|Royal arms of England|
in the 13th-century
The name Joan is significant. It had been previously used by the Plantagenets - Henry II and King John had each given it to a daughter - but not for a generation, with both of those royal Joans dead before Lord Edward had even been born. Rather, it was a name chosen to emphasize the ancestry of Eleanor of Castile, specifically to honor her mother Jeanne (the French form of Joan), dowager Queen of Castile and countess of Ponthieu in her own right. For it was to her mother that Eleanor likely owed the adult, sexually active relationship she now shared with her husband. Historian John Carmi Parsons argued in a 1984 article that the baby born to Eleanor of Castile in January 1265 (see below) was the daughter Joan whose tomb her grandfather the king ordered a cloth for in September 1265. There is no definitive evidence to prove Parsons' theory, but it is certainly a reasonable one, and the post is written under the assumption that he is correct.
Every inch a queen, Jeanne de Dammartin, maternal grandmother to the newborn Joan Plantagenet, was a strong-willed woman and a force to be reckoned with in her own right in the mid-thirteenth-century. As granddaughter of the famous Alice of France, who was such a beauty that Henry II took her as his mistress even though she was betrothed to his son Richard the Lionheart, Jeanne apparently inherited some of her grandmother’s looks, and was herself thought a great beauty [*2]. By the 1230s, she was certainly in line to inherit her grandmother’s territory, Ponthieu, a small, but well-located county in northern France, bordering Normandy. Its principal town was Abbeville, on the river Somme, a few miles from the channel coast. Jeanne’s ancestor Hugues d’Abbeville founded the dynasty of the counts of Ponthieu in the tenth century. It’s strategic location made its comital family one enmeshed in the great dynastic rivalry between the royal families of France (the Capets) and of England (the Plantagenets).
|Royal arms of Castile|
in the 13th-century
Normandy, the original duchy that had spawned the English royals, had been lost to them in 1204, when it was seized from King John by Philip II of France. In 1235, Henry III and his council saw a way to regain a foothold near the duchy through an alliance with the Dammartins: the king would marry young Jeanne. This of course was unacceptable to the queen regent of France, Blanche of Castile, who put pressure on Jeanne’s father Simon de Dammartin to cease the marriage negotiations in November 1235. Instead, Jeanne, through the arrangement of Queen Blanche, married Ferdinand III of Castile in 1237 [*2], and succeeded to Ponthieu at her mother’s death in 1251. At her husband's death in 1252, Jeanne was attractive woman in her early thirties, a queen and a countess, who was not about to meekly obey her stepson, Castile’s new king Alfonso X, only a year or two her junior. When he withheld her rights in lands that her husband had granted her, she threw her support behind the rebellion of another stepson, Henry of Castile, also denied lands by the new king. This led to a scandal and to rumors of an affair between the dowager queen and disgruntled prince. Queen Jeanne left Castile never to return, in August 1254, pointedly two months before the wedding ceremony of her daughter Eleanor. She was on her way back to Ponthieu, and stopped at Henry III’s court in Bordeaux in Aquitaine, to meet with the English king, queen and Lord Edward, her soon-to-be son-in-law [*3]. She clearly was determined to form a relationship with the Plantagenets on her own terms, independent of the Castilian royal family and court. For their part, the English royals were only too happy to have direct access to Ponthieu through Queen Jeanne and not have to negotiate with the king of Castile over the strategically important county.
|Henry III, King of England|
Countess Jeanne no doubt gave her daughter much advice that spring. In 1260, the former queen took a second husband, the widower knight Jean I, seigneur of Falvy, a member of the family of Nesle. He was either her age or a couple years younger, and though of the Ponthevin nobility, was not her equal in status [*6]. The marriage was certainly one that the Countess Jeanne, about age forty, chose for herself. Eleanor’s mother was not the type of lady to piously retire from the pleasures of the world, and her advice to her daughter would not be to leave everything to the hand of God. Eleanor needed to step out of the shadow of her royal in-laws and assert herself within her marriage. The quickest way to the heart of a twenty-one year-old man, even a prince, was through his loins. If he was avoiding her bed, she needed to do everything possible to entice him back into it. An important way to do that would be to show Lord Edward that she supported him in his political maneuvers, and indeed could help him with them through her own contacts.
|Henry III and Eleanor of Provence crossing the English Channel|
[Image from Historia Anglorum by Matthew Paris, mid-13th-century]
Eleanor’s only consolation was the fact that she was pregnant with another child, knowledge of which would have reached Henry III and Simon de Montfort, perhaps even the captive Lord Edward, by the time of Katherine’s death. Preparations for Eleanor’s confinement were underway on 7 December 1264 at Westminster Palace [*8]. Henry III spent Christmas at Woodstock, and Lord Edward at Kenilworth Castle, the chief administrative seat of Simon de Montfort, where he had to endure a magnificent celebration thrown by his captor [*9]. Eleanor, still in mourning for Katherine and removed from the royal family, awaited her labour. It came at some point shortly after the New Year. The exact date is not known. There is record of payment on 25 January for medicines for Eleanor’s use, and record of her churching (the purification ceremony a woman underwent 30 to 40 days after having given birth) being imminent on 3 February [*8].
|Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, from a|
13th-century illuminated manuscript
The only record of Eleanor’s January 1265 birth are administrative: the preparations for her lying in, the medicine she received, and of her churching. No chronicle mentions it, and considering that Simon de Montfort’s Parliament was assembling in January 1265 to convene on the 25th, it is odd that the birth of a child, an heir to the captive Lord Edward whose release was one of the leading items on the Parliament’s agenda [*10], went unmentioned. There is no record of celebration, or of a messenger being rewarded for delivering news of the birth. No subsequent administrative record exists that mentions the name, or even existence, of a child in 1265, save Henry III’s ordering of a gold cloth for the tomb of Joan in September. There is no record of burial expenses at Westminster Abbey for any child after Katherine in October 1264, nor mention of any child in record until John in July 1266, and only one child (John) is mentioned in household expenses in July 1267 [*11]. This leads to the conclusion that the birth in January 1265 was of an infant who died shortly afterwards. Eleanor certainly had enough stress during that Christmas season to cause a difficult birth. Eleanor's isolation from the royal family meant that the choice of name for her newborn daughter was hers to make, and that she chose Joan, the name of her own mother, rather than a Plantagenet name like Eleanor or Margaret, indicates how uncertain even she was of the future of the dynasty.
During the short weeks or months that the infant Joan lived, her parents remained forcibly separated. April 1265 marked one year since the young Plantagenet couple had seen each other, and they were in dire straits. Lord Edward was still a prisoner of his uncle Montfort, and he and Henry III were amongst the army being taken by Montfort to Gloucester [*10]. Back in London, Eleanor was forced to borrow £40 from Hugh le Despenser, the Justiciar of England appointed by Montfort, just to meet her expenses [*12]. The 23-year-old princess was in a precarious position dynastically. If God chose to take her husband, as he had taken their two daughters, she could expect little in the way of sustenance from Montfort or the captive Plantagenets. The best she could hope for would be to be sent to her mother’s court in Ponthieu, a penniless widow. The worst would be for her to be a prize awarded in marriage to one of Montfort’s ambitious sons or another of his baronial supporters. Her days in the spring of 1265 were likely spent in prayer. If so, it paid off. A miracle occurred.
On Thursday, 28 May 1265, Lord Edward, accompanied by his cousin Henry de Montfort, Thomas de Clare, and some others of his captors, went out riding from Hereford, where Montfort and his army were headquartered, ... and escaped, making his way to Wigmore Castle, the chief seat of powerful Marcher Lord Roger Mortimer [*13]. The tide had turned. Over the next two months, the Marcher Lords, and other barons disaffected by the greed of Montfort and his sons, rallied to Edward’s banner, and began scoring military victories against the baronial forces. The decisive blow was dealt on the morning of August 5th, when battle was joined at Evesham in Worcestershire. Edward and his forces were triumphant, Montfort was killed, and the captivity of Henry III finally ended. When the king gave the order on September 7th for a gold cloth to be placed on the Westminster Abbey tomb of his granddaughter Joan, he did so as a free ruler.
|Battle of Evesham|
[*1] Calendar of Close Rolls [CCR] 1264-1268 (1937), pp. 71-72. The full entry reads, “De panno ad aurum ad tumbam Johanne filie Edwardi.--Mandatum est Ricardo de Ewell’, emptori garderobe regis, quod provideat de uno bono et pulcro panno ad aurum ad cooperiendum inde tumbam Johanne, filie Edwardi, primogeniti regis, nuper defuncte et in ecclesia Westmonasterii sepulte. Et hoc nullo modo omittat. Teste rege apud Merleberg vij. die Septembris.”
[*2] John Carmi Parsons, Eleanor of Castile: Queen and Society in Thirteenth-Century England (1995), pp. 8-9.
[*3] Ibid., p. 16.
[*4] Ibid., pp. 17, 263 n. 33.[*5] Ibid., p. 21; Michael Prestwich, Edward I (Yale English Monarchs Series, 1988), pp. 32-33.
[*6] For genealogical details of the Nesle family, see William Mendel Newman, Les seigneurs de Nesle en Picardie (XIIe-XIIIe siècle), leurs chartes et leur histoire; étude sur la noblesse régionale ecclésiastique et laïque (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1971). Falvy’s mother died by May 1223. Jeanne de Dammartin was born between 1215 and 1220. See also John Carmi Parsons, “The Beginnings of English Administration in Ponthieu: An Unnoticed Document of 1280”, Mediaeval Studies, Volume 50 (1988), pp. 371-403.
[*7] Prestwich, pp. 34-35; Parsons, Eleanor of Castile, pp. 22-23, 263 n. 44.
[*8] John Carmi Parsons, “The Year of Eleanor of Castile’s Birth and Her Children by Edward I”, Medieval Studies, Volume 46 (1984), p. 258.
[*9] H.W. Ridgeway, "Henry III (1207-1272)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
[*10] John R. Maddicott, "Montfort, Simon de, eighth earl of Leicester (c.1208–1265)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
[*11] Parsons, “The Year of Eleanor of Castile’s Birth and Her Children by Edward I”, pp. 258-259.
[*12] Parsons, Eleanor of Castile, pp. 24, 264 n. 50.
[*13] Prestwich, p. 49.