Monday, January 7, 2008

Last Testament of Joan, "Fair Maid of Kent," 1328-1385

Beauty is as perennial as the grass, and just as transitory...

Joan of Kent [1328-1385], commonly called the "Fair Maid of Kent," was the daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, the latter who was executed by Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella for his alleged role in the plot to restore his half-brother, the deposed Edward II. Joan's marital history seems to confirm the fact that men, or rather certain men, found her simply irresistible. Joan's second marriage to William Montacute, earl of Salisbury, was declared bigamous after Thomas de Holand, returning from military service overseas, discovered that Montacute had taken advantage of his absence and appropriated his wife. The Pope ordered Joan returned to her rightful husband. Having perhaps learned an important lesson in matrimonial politics, Joan waited until Thomas was actually dead to marry husband number three: Edward, "the Black Prince," eldest son of Edward III. Whatever Joan may have thought of the interlude in her marriage to the earl of Kent, she nonetheless chose to be buried next to him.

Dugdale, in his Baronage (2:117), says "that in 8 Richard II [1384], the King being young, and guided by ill council, conspired the death of the Duke [John of Gaunt], but that having private intimation thereof from one of them who were of the plot, he [Gaunt] retired to his castle at Pontefract and used the best means he could, by manning and victualling it, to stand upon his guard. Likewise, that the Princess Joane [mother to the King], discerning the ill consequence which might be of this breach, though she was very corpulent, spared neither for pains nor charge in journeying too [sic.] and fro, till she had made a perfect reconciliation betwixt them."

This reconciliation was Joan's final act of diplomacy. Dugdale here cites a passage from the Chronicon Angliae of Thomas Walsingham, a Benedictine monk of St. Alban's. Walsingham remarks that Joan was "devoted to pleasure, and so fat from eating she could scarcely walk." Walsingham was not an unbiased witness of the habits and peculiarities of the Plantagenets: vitriolic in his condemnation of Gaunt, he may have granted himself license in his description of the middle-aged Joan, but his literal meaning cannot be misconstrued. Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine that, in her 57th and final year, Joan could still be seen as a ravishing beauty--even by medieval standards. A lifetime of fine dining may well have faded her bloom.


In the year of our Lord 1385, and of the reign of my dear son Richard, King of England and France, the 9th; at my Castle of Walyngford, in the Diocese of Salisbury, the 7th of August, I Joan Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Countess of Chester, and Lady Wake. My body to be buried in my chapel at Stanford, near the monument of our late lord and husband, the Earl of Kent. To my dear son the King, my new bed of red velvet, embroidered with ostrich feathers of silver, and heads of leopards of gold with boughs and leaves issuing out of their mouths. To my dear son Thomas Earl of Kent, my bed of red camak [sic.] paled with red and rays of gold. To my dear son John Holland, a bed of red camak. And I appoint the Venerable Father in Christ, my dear friend and cousin, Robert Bishop of London; William Bishop of Winchester; John Lord Cobham; William de Beauchamp, William de Nevill, Simon de Burlee, Lewis Clifford, Richard Atterbury, John Clanvow, Richard Stury, John Worthe, steward of my lands, and John le Vache, Knights; together with my dear chaplains, William de Fulburn and John de Yernemouth; and my loving esquires, William de Harpele, and William Norton, my executors. Witnessed by the Prior of Walyngforde and John James. Proved 9th December 1385.

Testamenta Vetusta, Being Illustrations from Wills, of Manners, Customs, &c., vol. 1, pp. 13-14. Nicholas Harris Nicolas, Barrister at Law, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. London: Nichols & Son, 1826.

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