Was the Black Prince a control freak where his wife was concerned….?

by Henry Justice Ford (1860–1941) from The Book of the Happy Warrior published in 1917

Before I start, I must apologise for the decidedly uncontemporary illustrations. They are an indulgence, I fear. The one above, of the Prince of Wales (known to posterity as the Black Prince) in armour at an army camp, his hands clasped behind his back, seems to me to probably capture him exactly as he was…all the time! Not a man to argue with.

For aeons beyond recollection, men have been the top dogs. What they said, went. And if they were princes, boy did it went! I think it’s safe to say that Edward of Woodstock was just such a man. He decided everything, as Joan of Kent discovered when she became his Princess of Wales.

Joan of Kent by Cheryl Crawford of Crawford Manor Dolls

Joan was reputedly the most beautiful, charming, seductive and enticing woman in England, and had already proved herself in her first marriage by producing two strong sons and two daughters who lived to adulthood. There was something about her that got men going, as the phrase has it, and Edward of Woodstock was no exception. She was his cousin, he called her Jeanette and he was clearly head over heels in love with her…perhaps he always had been, which was why he’d left it so long to get married. He wouldn’t have any other woman but his Jeanette. He was thirty-one and she was thirty-three, and they were married at Windsor on 10th October 1361,

However, although Edward of Woodstock was notably extravagant with gifts to others, he wasn’t with Joan. His mother, Queen Philippa {pingback to 24/6} , wasn’t particularly lavish toward her either, giving her a corset that had to be mended at a cost of £6 13s 4d! That was a lot of dosh back then, so either it was a corset studded with jewels (not comfortable!) or it was practically beyond redemption and required picking apart and rebuilding from scratch! Literally.

Edward had decided views on everything, including his wife’s appearance. It began even before their marriage, with him making suitable changes in how she and her children by her first marriage presented in public. In Penny Lawne’s excellent biography Joan of Kent, starting on page 140, the list of materials, embroideries, furs and so on involved may seem impressive, but are actually modest by the royal standards of the day. And there’s no record at all of any jewellery being given to Joan. He gave far more to his sisters.

The prince even seems to have had a hand in Joan’s wedding dress. Well, not literally, I imagine…although you never know. Maybe not in public! His hand was in the design. The material was red cloth-of-gold, with threads of gold woven on a web of silk. Beautiful, yes, but not as lavish with jewels as the churching gown the queen had worn. Everything for Joan appears to have been low key. Why?

Was Queen Philippa perhaps disapproving of the match? Hence the damaged corset and modest wedding gown?

Philippa of Hainault – from Mary Evans Picture Library

Joan had a chequered marital history and there was always a question over whether or not she was actually free to marry the Prince. She’d been married to Thomas Holand, who started off as seneschal to the Earl of Salisbury but became Earl of Kent. Unfortunately she was also married to the Earl of Salisbury, at the same time perhaps, but that’s another story. The Salisbury match was set aside by the Pope, so that should have been that. Now, with the Prince of Wales’s marriage, Thomas was definitely dead, but Salisbury was still very much alive and kicking, so was he her real husband after all? This must have plagued many a mind at the time, including the king and queen. And the prince’s next surviving brother, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who had an eye on the succession for himself. Now, if he could prove Joan committed bigamy with Edward…

Was the Prince of Wales only too conscious of this stumbling block? Did he want the marriage to be low key because of it? Or was he just an over-assertive man who thought he knew it all…and got away with it every time because he was a prince? I don’t think there’s any doubt that he loved her, but he just couldn’t help interfering and pushing her around.

I’d like to say it couldn’t happen today, but unfortunately bullying know-alls are still thick on the ground…. All right, all right, I know some of them are women, but the vast majority are men!



  1. 1. ” they were married at Windsor on 10th October 1361,”

    2. ” And the prince’s next surviving brother, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who had an eye on the succession for himself. Now, if he could prove Joan committed bigamy with Edward…”

    Minor detail: this article reads as if this was all current as of October 1361. Edward III’s second son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, who all of us Yorkist know full well who his ultimate heirs were, was still very much alive at this point and didn’t die until October of 1368.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Point taken Gary, but this is not an in-depth article. Yes, Lionel was still alive at the time of the prince’s marriage, and yes, he left a daughter by his first marriage. Hence the Mortimer claim to the throne, and the double descent from Edward III claimed by the House of York, the other being through the dukedom of York itself. 2nd and 4th sons of Edward III.

