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Marriage to the Black Prince

Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, known to history as the Black Prince (son of her first cousin King Edward III) was actually the second English Prince of Wales. Originally the title “Prince of Wales” was not conferred automatically upon the eldest living son of the King of England because Edward II (who had been the first English Prince of Wales) neglected to invest his eldest son, the future Edward III, with that title. It was Edward III who revived the practice of naming the eldest son Prince of Wales, which was then maintained by his successors:

Evidence for the romance between the Black Prince and Joan of Kent may be found in the record of his presenting her with a silver cup, part of the booty from one of his early military campaigns. Edward’s parents (King Edward III and Queen Philippa) did not, however, favour a marriage between their son and their former ward. Queen Philippa had made a favourite of Joan at first, but both she and the King seem to have been concerned about Joan’s reputation. Further, English law was such that Joan’s living ex-husband, the Earl of Salisbury, might have claimed any children of her subsequent marriages as his own. In addition, Edward and Joan were within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity.

In any case, Joan’s husband Holland did not die until Christmas 1360. After his death, the Black Prince pursued the matter with his father, who finally consented. That still left the matter of consanguinity to be resolved. At the King’s request, Pope Innocent VI (1352-1362) granted a dispensation allowing the two to be legally married. Matters moved fast, and Joan was officially married to the Prince barely nine months after Holland’s death. The official ceremony occurred on October 10, 1361 at Windsor Castle, with the King and Queen in attendance. Simon Islip, The Archbishop of Canterbury (1349-1366) presided over the ceremony.

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Edward III and Joan of Kent.

In 1362, the Black Prince was invested as Prince of Aquitaine, a region of France that had belonged to the English Crown since the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II. He and Joan moved to Bordeaux, the capital of the principality, where they spent the next nine years. Two sons were born during this period to the royal couple. The elder son, named Edward of Angoulême (January 27, 1365 – c. September 20, 1370) after his father and grandfather, died at the age of five, leaving his three-year-old brother, Richard of Bordeaux, as the new second in line. The death of his eldest grieved him greatly; he became worse, and his surgeon advised him to return to England where the plague was wreaking havoc.

Around the time of the birth of their younger son, Richard of Bordeaux the Prince was lured into a war on behalf of King Pedro of Castile. The ensuing battle was one of the Black Prince’s greatest victories; however, 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.

Transition to Dowager Princess of Wales

By 1371, the Black Prince was no longer able to perform his duties as Prince of Aquitaine due to illness. The prince’s sickness again became very heavy when the “Good Parliament” met on April 28, 1376. The Good Parliament is the name traditionally given to the English Parliament of 1376, It took place during a time when the English court was perceived by much of the English population to be corrupt, and its traditional name was due to the sincere efforts by its members to reform the government. From the period of the Good Parliament Edward knew that he was dying. His dysentery became violent, and he often fainted from weakness, so that his household believed that he had already died.

On June 7, 1376, a week before his forty-sixth birthday, Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, the Black Prince, died in his bed at the Palace of Westminster.

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Richard II, King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine.

Edward and Joan’s son Richard was next in line to succeed his grandfather. One year later, King Edward III died on June 21, 1377, and Richard acceded to the throne as Richard II; he was crowned the following month, at the age of 10.

As the King’s mother, Joan did exercise much influence from behind the scene, and was recognised as a power behind the throne during the early years of the child-king’s reign. She also enjoyed a certain prestige and dignity among the people as an elderly, royal dowager. For example, on her return to London (via her Wickhambreauxestate) from a pilgrimage to Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury Cathedral in 1381, she found her way barred by Wat Tyler and his mob of rebels on Blackheath; however, she was not only let through unharmed, but saluted with kisses and provided with an escort for the rest of her journey.

In January 1382, Richard II married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of Carl IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia.

Death and burial

Sir John Holland was Joan’s son by her first marriage; his wife Elizabeth was a daughter of John of Gaunt, uncle of the King. In 1385, Sir John Holland 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 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 is not known), she died, at Wallingford Castle. King Richard then relented, and pardoned Holland, although he was then sent on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land).

Joan was buried beside her first husband, as requested in her will, at the Greyfriars(the site of the present hospital) in Stamford, Lincolnshire. Her third husband, the Black Prince, had built a chantry for her in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral (where he himself 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.

Endnote: A legendary story of the founding of the Most Noble Order of the Garter involves Joan of Kent, then referred to as the “Countess of Salisbury”, whose garter is said to have slipped from her leg while she was dancing at a court ball at Calais. When the surrounding courtiers sniggered, the king picked it up and returned it to her, exclaiming, “Honi soit qui mal y pense!” (“Shame on him who thinks ill of it!”), the phrase that has become the motto of the Order. However, the earliest written version of this story dates from the 1460s, and it seems to have been conceived as a retrospective explanation for the adoption of what was then seen as an item of female underclothing as the symbol of a band of knights. In fact, at the time of the Order’s establishment in the mid-14th century, the garter was predominantly an item of male attire.