Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Black Prince and the Fair Maid of Kent

I never knew they were cousins. From Medievalists:
The Black Prince was Edward, Prince of Wales (1330-1376), who was the son of Edward III, and the father of Richard II, although The Black Prince, himself, died before he could ever ascend the throne (I have always heard that he died of dysentery – frequently a soldier’s disease). Being the eldest son of one of England’s most famous kings, Edward was a very desirable match for the noble ladies of Europe. His bachelorhood also made him a very valuable asset in negotiations for peace, as royal marriages traditionally were used to build bridges between nations. In the 1300s, marriages frequently occurred when people were in their teens (and royal betrothals happened well before marriageable age), yet Edward didn’t get married until he was thirty-one. Not only was this a pretty unusual delay for an aristocrat, but it was especially unusual for the heir to the throne to delay begetting his own (legitimate) heirs. One can argue that being essential to England’s campaigns and negotiations in France may have kept Edward pretty busy, but there’s more to the story than a busy timetable.

Joan, Edward’s future wife, was later called The Fair Maid of Kent, so she may have been quite a looker, but she was, in many ways, a very bad match for Edward. First of all, her father had been executed for supporting the previous king (Edward II, her uncle) who had just been deposed (by Edward III, The Black Prince’s father). Joan was, therefore, not only from a traitorous family, but also first cousin to the king, and therefore a close cousin of The Black Prince, himself. Marrying such a close relation was forbidden by the church.

Were that not enough to keep Joan and Edward apart, Joan had a strange history of marriage already. She had been married in secret to a man named Thomas Holland, without royal permission (which, since she was royal and fatherless, would have had to come from Edward III). To add to the scandal, while Holland was away from England, Joan was given in marriage to William Montacute. For whatever reason, Joan didn’t make her earlier marriage known, creating one heck of a mess in an age where proper lineage was paramount – especially when Holland returned. The only person who could sort out a sordid mess like this was the Pope, himself. The Pope decreed that Joan’s first marriage to Thomas Holland was valid (not her marriage to Montacute), and, like it or not, everyone was bound to follow his ruling. Joan and Holland had several children together, and Holland died in 1360, when Joan was thirty-two. (Read more.)

No comments: