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Joan of Kent

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Dates: September 29, 1328 - August 7, 1385

Titles: Countess of Kent (1352); Princess of Aquitaine

Known for: Joan of Kent was known for her relationships with several important royal figures of medieval England, and for her impetuous clandestine marriages, and for her beauty.

She's less well known for her military leadership in Aquitaine in her husband's absence, and for her involvement with the religious movement, the Lollards.

Also Known As: "The Fair Maid of Kent" -- apparently a literary invention from long after she lived, not a title she was known by in her lifetime.

Family:

  • Father: Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent (half-brother to King Edward II of England)
    • Paternal Grandfather: Edward I of England
    • Paternal Grandmother: Marguerite of France
  • Mother: Margaret Wake
    • Maternal Grandfather: John Wake, Baron Wake of Liddell (descended from the Welsh king, Llywelyn the Great)
    • Maternal Grandmother: Joan de Fiennes (cousin of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March)

Marriage, Descendants:

  • Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent
  • William de Montacute (or Montagu), 2nd Earl of Salisbury
  • Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales (known as The Black Prince)
Royal families were quite intermarried; descendants of Joan of Kent included many notables. See:

Key Events in the Life of Joan of Kent:

Joan of Kent was only two when her father, Edmund of Woodstock, was executed for treason. Edmund had supported his older half-brother, Edward II, against Edward's Queen, Isabella of France, and Roger Mortimer. (Roger was a cousin of Joan of Kent's maternal grandmother.) Joan's mother and her four children, of whom Joan of Kent was the youngest, were placed under house arrest in Arundel Castle after Edmund's execution.

Edward III (son of Edward II of England and Isabella of France) became King. When Edward III became old enough to reject the regency of Isabella and Roger Mortimer, he and his Queen, Philippa of Hainault, brought Joan to court, where she grew up among her royal cousins. One of these was Edward and Philippa's third son, Edward, known as Edward of Woodstock or the Black Prince, who was almost two years younger than Joan. Joan's guardian was Catherine, wife of the Earl of Salisbury, William Montacute (or Montagu).

Thomas Holland and William Montacute:

At age 12, Joan made a secret marriage contract with Thomas Holland. As part of the royal family, she was expected to gain permission for such a marriage; to fail to gain such permission could result in a charge of treason and in execution. To complicate matters, Thomas Holland went overseas to serve in the military, and at that time, her family married Joan to the son of Catherine and William Montacute, also named William.

When Thomas Holland returned to England, he appealed to the King and to the Pope to have Joan returned to him. The Montacutes imprisoned Joan when they discovered Joan's agreement to the first marriage and her hope to return to Thomas Holland. During that time, Joan's mother died of the plague.

When Joan was 21, the pope decided to annul Joan's marriage to William Montacute and allow her to return to Thomas Holland. Before Thomas Holland died eleven years later, he and Joan had four children.

Edward the Black Prince:

Joan's slightly-younger cousin, Edward the Black Prince, had apparently been interested in Joan for many years. Now that she was widowed, Joan and Edward began a relationship. Knowing that Edward's mother, who had once considered Joan a favorite, now opposed their relationship, Joan and Edward decided to get secretly married -- again, without the required consent. Their blood relationship also was closer than allowed without special dispensation.

Edward III arranged to have their secret marriage annulled by the Pope, but also to have the Pope grant the necessary special dispensation. They were married in October, 1361, by the Archbishop of Canterbury in a public ceremony, with Edward III and Philippa present. The young Edward became Prince of Aquitaine, and moved with Joan to that principality, where their first two sons were born. The eldest, Edward of Angoulême, died at age six.

Edward the Black Prince became involved in a war on behalf of Pedro of Castile, a war which was at first militarily successful but, when Pedro died, financially disastrous. Joan of Kent had to raise an army to protect Aquitaine in her husband's absence. Joan and Edward returned to England with their surviving son, Richard, and Edward died in 1376.

Mother of a King:

The following year, Edward's father, Edward III, died, with none of his sons alive to succeed him. Joan's son (by Edward III's son Edward the Black Prince) was crowned Richard II, though he was only ten years old.

As the mother of the young king, Joan had much influence. She had been a protector of some religious reformers who followed John Wyclif, known as the Lollards. Whether she agreed with Wyclif's ideas is not known. When the Peasants' Revolt happened, Joan lost some of her influence on the king.

In 1385, Joan's older son John Holland (by her first marriage) was condemned to death for killing Ralph Stafford, and Joan tried to use her influence with her son Richard II to get Holland pardoned. She died a few days later; Richard did pardon his half-brother.

Joan was buried beside her first husband, Thomas Holland, at Greyfriars; her second husband had images of her in the crypt at Canterbury where he was to be buried.

It is believed that the Order of the Garter was founded in honor of Joan of Kent, though this is disputed.

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