Joan is the only known illegitimate daughter of King John of England (c. 1167-1216) by an unknown mother who is identified in the Tewkesbury annals as 'queen Clemencia'. Though many claims as to who Joan's mother was remain unsubstantiated, the closest contender continues to be Clemence de Verdun (fl. 1228-1230). Originally hailing from Normandy, the de Verduns had close associations with the English crown and many Marcher families. Joan was the wife of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth.
The earliest record that probably refers to Joan is from 1203 in which 'the king's daughter' sailed from Normandy to England at the king's own expense. Royal letters close indicate that she was betrothed to Llywelyn ap Iorwerth before 15 October 1204. This effectively ended the prince's plans to marry a daughter of the king of Man, although the papal dispensation for this granted in April 1203 was revoked only in February 1205. The manor of Ellesmere was formally granted as a marriage portion to Llywelyn on 16 April 1205, and although the date of the couple's marriage is uncertain, it is likely that they were married in March that year.
The marriage was a political exercise from which both Joan and Llywelyn benefited. Joan assumed the role of political diplomat and counsellor, acting as one of Llywelyn's principal arbitrators with the English Crown during the reigns of both King John and Henry III, her half-brother. The Welsh chronicles record Joan's first official act as political emissary in August 1211 after a successful royal campaign was launched against the prince of Gwynedd, who was forced into capitulation. The Welsh chronicle Brut y Tywysogion states that the prince was 'unable to suffer the king's rage, [and] sent his wife, the king's daughter, to him by the counsel of his leading men to seek to make peace with the king on whatever terms he could'. The provisions for peace were punitive. Llywelyn, who not only had to recognise the English king as overlord, was obliged to hand over a number of hostages from the Welsh noble elite, including his own first-born son Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, by his former concubine, Tangwystl. The prince was also forced to surrender the four cantrefs in north-east Wales and to pay substantial levy in cattle. Given Joan's status as 'queen-consort' and the medieval queen's traditional role as an advocate of peace, as well as her relationship with her father, it is likely that Joan was directly involved in counselling Llywelyn on negotiation strategies and perhaps even negotiated some of the terms of the treaty herself. The biggest indication of this lies in the clause that specifies that the prince's lands would escheat to the English crown if he died without any legitimate heirs by her. In spite of the severe treatment of Llywelyn, cordial relations between the prince of Gwynedd and the king of England seem to have resumed as it is recorded that Llywelyn and Joan spent Easter in Cambridge with the king in 1212.
In the summer of that year Joan played a key role in influencing King John to abandon another planned invasion of Wales. Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris recount that whilst preparations were being made in mid-August of that year, John, who was at Nottingham, received two letters warning him to desist from his Welsh campaign. He was informed of a baronial plot in which he would either be killed by his own magnates or taken captive by his enemies. One letter was from William the Lion, king of Scots and the other from Joan. John called off the operation and returned to London to contend with suspects in the conspiracy.
Between 1214 and 1215 Joan successfully petitioned for the release of five of Llywelyn's men who were being held by the Crown. Between 1216 and 1220 sources remain silent on her activities. It is perhaps not coincidental that this was the period after John's death and the accession of the young king Henry, during which relations between Gwynedd and the Crown were relatively amicable, thus allowing for Llywelyn's ascendency in Wales.
Joan's role as diplomat is best documented for the 1220s and early 1230s. In 1220 Joan and her son by Llywelyn, Dafydd, were taken into protection by the English Crown, possibly in anticipation of Llywelyn's acknowledgment of Dafydd as his legitimate and chosen heir. The pronouncement was endorsed by the king at Shrewsbury in May. It was also a decision supported and recognised by the papacy. In 1222, Pope Honorious III granted and confirmed Llywelyn's petition to abolish the Welsh custom that recognised illegitimate children as equal heirs. Joan successfully filed a petition, supported by Henry, for papal dispensation for her own legitimate status between March and April 1226. The newly defined position that made her an official and legitimate member of the English royal family further enhanced both her own status and that of her progeny.
The 1222 marital agreement between Llywelyn and Ranulf (III), earl of Chester, concerning the marriage of Joan and Llywelyn's daughter Helen to Ranulf's nephew, John of Scotland, indicates that, in the least, Joan was partisan to the arrangements made. The wording of the agreement strongly implies that she was, in fact, directly involved. In addition to Llywelyn's charters granting the new couple the manors of Bidford in Warwickshire, Suckley in Worcestershire and Wellington in Shropshire, the agreement states that Llywelyn would ensure that both his charter and that of 'Lady Joan his wife' were given to John of Scotland, presumably in confirmation of these gifts in free marriage. This implies that she possessed rights to these lands and that her approval to grant them was necessary. This is the only surviving document in which Joan and Llywelyn act as a ruling couple.
