55. GUEST POST: Joan of Kent by Anne O'Brien for Poppy Coburn

Sunday 7 May 2017

In celebration of Anne O'Brien's highly anticipated (by me!) newest release, The Shadow Queen, she has kindly agreed to share a post written for my blog, looking into the character of Joan, and the challenged she faced when she chose to wed Thomas Holland in secret. 

I very much feel that Joan was a will unto herself, and this theme runs strong throughout the book.
Thank you very much to Anne for taking the time to create this guest post! Thank you for also sending me a copy of the new release, a review will follow next week when I have finished it, I am firing through it, although also wanting to savour it. Bookworm problems, eh?

When Joan of Kent married Thomas Holland ...

 ... she broke every rule in the medieval book of how a royal princess should conduct herself.

-  She married without the consent of family or King.  

- She married a man who was unworthy as a suitable husband for a Plantagenet princess.
- She married clandestinely, in secret, giving rise to scandal and rumour that would do her family no good at all. 

- What's more, she was well aware of what she was doing, brought up as she was in the household of Queen Philippa to know the tenets of the society in which she lived and what was expected of her.  Youth could not claim ignorance in Joan's case.

What motivated Joan of Kent to carry out such an act, that must be discovered, and would have lasting consequences, and those not pleasant, for both herself and her new husband, when in 1340 in the town of Ghent, she engaged in this marriage ceremony with Sir Thomas Holland?  She was twelve years old; he a young knight of twenty six.  The ceremony had no priest, no banns, no religious or sacred trappings of any kind.  We do not even know where it took place so it may not even have been in a church.  It was merely an exchange of words in the present tense between Joan and Thomas to signify their wish to be man and wife.  There were witnesses, and by Joan's own admission, the marriage was consummated.  

This was a marriage per verba de praesenti, a form of marriage frowned on by the church but still recognised as legally binding if it was witnessed and the couple had marked the event with physical union.

Thomas then packed his belongings and departed for knight errantry in Europe, driven by a need to make his own living, for as a household knight his income was meagre and his position as a younger son would mean there was little inheritance for  him to look forward to.  Meanwhile Joan returned to her life at the royal court as if nothing had happened.  

A matter of months later, Joan stood beside William Montagu, 12 year old heir of the Earl of Salisbury, in a second far more legal marriage before the royal court, with the full weight of blessings of her mother, the Salisbury family, King and Queen, and a bishop to carry out the ceremony.

Why did she do something so outrageous?  As a Plantagenet princess, she would have been raised to know that her marriage would be an important one, arranged by her cousin King Edward III to ensure loyalty from some important family, either English or European.  Why did Joan make such a misalliance?  How did she foresee the ultimate outcome from these two marriages?  Sadly, her thoughts were never put on record and we are left with mere supposition and conjecture.

If Joan broke the rules, so did Thomas Holland.
Thomas has easily been written off as a 'bad man', persuading a naive young girl to become his wife because he saw the chance of a well connected Plantagenet bride.  He had preyed on her youth, seducing her with his glamour, encouraging her to wed him romantically without permission, so that, infatuated, she threw her reputation to the winds.  He should have known better, but was driven by ambition to take this act of supreme selfishness.  Joan was a victim of a vicious knave.

This may be so, that Thomas Holland had ambition in mind.  And yet there is much evidence to suggest that Joan was not the naive pawn that this version would make her, that this marriage was not the product of childish infatuation.  When given the opportunity to abandon this first marriage and remain wife to the Earl of Salisbury instead, a far more prestigious marriage, Joan fought tooth and nail to return to Thomas, so much so that she was kept under restraint for more than two years and was forbidden to give evidence to the papal court that her marriage to Thomas was viable.  A soon as she could, she returned to Thomas.  In her will it was Thomas Holland that she wished to lie beside in death.  

This does not sound like a simple infatuation, quick to die a death.  Nor did Joan see Thomas as the evil seducer.  Perhaps Thomas did use the glamour of his position to win a valuable bride, but it remained a true marriage with five children, four of whom grew to adulthood.  

There are those who today might condemn Thomas for taking a girl, little more than a child, as his wife, but it is important that we keep this in perspective.  Girls from high-born medieval families were frequently married at a young age.  It was not unusual for a royal bride to be so young, although it is true to say that such marriages were often not consummated until bride and groom were old enough to take on marital duties.  Yet Philippa of Hainault was fourteen when she wed King Edward III and only sixteen when she gave birth to Edward of Woodstock.  Margret Beaufort was thirteen years old when she gave birth to the future Henry VII.  It might be considered unacceptable in today's mores but Joan's apparent immaturity fits seamlessly into the pattern of medieval marriage of the great and the good.

And finally, why did Joan allow herself to be given in marriage to William Montagu, when she was already married, and that at some point this first marriage to Thomas must come to light?  Again there is no evidence, only supposition.  Family pressure would certainly be applied, Joan's mother hoping that Thomas Holland would die abroad and solve all their problems.  Furthermore it was the wish of the King to reward the family of the Earl of Salisbury, his greatest friend, with this valuable marriage.  Whatever the reasons for Joan's compliance, she became the bride of the heir to the earldom of Salisbury in what was undoubtedly a bigamous marriage.

The only certainty we have in this legal morass of Joan's making is that she never regretted her marriage to Thomas Holland.  Without evidence we are allowed to interpret it as we wish.  And since she escaped the Montagu marriage and returned immediately to Thomas Holland, the romantics can only presume that she loved him.

But then, where does Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, fit into this marvellous story?  All is there to be enjoyed in The Shadow Queen

The Shadow Queen is published by HQ Stories

Find out more about Anne O'Brien:


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