24 June 2014

HEA or Not: Edward, the Black Prince and Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent

"The Most Amorous Woman in England"


Carving reputedly of Joan of Kent.

Back in February, I wrote a post about the first Prince of Wales, Edward of Woodstock, and his romance with Joan, the Countess of Kent.  (See here.)   (Note that both "the Black Prince" and "the Fair Maid of Kent" are apparently posthumous monikers.)  Appropriately for Valentine’s Day, my February post told the romantic legend of Edward and Joan’s love story. Now, I’m going to tell you what history claims. 
Not to rehash that previous information, but Edward, son of King Edward III, by all accounts fell in love with the Countess, perhaps even when they were children.  The story picks up when they were grown and she was a widow who had already been married to two husbands. 
That is, two husbands at the same time. 
Even by the sympathetic chronicler Froissart she was called the "most beautiful lady in England, and by far the most amorous." 
The historically accepted wisdom of the clandestine marriages of Joan of Kent is that at the age of twelve, she and Sir Thomas Holland exchanged vows, telling no one.  Holland was a full-fledged knight and fighting man, twelve years older than she.  Roughly a year later, when Holland was off at war, her parents arranged for her to marry Sir William Montacute (or Montague), a boy about her own age, who later succeeded his father as the Earl of Salisbury.

Making the story even more complicated, Joan was “adopted” by the royal family and spent much of her childhood with them, presumably including the portion during which she married Holland.  Did she tell the king and queen, or her parents, about her secret marriage before she married Salisbury?  If not, why not?  If so, why did they ignore her?
Joan's first husbands.  Sir Thomas Holland (L) and the Earl of Salisbury (R).
And if she was, indeed married already, how could she stand before a priest and take vows, knowing she was no doubt committing a mortal sin and would go to Hell?

We have no answers to these questions.

Later in the year she was married, when Holland returned from the war, we are told that he claimed her as his wife by their previous vow.  We are also told that her current husband (only about thirteen, as Joan was) objected to Holland’s claim.  What happened next?  Over the next few years, Holland travelled between England and the war on the continent.  In that war, he fought beside William Montacute’s father, at that time the earl.  When he returned to England, he served as Joan’s husband’s steward.
When I was doing my research for SECRETS AT COURT, set around the marriage of Edward and Joan, I discovered this with astonishment.  If true, the situation is this:  Holland has said “she’s my wife, not yours,” but for several years, he works intimately with his “wife’s” current husband and family.  He does not pursue legal remedies to take her back for five years.  (The explanation was that he lacked money to take the petition to the church courts.  Strange, if true, that her husband would pay him to be a steward if the money was going to be spent making the case to take his wife away!)
Again, one must wonder what her husband, parents, and Joan herself were thinking during these years.  Why would they accept Holland as a member of the household?  History does not tell us.
Finally, on the battlefield in France, Holland took an esteemed French hostage and received a hefty ransom for him.  Received it, in fact, from King Edward, who must have known how he would use it, for this was presumably the money he needed to launch a legal offensive. 
After several years, and a petition to the Pope, Holland’s claim was accepted and Joan’s marriage to Salisbury was put aside.  She and Holland lived as husband and wife for eleven years and had five children.  He died in France, with her beside him, and she returned to England a widow.
Within a few months, she had secretly married Prince Edward.  A few months.
Prince Edward, kneeling before his father,
accepting responsibility for Aquitaine.

Granted, they had known each other since childhood, but such haste does seem, at the very least, questionable.  And although she had been respectably married for eleven years, her background was certainly not one considered suitable for a future queen of England, which may be the reason they did not wait for permission.

But the two lovebirds had an obstacle even greater than her past.  According to the church, they were too closely related to receive permission to marry.  (Both were grandchildren of Edward I.)  In order to wed, they would have to petition the Pope for dispensation from the church laws of consanguinity, a lengthy process.

But they did not wait and as a result, in 1361, the heir to the throne was married to a woman forbidden to him by the church.  This state of affairs could not be allowed to continue and with the help of his father the king, a petition was sent to the Pope for dispensation and permission they should have obtained before they exchanged vows. (You would think Joan might have hesitated to do the whole secret wedding again, since that’s exactly how she got into trouble the first time.  On the other hand, she also knew that such a marriage had a good chance of being upheld, meaning everyone would just have to accept her slightly checkered past.) 
There was a new Pope by this time and, ultimately, he upheld the wedding.  One wonders whether the one who wrestled with Joan’s first marriages would have been so accommodating.
Yes, truth is stranger than fiction, if this story can be believed, and yet, it is still repeated by historians with a straight face.  It raised enough questions for me, however, to spark SECRETS AT COURT, where I created my own explanation for the facts we know.
And what about the happily ever after?  Did Edward and Joan have it?
Richard II, Edward & Joan's son.

They did remained happily married, apparently, for the remainder of Edward’s short life.  Prince Edward continued his record of successful leadership in war but died before his father, at the age of 46, leaving his son to wear the crown.  Thus, Joan, the first Princess of Wales, never became queen of England.   

Shortly after their marriage, they went to Aquitaine to rule over what was left of Edward III’s French possessions.  Their first son, born more than three years after their wedding, died at age five or six.  Their second son, two years younger, became Richard II and sat on the English throne. 

After Edward’s death, Joan did not remarry, though she lived another nine years.  She was very influential in the court of her son, but her last days were sad.  One of her Holland sons was condemned to death by the king for killing another noble.  She spent the last days of her life pleading for his release, which only came the day she died.  

At her death, she was buried, as she had asked, not beside her royal husband, but “near the monument of our late lord and husband, the Earl of Kent.”
Thomas Holland.

  After many years in public relations, advertising and marketing, Blythe Gifford started writing seriously after a corporate layoff. Ten years and one layoff later, she became an overnight success when she sold her first book to the Harlequin Historical line.  Since then, she has published ten romances set in England and on the Scottish Borders.  SECRETS AT COURT, a Royal Wedding story, was a March release from the Harlequin Historical line.  For more information, visit www.blythegifford.com
Author photo Jennifer Girard