Monday, August 11, 2014

The Marital Escapades of Joan of Kent - A Triple Knot by Emma Campion

Joan of Kent,

Countess of Kent
Lady Wake of Liddell

Countess of Salisbury
Princess of Wales
"The most beautiful woman in all England, and the most loving.”
Jean Froissart
Medieval Chronicler

Joan of Kent, also known as the Fair Maid of Kent, was the most beautiful woman in 14th century England. With such great beauty, and a good head upon her shoulders, Joan managed to catch the attention of many men. With three such men, Joan exchanged clandestine betrothal or marriage vows with.

When she was two years old, her father, Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent (half-brother to King Edward II of England) was executed for treason for supporting his brother against Queen Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer. After her father's execution, Joan, her mother, and her siblings were placed under house arrest in Arundel Castle under the guardianship of Catherine and William Montacute.

Clandestine marriage #1

When Queen Isabella's son, Edward III, became old enough, he rejected the regency of his mother Isabella and Roger Mortimer, and placed himself on the throne. He and his wife, Queen Philippa of Hainault, brought Joan to court, where she grew up among her royal cousins. 

An especially close bond developed between Joan and the king and queen's son, Edward of Woodstock (Ned) the Black Prince. Ned was almost two years younger than Joan, but he was more than smitten with his beautiful elder cousin. As children, the two exchanged pretend marital vows. Ned was determined to make Joan his queen one day, despite the fact he knew his parents would never approve a union with the daughter of a treasonous traitor.

The Dance of the Garter
The idea for the creation of the knightly Order of the Garter was attributed to Joan of Kent

Ned, the Black Prince being conferred 
as a Knight in the Order of the Garter,
established by his father, Edward III

Clandestine marriage #2

When Joan turned 12, she met Thomas Holland, a knight. She fell deeply in love with the kind-hearted man, as he did with her. Although the king and queen arranged a betrothal with William Montacute, the son of Catherine and William Montacute, she followed her heart and secretly married Thomas Holland. Joan was the cousin of the king, and as a royal woman, she was expected to marry only with the permission of the king in a union that would benefit the country. Otherwise, she might face charges of treason which carried a penalty of execution. But despite the penalty of death, Thomas and Joan loved each other so much, they risked all to be together. Shortly after their clandestine marriage vows, Thomas Holland was sent away on a long military mission. Their separation would prove to be a long one. Joan kept her marriage secret, and the king and queen proceeded with their plans to betroth Joan to the disinterested William Montacute, the son of her guardians.  

Thomas Holland

When Thomas Holland's campaign ended and he returned to England, he was more than shocked to learn that his wife had been married off to someone else. Determined to fight for his wife, he appealed to the King to have Joan returned to him. Of course, the king refused and so Thomas had to appeal to the Pope, a costly initiative. Meanwhile, the Montacutes, desperate to hang on to Joan because of the royal status she brought to their family, seized her and imprisoned her in a secret location. While Joan was held captive, a plague ravaged England, ultimately claiming Joan's mother.

Trapped in an unhappy marriage with Will, who was more than intimidated by his beautiful, outspoken wife, their sex lives was virtually non-existent. After all, Thomas Holland was the only man Joan loved and wanted. But due process took time and she waited patiently for Thomas to receive a decision from the papal authorities. That decision came when Joan was 21. To their delight, the pope annulled Joan's marriage to William Montacute and allowed her to return to Thomas Holland. 

Finally happy, the couple spent eleven joyous years together during which she bore her husband four children and amassed great wealth and titles and bestowments from the king. When Thomas died, Joan was left a very wealthy widow.

Edward III bestowing Ned the title of Prince of Aquitaine

Clandestine marriage #3

Edward the Black Prince had never given up his dreams to make Joan his queen. Now that she was widowed, Edward stepped up his pursuit of her. Knowing that his mother, Queen  Philippa, opposed a marriage to Joan, he secretly married Joan, again without the consent or knowledge of the king and queen. This was a problem because they were cousins and special papal dispensation was required in order for them to be considered legally married. 

Her first legal marriage

When the king found out about their marriage, he somehow managed to set aside his anger and decided that his son should be married properly, as befit the crown prince. So he had Joan and Ned's clandestine and secret marriage annulled by the Pope. Then he aquired the necessary dispensation so that Joan and Ned could legally wed in a very public royal wedding. Ned was bestowed the title of Prince of Aquitaine, and the coupled established residence there. Joan bore Ned two sons, but sadly, the eldest, another Edward, died at age six.

Ned became involved in a war on behalf of Pedro of Castile, but when Pedro died, the war became financially disastrous. Joan raised an army to protect Aquitaine in her husband's absence. Afterwards, Joan and Ned returned to England with their surviving son, Richard. A few years later, Ned died in 1376. He was buried with pictures of Joan in his crypt. 

Mother of a King

The following year, the king died. With no sons to succeed him, Joan and Ned's only surviving son, Richard II, was crowned at the age of 10.

Richard II

As the mother of the young king, Joan enjoyed much privilege and influence. During England's Peasants' Revolt, Joan lost some of her influence over her son. When Joan's older son, John Holland, was condemned to death for killing Ralph Stafford, Joan pleaded for his life, begging Richard II to pardon his half-brother. In this she succeeded. It was to be her last  formal act for Joan died several days later.

At her request, Joan was buried beside her beloved first husband, Thomas Holland, at Greyfriars.

The life of this great beauty, Joan of Kent, comes to life the historical biographical novel, A Triple Knot by Emma Campion. 

Book Review

The critically acclaimed author of The King's Mistress brings another fascinating woman from history to life in an enthralling story of political intrigue, personal tragedy, and illicit love.

Joan of Kent, renowned beauty and cousin to King Edward III, is destined for a politically strategic marriage. As the king begins a long dynastic struggle to claim the crown of France, plunging England into the Hundred Years’ War, he negotiates her betrothal to a potential ally and heir of a powerful lordship.
But Joan, haunted by nightmares of her father’s execution at the hands of her treacherous royal kin, fears the king’s selection and is not resigned to her fate. She secretly pledges herself to one of the king’s own knights, one who has become a trusted friend and protector. Now she must defend her vow as the king—furious at Joan’s defiance—prepares to marry her off to another man. 
In A Triple Knot, Emma Campion brings Joan, the “Fair Maid of Kent” to glorious life, deftly weaving details of King Edward III’s extravagant court into a rich and emotionally resonant tale of intrigue, love, and betrayal.

In A Triple Knot, author Emma Campion has successfully brought to life the early years of Joan Kent's life. Although the first two chapters of this novel were a little too heavy in backstory and the introduction of far too many names and characters, once I read past this slow beginning, the story started to build and truly captured my interest. The characters are majestically and realistically brought to life, as are the politics and court intrigues of King Edward III's court. Through clever dialogue and rich descriptions, Joan of Kent’s life takes center stage in a most compelling and believable way. 

Joan was recreated in an honorable way, showing either her great affection or great distate for her three husbands. Her plight as a pawn is poignant, especially when she risks all to follow her heart instead of her duty to England. And all this while she was in her early teens. Despite all the political minefields she must tread carefully through, Joan was a woman who remained true to herself. 

The author's depiction of Joan of Kent and those closest to her was nothing short of delightful. I highly recommend this novel! 

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