Joan, Lady of Wales

From Chesterwiki
Jump to navigationJump to search

Joan married Llywelyn of Wales, possibly at St Werburgh's Abbey (later the Cathedral), in 1204/5 giving rise to the only claim of a "royal wedding" at Chester. Whether the wedding actually took place at the Abbey during the abbacy of Geoffrey the seventh Abbot (1194-1208) could be disputed as the Abbey was in a "ruinous state" at the time and the event is not mentioned by Lucian the Monk (although he was no friend of the Welsh) who appears to have been actively writing at the time. The story of the marriage is actually quite a complicated one and may have an interesting link with the then Earl of Chester, Ranulf de Blondeville.

The Kings of England are in green and the Earls of Chester in yellow. Llywelyn, who married King John's daughter Joan, is shown in blue. Ranulf de Blondeville was married first to Constance and later to Clemence. Arthur was the son of Constance by her first husband, John's brother Geoffrey.

John's Daughter

Joan, Lady of Wales and Lady of Snowdon, also known by her Welsh name often written as Siwan (c. 1191/92 – February 1237) was the illegitimate daughter of King John of England, and became the wife of Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales (initially King of Gwynedd), effective ruler of all of Wales. Little is known about her early life and historians have much debated the identity of her mother.

It is often written that her mother's name is known only from Joan's brief obituary (1237) in the Tewkesbury Annals, where she is called "Regina Clementina" (Queen Clemence):

  • "Obiit domina Johanna domina Walliae, uxor Lewelini filia regis Johannis et regina Clemencie, iii. kal. Aprilis." - The Lady Johanna of Wales died, the wife of Llywelyn, daughter of King John and Queen Clementia, 30 March.

However, there is a much earlier mention of Clemence in a 1222 letter from Pope Honorious III which is recorded in the Vatican archives. This was in response to Llywelyn seeking the pope’s approval to declare his legitimate son (Dafydd) his sole heir, to the detriment of his first-born illegitimate son (Gruffudd):

  • "Nobili viro Lowelino domino Norwallie. Confirmat statutum quod ipse in terra suae ditioni subiecta cum consensu Henrici regis Anglorum fecerat, consentientibus quoque Stephano Cantuariensi archiepiscopo S R E Cardinali et Pandulpho Norwiciensi electo Apostolicae Sedis Legato, contra abusum in eius terra introductum, ut illegitimi succederent in hereditates sicut et legitimi, ordinando ut David filius suus quem ex Iohanna filia cl. mem. [et] regis Angliae uxore sua legitima suscepit, haereditario iure in omnibus bonis suis ei succedat." - To the nobleman Lord Llywelyn of North Wales. Bringing about from us the attached petition. Certainly your petition showed that since some detestable custom or rather corruption has developed in the land subject to your authority - as evidently the son of the slave girl could be the heir together with the son of the free woman and illegitimate sons could obtain the inheritance just as the legitimate - you [Llywelyn] and your Lord Henry, illustrious king of the English, beloved sons of Christ, have agreed in harmony and also further with the intervening authority of our beloved sons, our venerable brother Archbishop Stephen of Canterbury . . . that Dafydd your son, who from Joan the daughter of Clementia and the king of England, your legal wife, should succeed in receiving your inheritance by right in all your possessions..

The pope is apparently showing his biblical knowledge here with a clear reference to Galatians 4:30:

  • "But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son."

However the scriptural point seems to have first been made by Llywelyn:

  • "Soundly our petitions, delivered to you in succession, in which a certain detestable custom had grown in my land, hence it can corrupt the land bordering upon your sovereignty, that it should be easy to see the son of a handmaiden is an heir with the free son and illegitimate sons inherit just as the legitimate hold." —Pryce (ed.), Acts, no. 253

Llywelyn also had the support of Pandulf, the Papal legate; Stephen, the Archbishop of Canterbury; and Henry III, the English king (then still a minor) for his decision to name Dafydd his heir. Dafydd had already been recognised by the English court at Shrewsbury in 1220, when Henry was aged 13.

Gruffudd's escape attempt from the Tower of London went very wrong when his home-made rope came apart.

