Princess Joan of Kent, suo jure 4th Countess of Kent and 5th Baroness Wake of Liddell, later the first Princess of Wales, as wife to Edward, the Black Prince, son and heir of King Edward III. Joan was the daughter of Prince Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent (5 August 1301-19 March 1330) and his wife Hon. Margaret, suo jure 3rd Baroness of Wake of Liddell (c.1297-29 September 1349). Princess Joan had three other siblings; Edmund, 2nd Earl of Kent (1326 – before 5 October 1331); John, 3rd Earl of Kent and 4th Baron Wake of Liddell (7 April 1330 – 26 December 1352); and Margaret, Viscountess of Tartas. Upon the death of her brother, the 3rd Earl of Kent and 4th Baron Wake, Joan assumed the titles as the 4th Countess and 5th Baroness. Joan is one of the few women in Medieval history to hold/inherit a title in her own right. Joan’s great-granddaughter, Lady Alice Montacute, would be another women to hold that honor as the suo jure 5th Countess of Salisbury. Jean Froissart called her “the most beautiful woman in all the realm of England, and the most loving.”
By her maternal grandfather, Sir John Wake, 1st Baron Wake of Liddell, Joan was descended from Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd and Joan, Lady of Wales, the illegitimate daughter of John I of England. Her maternal grandmother, Joan de Fiennes, was a sister of Margaret de Fiennes, making her a cousin of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. Joan’s great-grandfather, William Fiennes, was killed at the battle of Courtrai in 1302; her great-great-great-grandfather Jean de Brienne was Emperor of Constantinople and King of Jerusalem; and her great-great-great-great-grandmother Berenguela of Castile was the sister of Edward II’s grandfather Fernando III of Castile, both being children of Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile, daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Joan’s father, Edmund of Woodstock, was executed after the deposition of her uncle, Edward II. At the time of her father’s death, her mother was pregnant with John who would become the 3rd Earl at age one after the death of his elder brother in 1331. Joan and her sister Margaret were brought to court after Edward III learned of the injustice done to his uncle by the hand of his mother, Queen Isabella (the French queen consort of Edward II) and her love Roger Mortimer, Earl of March (cousin of Joan’s mother). Joan and her siblings were raised in the royal nursery; therefore she was brought up along side her cousin and future husband, Edward, Prince of Wales. After the death of her mother on 29 September 1349, Joan was made a ward of Edward III and his queen Philippa of Hainault. This connection perhaps led to the marriage of her brother, the 3rd Earl of Kent, to Isabella of Jülich (died 6 June 1411), the daughter of William V, Duke of Jülich and Joanna of Hainaut, a younger sister of Queen consort Philippa of Hainault on 3 April 1348. They couple had no children, but Isabella’s brother, Gerhard VI of Jülich, Count of Berg and Ravensberg, was grandfather to Adolf I, Duke of Cleves and thus was an ancestor to Anne of Cleves, 4th wife of King Henry VIII.
Joan was eventually assigned a govern and governess; William and Catherine Montacute, the 1st Earl and Countess of Salisbury. The couple was determined to have Joan married to their son and heir William. Instead of following their plans, Joan followed her own path and fell in love with Sir Thomas Holland, Baron Holland. She married her first husband, Sir Thomas Holland, around the age of twelve. Thomas was about fourteen years older, which was not considered an issue at the time. Sir Thomas Holland was an English nobleman and would become a military commander during the Hundred Years’ War. He was from a gentry family in Holland, Lancashire. He was a son of Sir Robert Holland, 1st Baron and Maud la Zouche, daughter of Sir Alan le Zouche, 1st Baron and Eleanor de Segrave. Alan Zouche’s mother, Ela Longespee was the granddaughter of the 1st Earl of Salisbury, the illegitimate son of King Henry II of England. His other ancestors included Henry I of England (twice), David I of Scotland (twice), Raoul Count of Marche Lusignan, and Duncan II of Scots. Holland would be granted the honour of being chosen as one of the founders of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. He secretly married Joan of Kent in a clandestine marriage without first gaining the royal consent necessary for couples of their rank. Since the couple did not get consent of the crown and the marriage was simply one of sworn love for each other, Joan was forced by the Salisbury’s to marry their son Sir William Montague, 2nd Earl of Salisbury while her husband was overseas.