That Joan was particularly active following the three failed royal invasions of Wales in 1223, 1228 and 1231 adds further credibility to the notion that she was Llywelyn's pre-eminent Welsh envoy who wielded significant influence in both courts. In September 1224 as 'Lady of North Wales' Joan was granted safe passage to meet with Henry at Worcester to facilitate the groundwork for a peace conference. Such political efforts were rewarded by the king who granted her the manor of Rothley in Leicestershire in 1225. In August 1226, Joan was accompanied by Llywelyn and Dafydd to meet the king once more at Shrewsbury and Joan's political diplomacy was rewarded by the king who granted her another manor, Condover in Shropshire.
1228 seems to have been the busiest year of Joan's political career. Her ownership of the manors of Rothley and Condover was temporarily rescinded in early 1228, doubtless because of growing conflict between Llywelyn and the king's justicar, Hubert de Burgh. In August of that year, after receiving the protection of safe conduct, Joan and her own officials met with the king at Shrewsbury to negotiate an armistice. The king had issued a warning to the marchers not to molest Llywelyn, on the presumption that he, too, would attend, which he did not. Joan alone acted as arbitrator and it is apparent that she was successful in her endeavour to parlay for peace as subsequent correspondence between Llywelyn and the king remained relatively cordial. In recognition of her achievements and of the couple's reinstatement into the king's good graces, on 8 November 1228 the manors of Rothley and Condover were restored to her. Most significantly, a testament to Joan's official undertakings and status as diplomat occurred on 13 October 1228. As Llywelyn's chief ambassador, and as a royal mother, Joan witnessed her son pay homage to the king at Westminster. It was in November 1228 that Henry granted Clemence de Verdun and her husband Nicholas custody of Joan and Llywelyn's daughter Susanna. It is probable that Susanna was initially a diplomatic hostage of the Crown and that custody was transferred over after Joan's ambassadorial mission to Shrewsbury in August.
Events in Joan's personal life have hitherto cast a shadow over her career, most famously an episode that occurred in 1230. Brut y Tywysogion states that, 'In that year William de Breos the Younger, lord of Brycheiniog, was hanged by the Lord Llywelyn in Gwynedd, after he had been caught in Llywelyn's chamber with the king of England's daughter, Llywelyn's wife'. de Braose, one of Llywelyn's greatest enemies, had been captured by the prince's forces in September 1228 and although direct evidence is lacking, it may have been during his imprisonment that William and Joan began a liaison. It is likely they met much earlier than 1228 as Joan's daughter, Gwladus Ddu, married Reginald de Braose, William's father, around 1215. Further Margaret, another of Joan and Llywelyn's daughters, was married to John de Braose, William's cousin, around 1219. Nevertheless, the nature and length of the liaison between Joan and de Braose is indeterminate. William was released in early 1229, with promises of paying a £2,000 ransom and to never take arms against Llywelyn again. William also agreed to a marital alliance between his daughter, the de Braose heiress Isabella, and Dafydd. The contract promised the lordship of Builth as Isabella's dowry and thus the prospect of expanding Llywelyn's authority in the Middle March, and it was whilst William was visiting Joan and Llywelyn at court to finalise marriage arrangements at Easter in 1230 that the affair was exposed. An entry in the Chester annals contends that while de Braose was hanged for his insurgency, 'the woman was imprisoned for a long time'. Joan's imprisonment, in fact, lasted only a year, as she had been released from custody in 1231.
Following William's execution, in his correspondence to Eva de Braose, William's widow, and her brother, William Marshall, Llywelyn himself does not refer to Joan's participation in the affair. Deflecting responsibility for William's punishment, Llywelyn stressed it was his council who insisted that de Braose be hanged, but that he was still eager to ensure that plans for their children to marry remained intact. It is probable that the political advantages following the division of the de Braose lands amongst his daughters, including Isabella, swayed sentencing. Llywelyn may have also found popular support with the Welsh in making a move against a member of a historically cruel and oppressive Marcher family. In spite of the political reasoning behind de Braose's execution, the Marcher lord's fate was also very likely influenced by Llywelyn's own reaction to Joan's public betrayal and his loss of confidence in her as his foremost political partner, not to mention his wife of over twenty five years.