    But it was the line of the 3rd son, Gaunt, that cast earlier covetous eyes upon the succession and eventually usurped it. In this respect, it was very much in Gaunt’s interest to heap doubt on the validity of the Prince of Wales’s marriage. Maybe he didn’t start this in 1361, but the end result was the same. He simply worked to promote his own “superior” male claim, and trash the Mortimers because they descended from Lionel’s daughter. I realise that this interpretation is open to argument, but it’s how I see Gaunt.

    Don’t let me start on the man’s hypocrisy, when he himself was after the throne of Castile in right of his second wife! Hellfire, he only married her in order to pursue a crown! Yet the Mortimer claim was rubbish? Edward III claimed the throne of France through his mother. So what was OK for father and one son, was a no-no for a more senior son’s line? Hmm…. Very selective.

    To my mind it was a tragedy that the Mortimers had a habit of dying young, and were never really able to make the most of their undoubtedly good claim. They eventually made it in the figures of Edward IV and Richard III, but in the end England was cursed with the Tudors, in the name of the House of Lancaster.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “He simply worked to promote his own “superior” male claim, and trash the Mortimers because they descended from Lionel’s daughter. I realise that this interpretation is open to argument, but it’s how I see Gaunt.”

    It always seemed to me that it was Edward III doing the trashing of the Mortimers, and it frankly makes a great deal more sense. He of course had his personal history with the 1st earl of March, and the 3rd earl was making his final years hell.

    There’s also the little matter that the tradition of primogeniture was still quite new. At this point in history, more than half of all successions after the Norman Conquest had either explicitly or implicitly broken the rules of primogeniture. There was nothing to suggest that king couldn’t just give the throne to whoever he wanted.


  4. I don’t agree, Michael, but I defend to the death your right to hold the views! 🙂

    Gaunt was widely suspected at the time of intending to secure the succession for his line, but then therfe was a period when he was a very unpopular man indeed. And I really don’t know how far into his “dotage” Edward III had travelled. In his last years he seemed to be a fail old man who was totally obsessed with Alice Perrers. Otherwise he wished to be left alone. Maybe in his younger years he had a grudge against the Mortimers, and maybe it lingered into old age, I don’t know, but I really do think they should have come before Gaunt’s line. And if Edward III and Gaunt did conspire (or either them on his own) to keep the Mortimers out because of the distaff connection, then Edward and Gaunt really were dreadful hypocrites.

    Primogeniture might not have been established 100% but it WAS the accepted way. Why else did Richard of Bordeaux become king? He was a child, and (arguably) Lancaster was much better equipped to be monarch. And except for Richard, Edward of Woodstock’s next-in-line brother was Lionel of Clarence. OK, Lionel’s grandson was another child, but if that was good enough for Richard II to succeed, then surely it would have been good enough for whichever Mortimer happened to have survived long enough? (Hardly any of them seemed to have reached middle age, let alone old age!)

    So, it seems clearcut to me. If all had been perfect, with no traitors, attainders or whatever, the succession (in order of seniority) should go: Edward III – Edward of Woodstock – Richard II – Lionel of Clarence’s line – John of Gaunt’s line – Edmund of Langley’s line – Thomas of Woodstock’s line – then, if all these failed, back to the lines of Edward III’s daughters. But I’m no authority! (As I imagine you now know only too well!)


    1. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I agree with you that straightforward male-preference primogeniture would have been best and simplest — I’m just noting that you and I are both coming at this with the benefit of hindsight. Look at the various successions since the Conquest up to the reign of Edward III:

      1) William I –> William II
      2) William II –> Henry I
      3) Henry I –> Stephen
      4) Stephen –> Henry II
      5) Henry II –> Richard I
      6) Richard I –> John
      7) John –> Henry III
      8) Henry III – Edward I
      9) Edward I – Edward II
      10) Edward II – Edward III

      #1, 2, 3, 6, and 7 all explicitly defy a tradition of primogeniture, as the crown passed over more senior persons and lines — 1) Robert Curthose, 2) Robert Curthose again, 3) Matilda, 6) Arthur of Brittany, and 7) Eleanor of Brittany.

      #4 implicitly defies a tradition of primogeniture in that Henry II’s ascension passes over his still-very-much-alive mother, Matilda, and is only secured via the Treaty of Winchester, which recognized Stephen’s usurpation as legitimate!

      The rest all look like straightforward primogeniture that would discount Gaunt’s claim — except, they don’t really.

      #5, 8 and 9 all see a father –> son succession, but it’s important to note that the father’s brothers were all dead in each of these instances — 5) Geoffrey FitzEmpress and William FitzEmpress both predeceased Henry II, 8) Richard of Cornwall predeceased Henry III, and 9) Edmund Crouchback predeceased Edward I.

