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Joan of Acre

British Princess Who Defied Her Father

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About Joan of Acre

Known for: her second marriage in which Joan rebelled against protocol and expectations; supposed miracles at her grave

Occupation: British princess; countess of Hertford and Gloucester

Dates: April 1272 - April 23, 1307

Also known as: Joanna

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Eleanor of Castile, Countess of Ponthieu in her own right
  • Father: Edward I of England (ruled 1272-1307)
  • Siblings: sixteen full siblings (of whom five survived to adulthood), at least three half-siblings
  • Joan was descended on both sides from King John of England; on her mother's side, through John's daughter Eleanor of England.

Marriage, Children:

  1. husband:Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Gloucester, 5th Earl of Hertford (married April 30, 1290, died 1295)
    • children: Gilbert de Clare, Eleanor de Clare, Margaret de Clare, Elizabeth de Clare
  2. husband: Sir Ralph de Monthermer (married 1297)
    • children: Mary de Monthermer, Joan de Monthermer, Thomas de Monthermer, Edward de Monthermer

Joan of Acre's Birth:

Joan of Acre was called by that name because she was born in Acre while her parents were on crusade. Joan's father, Edward I, was not yet king of England at that time.

After Joan's birth, her parents left the child for a time in France with Eleanor's mother, Joan of Dammartin, who was the Countess of Pointhieu and widow of Ferdinand III of Castile. The little girl's grandmother and a local bishop were responsible during those four years for her upbringing.

Joan of Acre's First Marriage:

Edward began, as was common for royal families, to consider marriage possibilities for his daughter while she was still very young. He settled on the son of Germany's King Rudolph I, a boy named Hartman. Joan was five years old when her father called her home so that she could meet her future husband. But Hartman died before he could come to England or marry Joan. Conflicting reports at the time had him dying in a skating accident or drowning in a boat accident.

Edward finally arranged for Joan to marry a British nobleman, Gilbert de Clare, who was the Earl of Gloucester. Joan was twelve and Edward in his early 40s when the arrangements were made. Gilbert's previous marriage ended in 1285, and it took another four years to get dispensation from the Pope for Gilbert and Joan to marry. They were married in 1290. Edward struck a hard bargain and got de Clare to agree to a large dower for Joan, with his lands held jointly with Joan during their marriage. Joan gave birth to four children before Gilbert died in 1295.

Joan of Acre's Second Marriage:

Still a young woman, and one controlling quite a lot of valuable property, Joan's future was being planned by her father again, as he sought out a suitable husband. Edward decided on the Count of Savoy, Amadeus V, and document of betrothal was dated March 16, 129

But Joan was already secretly married by then, and likely quite fearful of her father's reaction. She had fallen in love with one of her first husband's squires, Ralph de Monthermer, and had urged her father to knight him. A member of the royal family marrying someone of such a level was simply unacceptable.

First Edward found out about the relationship itself, not knowing it had already progressed to marriage. Edward took possession of Joan's lands that she had as dower from her first marriage. Finally, Joan told her father that she was already married. His reaction: to imprison Sir Ralph.

By this time, Joan was noticeably pregnant. She wrote her father a letter which contained words that have come down to us as an early statement protesting the double standard: "It is not considered ignominious, nor disgraceful for a great earl to take a poor and mean woman to wife; neither, on the other hand, is it worthy of blame, or too difficult a thing for a countess to promote to honor a gallant youth."

Edward gave in to his daughter, releasing her husband in August of 1297. He was given her first husband's titles -- though at his death they went to a son of her first husband, not one of Ralph's sons. And while Edward I accepted the marriage and Monthermer became part of the king's circle, Edward's relationship with Joan was cooler than it was towards her siblings.

Joan was also close to her brother, Edward II, though she died earlier in the year he became king, and so was not around through his more scandalous escapades. She did support him through an earlier episode when Edward I took away his royal seal.

Joan of Acre's Death:

History does not record Joan's cause of death. It may have been related to childbirth. With Joan and then Edward I dead, Edward II took the title Earl of Gloucester from her second husband and gave it to her son by her first husband.

While we don't know her cause of death, we do know that after her death, she was laid to rest at a priory in Clare, established by her husband's ancestors and to which she had been a benefactor. In the 15th century a writer reported that her daughter, Elizabeth de Burgh, had her mother disinterred and inspected the body, found to be "intact," a condition connected with sainthood. Other writers reported miracles at her burial site.

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