Countess of Kent (1352-1385)
Princess of Wales
Born 1328 Died 1385

Joan was born on the 29th September 1328, the daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent, the youngest son of Edward I and Margaret Wake. Her father having been executed for treason in 1330, she was initially imprisoned at Salisbury Castle but was later largely raised at court by the queen Philippa of Hainault. She won a reputation for her beauty and charm, and was described by the chronicler Jean Froissart as "the most beautiful woman in the whole realm of England, and the most attractive", and later became known as the 'Fair Maid of Kent', although it seems likely that this appellation was not contemporary.

Thomas and Joan

The one thing that is notable about Joan is her rather varied and eventful marital career. She first became enamored of a gentleman named Thomas Holland. Unfortunately her mother disapproved of this potential match; Thomas was simply the son of a Baron Holland and presumably not considered 'good enough' to marry a princess of the royal blood.

Although some sources state that Joan was first 'secretly' married to this Thomas Holland, this is probably only a polite way of saying that Thomas and Joan simply slept together. Her family then did what countless well bred families always did in such circumstances when faced with a wayward daughter engaging in a liaison with an unsuitable partner; they married her off to someone they considered eminently 'suitable'. In this case they waited until Thomas Holland had left the country to go on Crusade and married her to William Montague, the Earl of Salisbury who, it said, kept her safely under lock and key. 1

Thomas Holland was not to so easily put off and took the matter before a papal court where he obtained a papal bull dated the 13th November 1349, which annulled the marriage between Joan and Montague on the basis of the precontract between himself and Joan. (Under the Canon Law of the time sex plus a promise to marry was a precontract and a bar against any subsequent marriage.)

From Thomas' point of view this marriage turned out even better than expected, as the untimely death of Joan's brother in 1353 meant that Joan became the only surviving child of Edmund and a valuable heiress. By this means Thomas came into the possession of much wealth and the title of Earl of Kent.

Joan and Thomas went on to have a total of six children, of whom four survived into adulthood; Thomas who succeeded to the earldom of Kent, John who became the Earl of Huntingdon and later the Duke of Exeter, Joan who married John IV, Duke of Brittany and Matilda who married into the Courtenay family.

Edward and Joan

Thomas Holland died in 1360 but Joan does not appear to have been too distraught at the loss of her husband as within a year she was married again. For her second serious attempt at matrimony she managed to ensnare Edward the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne, and thus became the first ever Princess of Wales. According to Jean Froissart this was a love match, (Edward seems to have courted Joan way back in 1348) with the marriage conducted in secret without the king's knowledge.

Opinions differ regarding what king Edward III thought about his son's secret marriage to a widow with a questionable past. In any event he appears to have accepted the marriage with good grace, and in July 1362 Edward III granted his eldest son the title Prince of Aquitaine, and in February 1363 the Prince of Wales and Joan sailed for southern France.

They were to spend the next eight years in Aquitaine, where both of her two sons by Edward were born, Edward in Angouleme and Richard in Bordeux. Ill health forced Edward to return to England in 1371, where the eldest of their two sons Edward died in January 1372, and where the Black Prince himself died on the 8th June 1376.

Richard and Joan

Not long after the death of her husband, Joan's father-in-law, king Edward III also died propelling her young son Richard II to the throne. Joan appears to have become the main influence on her son Richard, at least during his minority (he was ten when he became king) and became a woman of some authority in the realm. In 1378 she intervened to halt proceedings against John Wyclif, primarily because a number of his followers were also members of her entourage and her popularity ensured that during the Peasants Revolt of 1381 she was showered with kisses by the rebels.

Four years later she was engaged in a bout of shuttle diplomacy in a successful attempt to reconcile her son Richard to his uncle John of Gaunt. But it does however appear that during these later years that she, as the modern vernacular would put it, 'let herself go', as she was now described as being "devoted to pleasure, and so fat from eating she could scarcely walk".

In 1385 whilst enaged with Richard II in an expedition against the Scots, her son John Holland fell into an argument with Ralph Stafford and killed him. Richard seemed determined to punish his half-brother for this crime, despite his mother's entreaties and it is said that Joan died of grief, believing that one son meant to end the life of another.2

Whatever the cause of her death, Joan died on the 8th August 1385, and in accordance with her will was buried at the Church of Grey Friars at Stamford in Lincolnshire, next to her husband Thomas Holland, a choice that probably indicated were her true affections had always lain.


There is a gargoyle located in the north nave aisle of Canterbury Cathedral which is believed to bear the likeness of Joan.


NOTES

1 The dating of these marriages seems to be quite unsecure: one source dates her betrothal to Thomas Holland as c1346 and her marriage to the Earl of Salisbury as "Before 15 Oct 1348" another dates her marriage to Thomas "between 1339 and 1340" and William "between 1340 and 1341". The only thing that appears to be certain is the 1349 date of the papal bull that annulled the latter marriage.

2 As it happens Richard soon forgave John for his misdemeanours, who soon became one of the king's key supporters and hence his advancement to the titles of Huntingdon and Exeter.


SOURCES

  • The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 2001. http://www.bartleby.com/65/jo/JoanKent.html
  • Joan of Kent at
    http://www.saradouglass.com/jofk.html
    http://www.montaguemillennium.com/familyresearch/h_1385_joan.htm
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at http://www.thepeerage.com
  • RoyaList Online at http://www.royalist.info/royalist/index.html

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