Joan of England, also known as Joanna, was born in the Tower of London on either December 19, 1333 or January 28, 1334, to Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.
She was the sister of Isabella and Edward and the cousin of Joan of Kent. Her upbringing was entrusted to Marie de St Pol, the wife of Aymer de Valence and founder of Pembroke College, Cambridge.
The early years of Joan’s life were marked by her father’s political alliances. In 1338, she accompanied Edward III on a journey to Koblenz, where they met Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor.
Joan of England and her family were his special guests at the Imperial Diet in the church of Saint Castor. Edward III had formed an alliance with Louis against Philip VI of France, but the emperor later deserted him.
It is believed that Joan was betrothed to one of the sons of Louis and Margaret II of Hainaut, Philippa’s older sister, and was educated at their court. However, her father withdrew her in 1340, and she returned to England.
In 1345, Joan of England was betrothed to Peter of Castile, the son of Maria of Portugal and Alfonso XI of Castile.
With the blessing of her parents, she left England in the summer of 1348, accompanied by a heavily armed retinue, on a journey that would take her to Spain. Her trousseau alone required an entire ship, and her travel schedule included a visit to one of her family’s castles in Bordeaux.
Sadly, the Black Death had not yet appeared in England when Joan of England embarked on her journey, and her party was likely unaware of the danger. Despite the severe outbreak of the plague in Bordeaux, it did not occur to Joan and her advisors to leave town.
Soon, members of the entourage began falling ill and dying. Robert Bouchier, the leader of the retinue, died on August 20. Joan of England and her advisors moved to the small village of Loremo, where she remained for some time. However, she could not escape the disease and became its first victim in the camp, suffering a violent, quick attack and dying on September 2, 1348.
Accounts vary as to where she was buried, but her statue in Westminster Abbey is on the South Side of her father’s tomb.
In a letter to Alfonso of Castile, Edward III expressed his grief over the loss of his beloved daughter. He described her as “free of all stain” and “loved with our life.” He also acknowledged that the loss was felt deeply by both of their families and expressed hope that Joan was now reigning among the choirs of virgins in heaven.
Joan of England’s life was short but eventful. As a member of the royal family, she was caught up in political alliances and arranged marriages.
Her tragic death in the Black Death, at a time when she was likely one of the most protected women in Europe, highlights the indiscriminate nature of the disease.
Joan’s memory lives on in statues and historical accounts, a reminder of the impact that even the most privileged can have on history.
*Feature Image: Statue, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons