Joan of Kent, "Fair Maid of Kent"


Daughter of  Edmund Woodstock, First Earl of Kent and Margaret Wake,  mother of Thomas Holland and wife of Thomas Holland

Joan Plantegenet born on 29th 1328 is known to history as "The Fair Maid of Kent". The French chronicler Froissart called her "the most beautiful woman in all the realm of England, and the most loving."

Her father was a younger half-brother of Edward II of England. Edmund's support of the King placed him in conflict with the Queen, Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. When Edward II was deposed, Joan's father was executed.

After the death of her father in 1376 her widowed mother Margaret Wake  a descendant of Hereward the Wake, was left with four children. Her younger daughter, Joan, was only two years old. Joan's 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 , in 1341, Joan entered into a clandestine marriage with Thomas Holland of Broughton, without first gaining the royal consent necessary for couples of their rank. The following year in 1342) while Holland was overseas, her family forced her into a marriage with William Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury. Joan was afraid that disclosing her previous marriage would lead to Thomas's execution for treason on his return, and so did not.

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. She is said to have been the king's (Edward III) mistress. It is more likely that the woman involved was Catherine Grandisson, Joan's mother-in-law.

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. Thomas appealed to the Pope for the return of his wife and confessed it to the king. When the Earl of Salisbury discovered that Joan supported Holland’s case, he kept her a prisoner in her own home.

In 1349, Pope Clement VI 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 four known children (though some sources list five), then Holland died in 1360. Their children are listed with her husband's history:

In the meantime, when Joan's brother died in 1352, she had succeeded him as Countess of Kent and Lady Wake.

The Black Prince, who was her cousin 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. Simon Islip, Archbishop of Canterbury also 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 Pope Innocent VI.

They were married in 1361 at Windsor Castle, 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.

Edward, born on 27th January 1365 and died 1372, named after his father and grandfather, died at the age of six

King Richard II born on 6th January 1367 was born in Bordeaux. Because Richard was born at Epiphany and three kings were present at his birth, a legend arose that despite being a second son, he was destined for great things. He became heir to the throne of England, and was created Prince of Wales, when the Black Prince died after a wasting illness in 1376. The following year his grandfather King Edward III of England also died, making Richard king at the age of ten.

During his minority, three 'continual councils' lasting from June 1377 to January 1380 were responsible for the general governing of the country. In reality John of Gaunt, his uncle, exerted considerable influence on matters of importance (despite not being a member of any of the three councils) especially with regard to foreign policy. During that time, the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 brought Richard to prominence at the age of fourteen. It fell to him personally to negotiate with Wat Tyler, the other rebel leaders, and their massed armed ranks of several thousand. He promised pardon to the leaders of the rebellion, but the promise was not honoured - they were arrested and executed. Although it is now generally accepted that Richard was not sympathetic to the rebels' demands, it remains doubtful whether Richard intended the arrests to occur, or if he was forced to go against his word by militant sections of the English nobility. Either way, his tactics had the effect of dispersing the rebel forces from the streets of London back to their homes in the country, thus ending the disorder. But as the young king matured into adulthood he revealed an inability to make the deals and compromises essential to fourteenth-century politics and diplomacy, leading eventually to his deposition in 1399.

At St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster on c.22nd January 1383, he married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and Elizabeth of Pomerania; but they had no children, and she died on 7th June 1394. Richard is said to have been devoted to her. On c.31st October 1396 at St Nicholas' Church, Calais, he married the seven-year-old Princess Isabella of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabeau de Bavière; that marriage was also without issue.

As Richard began to take over the business of government himself, he sidelined many of the established nobles, such as Thomas de Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick, Richard Fitzalan, 11th Earl of Arundel, and Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester. These individuals, not surprisingly, would help to plot the downfall of Richard II. After having exiled the current council, Richard turned to his inner circle of favourites for his council, men such as his beloved Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford and Michael de la Pole, whom Richard created Earl of Suffolk and made chancellor of England. It is possible that Richard had a homosexual relationship with de Vere; Thomas Walsingham called it 'obscene' [and 'not without a degree of improper intimacy' .  The nobles he had snubbed formed the head of a group of the disaffected who called themselves the Lords Appellant. The central tenet of their appeal was continued war with France against Richard's policy of peace, an aim that many of them pursued in the interests of personal gain rather than the interests of the nation.