In 1341 when Holland returned from the Crusades, Salisbury refused to believe the validity of the marriage between Lady Joan and Holland. In 1342, Holland accompanied Robert of Artois to Brittany in support of the Countess of Montfort. In 1346, Holland captured Raoul, Count of Eu, and Jean Tancerville at Caen, France. The same year he fought in the Battle of Crecy as Edward, the Black, Prince of Wales’s chief officers. In 1347, he was awarded 80, 000 florins by the King for the exchange of the Count of Eu. Soon after, Holland appealed to the Pope in Avignon for the return of his wife and confessed to the King. Salisbury decided to keep Joan captive in his home rather than let her return to Holland. In 1349, Pope Clement VI annulled Joan’s marriage to Salisbury and had her sent back to Holland. In 1352, Joan assumed the title of 4th Countess of Kent and 5th Baroness Wake of Liddell after the death of her brother, John, 3rd Earl of Kent. Joan inherited her brother’s title as 4th Countess of Kent and 5th Baroness Wake of Liddell (the barony and title of her mother which passed to her children along with the title of Earl of Kent). These titles were suo jure, meaning “in her own right” as her mother and siblings predeceased her leaving no issue. With the title also came a substantial amount of property and money. The happy couple had three sons and two daughters:
- Thomas Holland (later 2nd Earl of Kent), married Lady Alice FitzAlan, daughter of Sir Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel and Lady Eleanor of Lancaster. Katherine Parr and King Henry VIII descended from them.
- Edmund who died young, and
- John Holland, the youngest son and child — later became 1st Duke of Exeter and married Lady Elizabeth of Lancaster, daughter of his cousin Prince John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster by his first wife, also a cousin, Blanche of Lancaster.
- Lady Maud Holland, Countess of Ligny (d.1407) as wife to Waleran III of Luxembourg, Count of Ligny; they had one daughter, Jeanne of Luxembourg who married Antoine, Duke of Brabant. The Count and Countess of Ligny’s lineage died out after the death of their two grandsons, John IV, Duke of Brabant (1403–1427) and Philip of St. Pol (1404–1430), Duke of Brabant.
- Lady Joan Holland, Duchess of Brittany (1350–1384) who married John V, Duke of Brittany in London, May 1366. They had no issue. The Duke had previously been married to the Duchess’s cousin, Princess Mary of Waltham, daughter of Edward III. John V was knighted by Edward III in 1375-1376 as a member of the Order of the Garter. It is believed he is the only Duke of Brittany to have attained this English honor. The Duke would marry thirdly to Joanna of Navarre (mother to his children), the future queen consort to King Henry IV of England.
Her two surviving sons were the godsons of Lady Kent’s cousin and future husband, Edward, Prince of Wales. Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent died in 1360.
Although marriages within the Royal Family and between Royal Families are the most desirable, it is interesting to note the marital ties of the Holland children also to the English royal family.
The 1st Duke of Exeter married John of Gaunt’s daughter, Lady Elizabeth of Lancaster; their children married nobility. The 3rd Duke would marry into the royal family — as husband to Anne of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III. Their daughter, also named Anne, would marry the 1st Marquess of Dorset and were ancestors to Lady Jane Grey.