Joan's reinstatement at Llywelyn's side, not only as his wife, but as a politically active consort after only a year's imprisonment suggests that her reputation and importance as a successful diplomat far outweighed any breach of marital fidelity. The official change in Llywelyn's title in 1230 from 'Prince of North Wales' to 'Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Snowdon' as a means of demonstrating the authority he sought throughout Wales, was mirrored by changes to Joan's own title when she was released from prison from 'Lady of North Wales' to 'Lady of Wales'. This change in style may signal a desire to re-establish the couple's public reputation after the de Braose affair.
It is likely no coincidence that Joan's reinstatement was at a time of renewed tension between Llywelyn and Hubert de Burgh. Llywelyn's representatives failed to find resolution to the conflict while meeting the king at Worcester in the summer of 1231. As a result, Llywelyn's rights to Joan's manor of Rothley were revoked and, eventually, war broke out. In 1232 Joan met with Henry at Shrewsbury on no less than three occasions as Llywelyn's primary representative. On 27 May, her son Dafydd and Ednyfed Fychan, Llywelyn's distain, accompanied her to negotiate peace.
It may be during this particular period that Joan issued a letter to the English king, which is the only surviving document directly associated with her. It is also the greatest demonstration of her diplomatic capacity, use of her Welsh royal authority and the function of her royal office in its own right. She tells the king that she is 'grieved beyond measure' in her belief that he was ill-advised by his counsellors and allowed Llywelyn's enemies to sow discord between the two of them, leading to enmity and distrust. She begs the king 'on bended knee and shedding tears' that he both reconcile with Llywelyn and trust the faithfulness of their shared royal clerk, Instructus. Joan's use of her title 'Lady of Wales' indicates that this was an official and politically motivated petition. Her use of title is also important in dating the letter itself. As Llywelyn's and Joan's changes in title occurred around tua 1230, this intercession had to have taken place after that year. It seems likely that Joan's letter was sent after 12 March 1232, following the failed visit of another of Llywelyn's envoys to Westminster after which correspondence between the two courts refers to breaches in truce.
Her last recorded involvement as diplomat is found in a letters patent for 8 November 1235 when Henry granted a request from the petition of the 'Lady of Wales' for the pardon of one Robert, son of Reginald, who was accused in the death of William, son of Ralph of Credenhill.
Joan died on 2 February 1237 at the royal palace of Aber. Her body was transported across the Menai Strait to Anglesey and she was buried near the manor of Llan-faes. Llywelyn founded the Franciscan friary of Llan-faes in her memory. It is widely believed that it is Joan's effigy that lies in situ at St Mary's church, Beaumaris. Dafydd is the only firmly established child of Joan. The other of Llywelyn's children attributed to her include Helen, Margaret, Gwladus Ddu, Angharad and Susanna.
Throughout her thirty-year reign, Joan played a fundamental role in thirteenth-century Anglo-Welsh relations. That she had the authority to travel across borders to parlay with successive rulers of England and effectively negotiate terms of peace on numerous occasions, underscores the importance of her career as a political emissary and diplomat. Her recognised and legitimate status within both her natal and marital families provided her the forum to display her competence as a politically adept negotiator. Above all, her official status as 'Lady of Wales' made her the pre-eminent member of Llywelyn's royal court and throughout his reign she visibly represented the Wales-wide authority that the prince sought in a way that other members of his ministerial elite and clerics could not.
Published date: 2018-10-10
Article Copyright: http://rightsstatements.org/page/InC/1.0/
natural daughter of king John by an unknown mother. She was betrothed to Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1204, and m. to him in 1205. Her role as ambassadress and intermediary between her husband and the Crown in the period 1211-32 was an important one. In spite of the tragic liaison with William de Breos (see Braose family), which resulted in a short term of imprisonment for Joan, Llywelyn's attachment to her appears to have been genuine. When she died at the palace of Aber on 2 February 1237 her body was conveyed across the Menai and buried in a new cemetery near the manor of Llan-faes, where Llywelyn founded a Franciscan friary in her memory. She was the mother of Dafydd ap Llywelyn.
A stone coffin, removed from Llan-faes at the Dissolution, and now preserved in S. Mary's church at Beaumaris, is reputed to be hers.
Published date: 1959
Article Copyright: http://rightsstatements.org/page/InC/1.0/