In 1386, the English Parliament, under pressure from the Lords Appellant, demanded that Richard remove his unpopular councillors. When he refused, he was told that since he was still a minor, a Council of Government would rule in his place. Richard had the Earl of Arundel, leader of the Lords Appellant, arrested; but Richard's small army led by de Vere was overpowered by the forces of the Lords Appellant outside Oxford, and Richard was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Subsequently Richard agreed to hold a parliament in order to resolve the Appellants' grievances; the unpopular councillors were forcibly disposed of, eight being executed for treason and the others exiled, in the Merciless Parliament of 1388. Richard was forced to accept new councillors and was temporarily stripped of almost all his authority.

In the years which followed, Richard appeared to have heeded the lessons of 1387, and he became more cautious in his dealings with the barons. After having recovered power in 1389, and having made his promise to the Marcolf chamber for better improvements and a better government, Richard began to improve his relationships with his subjects. In 1390, a tournament was held to celebrate Richard’s coming of age and the apparent new-found harmony since Richard's uncle John of Gaunt's return from Spain. Richard’s team of knights, The Harts, all wore the identical symbol – a white hart – which Richard had chosen. Richard himself favoured genteel interests like fine food, insisting spoons be used at his court and inventing the handkerchief. He beautified Westminster Hall with a new ceiling and was a keen and cultured patron of the arts, architecture and literature. In this sense, he can be seen as an early example of what was later held up as a model Renaissance prince. But many began to see him as another Edward II, somehow unworthy of his military Plantagenet heritage, given his delicate 'unkingly' tastes. Richard also lacked the thirst for battle of his grandfather: his Scottish campaign in 1385 was not decisive, and he signed a 28-year truce with France in 1396 which was hugely unpopular at home in spite of the dividends that peace brought to the kingdom.

Richard's commitment to peace rather than war can also be seen in his first expedition to Ireland in 1394. He put forward a sensible policy based on the understanding that the Irish rebels were motivated largely by the grievances they had against absentee English landowners and that they were perhaps entitled to some redress in this regard. Those whom he labelled the "wild Irish" - native Irish who had not joined the rebel cause - he treated with kindness and respect.

In spite of his forward-thinking attitude toward culture and the arts, Richard seems to have developed a passionate devotion to the old ideal of the Divine Right of Kings, feeling that he should be unquestioned and unfettered in the way he ran the kingdom. He became a stickler for tradition, insisting on being addressed as ‘majesty’ and ‘highness’ and sitting alone for hours wearing his crown; those addressing him were required to direct their eyes downwards in deference. In the early 1390s Richard's government became increasingly assertive. He began to put an emphasis on the powers of the prerogative and on the subjects' obligation to obey. Richard would react harshly on those who challenged his will of authority. For example, in 1392, Richard seized the liberties of the city of London when the Londoners refused to give him a loan. In addition, as king, Richard began to fashion a grander and more exalted style of monarchy. With these changes the royal court became much larger.

Richard II promised to lower the burden of taxation on his subjects. This promise, though, was not carried through, and Richard's subjects continued to be heavily taxed. Under Richard II, four and a half subsidies were granted by parliament between 1390 and 1398. For many, it appeared that Richard was indulging personal pleasures at the public's expense.

In 1397 Richard decided to rid himself of the Lords Appellant who were confining his power, on the pretext of an aristocratic plot. Richard had the Earl of Arundel executed and Warwick exiled, while Gloucester died in captivity. Finally able to exert his autocratic authority over the kingdom, he purged all those he saw as not totally committed to him, fulfilling his own idea of becoming God’s chosen prince.

Richard was still childless. The heir to the throne was Roger Mortimer the Earl of March, grandson of Lionel of Antwerp, and after his death in 1398, his seven-year-old son Edmund Mortimer. However, Richard was more concerned with Gaunt's son and heir Henry Bolingbroke, whom he banished for ten years on a spurious pretext in 1399. After Gaunt's death, Richard also confiscated Bolingbroke's lands. Some historians have seen this as an act designed to bring greater harmony to England. Bolingbroke's inheritance was huge, large enough to be seen as a small state within the greater state of England and thus an obvious obstacle on the path of a unified and peaceful England. In any event, Richard was only following the policy of his forebears Henry II and Edward I in seizing the lands of a powerful noble to centralise power in the crown.

