We may not realise it, as history is to a very large extent dedicated to men, their lives and their deeds, but the very same history is full of strong, fascinating women whose acquaintance is well worth making.
One of these women is Joan of Kent, the wife of Edward the Black Prince in my previous post.
She was born in 1328 as one of two daughters (she also had two brothers) of Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent and Margaret Wake, 3rd Baroness Wake of Liddell.
Edmund wasn´t just “any” Earl, he was the son of Edward I through his marriage to Margaret of France, and thereby also the half-brother of Edward II, the paternal grandfather of the Black Prince.
Edmund, all though loyal to his brother, found himself – due to Edward II´s favouritism of the Despenser´s – forced into the arms of Isabella and Roger Mortimer in France. Participating in their invasion of England, the deposing of his own half-brother and a later plot against the new monarchy cost him his life in 1330 when his daughter was two years old when he was executed for treason in March.
When Roger Mortimer himself was executed later the same year, one of the charges was procuring Edmund´s death, and all charges against Edmund himself was lifted.
But now back to his precocious daughter Joan, later to be known as The Fair Maiden of Kent. She seemed to have known what she wanted already early on in life, and at the age of 12 she secretly married Thomas Holland of Upholland, Lancashire, who was around 14 years older than herself. Not only did Joan not bother to seek royal consent, which was required for a noblewoman, not least as she was of royal blood herself, it seems she didn´t bother to seek the consent of her immediate family either.
This resulted in, when Thomas Holland shortly after their marriage was sent on a military expedition part of the ongoing Hundred Years War, her family demanded Joan to contract another, in their eyes more suiting, marriage this time to William Montague, 2nd Earl of Salisbury who was born the same year as Joan.
Apparently Joan did not say anything of her already existing marriage, and she would later state that it was due to fear that Thomas Holland would be executed for treason upon his return to England. When he returned he however appealed to the Pope who in time annulled Joan´s current marriage by the time she was 21 and allowed to return to the husband she had apparently chosen herself.
Joan of Kent and Thomas Holland went on to have four children before Thomas died 11 years after their reunion, and through one of her sons Thomas Holland´s daughter Margaret Holland, she was the ancestor of Margaret Beaufort ( Margaret Holland was Margaret Beaufort´s paternal grandmother). Other descendants of Joan include Edward IV, Elizabeth of York and Anne Neville.
Being a widow, older than the heir apparent, the Black Prince, she was not the choice of daughter in law Edward III and Philippa of Hainault would have made. Just the fact that he didn´t marry until the age of 31 most likely had earned their disapproval. It seems that Joan was already at an early stage the target of the prince´s affection, as he presented her with a silver cup which was a part of his war loot early on in his military career.
Edward the Black Prince and Joan of Kent took place on October 10th 1361. Allegedly they had already married secretly in 1360 but due to the lack – at the time – of a papal dispensation, Edward and Joan were first cousins once removed, there was a risk of the first marriage, in the event it took place, would be declared invalid.
On the king´s request, the Pope however granted the dispensation needed.
The year after the marriage, the Black Prince was invested Prince of Aquitaine, where they would live for nine years. Here Joan of Kent assembled an army to fight of threats while her husband was drawn into war on the side of Pedro of Castile.
Something which is interesting is Joan´s association with the Lollards, the religious and political movement formed in mid-14th century by the theologian John Wyclif. Both in the household of Edward and that of Joan could be found men who were clearly associated with Lollardy. David Green, author of the book “The Black Prince – power in medieval Europe” states that considering Joan´s reputation of extravagance and fame for primarily being beautiful, the association is weird, but to me that´s a slightly sexist remark hinting that when it comes to a beautiful woman, there is not more than what meets the eye.
The Lollards would come even more into prominence during the reign of Richard II, the only surviving child of Joan and Edward (another son, Edward of Angouleme, died at the age of six).
While she would continue to take a part in her son´s life when he the year after Edward´s death, when Edward III died, became king at the age of 10 – she was in the Tower with her son with the rebels of the Peasant´s Rebellion broke through the gates – she chose to spend a large part of her time at her favourite home Wallingford Castle in modern day Oxfordshire where she died in 1385 at the age of 57.
Joan of Kent is not buried beside Edward the Black Prince at Canterbury Cathedral. In accordance with her will, she instead rest at the side of her first husband, Thomas Holland, at Grey Friars in Stamford, Lincolnshire..
The Black Prince had planned to rest in a crypt which had had its roof embossed with the face of Joan of Kent. His request was not however granted.
The Black Prince – Power in Medieval Europe – David Green
The Plantagenets, The kings and Queens that made England – Dan Jones
A History of Britain – Simon Schama