      Now, considering the personalities involved (Geoffrey FitzEmpress and Richard of Cornwall in particular), stop and imagine what these successions might have looked like had these younger princes survived their kingly brothers. Can we say with any certainty that these successions would have gone so smoothly (especially in the case of a child succession)? I really don’t think we can.

      Edward III is the only king since the Conquest to succeed to the throne with a surviving princely uncle — and the circumstances surrounding his succession are anything but straightforward.

      So when you consider that no son of a king of England since the Conquest had ever been passed over for a younger relative — with the exceptions of the weak Robert Curthose and the traitorous Thomas of Brotherton and Edmund of Woodstock — John of Gaunt’s claim to the throne looks very strong indeed. Not just as strong as the Mortimer claim, but arguably as strong as that of Richard II himself.

      tl;dr: Far from being obvious that Richard should succeed due to a firm tradition of primogeniture, I’d argue that it was Richard’s succession that _established_ a more firm tradition of primogeniture.

      re: Edward III’s involvement here, it is, as you say, unknowable given his mental decline, but I strongly suspect Edward III was a participant in these events. It is specifically the Alice Perrers affair that gives me this suspicion. Again as you say, Edward was obsessed with her — and so was parliament. Peter de la Mare famously led the commons against her and for reform of royal administration during the Good Parliament. Mare was Mortimer’s steward, and the commons-led reforms forced Mortimer onto the council just as it forced Perrers away from court. This, I think, poisoned Edward against Mortimer in his final days and led him to entail the crown to his heirs male. It may have been petty and shortsighted attack on Mortimer personally, or it may have been a genuine attempt at a compromise between the claims of Richard and Gaunt that just so happened to undermine Mortimer, but either way this seems like something that came from Edward III himself. (Certainly, there are plenty who speculate that the entail was the result of Gaunt preying on his father’s senility, but this seems a stretch to me. If Edward III was so easily manipulated on this issue, why would Gaunt settle for such a half-measure? Why would he not instead seek the entail to name him as heir? He had already demonstrated that he had the power to browbeat parliament to his will, as he had in the Bad Parliament. So why not secure the entail and then seek to formalize it in an act of parliament? Or why would he not at least seek the entail to name him as regent or protector? Sure, Richard was young and death was an ever-present threat in medieval life, but gambling that Richard would die young or reach adulthood and fail to produce an heir is a very half-hearted sort of scheming. This read on Gaunt and the entail just falls apart when confronted with simple logic.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What if Gaunt didn’t intend Richard to survive for long? But when push came to shove, he couldn’t go through with such a particularly ruthless and callous act as seeing to the murder of a child who was also his own nephew. Perhaps too many eyes were on him. I don’t really know, but I can’t quite go along with the elbowing aside of the Mortimers being Edward III’s work.

        However, you may well be right, because it’s logical. But then again, what did Edward really think of Richard? The boy was the son of Joan of Kent, whom I don’t think the old man ever forgave for marrying the Prince of Wales. And he quite clearly wasn’t going to be a warrior, which probably dismayed the prince AND the king. The prince could have made a fantastic foreign match, bringing riches and allies, instead he chose a woman who was going on past child-bearing age and already had a clutch of children from her first marriage. To say nothing of a scandalous past that might only too easily cast doubt on the legitimacy of her marriage to the prince. I feel the old man’s teeth were probably ground to stumps.

        Edward’s children were a real mixed bag, but I feel that Gaunt became far too wealthy and influential not want the succession. AND he left us the awful Bolingbroke. But that’s another story.


      2. I certainly can’t go along with the idea that Gaunt plotted to assassinate the young Richard without any evidence at all — especially considering that he’d be out of the country for most of the next decade on his doomed Castilian adventure. Seems an extraordinary waste of time and money if his real aim was to usurp England from a boy king …

        And that’s to say nothing of the fact that every time we find Gaunt in England it’s at Richard’s side — starting with Richard’s failed Scottish expedition and lasting all the way through the tyranny, even as Richard murders Gaunt’s brother and exiles his son. All things considered, Gaunt seems to have taken his vow to support the Black Prince’s son quite seriously til the bitter end. Mortimer, on the other hand, he clearly had no issue making his enemy — and, as I said in my last comment, I can see where he’s coming from on this even if it appears to be nonsense in hindsight.

        As for Joan of Kent, it _is_ fun trying to imagine how Edward III must have reacted to her wedding to the Black Prince. I recall reading sometime ago that Edward III held a tournament around the time of the formation of the Order of the Garter, and Joan’s two husbands competed against one another — all this as they awaited a verdict as to their dispute over their marriages. How peculiar that must have been. And then for the crown prince to marry this same scandalous woman — it makes Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville look quite conservative, doesn’t it?


