Joan of Navarre

Duchess of Brittany

Joan of Navarre was born circa 1370 in Pamplona, Navarre, the daughter of King Charles II 'the Bad' of Navarre and his wife Joan of Valois.

Joan's mother, Joan of Valois, the daughter of John II of France and Bonne of Luxembourg died in 1373 at the age of only thirty and on 2 October 1386, Joan was married to John V, Duke of Brittany on 2 September, in the cathedral of Bayonne. John had been married twice previously, but had no heir to inherit his dukedom.

Joan of NavarreJoan of Navarre

On Joan's arrival in Britanny, a second marriage ceremony was performed at Saillé near Guérande on 11 September. Despite the large age gap between the couple (John had been born in 1339), the marriage produced a brood of nine children, four daughters and five sons, including Dukes John VI and Arthur III of Britanny. When her husband, Duke John V died at the age of 60, on 1 November 1399, Joan stayed on in Britanny where she acted in the role of regent for her ten-year-old son John V, the new Duke. A mutual affection developed between Joan and the widower Henry Bolingbroke, who had been banished from England by his cousin King Richard II, during which time he stayed at the Breton court. On the death of his father in 1399, Henry of Bolingbroke headed an invasion, usurped the throne of England and was crowned King Henry IV.

He married Joan of Navarre in 1403, a proxy marriage took place at Eltham in April 1402 and when Joan arrived in England she was met by Henry at Exeter and they were formally married at Winchester on 7 February 1403, following which Joan was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey on 26 February. Henry and Joan had no children of their own, but Joan remained close to her family in Britanny, several of whom visited her in England and is said to have developed a good relationship with his children from his first marriage to Mary de Bohun. She is reported to have often taken the side of her stepson, Prince Hal, the future Henry V, in his quarrels with his father. The English, however, disapproved of Henry's French bride and distrusted Joan's foreign favourites at Henry's court.

During the reign of Henry V, her son Arthur of Britanny was seriously wounded and captured at the Battle of Agincourt while fighting on the French side against his step-brother the King of England. Joan was accused of using witchcraft to try to poison the king. It is thought that Henry, strapped for cash for his wars in France, wanted to gain control of Joan's rich dower. Although the case never came to trial, she was arrested and her possessions confiscated. Joan was imprisoned for about four years in Pevensey Castle in Sussex. She was denied access to the revenue from her dowry but her imprisonment was a comfortable one, she was provided with rich clothing, and varied foods and wines and entertained many visitors, including her younger step-son, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. She was later moved to Leeds Castle, near Maidstone in Kent. Six weeks before his death from dysentery at Vincennes in France on 31 August 1422, Henry V regretted his conduct with his stepmother and ordered her release from captivity and the restoration of her dower.

Following her release, Joan lived quietly at Nottingham Castle. Joan of Navarre died at Havering-atte Bower in London on 10 June 1437, at the age of around 67. King Henry VI, with whom she had developed a good relationship, arranged a state funeral and she was buried in the north side of the Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral next to her husband Henry IV. Her effigy was later added to the tomb which she had erected for her husband.