Joan, Lady of Wales
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
Joan, Lady of Wales is my ultimate favourite person in medieval history, and has captivated me since I first read Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman almost two years ago now. This is a short biography of her known life, and all that she did.
Joan was originally born as Joan Fitzjohn, and was a natural daughter of King John, in the days when he was the Count of Mortain. There is only reference to who her mother is, and that is in the Tewkesbury Annals in the where she is referenced as 'Regina Clementina' yet the chances of her being a queen are very slim and was probably written this way as a sign of respect for Joan. However, the most likely candidate was Clemence le Boteler, who married Nicholas de Verdun, because the couple were given custody of Susanna ferch Llewellyn, when she came to England as a hostage in 1228. Susanna is a bit of a mystery, in that she is scarcely mentioned, however, if she was a real person, then Clemence le Boteler was almost definitely the mother of Joan, Lady of Wales.
ecauseJoan first comes on record in 1203, when King John payed for her to cross to England from France in preparation for her marriage to Prince Llewellyn of Gwynedd which took place in about 1205 (however, I have had much trouble finding an accurate date, as sources range in saying that it occurred in any year from 1204-1206,) in Chester. At the time of the marriage, depending on when it is recorded as have being, Joan could have been any age from about 15 to 17, depending on when she was born, (another unknown). However, we do know that she was born before 1189, when John married Isabel of Gloucester, because, in 1226, Pope Honorius III declared her legitimate on the grounds that neither of her parents were married at the time of her birth, so a contract between them could've existed, which also limits the number of people who could've been her mother.
There is limited knowledge about Joan from the time of her marriage in 1204 to 1211, however, evidence suggests that the marriage was a happy one, and Llewellyn loved his wife, building her a new church in Trefriw, where the couple had a hunting lodge, so that she didn't have to walk to Llanrhychwyn where the nearest church was located.
The children of Llewellyn include are as follows, but there is much debate about whether they were the children of Joan or by another mother:
Gruffudd ap Llewellyn
Gwladys Ddu ferch Llewellyn
Elen ferch Llewellyn
Margred ferch Llewellyn
Dafydd ap Llywelyn
Gwenllian ferch Llewellyn
Angharad ferch Llewellyn
Tegwared ap Llewellyn
Susanna ferch Llewellyn
Gruffudd was born in 1199, was an illigitmate son of Llewellyn with a woman named Tangwystl.
Elen and Dafydd are the two known children of Joan and Llewellyn, who were born in 1207 and 1208 or 1211 (there is some debate about when Dafydd was born)
Gwladys Ddu, Margred, Gwenllian and Susanna are possibly children of Joan, (I believe that they are) and a large amount of genealogists think that they are, although there is some debate on the existence of Susanna as previously mentioned.
Angharad and Tegwared, these two are possibly twins, however, I have struggled to find any information about them at all (if anyone does, please mention it in the comments)
Back to Joan... In 1211, the event that inspired me took place.
In the build up to 1211, Llewellyn was increasing his influence in South Wales, angering King John, and leading to him invading Wales, to reign Llewellyn in. This succeeded, forcing Llewellyn to surrender, and imposing humiliating terms, but only when Joan, who was in a unique and difficult position (with her husband and father at war) was sent into King Johns camp and pleaded for mercy for Llewellyn, so he got away with humiliating terms, but got away alive. The terms included loosing all land to the east of the River Conway, large tributes in cattle and sheep, depriving his people, and sending Gruffudd to England as a hostage.
In 1212, the other Welsh Princes, who had abandoned Llewellyn the year before, supported him once more, and set about recovering all that had been lost the year before, reclaiming it within two months in 1212, but risking the lives of the hostages sent to England, including the life of his son. When King John heard of the alliance in about August, he ordered the deaths of the twenty-eight hostages aged twelve to fourteen at Nottingham Castle. However, Gruffudd, Llewellyn's son was spared, although this is another topic that I have struggled to find any information about, so if anyone has any please comment!
However, Joan once again intervened in the strained politics between husband and father, at the time of the hangings and sent a letter to King John, imploring him not to invade Wales as he was planning to as Llewellyn and the other Welsh Princes were intent on crushing him and handing him over to his enemy. In Sharon Penman's Here Be Dragons, it is this letter that saves Gruffudd's life, John's favour to his daughter for the information, but it is a topic that I have struggled to research (so please comment if you have more information!)
Along with Magna Carta in 1215 came the release of Gruffudd (and favourable terms for Llewellyn) which, one can imagine was a hard day for Joan. Gruffudd was a threat to her son Daffyd, as in Welsh law, legitimacy when it comes heirs does not matter, and since Gruffudd was older and completely Welsh born, was seen as the more favourable option for succession, endangering Daffyd's position.
In 1216, Joan's father, King John, died. Although their relationship at the end of his life is unknown, although, Joan can't have been oblivious to all of the monstrous acts committed by John throughout his reign. The heir and new king was nine-year-old Henry III, Joan's half-brother, a bonus for Llewellyn who was quickly granted a treaty to confirm all of his recent conquests.
The lives of Joan and Llewellyn appeared to have been very quiet in the beginning of Henry III's reign with Llewellyn the dominant force in Wales. However in this time, many of his daughters got married to marcher lords, keeping Wales united. There are a few things that I could write about Llewellyn in this time, but will refrain from doing so, as this is about Joan, who all sources seem to have gone very quiet about, until 1230, when the next big event of their lives occurred.
In the 1220's, Llewellyn had however captured William de Braose, and ransomed him, but after his release, William de Braose decided to stay and ally himself with Llewellyn. In Easter 1230, William de Braose was visiting Llewellyn's court when he was discovered in the Llewellyn's bed chamber with Joan. A few days later on 2nd May, William de Braose was hung, and Joan was placed under house arrest in Llanfaes or Garth Celyn (if anyone has more information or is sure of where Joan was held then please comment!) for twelve months, but was forgiven by Llewellyn, which was completely unheard of at the time.
There is a small chance that Joan gave birth to a daughter in early 1231, but little more is known about her until her death in 1237, yet there is a chance that she helped Llewellyn in securing the succession of her son, Daffyd, something which took up the later years of Llewellyn's life.
When Joan died in 1237, Llewellyn was reported as being distraught and was deeply saddened by the event, building a friary in Llanfaes to commemorate her, and it was where she was buried on it's completion. The friary was destroyed in 1538 by Henry VIII, and Joan's remains lost. However, in 1808, a plain coffin was placed in St Mary's and St Nicholas's Church, believed to be Joan's although more recent evidence suggests that it is actually the coffin of Eleanor de Montfort, wife of Llewellyn the Last, grandson to Llewellyn the Great.
Thank you for reading!
Beaumaris Castle, the place where Joan's plaque may be although it could also be the plaque of Eleanor de Montfort, wife of Llewellyn the Last.