not able to hang on to Castille for very long, and soon Felipe became the ruler of Spain. (If you are interested in the long list of coincidences which resulted in Felipe becoming King, visit the Wikipedia page.)
His ruling did not last long, which was probably a good thing as it was characterised by corruption and cronyism. In September 1506, six months after becoming King, Felipe died after drinking a glass of cold water during a game of ball.
Poisoned? Most probably typhus fever, but that was one of the conspiracy theories at the time.
Shed No Tears
For a start, she didn’t weep at all for her husband’s death, even though her love for him was uncontested. There were rumours that the mad Queen asked for Felipe’s heart to be taken out of his body, so it would not belong to anyone else. A few months later, when Juana was adviced to leave the City of Burgos to escape an epidemic, she decided to take Felipe’s body with her, to stay close to him at all times. Her journey became a pilgrimage with her husband’s body and it wasn’t until her father came to look after her, that she was separated from Felipe.
Juana’s father, Fernando, came back to Castille to reclaim the throne. Fearing his daughter would at some point try to reign again, he confined her to a convent in Tordesillas, Valladolid, proclaiming her insane. One of her six children, Carlos, eventually became King and also made sure his power wasn’t challenged by making sure his mother remained in the convent.
Juana died in 1555, aged 51, having spent the last year’s of her life wailing in captivity.
The place: Santiago, Chile.
The time: the night of the 8th July 2012.
The weather: cold, very cold. 8 degrees below cero in some areas of the capital. The coldest night so far this year.
Rows and rows of people, in fact, millions of people, queuing. What are they waiting for?
They are waiting for the tickets for the cultural event of the century: Plácido Domingo brings Pablo Neruda to life in the operatic version of “Il Postino”. (For more information, you can read the article in Spanish by clicking here.)
Plácido Domingo is unique. He’s not only one of the most respected and revered opera singers in the world, but also a producer, administrator and general champion for the arts. Yes, he became incredibly famous worldwide when he toured with the three tenors (although anyone who knew anything about opera or classical music would have heard about him way before then) but I have allocated him the letter “D” because of what he is doing for music in Spain and the rest of the world. (For more information on this than I am able to give you in this humble blog, see his official website.)
At the age of 71, he continues to draw crowds, not just because of his artistic talent, but also because of his charismatic personality. I’m not an opera fan myself, but in a similar way to how I grew up hearing about Severiano Ballesteros (see B is for Seve Ballesteros), I grew up hearing about Plácido Domingo. Last year, I watched him being interviewed on the BBC and realised how, even after being the most successful opera singer currently around, he remains humble and committed to his audience. (Don’t take my word for it and have a look at the interview on YouTube.)
If I rest, I rust.
You can clearly see how the man doesn’t rest. He was the General Director of the Washington National Opera for fifteen years; he was the man responsible for kicking off the Musical Theatre genre in Spain when he produced Los Miserables for the first time in Madrid in 1992 (for more on this see the A to Z chapter Z is for Zarzuela); and he is directly involved in ensuring the world has a new generation of singers and musicians through the Centre de Perfeccionament Plácido Domingo in the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias in Valencia.
His wonderful name (which means “peaceful Sunday”) has even made it into the Spanish jargon through the (bad) joke:
?Qué viene después de Plácido Domingo?
I leave you now on this very pleasant Tuesday afternoon.