Joan Plantagenet, known to history as The Fair Maid of Kent was born on 29 September, 1328. She was the daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent and Margaret Wake, 3rd Baroness Wake of Liddell. Joan's father was the second son of King Edward I and his second wife, Margaret of France.
Joan's father, Edmund, Earl of Kent, supported the queen Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer, Earl of March against his half-brother, King Edward II, however, he later became disillusioned with the Queen and Mortimer. Being convinced that Edward, whose funeral had been held in 1327, was still alive, he entered into a conspiracy to rescue him from captivity and restore him to the throne. The plot was discovered and he was beheaded on March 19, 1330. Joan was only two years old at the time, her mother, Margaret Wake and her four children were placed under house arrest in Arundel Castle.
When he assumed power from his mother and Mortimer, Joan's cousin King Edward III, took on the responsibility for the family. The Queen, Philippa of Hainault, of whom Joan became a favourite, had her brought up at court, where she became friendly with her cousins, including Edward, the Black Prince, he was just two years younger than Joan and developed a strong affection for her, calling her his 'Jeanette'.
Joan grew to be a great beauty, the French chronicler Jean Froissart called her "the most beautiful woman in all the realm of England, and the most loving". While Sir John Chandos's herald described her as 'que bele fu pleasant et sage - lovely, pleasant and wise'. In 1340, at the age of twelve, Joan secretly married Thomas Holland of Upholland in Lancashire, the second son of Robert Holland, a disgraced lord. Holland was around thirteen years her senior and the marriage took place without first gaining the consent of the King. The following year, while Holland was abroad taking part in a crusade in Prussia, she was forced by her family to marry William Montacute, the son and heir of the first Earl of Salisbury, both were about thirteen at the time. She later claimed that she did not disclose her existing marriage with Thomas Holland because she had been afraid that disclosing the fact would lead to Thomas's execution for treason.
Joan is often identified as the Countess of Salisbury who, legend says, inspired Edward III's founding of the Order of the Garter. However, the countess in question may have been her mother-in-law, Catherine Montacute, Countess of Salisbury. Several years later, Holland returned from the Crusades and the full story of his earlier marriage to Joan was revealed causing a great scandal at the time. Thomas confessed the secret marriage to King Edward III and appealed to the Pope for the return of his wife. The nineteen-year-old William Montacute was unwilling to give up his wife, when he discovered that Joan had supported Holland's case, he kept her a prisoner in her own home.
It took Pope Clement VI eighteen months to decide the issue. In 1349, he finally annulled Joan's marriage to the Earl and sent her back to Thomas Holland, with whom she lived for the next eleven years. They had five children before Holland died at Rouen in 1360:-
(i)Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent
(ii) John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter
(iii) Lady Joan Holland (1356-1384), who married John V, Duke of Brittany (1339-1399).
(iv) Lady Maud Holland (1359-1391), who married firstly to Hugh Courtenay and secondly to Waleran III of Luxembourg, Count of Ligny (1355-1415).
(v) Edmund Holland(c. 1354), who died young. He was buried in the church of Austin Friars, London.
Descendants of Joan and Thomas Holland include Lady Margaret Beaufort the mother of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, his queen as well as the Queen Consorts Anne Neville, wife of Richard III, and Catherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII.
When the last of Joan's siblings died in 1352, she became the 4th Countess of Kent and 5th Lady Wake of Liddell. In 1360, Thomas Holland was given the title of Earl of Kent.
Edward, the Black Prince, the eldest son and heir of King Edward III, (who was Joan's first cousin once removed) had long held affection for her since childhood, he presented her with a silver cup, part of the booty from one of his early military campaigns. When the King and Queen did not support a marriage between their son and their former ward and harboured concerns about Joan's reputation, Joan and Edward decided to marry secretly. Edward's parents were finally swayed to agree to the marriage and they were officially married on 10 October 1361, at Windsor Castle with the King and Queen in attendance.
In 1362, the Black Prince was invested as Prince of Aquitaine, and the couple moved to Bordeaux, where they spent the next nine years. Their's was a happy marraige, in a letter addressed to Joan written after the battle of Najera in 1367, Edward addresses her as "my dearest and truest sweetheart and beloved companion". When he returned to Bordeaux from Spain, Joan met him and the couple "walked together holding hands." Froissart described their household as especially magnificent. They produced two sons:-
(i) Edward of Angouleme (27 January 1365 - 1372) who died at the age of six.
(ii) Richard of Bordeaux (the future Richard II) (6 January 1367 - ca. 14 February 1400
In 1367, Edward led an expedition to Castile, in support of the deposed King Pedro of Castile, leading an army into Spain over the pass of Roncesvalles, and on 3rd of April, 1367 won a resounding victory at the Battle of Najera in northern Castile. He then marched to Burgos, where he declared Pedro King of Castile. In gratitude for his military assistance, Pedro presented him with a huge and magnificent ruby, which is still kept in the British Crown Jewels and today adorns the Imperial State Crown.
Edward remained in the kingdom of Castile for the next four months, residing mainly at Valladolid. His army suffered badly during the hot Spanish summer and Edward himself began to exhibit the first symptoms of a mortal disease, possibly dysentry. Returning to Aquitaine and having exhausted his financial resources with the high cost of his Castilian campaign, he made himself highly unpopular with the nobility of the province due to a levy of taxes to pay for his Spanish expedition.
A year later, in 1371, Edward fell ill and returned to England on the advice of his physician. His health fell into rapid decline and realising that he was dying, he spent much time in prayer and charitable works. Edward asked his father to protect his young son Richard after his demise. The Black Prince died at Westminster on 8 June 1376, at he age of 45. He was buried at Canterbury Cathedral, a bronze effigy of the prince now marks the tomb.
On the death of Edward III on 21 June 1377, Richard, the second son of Joan and the Black Prince, (pictured left) succeeded him as King. He was crowned as King Richard II at the age of 10 in the following month.
Joan was well loved for her influence over the young king and acquired a reputation as a peacemaker during his reign. On returning to London from a pilgrimage to Becket's shrine at Canterbury Cathedral in 1381 during the Peasant's Revolt, she found the way barred by Wat Tyler and his rebels on Blackheath. Joan was not only let through unharmed, but saluted with kisses and provided with an escort for the rest of her journey.
In 1385, Joan's son Sir John Holland, was campaigning in Scotland with his half-brother the King, when during a quarrel between him and Ralph Stafford, son of the 2nd Earl of Stafford, 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, she died, at Wallingford Castle. Richard relented, and pardoned Holland.
Joan was buried, in accordance with a request in her will, not by her royal husband at Canterbury but at the Greyfriars at Stamford in Lincolnshire, beside her first husband, Thomas Holland. Her third husband, the Black Prince, had built a chantry for her in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, with ceiling bosses of her face.