The children of the 2nd Earl of Kent: Lady Joan Holland married Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York (son of Edward III); no issue. Lady Joan was the sister of Lady Margaret Holland who married firstly to Gaunt’s son John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (ancestors of Lady Margaret Beaufort) and secondly to the Duke of Clarence (Thomas of Lancaster), grandson of John of Gaunt by his son King Henry IV; she would be known as the Duchess of Clarence for the rest of her life. Another sister, Lady Eleanor Holland was mother-in-law to Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, grandson of John of Gaunt by his daughter Lady Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. Yet another sister, Lady Alianore Holland was mother to Anne de Mortimer, wife to York’s (Langley) son, Richard of Conisburgh, Earl of Cambridge. Another sibling of Lady Joan, Edmund Holland, 4th Earl of Kent would father a child by York’s daughter Constance of York; it has been claimed there was a marriage betrothal between the two, but no evidence that they were officially married.(Richardson)
Princess of Wales
Now a rich widow, Joan was sought after by just about every eligible bachelor in the country. The Countess’s royal birth, her extraordinary beauty and grace, and the circumstances of her life had caused this cynosure of every man; that she was the universal subject of men. Joan declined all that approached her. In one instance her cousin, the Prince of Wales, had been approached by a soldier in his entourage to intercede upon his behalf; now identified as a Sir Denis Brocas. According to the story (for the full account see Burrows),
“an English noble, whose name history does not mention, having fallen in love with the widowed Countess of Kent, and found his suit tardy, entreated the Prince’s good word; but that after certain denials, she told him plainly, ‘that when she was under ward, she had been disposed of by others; but now, being mistress of her own actions, she would not cast herself beneath her rank, but remember that she was of the blood-royal of England, and therefore resolved never to marry again but a Prince of quality and virtue like herself;’ and that the hero, while pleading the cause of his friend, felt the old flame rekindled.” (Finch)
A valuable anonymous MS reposited in the National Library at Paris has been edited by the well known antiquary M. Simeon de Luce, called the “Chronique des quatre premiers Valois” of which this one copy alone exists. According to the chronicler:
“The Prince did speak many times for the knight to the said Lady of Holland; for he went with great good will for his own pleasure to see the said lady, who was his cousin, and he oftentimes observed with admiration her brilliant beauty and most gracious presence, which marvellously delighted him. And when one day the Prince was speaking to the said Countess for the said knight, she gave him her answer. She never would have any husband. And often said she this to the Prince, for she was very subtle and clever. ‘Ha!’ said the Prince fair, ‘cousin if you decline to marry my friends your wonderful beauty will be all the worse for you. If you and I were not so near of kin there is no lady under heaven whom I should love so dearly as I should you.’ Then was the Prince much overcome with love of the Countess; and so the Countess fell a weeping just like the subtle woman that she was and full of wiles. And now the Prince began to console her and tenderly affected by her tears took to kissing her very often and said; ‘Fair cousin, I am come to speak to you for one of the most perfect knights in England, and moreover of high lineage.’ Bathed in tears, Madame the Countess thus addressed him: ‘Ah sire! for God’s sake I beseech you say no more on that point, for I am resolved never to marry. I have already given myself away to the most perfect knight in all the world and for the love of him never do I mean to have so long as I shall live, any spouse but God. It is quite impossible. For his love I forswear the society of men, not one of whom do I intend to marry.’ The Prince was tormented with a vehement desire to know who this most perfect knight in the world might be and repeatedly pressed the Countess to tell him his name. But the said Countess, the more eager she saw him become, the more she besought him that he would ask no further question. Falling on her knees, she cried: ‘For the love of God and of His most sweet Lady Mother, will you not submit to this restraint?’ To bring the story to an end, the Prince told her that if she would not inform him who was the most perfect knight in the world he would be her mortal enemy. Then said the Countess: ‘Most dear and honoured lord, it is you. It is for the love of you that I declare that knight shall never marry me.’ The Prince who was by this time well nigh beside himself with love, then said: ‘Lady, and I also on my part vow to God that as long as you shall be alive, never will I take any other woman to my wife.’ And there and then he plighted her his troth, shortly enough after which the marriage took place. . .Edward, the king of England, was marvellously vexed and annoyed at this affair and was even desirous of putting her to death, for this Prince might have made a very much more lofty match. There was neither emperor, king, nor prince under the sky who would not have been rejoiced to have the Prince enrolled among his lineage.”(Burrows)
The tales and accounts may have been exaggerated as most records were back then. This seems to be a tad too romantic for the time and I doubt anyone would remember such detail as stated in the Burrow’s account. Looking at the dates of the publications — it is no doubt the Victorian romanticized version of the tale.
The Prince of Wales became affectionate towards the Countess of Kent. It is said that even the Prince had fallen for her charm earlier in his lifetime, but that his parents did not approve. Nevertheless, it seems that their marriage was one of love. Although his parents did not approve of the match (they most likely wanted him to marry a foreign Princess to forge some sort of alliance between England and another European country). Although Joan had been a favored ward of the King and queen, the Countess’s living ex-husband was an issue when it came to inheritance. The secret marriage the Prince of Wales and Countess of Kent are said to have contracted in 1360 would have been invalid anyway because of the consanguinity prohibition (they were first cousins, once removed). At the King’s request, the Pope granted a dispensation allowing the two to be legally married. The official ceremony occurred on 10 October 1361, at Windsor Castle with the King and Queen in attendance. The Archbishop of Canterbury presided.
The couple had two children, Edward of Angoulême and Richard of Bordeaux (later King Richard II). The eldest died around age 6 while the couple was ruling in Bordeaux as Prince and Princess of Aquitaine. The couple returned to England in 1371 where the plague had become an issue. Edward was a Prince who enjoyed fighting and was usually pre-occupied with some campaign. In 1371, he attempted one final campaign to regain his father’s French possessions. On 7 June 1376, he died at Westminster, a week before his forty-six birthday. Joan’s son by the Prince, young Richard, became heir to his grandfather Edward III. Edward died circa a year after his son and Richard was crowned King at the age of ten.
As a power behind the throne, she was well loved for her influence over the young king – for example, on her return to London (via her Wickhambreaux estate) from a pilgrimage to Becket’s shrine at Canterbury Cathedral in 1381, she found her way barred by Wat Tyler and his mob of rebels on Blackheath but was not only let through unharmed, but saluted with kisses and provided with an escort for the rest of her journey. She was well loved by the people.
In 1385, Sir John Holland (1st Duke of Exeter), son of the Princess of Wales’s first marriage, was campaigning with the King in the Kingdom of Scotland, when a quarrel broke out between him and Ralph Stafford, son of the 2nd Earl of Stafford, a favorite of the new Queen Anne of Bohemia. Stafford was killed, and John Holland sought sanctuary at the shrine of St John of Beverley. The Princess of Wales herself did not take to foreign queens for some reason so one wonders if she got along with Queen Anne of Bohemia. 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 relented, and pardoned Holland (though he was then sent on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land).
Joan was buried, as requested in her will, at the Greyfriars, the site of the present hospital, in Stamford in Lincolnshire, beside her first husband, the Earl of Kent. In her will she stipulated:
‘My body is to be buried in my chapel at Stanford, near the monument of our late lord and husband, the Earl of Kent.’
Her third husband, the Black Prince, had built a chantry for her in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral where he was buried with ceiling bosses of her face (seen above). She however chose to be buried with the Earl of Kent, as stated above.
Lady Joan was featured without credit in “A Knight’s Tale” (2001) as the woman sitting next to the Black Prince [alias Coleville in the film] at the final tournament. As the Prince of Wales had no other wife, we can assume that this is the Princess of Wales, Joan.
So just how is Queen Katherine Parr descended from Princess Joan?
- Wentersdorf, Karl P (1979). “The Clandestine marriages of the Fair Maid of Kent,” Journal of Medieval History 5 (3): 203–231.
- Douglas Richardson. “Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families,” 2nd Edition, 2011.
- Anne Crawford. “Yorkists: The History of a Dynasty,” Continuum International Publishing Group, Apr 15, 2007.
- Montagu Burrows. “The family of Brocas of Beaurepaire and Roche court: hereditary masters of the royal buckhounds, with some account of the English rule in Aquitaine,” Longmans, Green, 1886. Google eBook (available for download)
- Barbara Clay Finch. “Lives of the princesses of Wales,” Volume 1, Remington and co., 1883. Google eBook
- Getty Images — Search: Joan of Kent, Princess of Wales
© Meg McGath
27 March 2013