Giovanna_IIJoanna II of Naples (Source: Wikimedia)

King Ladislaus of Naples was succeed by his sister, Joanna II. The Queen still has a scandalous reputation. Author Clara Erskine Clement, in her book Naples, the City of Parthenope and its Environs (1894), writes that her private life “was far from reputable; she was guilty of infidelity in all her relations, as a woman and as a queen. But her second husband, Jacques de Bourbon, treated her so cruelly as to arouse great sympathy in her behalf, and her subjects drove him out of the kingdom.” She describes the struggles of Joanna II’s reign, which were dominated by the question of who would succeed the childless queen:

The great Attendolo Sforza, the general on whom she relied, used his influence in favor of Louis III. of Anjou, the grandson of that Louis who had been adopted by her cousin, Joanna I. But the counsel of her favorite, Ser Giovanni Caraccioli, prevailed; and Joanna II. adopted Alfonso, King of Aragon and Sicily, as heir to her throne and possessions.

As years passed, the number of those who favored the succession of the Angevines was largely increased, and Louis III. determined to seat himself upon the throne of Naples. In 1420, with the approbation of Pope Martin V. and the aid of the Genoese, Louis appeared before Naples with his army. He was repulsed by Alfonso, and in spite of his determination to succeed had apparently little ground for hope ; but Joanna II. quarrelled with Alfonso, revoked her adoption of him, by reason of his ingratitude and opposition to her will, and substituted Louis III. of Anjou in his stead. This occurred in June, 1423 ; and in September of the same year Louis was formally adopted at Aversa, the Norman town in which Andrew of Hungary was murdered.

Louis entered Naples in triumph, Calabria submitted to his authority, and in spite of the variable disposition of the queen, all went well until he was recalled to France in 1426, by Charles VII., who required his aid against the English. Louis distinguished himself in the French campaigns, and in 1431, having married Margaret of Savoy, daughter of Amadeus VIII., returned to Italy, and died at Cosenza, the capital of Calabria, in 1434, and was buried in the cathedral of that city. Queen Joanna survived him but a few months, and by her last will and testament left her kingdom to the brother of Louis III., René of Anjou, who thus became the sovereign of all the vast domains of the House of Anjou, over which no other ruler of that dynasty had held full power.

Prospetto_AnnunziataBasilica della Santissima Annunziata Maggiore
Source: Wikimedia / Creative Commons

The principal public works of Queen Joanna II. were the tomb of her brother Ladislaus, into which her vanity led her to introduce her own statue, and the restoration of the church of S. Maria dell’ Annunziata, in which is her own sepulchre, far too simple and unpretending a monument to represent the character of this proud and voluptuous queen. A fire in the Nunziata, in 1757, destroyed the fine paintings with which it had been enriched by successive popes and sovereigns, and little now remains that is older than its rebuilding by Luigi Yanvitelli in 1782.

A favorite residence with Joanna was a villa on the island of Nisida, the Nesis of the ancients, which island was the residence of Brutus after the murder of Caesar, B. c. 44, where Cicero came to confer with him on affairs of state, and where Brutus took leave of Portia before sailing for Greece. Nisida was also the place to which Augustulus was exiled by Odoacer after the fall of the Roman Empire, and in the Augustan Age the Roman epicures prized the asparagus of Nesis as superior to that of any other spot ; their good judgment is still endorsed by those who eat the Nisidian grapes, olives, figs, and asparagus of the present day.

Joanna’s villa was converted into a fort, in order to repulse the fleet of Louis III. while the queen still favored Alfonso of Aragon, and now serves as a prison. In 1624 the Duke of Alva erected the Lazaretto here, which recently has been used as a quarantine station ; and in our own century a port was constructed between Nisida and the mainland, which is a fine example of the civil engineering of modern days.

Island of NisidaIsland of Nisida (source)

After visiting the prison on Nisida in 1851, William Ewart Gladstone wrote his Two Letters to the Earl of Aberdeen on the State Prosecutions of the Neapolitan Government, Which exposed the harsh conditions there and sparked indignation throughout Europe.

Two interesting portraits of Joanna II. were painted by Antonio Solario, called Lo Zingaro from his early trade of a tinker. One of these pictures belongs to a private collection, not easily seen by a traveller; but in the Museum of Naples, the Madonna surrounded by eight saints in the room of the Neapolitan school, painted by Solario is said to be a portrait of Queen Joanna; while the figure behind Saint Peter is a portrait of the daughter of Colantonio del Fiore, for love of whom this artist renounced his early calling, and, like Quintin Massys, took to the brush. The figure at the extreme left, behind Saint Aspremus, is also called a portrait of the Zingaro himself. There are those who doubt the genuineness of these likenesses; but who can tell whether it be so or not?