Llywelyn had already fathered a son and daughter to a woman named Tangwystl ferch Llywarch Goch before he married Joan. Thus despite the Welsh tradition that, provided the father acknowledged paternity, all sons should inherit equally, whether legitimate or not, Llywelyn took steps before his death to declare his legitimate son Dafydd his heir, to the exclusion of Gruffudd. His motivation for this may in part have been the fact that partible inheritance had been a problem for Wales, with the Kingdom being divided and conflict between siblings.

Llywelyn went to great lengths to strengthen Dafydd's position, probably aware that there would be considerable Welsh support for firstborn Gruffudd against the half-English Dafydd. As a consequence of this, Gruffudd was to spend a large proportion of his life in prison, firstly because he would not accept that his brother was to be his father’s successor, and secondly because he was a threat to Dafydd. He had earlier become a hostage for his father to King John in 1211, and he was released in 1215 as one of the conditions of Magna Carta. In 1220,

Llywelyn got the regent government of young King Henry III to acknowledge Dafydd as his heir in exclusion of Gruffydd, and when his elder son was unhappy about it, Llywelyn took away the administration of Gruffydd’s lands from him. By 1228, however, he had been imprisoned by his father for his rebelliousness and remained there for six years. At the time of Llywelyn's death he was in captivity again. Following a successful invasion of the Welsh borders by King Henry III of England in 1241, Dafydd was obliged to hand over Gruffydd into the king's custody, he was then taken to London and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Gruffudd died while attempting to escape from the Tower in 1244. He is said to have used an improvised rope made from sheets and clothes to lower himself from his window, but as he was a heavy man, the rope broke and he fell to his death.

Joan was betrothed to Llywelyn the Great in 1204, and the marriage is thought to have taken place in 1205, although the Annals of Chester (those of the abbey of St Werburgh in Chester, now the Cathedral) say that it occurred in 1204. Joan’s illegitimate birth was not the stigma to the Welsh that it had been to the Norman French. Illegitimate children were even allowed to inherit in Wales as long as their father acknowledged them.

King John's Wives

John (born 1166) had first married Isabella, Countess of Gloucester (1174-1217) in 1189. Isabella was the youngest daughter and co-heiress of William, second Earl of Gloucester, who was himself the son of Robert of Gloucester, an illegitimate son of King Henry I. William's sister was Maud of Gloucester the wife of Ranulph De Gernon. Isabella’s only brother Robert had died in 1166, making Isabella and her two sisters co-heiresses to the very wealthy earldom of Gloucester. When John's father (Henry II) arranged the betrothal he disinherited the other sisters to ensure that the entire wealth would become available for the upkeep and benefit of John.

John and Isabella were half-second cousins as great-grandchildren of Henry I, and thus within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity. Baldwin of Forde, Archbishop of Canterbury, declared the marriage null by reason of consanguinity and placed their lands under interdict. The interdict was lifted by the old and unwell Pope Clement III (1187-91), who granted a dispensation to marry but forbade the couple from having sexual relations.

As a child John would hardly have been expected to become king - he was the youngest of the four surviving sons of King Henry II of England and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine. His older brothers were Henry the Young King, Richard, and Geoffrey. However the younger Henry (born 1155) died, aged 28, in the summer of 1183, during the course of a campaign in Limousin against his father and his brother Richard the Lionheart; Geoffrey (born 1158) died on 19 August 1186, at the age of 27, in Paris, where he was trampled to death in a jousting tournament; and Richard (born 1157) died in 1199 when he caught a crossbow bolt.

Shortly after John acceded to the throne in 1199, and before the end of August, John obtained an annulment of the marriage. Joan was born after the "marriage" of John and the Countess of Gloucester, although the future king and the Countess had been betrothed since 1175 (when John was 9 and Isabella of Gloucester was possibly a little older or a lot younger). John would have been about 25 when Joan was born, and he is known to have had more than ten "illegitimate" children including Richard FitzRoy (c1190-1246 ) whose mother was Adela, John's first cousin. After his "divorce" John took Isabella into wardship, holding her in ‘honourable confinement’ for the next fourteen years, and thereby hanging on to her assets.

