“The queen who got around the stables to enjoy all the grooms, one after another; she, the new Semiramis, commanded to ban the law and made lust lawful; her horrible death as a Pasifae, embracing […] a horse she had madly fallen in love with, since she was satiated with men; and I got on the crowd’s tongue the sentence, of course, not laudatory, referred to some woman of unbridled cravings: She’s like Queen Joanna.”
This quote by Benedetto Croce perfectly describes the personality of Queen Joanna II d’Angiò-Durazzo, known as Joanna II of Naples (1371-1435). She ascended the throne at the age of 41, when she had already married twice.
The Queen of Hearts… or the Mantis Queen?
From the very beginning of her reign she liked to be surrounded by her “favorites”, some famous and ambitious men who assisted her in the government of the kingdom… and beyond.
The Queen was in fact described as a dissolute woman, an insatiable and fiery lover, and used to host men of all ages and social backgrounds in her chamber: from her young emissaries to the sons of the Saints (for example the Swedish Charles Ulfsson, Saint Bridget’s son).
Apparently Queen Joanna was also bloodthirsty: to protect her good name, she didn’t hesitate to get rid of her lovers as soon as she satisfied her pleasures. People tell that there was a manhole in her chamber, that led to the cellar of Castel Nuovo (today known as Maschio Angioino): she used to throw her lovers into this trap door, assigning them to a grim fate of spikes and sharp blades.
According to another legend, the unfortunate lovers were devoured by a crocodile (or a sea monster) that was brought purposely from Africa to the cellar of the castle, across the Mediterranean sea.
Sergianni Caracciolo, Angevin Kingdom’s Senechal
One of the most famous victims of Queen Joanna II was the feared and hated Seneschal of the Angevin Kingdom Giovanni Caracciolo, named Sergianni Caracciolo, the third son of Francesco Caracciolo.
Sergianni was one of the Queen’s “loyalists”, and they entered into their relationship in 1416 through some kind of trap by the Queen.
“She ordered to throw rats into the room and the nobleman, who was an indomitable warrior but was afraid of those beasts, stood up and ran for the nearest door, that immediately closed behind him. Inside there was obviously Joanna to welcome him.”
(M. Liguoro, Queen Joanna II)
Sergianni became soon a trusted advisor and faithful lover of the queen. He accumulated properties and titles, attracting envy and suspicion. Under pressure of the court nobles, Queen Joanna II then decided to eliminate him, and on an August night in 1432 she sent her killers to stab him to death. His body was thrown in the courtyard of the castle and left there until the following morning, when it was brought to the Church of St. Giovanni a Carbonara.
Two years later, in the same church, Sergianni’s son erected a memorial to his father: it is quite peculiar that also the mausoleum of King Ladislaus and Queen Joanna II is situated right there!
Queen Joanna II on holiday
The stories about Joanna’s lust are also linked to the summer residence, her villa in Capo di Sorrento, today known as Bagni della Regina Giovanna (Queen Joanna’s Baths).
Nowadays there are only a few ruins of her summer residence, with a sea-view and a secluded beach: the place, that once was the scene of atrocious crimes, is today a real corner of paradise and one of the most beautiful places of the Sorrento Peninsula.