Joan of England was the youngest child of Edward II and Isabella of France. Born at the tower of London on 5th July 1321, she would become well known in history as Joan of the Tower. A man of the City, Robert of Staunton was relieved of £80 of his debt of £180, a princely sum, to ride two miles across London to inform King Edward of his daughter’s arrival. Edward joined his wife and child three days later. Edward was furious to find his wife, the Queen consort had given birth in a crumbling room with a leaky roof, her labour bed wet from rain that had dripped through. He sacked the Constable of the Tower, John Cromwell, as a result. Edward remained with his wife and child for the next six days.
Joan’s oldest brother, the future Edward III had been granted a household at Wallingford castle, where his younger brother John of Eltham and sister Eleanor of Woodstock lived with him for a period, but later were granted a share in their mother’s household principally at High Peak Castle in Derbyshire, which she kept in trust for John and Eleanor under provision from the King. Joan later joined her brother and sister where they remained until 1324, when the King granted them their own households, John being placed under the guardianship of Eleanor Despenser, wife of Hugh and daughter of Joan of Acre and her first husband Gilbert de Clare.
Joan of the Tower and her sister then aged 3 and 6 years respectively, were placed with Ralph Monthermer and his second wife, Isabel Hastings, sister of Hugh Despenser. Ralph Monthermer we remember as being the man who tipped off King Robert I of Scotland when Edward’s father was to have him arrested, giving The Bruce chance to escape. Robert later repaid the debt when, having captured Monthermer at Bannockburn, gave him dinner and then let him free without ransom. Monthermer had previously been married to Edward II’s widowed sister Joan of Acre, following the death of her first husband. She later died giving birth to their fifth child.
Following Ralph’s death, Isabel remained guardian of Edward’s daughters, and also briefly looked after Ralph’s other step-daughter Elizabeth (de Clare) de Burgh’s children when she visited to attend Edward’s funeral in 1327. Elizabeth, Joan of Acre’s other daughter by Gilbert de Clare had married John de Burgh, brother of Elizabeth de Burgh, second wife of Robert the Bruce. (Confused yet?) John and Elizabeth de Burgh’s father, Richard Og de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, was a close friend and ally of Edward I.
In 1325, Edward II decided to consider the betrothal of his daughters, then aged 7 and 4 and his eldest son Edward who was then aged 13. Castile was the direction his negotiations were to begin, being as his mother Eleanor was a daughter of Castile. Alfonso XI also aged 13 who succeeded his father at only a year old was the choice for Eleanor and his sister Leonor, was chosen for Edward. The proposals were met with approval from the Castilian advisors. Edward then progressed to Joan, for whom he desired a match with Pedro of Aragon, eldest son of Alfonso, heir to King James of Aragon.
The betrothals came to nothing when two years later, Edward was deposed and later “died” in 1327, at the hands of his wife Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. Edward, now King Edward III married Philippa of Hainault, and had nine children, including Edward, the black Prince who pre-deceased him leaving his nine year old grandson, Richard to be his heir.
Eleanor married Reynald (Reginald) II, Count of Geulders and had two sons with him. He had four daughters from his previous marriage. The marriage was not a happy one, and Eleanor, perhaps as a result of seeing her own parent’s rather unhappy marriage was over-eager to please her husband. Following the birth of her younger son, her husband tried to have the marriage annulled and sent her from court claiming she had leprosy. Eleanor famously returned and stripped in court to prove this was a lie. Her husband was forced to continue with the marriage, and died five years later in 1343, when he fell from a horse.
Eleanor was then officially named as regent for her son Count Reginald III ‘The Fat’ who was nine years old when his father died. Eleanor had problems with being seen as regent and later resigned. Her two sons quarrelled over the Duchy of Geulders which eventually led to civil war in 1361. Eleanor tried to convince her eldest son to reunite with his brother, which led to her banishment by her son, and the confiscation of her lands. In April 1355, too proud to ask her brother for help, Eleanor died alone and in poverty at a Cistercian convent aged just 36. She is buried in Deventer Abbey in what is now Holland.
John of Eltham, following his brother’s succession to the throne, became one of his trusted commanders, being given the Ward of the North Marches, and guardian of the Realm in his brother’s absence, and at the age of seventeen taking a commanding role in the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. He later commanded an army to put down Scottish resistance to the claim of Edward Balliol… yes that old chestnut, that whole Plantagenet/Balliol alliance again. The Scottish chroniclers later claimed that John was a ruthless man, who upon finding the Scots had taken refuge in Lesmahagow Abbey against the pillaging and desecration of the English troops, had burned down the Abbey with the people inside. Some would claim Edward III was so incensed by his brother’s actions that he killed him with his own bare hands. In reality, John died suddenly, single and childless, from a fever aged 20 in Perth.
And so back to Joan. In an effort to secure an assumption of peace between the Scots and the English, using their familial de Clare and de Burgh connections, in accordance with the 1328 Treaty of Northampton, arranged by Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, and signed by Robert the Bruce, Joan, aged seven and Robert’s son and heir David, aged four were betrothed. The marriage took place on 17th July 1328. Robert died the following year, leaving the five year old David as King David II and his Queen Consort Joan aged eight. David’s mother had died in 1327. Peace was only to last five years and following the Battle of Halidon Hill, King David and Queen Joan were sent to France for their safety where they remained for seven years, firstly at the court of Philip VI, Joan’s cousin, and then later in their own household at Chateau Gaillard, until it was deemed safe for them to return in 1341, when David was of an age to rule in his own right.
In 1346, David was taken prisoner at the Battle of Neville’s Cross, and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where Joan was allowed to visit him on several occasions by her brother Edward III. Some sources claim his imprisonment was quite a loose one, he was able to keep his household and moved to Windsor Castle and then later to Odiham Castle. Despite this, their marriage remained childless, and when David was eventually released in 1357, he went back to Scotland alone. It has been stated that their marriage was not a loving one, and that David was often unfaithful. Joan remained in England to take care of her mother Isabella, whom she was close to, until she died the following year.
Joan herself passed away aged 41 in 1362, whilst resident in Hertford Castle. Her body was buried in Christ Church Greyfriars, London, close to that of her mother, but her tomb has not survived. Also buried within the church were her grandfather’s second wife, Marguerite of France, Princess Beatrice, daughter of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, Princess Isabella, eldest daughter of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Margaret, Duchess of Norfolk and Elizabeth Barton, Maid of Kent. Not much remains of the Church now, and it was subsequently added to St Sepulchregate, both of which were heavily bombed during the last war. Most of the church remains now form a private residence.