John married Isabella of Angoulême (c1187-1246) in August 1200. It remains a little unclear why John chose to marry Isabella. Near-contemporary chroniclers argued that John had fallen deeply in love with her, and John may have been motivated by desire for an apparently beautiful, if rather young (she was no more than 12), girl. John was able to dispose of his first wife (who was now 26) by arguing that he had failed to get the necessary papal dispensation to marry the Countess as a cousin before the wedding, John could therefore not have legally wedded her without this. This was not the only complication associated with the marriage, Isabella was already engaged to Hugh IX of Lusignan, an important member of a key Poitou noble family and brother of Raoul I, Count of Eu, who possessed lands along the sensitive eastern Normandy border. This resulted in a Lusignan uprising that was promptly crushed by John, who also intervened to suppress Raoul in Normandy. The Lusignans appealed to the French king Philip, who summoned John to explain. John refused and this would lead to war.

King John as illustrated by Matthew Paris, who incorporates some humourous elements. John is shown with this crown toppling from his head, is turning his back upon the church and rather than sitting on a throne is seated on a portable campaign chair.

Matthew Paris suggests that Isobella was as bad as John and described her as guilty of adultery, sorcery and incest. One suggested lover is Isabella’s own half-brother, Peter de Joigny, and this would account for the accusation of incest. Peter visited England in 1215 and possibly 1207 so Isabella and her brother may have formed a close relationship with each other. However, Isabella was mostly pregnant during his visits and it is a mark of her unpopularity that this suggestion has been made. A further story grotesquely narrates how John had one of Isabella’s lovers strangled and his corpse suspended over her bed. It is unlikely to be true.

The Manx Marriage

Joan was not the first choice as Llywelyn's "official" wife. At the time that the first plans for such a union appear to have emerged, Llywelyn was in the process of arranging his own marriage to another princess, this one the daughter of the Manx King, Rǫgnvaldr Guðrøðarson. In fact, in April of 1203, Llywelyn secured papal approval for a marriage between himself and the Manx princess, who had been previously been betrothed to his uncle Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd according to a papal letter dated November 1199.

Rhodri died in 1195, and the same papal letter indicates that his widow was then already arranged to marry his nephew, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd. Although certain correspondence with the papacy reveals that the marriage between Llywelyn and Rǫgnvaldr's daughter had received papal approval in April 1203, another letter shows that the ratification was reversed on a technicality in February 1205. The "technicality" was that Llywelyn provided the papal court with four witnesses that testified to the consummation of the marriage between Rhodri and the Manx princess. This provided the prohibited degree of kinship between Llywelyn and the princess to void both the childhood betrothal and adult marriage, thereby freeing Llywelyn to marry Joan.

This raises the question as to who was the moving force between the betrothal of Joan and Llywelyn. Clearly one option is King John, who could have found it advantageous to have a family link with the Welsh ruler. At the time John had not yet any legitimate daughters, the first of which would be another Joan (22 July 1210 – 4 March 1238) who would later become Queen of Scotland.

The Papal Decree

In April 1226 Joan obtained a papal decree (Register of Honorius III, Reg. Vat. 13, fol. 122 ), from Pope Honorius III (July 1216-March 1227) which declared her legitimate on the basis that neither of her parents had been married to other people at the time of her birth; though this didn’t give her any claim to the English throne, it did legitimise her children with Llywelyn over his others. The precise meaning of "when John was unmarried" is open to interpretation as John argued that he had never validly married his cousin, so Joan could have been born after 1189. John had died a decade before in October 1216. The question here is: who was Joan's Mother - the possible "Regina Clementina"?