At this point Richard left for a campaign in Ireland, allowing Bolingbroke the opportunity to land in Yorkshire with an army provided by the King of France to reclaim his father's lands. Richard's autocratic ways, deeply unpopular with many nobles, facilitated Bolingbroke's gaining control quickly of most of southern and eastern England. Bolingbroke had originally just wanted his inheritance and a reimposition of the power of the Lords Appellant, accepting Richard's right to be king and March's right to succeed him. But by the time Richard finally arrived back on the mainland in Wales, a tide of discontent had swept England. In the King's absence, Bolingbroke, who was generally well-liked, was being urged to take the crown himself (some scholars believe much of the forementioned to be Lancastrian propaganda used to justify Henry IV's usurpation of the throne).

Richard was captured at Flint Castle in Wales and taken to London, where crowds pelted him with rubbish. He was held in the Tower of London and eventually forced to abdicate. He was brought, on his request, before parliament, where he officially renounced his crown and thirty-three official charges (including ‘vengeful sentences given against lords’) were made against him. He was not permitted to answer the charges. Parliament then accepted Henry Bolingbroke, Henry IV, as the new king.

Richard was placed in Pontefract Castle, where he died. He is believed to have been killed by starvation (perhaps he refused to take nourishment and starved himself) or otherwise murdered. Richard was dead by 17th February 1400.

Richard's body was displayed in the old St Paul's Cathedral for all to see that he was really dead, and he was then buried in Kings Langley Church. His coffin was badly designed, however, and it proved easy for disrespectful visitors to place their hands through several openings in the coffin and interfere with what was inside. It is said that a schoolboy walked off with Richard's jawbone. Rumours that Richard was still alive persisted well into the reign of Henry V, who decided to have his body moved to its final resting place in Westminster Abbey with much ceremony in 1413.

Richard was a keen collector of precious objects. We know about many of these objects because in 1398/9 they were recorded on a treasure roll, and the treasure roll has survived. It is now held at the British National Archives, Kew, London

The roll lists 1,026 items of treasure, how much each item weighed, and how much it was worth. We learn, for example, that Richard had eleven gold crowns, 157 gold cups, and 320 precious religious objects including bells, chalices and reliquaries.

Each item also has a brief description. The only object listed on the roll that certainly survives is a crown now held in the Schatzkammer der Residenz, Munich, Germany. The roll describes the crown as "…set with eleven sapphires, thirty-three balas rubies, a hundred and thirty-two pearls, thirty-three diamonds, eight of them imitation gems".

Geoffrey Chaucer served as a diplomat and Clerk of The King's Works for Richard II. Their relationship encompassed all of Richard's reign, and was apparently fruitful. In the decade before Chaucer's death, Richard granted him several gifts and annuities, including: twenty pounds a year for life in 1394, and 252 gallons (or, one tun) of wine per year in 1397. Chaucer died on 25 October 1400

Around the time of the birth of 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 later 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. In 1372, he forced himself to attempt one final, abortive campaign in the hope of saving his father’s French possessions. His health was now completely shattered. On 7th June 1376, a week before his forty-sixth birthday, he died in his bed at Westminster.

Joan’s son was next in line to succeed King Edward III. Edward III died on 21 June 1377 and Richard became King. He was crowned Richard II at the age of 10 in the following month. Early in his reign, the young King faced the challenge of the Peasants' 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, while leaving the King with an improved reputation.

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.

In 1385, Sir John Holland, an adult son of her first marriage, was campaigning with the King in the Kingdom of Scotland, when a quarrel broke out between him and Hugh Stafford, 2nd Earl of Stafford, a favourite of the new Queen Anne of Bohemia. 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 1385 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) but the damage was done.

Joan was buried at the Greyfriars, the site of the present hospital, in Stamford in Lincolnshire, beside her first husband. Her second husband, the Black Prince, built a chantry for her in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral (where he was to have been buried), with ceiling bosses of her face. (Another boss in the north nave aisle is also said to be of her.


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