Joan Plantagenet: the fair maid of Kent
Powell, Susan Wolfe
Drew, Katherine F.
Master of Arts
Joan Plantagenet, known as the Fair Maid of Kent, was born in 1328. She grew to be one of the most beautiful and influential women of her age, Princess of Wales by her third marriage and mother of King Richard II. The study of her life sheds new light on the role of an intelligent woman in late fourteenth century England and may reveal some new insights into the early regal years of her son. There are several aspects of Joan of Kent's life which are of interest. The first chapter will consist of a biographical sketch to document the known facts of a life which spanned fifty-seven years of one of the most vivid periods in English history. Joan of Kent's marital history has been the subject of historical confusion and debate. The sources of that confusion will be discussed, the facts clarified, and a hypothesis suggested as to the motivations behind the apparent actions of the personages involved. There has been speculation that it was Joan of Kent's garter for which the Order of the Garter was named. This theory was first advanced by Selden and has persisted in this century in the articles of Margaret Galway. It has been accepted by May McKisack and other modern historians. The third chapter of this study will demonstrate the unlikelihood of the theory and propose another possible candidate for the role of the lady behind the Garter. Several critics of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer have proposed a connection between Chaucer and Joan of Kent. Since it is highly probable that they were acquainted, a possibility exists that some of Chaucer's early works were written for or about her. The views of Margaret Galway, George Williamson, and others on this subject will be briefly considered in the fourth chapter. In the fifth chapter we will consider the character of Joan of Kent as it is revealed by her actions on various occasions. It is the contention of this author that because most historians have tended to view her as an amiable but ineffectual woman who was greatly loved by her son but who did not attempt to influence him, the period of Richard's minority has been viewed incorrectly. This chapter will show that Joan of Kent was an astute judge of character, accustomed to achieving her ends, capable of brave and resolute action and of managing her own affairs, and not the kind of woman who would be content to have others manipulating her young son. The final chapter will advance the theory that Joan of Kent, not John of Gaunt or Simon Burley, was the most influential person in the life of the young king. Because her actions were largely behind the scenes the evidence for this conclusion is largely circumstantial. However, it is believed that a convincing case can be made. This study has been interesting to pursue, because although quite a bit of data on Joan of Kent has been found to exist, it exists in a wide variety of sources, and has never been compiled in one place. When the bits and pieces of information are brought together, a fascinating woman begins to appear. Many of the pieces have been lost, some may yet appear as more of the documents in the British Museum and the Public Record Office are published. The evidence that presently exists is sufficient to destroy some of the myths about Joan of Kent and to re-establish her as an important personage of the late fourteenth century.