The scope for the identity of Joan's mother is wide because one of John's more notorious proclivities as recorded by the chronicles was sleeping with the wives and daughters of his barons. The principal chronicles are set decidedly against John. Roger of Wendover never met John but thought he was a tyrant. Most of his work is probably based on gossip – possibly some barons visited the abbey & told him stories he later used. His work contains mistakes – he accuses John of having Geoffrey de Burgh, archdeacon of Norwich, arrested for a trivial offence & then put to death in a horrible fashion – crushed and/or starved inside a leaden cope. In fact, Geoffrey outlived John to become a bishop in 1225 (9 years after John died). Matthew Paris took over from Roger and continued with the tales of John being a tyrant, extortioner, sceptic in religion, and a seducer of wives & daughters of his own barons. A typical "rant" from Wendover/Paris follows:

  • "In the meantime the king kept on oppressing one or other of the nobles of the kingdom, either by extorting money from them unjustly, or by stripping them of their privileges or properties; of some he seduced the wives, or deflowered the daughters, so that he became manifestly and notoriously odious and detestable both to God and man. Moreover, that his insatiable avarice and unappeasable gluttony and licentiousness might be concealed from no one, he prohibited all fowling and taking of winged game, and prevented the nobles from hunting, by which measures he not only lost the affections of all men, but incurred their unextinguishable hatred; so that even his own wife detested and loathed him." - Flowers of History

Matthew Paris concludes with:

  • "foul as it is, hell itself is defiled by the foulness of King John"

It has been argued by many historians that John was not as evil as has been made out. Wilfred Lewis Warren in his "King John" points out many inconsistencies in the works of Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris as regards John and notes that their record of his times contains many fantastical stories which are also presented as true.

Joan's Mother

So who was Joan's mother Clemence? The only "Queen Clemence" in Europe at that time was Clemence of Toulouse, the disputed second wife of Sancho VII of Navarre. Some sources mention her as Clemence, a daughter of Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor (Frederick Barbarossa), while other sources claim she was the unlikely daughter of Yusuf II, an emir from Morocco. It seems doubtful that John had a liaison with such a prominant woman without some mention being made of it. Although John had at leasr one treaty with Sancho it is unlikely he would have ever met this Clemence. However it has been suggested that the epithet "queen" suggests that Joan's mother was a woman of some importance, and it was perhaps used to avoid giving away clues to her identity as might "duchess" or "countess". Clemence/Clementia was quite a rare name at the time. In one table of women’s names that was compiled, there were only two occurrences of the name “Clementia” out of a total of 1407 women in the sample.

The three most commonly named candidates are mentioned below and the peculiar and somewhat surprising link to Chester is that two of them were at some time married to Ranulf de Blondeville. The candidates are based on appearances in the literature (see links below) and mentions by the chroniclers of the time.

A stereotypically evil-looking King John visits Arthur of Brittany

Clemence de Verdun

Clemence (c1175-1231) was the wife (m.1205) of Nicholas de Verdun of Alton Staffordshire and the daughter of Philip le Boteler (Curia Regis Roll, 1243 [17:281-2 (no. 1462)]) and she inherited lands in Steeple Lavington, Wiltshire that she later bestowed upon another granddaughter. She and Nicholas de Verdun had one known daughter and heiress, Rohese de Verdun (1204-47). The main prop of evidence for this case is that in 1228 Llywelyn and Joan's daughter Susanna was handed over to Clemence for "safe-keeping" as a hostage, and it could be that this was because Clemence was the grandmother of the hostage. The Verdun's had interests at Rothley in Leicestershire and so did Joan, which might also imply a connection. One difficulty with the de Verdun option is that Rohese de Verdun, who would have been the half-sister of Joan in this case, became incredibly well known as a notable sole femme, and attracted the interest pf historians. If seems strange that if Clemence was Joan's mother as well as Rohese's that writers of the times would not have picked this up.

Constance of Brittany

Constance (Breton: Konstanza; c. 1161 – c. 5 September 1201) was Duchess of Brittany from 1166 to her death in 1201 and Countess of Richmond from 1171 to 1201. Constance was the daughter of Duke Conan IV by his wife, Margaret of Huntingdon, a sister of the Scottish kings Malcolm IV and William I. She was the first wife of Ranulf de Blondeville. She has a clear connection to John, as her first husband was John's brother Geoffrey (died 1185), but she became the mother of Arthur of Brittainy shortly after her husband's death and that would have greatly complicated her relationship with John, as Arthur would become John's only rival for the throne if Richard died. Arthur would become Ranulf's step-son and John is generally thought to have been implicated in his murder. Any form of carnal relationship between John and Constance would have been both unlikely to have happened and, if it had, impossible to keep under wraps given the political chaos it could have caused: John would have committed incest with the mother of nephew he then murdered. If this had come out any number of enemies could have petitioned the pope for approval of his deposition and excommunication of any who opposed it. If it is true that she was unmarried at the time of the affair this could only have placed it between c 1187 and 1189. The one bit of evidence in favour is the grounds of her eventual divorce from Ranulf in c1198: according to "The Judges of England" (Edward Foss, 1848) these were "by reason that King John haunted her company". These words appear to be taken from the Chronicon Abbatiae de Evesham (Evesham Chronicle).

