21 February 2014

For Love's Sake: The Prince Who Married For Love

By Blythe Gifford

Cinderella aside, until the twentieth century, most royals married for duty, not love.  Particularly in the medieval time period, marriage meant a political alliance, joining countries as well as individuals.

One of the notable exceptions was the oldest son of Edward III of England, also
Edward, Prince of Wales This image is in
 the public domain because its copyright has expired
Edward, and remembered by history as the Black Prince.  (That moniker came after his death.  He was called Edward of Woodstock during his lifetime.)  And his choice of bride came with more complications than most.
It was not for lack of trying that the prince was still unmarried at 31.  From his birth, his father had sought advantageous matches with dynasties from France, Brabant (now part of Belgium), Castile (Spain), and Portugal.  Meanwhile, the heir to the throne, first to bear the title of Prince of Wales, distinguished himself as a warrior talented as his father during the war with France. 
He also fathered an illegitimate son or two along the way.
The only known image
of Joan of Kent.  This image is
in  the public domain because
 its copyright has expired

But when the time came to marry, he chose an English woman older than he, already twice married, with a bit of a scandalous past.  Worse, he did not wait for permission from his father or the church, but joined with her in a secret ceremony, the medieval version of elopement.
The lady in question, Joan, Countess of Kent, was considered one of the most beautiful women in England.  They were no strangers, but had played together as children.  They were both descended from King Edward I, so “cousins” in the church’s eyes, prohibited from marrying without dispensation.  In addition, the prince was godfather to some of her children, so there were two strikes against their marriage, a fact they conveniently flouted by marrying without permission in a clandestine ceremony.

Joan was beautiful and of noble lineage, but she had a marital past that might have made Elizabeth Taylor blink.  She was married at thirteen (not unusual at the time) to the Earl of Salisbury, younger than she.  But it seemed that when she married Salisbury, she was already married to Thomas Holland, a reputable knight, but no earl.
Exactly when this previous marriage came to light and how she was pressured into a second one is a matter for debate, but it seemed that in the eyes of the church, the lady had, not to put too fine a point on it, two husbands.  After a lengthy wrestling match with the church, all the way up to the Pope, the marriage to Holland was upheld and the marriage to Salisbury set aside.  Joan and Holland lived as man and wife, and had a brood of children.

Upon Holland's death, Joan was an eligible, beautiful, titled widow in need of a husband.  But there were lingering whispers about how “amorous” she was.  History may have called her the Fair Maid of Kent, but the chroniclers of the time used a more satiric nickname:  The Virgin of Kent.
Tomb of The Black Prince (c) Klotz CC-A.A. 3.0
The fairy tale version of her marriage to the prince is that he was sent by a friend to plead the friend’s case for her hand.  Alas, Joan said, she was in love with another and would never marry.  “I have given my heart to the most gallant gentleman under the firmament…it is impossible that I should marry him.  So, for love of him, I wish to shun the company of men.”
Pressured by the prince, who vowed to try to make it possible for her to marry the one she loved, she finally confessed she loved him.  His response?  “As long as I live, no other woman shall be my wife.”
An unlikely story, but regardless, they finally received blessings of church and family, and Joan became the first Princess of Wales.  She and the prince lived happily together until his death.  He died before his father and so never sat on the throne, but their son, Richard, succeeded his grandfather as Richard II.

SECRETS AT COURT, my current release from Harlequin Historical, is set amidst the intrigue surrounding the marriage of Edward and Joan.  My hero, Nicholas, is charged with clearing the path for an official church wedding, but that is bringing him too close to secrets about Joan’s past – secrets my heroine, Anne, is bound to protect.

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 eight romances set in England and on the Scottish Borders.  SECRETS AT COURT, a Royal Wedding story, is a March release from the Harlequin Historical line.  For more information, visit www.blythegifford.com

Author photo Jennifer Girard