By Ginger Myrick
In my second book, The Welsh Healer: A Novel of 15th Century England, I make passing reference to Edward, the Black Prince, and his involvement with Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent. What is well-known by enthusiasts of the era is that the pair eventually settled down into a respectable marriage, producing the future King Richard II of England. But in their youth, their relationship was much more complex as were the circumstances surrounding it. When Joan was only two years old, her father, Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent, was executed for treason, and her mother was placed under house arrest with her four newly fatherless children. Good King Edward III, being a chivalrous young man, took pity on the widow and brought his cousins to court where they enjoyed a privileged and comfortable childhood alongside his own children, who were only slightly younger than the Kentish brood and included the future Black Prince. With her vivacious personality, Joan quickly made herself a favorite of the new king and queen, but as with many spoiled young women with such an impetuous and passionate nature, when she hit puberty, all hell broke loose.
Joan was reputed to have been the most beautiful woman of her time in all of England, and it seemed she used her assets to their full advantage. At only twelve years of age, she flouted the rules of court requiring royal consent for marriage between couples of high rank and secretly eloped with Thomas Holland, a young man from another noble family. As with many unions that start out under such dubious origins, everything may very well have turned out satisfactorily had Thomas not been sent overseas for military duty. During his absence, Joan was compelled to marry an unsuspecting William Montacute, heir to the Earldom of Salisbury, and failed to mention the fact that she was previously engaged. This was an extremely dangerous position for the young woman and especially perilous for her soul. Not only would she be looked upon as a bigamist and traitoress by the whole of England, she would also be seen as an adulteress by the church and by God himself. There are some theories suggesting the Fair Maid had convinced herself that her marriage to Holland was invalid, but perhaps it simply slipped her mind … for nine years. Needless to say that when Thomas Holland returned from abroad, he did not receive the loving welcome he anticipated. Instead he was faced with William’s—by then Earl of Salisbury—wrath and reluctance to part with his significant other, demonstrated by his imprisonment of said lady in her own home. But the jilted husband would not be turned away so easily and appealed to the heads of both church and state to have his wayward wife returned. In 1349, Pope Clement VI granted the annulment, and Joan was sent back to her original spouse; no harm, no foul. The Hollands lived in a state of serene domesticity for the next eleven years and were blessed with several progeny, a sign of God’s ultimate forgiveness.
But alas, Joan’s early indiscretions could not be erased so easily. When her patient and forgiving husband, Thomas, died in 1360, her penchant for secret pacts, which had so unfortunately resulted in the previous scandal, reared its controversial head again. This time around, the victim of her charm was her cousin Edward, the Black Prince. There are several documented instances of Edward’s affection for his fair cousin, and after her return to a marriageable status, the hope to make her his was rekindled. Because of Joan’s earlier entanglements, the king and queen would not approve their union, so the pair were clandestinely contracted to wed. Joan and young Edward were first cousins once removed, which means that Joan’s paternal grandfather was also Edward’s paternal great-grandfather, King Edward I of England, a.k.a. Longshanks and Hammer of the Scots. To our modern-day sensitivities, this may seem a valid argument against their union, and it must have also appeared so to Edward’s parents. The regents initially used the excuse of consanguinity to withhold their consent and nullify the betrothal, but seeing that there was true love between the two, the king eventually conceded and requested a dispensation from the pope. The lovebirds were officially married in October of 1361, and the Fair Maid settled down to become a dutiful wife and mother, at one point even raising an army to protect her husband’s principality of Aquitaine while he was
otherwise occupied in Castile.
Now, if you will excuse a quick digression, I would also like to address the popular claim that Joan’s beauty was so legendary that she inspired an entire order of chivalry during a dance with her eventual father-in-law, King Edward III. The account states that while engaged in a rondelet, or other such energetic frolic, her garter slipped from her leg, evoking many derisive snickers by onlookers and other signs of their contempt for her questionable respectability. The king, who at the time took much pride in his own reputation of fidelity to his beloved Queen Philippa, is said to have returned the piece of frippery to the Fair Maid and declared, "Honi soit qui mal y pense,”—Shamed be the person who thinks evil of it. The phrase became the motto for The Most Noble Order of the Garter, the highest of the honors system in the United Kingdom today. The Fair Maid’s troubles may look to have been easily avoidable and rather ridiculous to the casual observer, but there are some people in the world who are suckers for love and love to be in love. Joan of Kent appeared to be one of these.
Her very public foibles can be summed up with a quote from one of my favorite authors, the incomparable Jean Plaidy. “How stupid lovers can be! But if they were not, there would be no story.” It is from her novel, The Courts of Love, and sounds tailor-made for Joan’s situation. Ridiculous? Maybe. Stupid? Perhaps. Scandalous? Absolutely, but far be it from me to pass judgement … and, ‘Shamed be the person who thinks evil of it!’
Ginger Myrick was born and raised in Southern California. She is a self-described wife, mother, animal lover, and avid reader and knitter. Along with the promotion for THE WELSH HEALER, and EL REY, she is currently crafting her third novel, which takes place during the U.S. Civil War. She is a Christian who writes meticulously researched historical fiction with a ‘clean’ love story at the core. She hopes to persevere with her newfound talent and show the reading community that a romance need not include graphic details to convey deep love and passion.