Joan of Navarre (1370-1437)
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Joan of Navarre (1370-1437)

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There is a sculpture effigy on her tomb in Canterbury which gives the idea of a very lovely woman.
Dictionary of National Biography.

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Joan of Navarre (1370-1437)

Joan was the daughter of Charles the Bad and granddaughter of John the Good and whilst very young was sent off to be the third wife of the Duke of Brittany. Although he was much older, Joan had nine children by him. The exiled Henry Bolingbroke had taken refuge at their court and when her husband died in 1399 Joan asked the Pope for permission to re-marry. On getting the dispensation in 1402 she immediately wrote to Henry who straightaway married her by proxy hoping to get Brittany on his side against his enemies in France. Joan as Regent to the 10-year-old Duke should have been able to guarantee this but the Bretons were furious when they heard of the marriage and crossing the Channel, burnt Plymouth to the ground.

The marriage which took place in Winchester Cathedral when Henry was 36 and Joan three years younger, was no more popular with the English than it had been with the Bretons. Joan aggravated the situation by bringing with her a huge crowd of refugee Bretons and constantly demanding money from Henry, who gave in to her even though he was known to be mean. By 1409, Henry had quelled the rebellious barons but was suffering badly from eczema and epileptic fits. He had a particularly bad fit whilst praying at the shrine of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey at Christmas, and it was feared he was dead. He eventually died three months later leaving Joan a widow once more.

The new king, Henry V, had his eye on Joan's considerable estates, (one of which she had retired to) and arranged for all of her Breton followers to be finally thrown out of the country, and then in 1419, for her to be accused of witchcraft. Henry had no intention of having Joan burnt at the stake, but he did confiscate all her property and locked her up at Pevensey Castle where she remained until 1422, when he repented on his deathbed and had her released and her dower returned. Joan died in 1437 and was buried in a tomb by her husband at Canterbury.


A pathetic story is told of her, when her son Arthur, Count of Brittany, was in 1415 brought to England a prisoner after Agincourt, and came to visit his mother, she made one of her ladies take her place. The young count, who had not seen his mother since a visit to England in 1404, failed to recognise the mistake until Joan betrayed herself.
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