Joan of KentJoan, Princess of Wales, known to history as “The Fair Maid of Kent”, was born on September 29, 1328. Her father, Edmund, Earl of Kent, was a son of King Edward I of England, and a half-brother of Edward II. But the Earl’s royal blood could not save him from execution at the hands of his sister-in-law, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer. His crime was to have given support to his brother, the King, when he was deposed from the throne.
The Earl’s widow, Margaret, was left with four children. Her younger daughter, Joan, was only two years old. Her cousin, the new King, Edward III, took on the responsibility for the family, and looked after them well. His wife, Queen Philippa, was well known for her tender-heartedness, and Joan grew up at court, where she became friendly with her cousins, including Edward, the Black Prince.
At the age of twelve, she entered into a clandestine marriage with Thomas Holland of Broughton. The following year, while Holland was overseas, her family forced her into a marriage with William de Montacute, Earl of Salisbury. As Countess of Salisbury, Joan moved in the highest society. Some historians identify her as the mystery woman who appeared at a banquet in Calais and attracted the attention of every man present. Allegedly, while dancing with the King, the lady lost her blue velvet garter, and this was the origin of the Order of the Garter. It is more likely that Joan's mother-in-law was the woman involved.
It was not for several years that Thomas Holland returned from crusade, having made his fortune, and the full story of his earlier relationship with Joan came out. He appealed to the Pope for the return of his wife. When the Earl of Salisbury discovered that Joan supported Holland’s case, he kept her a virtual prisoner in her own home. That did not help. The Pope was convinced. He annulled Joan’s marriage to the Earl and sent her back to Thomas Holland, with whom she lived for the next eleven years. They had five children, then Holland died.
Joan, now widowed but only thirty-two, was a catch by anyone else’s standards. She had inherited the earldom of Kent when her brother died in 1353. She was strikingly beautiful, with perfect features, auburn hair that reached to her waist, and dark eyes, and was regarded as one of the most desirable women in the country. The Black Prince had been in love with her for years, but his father and mother disapproved. Queen Philippa might have made a favourite of Joan at first, but as her son grew older, she had become concerned about the budding romance between the two cousins, and set herself against it.
The Archbishop of Canterbury warned the Prince that there could be doubts cast on the legitimacy of any children Joan might bear him, in view of the fact that one of her previous husbands, the Earl of Salisbury, was still alive, but the marriage went ahead with an assurance of absolution from the Pope. They were married in 1361, and almost immediately set sail for France, since the Black Prince was also the Prince of Aquitaine, a region of France which belonged to the English Crown. Two children were born in France, both of them sons. The elder son, named Edward after his father and grandfather, died at the age of six.
Around the time of the birth of their younger son, Richard, the prince was lured into a war on behalf of Pedro the Cruel, ruler of Castile. The ensuing battle was one of the Black Prince’s greatest victories, but King Pedro was killed, and there was no money to pay the troops. In the meantime, the Princess was forced to raise another army, because the Prince’s enemies were threatening Aquitaine in his absence.
By 1371, the Black Prince was no longer able to perform his duties as Prince of Aquitaine, and returned to England, where plague was wreaking havoc. It killed Joan’s mother, Margaret, in 1372. Joan inherited her title to add to all the others – Lady Wake of Lidel. In that same year, the Black Prince forced himself to attempt one final, abortive campaign in the hope of saving his father’s French possessions. His health was now completely shattered. Later the same year, a week before his forty-sixth birthday, he died in his bed at Westminster.
Joan’s son, Richard, was now the heir to the throne. Early in his reign, the young King faced the challenge of the Peasant’s Revolt. The Lollards, religious reformers led by John Wyclif, had enjoyed the protection of Joan of Kent, but the violent climax of the popular movement for reform reduced the feisty Joan to a state of terror, whilst leaving the King with an improved reputation. But for Joan, worse was to come. In 1385, Sir John Holland, a grown-up son of her first marriage, was campaigning with the King in Scotland, when a quarrel broke out between him and Lord Stafford, a favourite of the new Queen. Stafford was killed, and John Holland sought sanctuary at the shrine of St John of Beverley. On the King’s return, Holland was condemned to death. Joan pleaded with her son for four days to spare his half-brother. On the fifth day, (the exact date in August is not known), she died, at Wallingford Castle. Richard, of course, relented, and pardoned Holland, but the damage was done. Joan was buried at Stamford in Lincolnshire. Sir John Holland was sent on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.