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Who Was Joanna, Queen of England?
It surprises me how some of the Queens of England have remained anonymous, almost invisible. Who has even heard of Queen Joanna? Joanna of Navarre, second wife of King Henry IV, who was crowned Queen in Westminster Abbey with all the royal regalia in 1403, is one of these.
In some ways it is easy to understand why. She was Queen for only ten years. She had no impact on the actual government of England. She and Henry had no children together: Henry already had four sons and two daughters with his first wife, Mary de Bohun, so he was not in need of an heir. Joanna had proved fertile with seven children who grew to adulthood, but their failure to have children together was not a dynastic problem.
Their relationship for the most part has drawn little attention, and certainly not from those who write about English Queens. Everyone knows something about the wives of Henry VIII. Most people willingly admit to knowing little or nothing about Joanna. We do not even have a contemporary portrait or description of her. All we have is marble effigy on the tomb where her body lies next to Henry's in Canterbury Cathedral.
So why would I choose to write about her, apart from the fact that I have a strong delight in discovering these interesting medieval woman who might just have something to say to us today?
I chose to breathe life back into her because Joanna has some interesting facets to her life - and some tragic ones.
|Joanna's tomb (with Henry IV)|
Joanna of Navarre was regal from her toes to her fingertips. Daughter of King Charles II (the Bad) of Navarre and Joan de Valois who was a daughter of King John II (the Good) of France, Joanna as a Valois princess was related to almost every important family in Europe through either blood or marriage. She was related to the houses of Burgundy, Berry and Orleans. The King of France, Charles VI was her first cousin. Her family connections were second to none.
On the death of her first husband Duke John V of Brittany, Joanna, as Duchess of Brittany, became Regent in the name of her young son. Joanna was a woman of considerable presence, reputation and European status. She was also a woman of intellect, quite capable of ruling a medieval state. She deserves that we should take a second look at her.
King Henry IV of England, on the other hand, although of Plantagenet birth and royal blood as the only son of John of Gaunt, was a newly made King. What's more he was a usurper in the eyes of many established rulers of Europe, particularly France, because he had seized the crown from his cousin King Richard II, the rightful, God-Anointed King, whose young Queen was Isabelle de Valois. Richard died in dubious circumstances while incarcerated in Pontefract Castle. Thus Henry was a dangerous entity. Few were willing to support such a precedent for the overthrow of a ruling monarch. Yet Joanna chose to marry him.
What was it that motivated her? What was it that made Joanna, a renowned and highly capable ruler of thirty years of age, with a healthy family of seven children and an enviable reputation, give up everything - power, family, royal approval - to choose to come to England to wed the usurper Henry? Could it have been love? Was not Joanna past the age of frivolous emotion? Her duty surely lay with Brittany and the young Duke, for whom she was Regent. Their relationship intrigued me.
It was to be no easy marriage for Henry and Joanna, with England torn apart in an ongoing civil war instigated by the powerful Percy family and Owain Glyn Dwr. Would Henry and Joanna weather the storms of political upheaval and open rebellion? Many were willing to claim that Richard II was still alive and well in Scotland, waiting to lead an overthrow of the Lancaster monarchy.
Furthermore, as a Breton by association, Joanna could be seen as the enemy in their midst. With Joanna in England, Brittany under the guiding hand of the Duke of Burgundy was quite prepared to throw its weight behind Owain Glyn Dwr and join France in its ongoing war against England. Even without the wars, Bretons were detested for their piracy and trading acumen at England's expense. Joanna would not be the most popular of queens.
And then, surely the icing on the cake for any writer of historical fiction, there was the terrifying accusation of necromancy made against her, that by using witchcraft and and the dark powers, lured on by her father confessor who gave evidence against her, Joanna had plotted the death of King Henry V, the hero of Agincourt. As a result Joanna spent three years imprisoned in a series of English fortresses.
The consequences for Joanna of the choices she made in her life were far reaching. They brought her enhanced status and much happiness but also condemned her to a life of great uncertainty.
This, I decided, was a story worth writing.
The Queen's Choice is the story of a Queen of England who has remained in the shadows. It is a story of betrayal and tragedy, but also one of great love and redemption. Joanna was a formidable character whose life epitomised the dangers inherent in the role of medieval Queenship. She can no longer be swept behind the tapestry of history.
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About the Author
Anne O'Brien was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a B.A. Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Masters in Education at Hull, she lived in the East Riding for many years as a teacher of history. After leaving teaching, Anne decided to turn to novel writing and give voice to the women in history who fascinated her the most, beginning with Virgin Widow, which told the story of Anne Neville, the wife of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Since then, she has told the stories of Eleanor of Aquitaine in Devil's Consort, Alice Perrers, the mistress of Edward III, in The King's Concubine, Katherine de Valois, the child bride of Henry V, in The Forbidden Queen and Katherine Swynford, mistress of John of Gaunt, in The Scandalous Duchess. Her latest novel The King's Sister is the story of Elizabeth of Lancaster, caught up in dramatic and bloody family politics in the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV. Today Anne lives in an eighteenth century cottage in Herefordshire, an area full of inspiration for her work. Visit Anne online at www.anneobrienbooks.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien.