Book Review: “The Lady Queen: the Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily” by Nancy Goldstone

Joanna of Naples book cover

I don’t know for certain if George RR Martin found inspiration for his “Game of Thrones” books from this era in history or not but it certainly appears that he did. There are many elements in this story that mimic what I’ve watched in the TV show. Needless to say, this history in this book is more than mesmerizing.

The story of the reign of Joanna is complicated and has its roots going back to Charles of Anjou, the brother of the saintly King Louis IX of France. He was not satisfied with being the brother of a King and sought a kingdom for himself. He managed to get a papal grant to the Kingdom of Sicily in 1262 and then earned it by conquest in 1266. He was later expelled but still claimed power over the peninsular possessions of the kingdom and made his capital at Naples. Because of this he is usually styled as the King of Naples after 1282 and so are his successors. His grandson, Robert the Wise ruled the kingdom from 1309 to 1343 and due to various reasons, some maybe not so legitimate, his granddaughter Joanna succeeded him.

Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily

Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily

Joanna spent her early years in the care of her grandfather and grandmother at the Neapolitan court, learning from these masters. Goldstone goes into the early history of Joanna’s family leading up to her birth and years at court as a child. I find the history of Italy and all its various kingdoms and alliances a little confusing due to not being familiar with this era. But Goldstone is really masterful in explaining the history making this a really enjoyable read. While I had heard the terms Guelph and Ghibelline, they were unclear to me. But Gold stone straightens this out by giving definitions and clarifying how they were parties who were loyal to the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor.

Joanna marries four times, each husband being more dreadful than the last until the final one, Otto of Brunswick who supported her. It’s a pity she didn’t marry him first. She had children but none of them survived past childhood. The lack of an heir and her sex make her reign perilous and open to conquest. She was a supporter of the Pope in Avignon but he was constantly threatening interdict or excommunication and to take away her powers as Queen and give them to one of his legates. Her relatives were the bane of her existence. Her first husband was murdered by the feuding factions of her court and she basically never lived this down for the rest of her life, even though she was found completely innocent of the crime. Her husband’s relatives, the royal Hungarians, used the murder as an excuse for many years to try to take Joanna’s throne from her.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It reads like a novel and Goldstone’s writing is clear and laced with humor. This is history at its best and most notorious, horrifying and fun at the same time.

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