Joanna was the daughter of that Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, who was executed by Richard II in 1397. In 1392, when she was about 17, she was married to William Beauchamp, Lord Bergavenny, younger brother of the Earl of Warwick, who was 55.
They had a son, Richard, who eventually became Earl of Worcester, and two daughters, one of whom married the Earl of Ormonde.
Bergavenny died in May 1411, after an interesting married life, part of which they spent close besieged in Abergavenny Castle by Glyndwr‘s rebel forces. He treated his widow with remarkable generosity, giving her a life jointure in the whole of his landed holdings. This involved temporarily breaking an entail and meant that their son did not live long enough to inherit any part of his father’s lands, as his mother outlived him by many years.
Also in 1411 Joanna’s son Richard Beauchamp married Isabelle Despenser, the daughter of the late Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester and Constance of York. Which of the young couple had the more formidable mother-in-law is a matter of opinion, but it is sure that neither was exactly a pushover. What the young couple would have had to live on but for the untimely death of Isabelle’s brother is not clear. As it was, they had to wait for the death of Edward, Duke of York at the battle of Agincourt to secure most of the Despenser inheritance as he had been allowed to sit on it. Late the following year the passing of Constance of York enabled them to secure the remainder and they became extremely rich.
As for Joanna, she remained the formidable ‘Domina of Abergavenny’ until her death in 1435. She was not a person who had a great respect for law and order and turned to violent action fairly often. In 1404 she had three men hanged for theft without trial, a deed which caused the chronicler Adam of Usk to call her ‘the second Jezebel’. (Pretty fierce condemnation, and perhaps a clue that Usk did not intend his chronicle to be read!)
In 1432 Joanna found herself at the bar of the House of Lords. It seems that she was there as a way of disentangling herself from a whole range of legal processes her violent feuding had brought about. The King’s Council asked the Lords not to proceed to justice.
In the 1433 Parliament, it was agreed that Joanna should forego the £1000 she had paid into court, and in return she would keep the peace and not pursue her other legal processes.
An excellent and highly detailed article on Joanna’s quarrels and disputes can be found here.
She was truly a formidable woman – people were clearly scared of her, and maybe even the men in government were wary of cracking down too hard on her.