At the end of the last post Joan, Countess of Kent, married the Prince of Wales in secret in the spring of 1361. Why did Joan enter into another secret marriage? Some see it as a bold plan on the part of the Prince of Wales and his father, Edward III, to force the hand of an anti-English pope into granting the necessary dispensation. Because they were closely related, Joan and the Prince needed a papal dispensation to marry. The Prince was a great grandson of Edward I through his first wife and Joan was Edward I’s granddaughter through his second wife. Others see it as an indication of the disapproval that the Prince knew would be forthcoming from his father when the king found out about the marriage. The first theory might hold true if Clement VI were still pope. He had been so pro-French that he had previously refused the necessary dispensation to allow the Prince to marry a foreign princess because there were other marriages she could make that would be more advantageous to France. Clement VI had, however, died in 1352. His successor, Innocent VI, wanted to promote peace between England and France and was not likely to turn down such a request. In fact, he did not. He also confirmed, at the Prince’s request, the validity of Joan’s marriage to Thomas Holland.
It is more likely that the Prince did not want his father to know about the marriage until he had received the papal dispensation and it was too late to do anything about it. The fear that the Prince’s marriage to Joan might still be declared bigamous was, of course, one of the main reasons for the king’s disapproval. It was also, apparently, a great fear of Richard II’s (son of the Prince and Joan), as he is said to have kept all the papers relating to the validity of his mother’s first marriage close to hand. Had their marriage been declared bigamous, he would have been illegitimate.
Joan did not have to marry again. As a wealthy widow and Countess of Kent in her own right, she had the freedom to choose. It’s probable that she married the Prince in order to secure good marriages for her children.
Edward III’s plan for his son’s marriage, almost from his birth, had been a diplomatic alliance with a foreign princess. Since the Prince was related to most of them to a prohibited degree (which at this time was four degrees), he needed a papal dispensation, which had not been forthcoming. Marriage to someone like Joan, who had no diplomatic value, was not something the king had envisaged.
One potential difficulty for the couple was the Prince’s close personal relationship with the Earl of Salisbury, William Montague, whom Joan had been forced to marry, despite her protests that she was already married. Their marriage does not seem to have affected the Prince’s relationship with his friend and, after the Prince’s death, Joan continued to receive support from her bigamous husband.
The formal wedding took place on 10th October 1361 in the Chapel at Windsor. Joan was 33 and her new husband was two years younger. Incredibly, the marriage not celebrated by the king. The marriages of the king’s other children were celebrated with tournaments and banquets. For his heir, to whom he had always been close, there was nothing.
As part of the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, Aquitaine had been increased in size and made a principality. In 1362 Edward III created his son Prince of Aquitaine and sent him there to rule it.
The Prince and Joan set up a court based around Bordeaux, Angoulême and, later, Cognac. Their first child, Edward, was born in Angoulême in 1365 and Richard, their second, in Bordeaux in 1366, shortly before his father set off for Spain. The Prince was famed for his generosity and it was a splendid court. Some considered it too splendid and fashionable, but, for the first few years, at least, the Prince was popular. After he became ill in Spain, however, he was not able to maintain his hold on Aquitaine. In 1370 their oldest son died and Joan and the Prince returned to England in 1371. On 8th June 1376 Joan was widowed for the second time. The Prince died on the feast of the Trinity, for which he had a particular reverence.
Joan’s youngest son was now the king’s heir. The king’s health was failing and it was clear to everyone that he was going to be succeeded by a minor.
After the Prince’s death his younger brother John of Gaunt became the main counsellor of his son. Despite the ten year age difference between them, the Prince and his brother had been close and John of Gaunt remained close to Joan. He lacked the charisma and ability of his brother, however, and he was unpopular. Rumours began to circulate that he wanted to be king and that he was illegitimate. Joan gave him her support, however, shielding him when a mob attacked his palace in 1377.
This was a difficult time for England. Few people could remember a time when Edward III had not been king. Until his last few years he had been a popular king, but he was now in his dotage. After fifty years as king, Edward III died on 21st June 1377. The new king was ten years old. Despite the fears of Edward III, no one challenged Richard’s right to rule and he was crowned on 16th July 1377. Joan was now mother to a king.
In April 1378 Joan and her two daughters were made Ladies of the Garter. Two years earlier her eldest son Thomas had been made a Knight of the Garter and it’s interesting that Joan was not made a Lady of the Garter at the same time or earlier.
After years of prosecuting the war in France, England was now at risk of invasion and there were attacks along the south coast. Richard’s council could not maintain control of the country and, when it introduced a poll tax in order to continue an increasingly unpopular war, rebellion erupted. Richard was still very popular personally, however. In June 1381 Joan returned from her annual pilgrimage to the Prince’s tomb in Canterbury to find London in danger from the rebels. She and Richard took refuge in the Tower of London. Buildings were destroyed, property looted and those seen as traitors killed by the rebels. John of Gaunt and the council were the main targets, but Gaunt was fighting in Scotland, so his palace was destroyed. Richard’s chancellor, Simon Sudbury, who was also the Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered. Richard’s personal bravery brought the rebellion to an end, and swift retribution against the leaders meant that the immediate danger was removed.
Joan ensured that she had control of the negotiations to find a wife for Richard and he married Anne of Bohemia on 20th January 1382 . There was no financial benefit to the match, since she had no dowry, and Anne’s diplomatic benefit was limited, but Richard and his wife grew to be very close.
Joan retired from court to live at Wallingford Castle.
After the Peasants’ Revolt relations between Richard and John of Gaunt cooled considerably until, in early 1385, John of Gaunt took a small army to London to confront his nephew. Richard was forced into a humiliating apology. Joan intervened and was able to mediate a reconciliation between them. In August 1385 she failed to reconcile Richard to her son, John Holland, who had murdered Sir Ralph Stafford, one of Richard’s advisers. When news reached her of her failure she collapsed. She died on 8th August.
Joan was buried in Stamford, next to her first husband, Thomas Holland, which probably caused Richard some embarrassment. He had doubtless expected her to be buried next to his father, as the Prince had probably also expected, but, even in death, Joan was still insisting on the validity of her marriage to Thomas Holland.