Joanna I, queen of Sicily, Naples, and Jerusalem, is the subject of this highly interesting biography. She ruled one of the most powerful kingdoms in the late 14th century, surviving the numerous calamities that plagued (pun intended) Europe at that time. She was also implicated in the death of her first husband, Andrew of Hungary, and eventually married four times.
Joanna emerges in this highly informative book as one of the most fascinating women of medieval Europe that I’ve ever read about. Goldstone admits that she doesn’t have much information to go on, but she puts Joanna’s story together very well. She’s one of those people who were much maligned in life; but in reality, Joanna did a number of wonderful things for her kingdom—even as her enemies tried to bring her down. Goldstone goes into a lot of detail about the papal politics of the time; Joanna had a close relationship with Clement and was very deeply involved in the great schism. From the schism to the plague, to 14th century scholarship, to even the Hundred Years’ War (of which Joanna was more of a spectator), Goldstone covers everything in a way that makes it easy for the reader to understand.
The jumping off point of the book is Joanna’s trial (described somewhat dramatically as being “on trial for her life”), but really the murder and trial are only a small part of this story. By no means is this a bad thing, though. Instead, the author focuses on Joanna, a courageous woman who faced much adversity in her life.