  5. Well, I wasn’t entirely serious about Gaunt having designs on Richard, but everything has to be considered when ambition is involved. And Gaunt WAS ambitious – was Monseigneur d’Espagne hankering to be Monseigneur d’Angleterre as well? His son did so hanker – I’ll never be convinced that he returned to England solely to retrieve his inheritance. He came to oust Richard. Period. And Richard DIDN’T steal the Lancastrian millions – on that point I believe Ian Mortimer’s work.

    Gaunt and Mortimer were bound to dislike each other. It was unavoidable, and I’d love to see the “alternative” England if the Mortimers had indeed ascended the throne. Interesting, to say the least.

    As for Joan of Kent, she must have been one heck of a lady. Would she have been so incredibly beautiful to us, in this modern age, I wonder? But certainly she had an allure that many men found irresistible. She certainly knew how to use her feminine wiles from a very young age! Many people must have been wondering if the Prince of Wales would EVER marry, and then his choice of bride must indeed have boggled most of the aristocracy.

    The whole of the last half of the 14th century fascinates me, and the more I read, the more I can’t help taking sides. It’s the same with Yorkists and Lancastrians in the next century. Perhaps it’s this latter interest (to which I actually came first and is the reason why I contribute to this unashamedly Yorkist blog) that makes me biased against Gaunt. I can’t view him as being noble through and through because I perceive too many question marks around him – and the subsequent actions of his son make it even worse.

    And the children of Gaunt’s first marriage were the only true Lancastrians because of their mother, Blanche of Lancaster. Gaunt only got his hands on the great fortune through marriage, so if I’m really picky I don’t think his Beaufort brood were genuine Lancastrians. No true Lancastrian blood in their veins, right? But that, too, is another story.

    Richard II was actually caught up in it all. I’m not saying that he was a wonderful king, but he had potential and could have been so much more. Instead he was suppressed, so it’s hardly surprising when when he escaped he was a ittle out of kilter. He’s been mostly damned by history/historians, but to be honest I don’t think that, given his personality, he stood a chance of growing up to be normal and strong. He was beset by strong, determined uncles and nobles from childhood and it warped him a bit. But he wasn’t a tyrant, nor was he mad, and if he’d been given half a chance in the beginning things might have been entirely different. Oh, well, as always it’s the “what ifs” that get us going. They do me, anyway.


    1. “Well, I wasn’t entirely serious about Gaunt having designs on Richard”

      Well, one can never be too sure with you Yorkists! ;-P

      I quite like Gaunt, tbh. At least, I like him as much as I can like a historical figure. I don’t have any personal attachment here. I just enjoy reading about some figures, like Gaunt, more than others. (Though, if I were pressed to choose a side in Gaunt v. Mortimer, I’d probably pick Gaunt. Mortimer’s attacks on royal administration in the Good Parliament are naked opportunism.)

      re: Joan of Kent, I’ll have to read the biography to which you’ve linked. I am genuinely fascinated by the politics surrounding marriage arrangements. (The “what ifs” that get me going most often surround the marriage alliances that could have been and the repercussions of each.) I’ve never really known her as much more than a “great beauty,” which the chroniclers sadly reduce many medieval women down to.

      re: Richard II, as I’ve said in the comments of other posts here, the rehabilitation of this particular Richard is a bridge too far for me! 😀

      Richard, like Gaunt, is a figure I like to read about even if he is just so terrible. I agree that he was doomed from the start. He must have felt such intense stress from such a young age — thrust onto the throne as he was, constantly compared (unfavorably) to his hero father and iconic grandfather, deprived a proper regency, left at the mercy of incompetent and corrupt advisors, and denied the opportunity to grow into his role as he was forced to take personal control of government at far too young an age because of the corruption and incompetence of the minority. It’s not surprising that he grew into a paranoid would-be tyrant … but also it’s undeniable he grew in a paranoid would-be tyrant.

      As for his uncles, I’m not sure we can lay the blame on them here. I think those years leading up to and including 1381 were where the damage was done to him, and none of the uncles are on the scene at this time. Gaunt was shut out of the minority administration and spent much of his time out of the country, Langley was a minor player at best and eventually left to join Gaunt in Castile, and Woodstock spent these years in Brittany fighting the French with John IV/V. Woodstock would, of course, return from Brittany radicalized against the French, and thus cause all sorts of trouble for Richard and the peace policy, but that wasn’t until after 1381. Gaunt wouldn’t return in force to English politics until after the Treaty of Bayonne was completed with the Trastamaras in 1388.


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