Clemence of Fougeres

Clementia was born before 1180, possibly in Fougères, Brittany, to William Fougeres (d.7 June 1187) and his wife, Agatha Hommet. Agatha was a granddaughter to Richard Humez Hommet (d.1181), the seneschal of Normandy for Henry II. Her ancestry is asserted in a copy of a charter, probably of 1232, when the widowed Clementia gave away her Lincolnshire lands of Freiston (Fotstun) and Bennington (Benyngton) on the death of her second husband, Ranulf de Blondeville to whom she was the second wife. In this she describes herself as Clemenciae filiae Willielmi de Fugeres. It is possible she presented Count John with an illegitimate daughter who was named after the king himself, Johanna. She was married to Alain de Vitré (seigneur de Vitré, de Dinan-Sud et de Bécherel) for some unspecified time before she was widowed and married Ranulf in 1200.

Twyford's mention in Domesday, making it clear it had been held by the Fougères since the Norman Conquest.

The evidence here is a little better than in the other two cases:

  • The 1204/5 wedding of Joan and Llywelyn probably took place in Chester, where Clementia was then countess.
  • By 1218 Ranulf had become remarkably close to Llywelyn for a Palatinate Norman Earl who shared a common border with a Prince of North Wales. That year Ranulf departed on Crusade and when he returned Llywelyn was waiting to greet him.
  • In 1222 Ranulf married his heir (John Canmore) to the daughter of Joan and Llywelyn, i.e. to the grand-daughter of his wife.
  • Ranulf was granted the manor of Twyford by John, but this did not form part of Clementia's dower rights, which suggests that John had some form of family relation with Clementia.

However Ranulf and Llywelyn did come to blows during John's Welsh wars of 1210-12. While John led his campaign against de Braose and his allies in Ireland, an army led by Earl Ranulph of Chester and Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, invaded Gwynedd then ruled by Llywelyn the Great. The reason for the breakdown of relations between England and Wales may have been due to Llywelyn forming an alliance with William de Braose, the 4th lord of Bramber. This was the de Braose who was potentially involved in the death of Arthur of Brittany. Llywelyn destroyed his own castle at Deganwy and retreated west of the River Conwy. The Earl of Chester rebuilt Deganwy (the castle was later demolished by Edward I when Conwy Castle was built opposite), and Llywelyn retaliated by ravaging the earl's lands. However another reason for the breakdown was that Innocent III at first encouraged the Welsh to oppose John and then, after John surrendered his Crown to the pope in May 1213, excommunicated the Welsh rulers. It is within that moment, fickly encouraging revolt then forbidding it because John agreed to become a papal vassal and pay regular tribute to Rome, that Innocent created the framework for both conflicts on the British mainland; that of 1212-13 between the Welsh and John, and the larger 1215-17 French invasion of England in support of the Magna Carta rebels.

Joan's Diplomacy

During the Welsh wars of 1210-12 Llywelyn was eventually facing defeat from the invading army that had swept into Gwynedd, capturing the Bishop of Bangor (Robert of Shrewsbury) in his own cathedral, he then sent Joan to negotiate:

  • "Llywelyn, being unable to suffer the King’s rage, 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." - Brut y Tywysogyn or The Chronicle of the Princes: Peniarth MS 20 Version

Joan managed to negotiate peace, but at a high price, including the loss of the Four Cantrefs (Perfeddwlad: the land between the Conwy and the Dee rivers), a heavy tribute of cattle and horses and the surrender of hostages, including Llywelyn’s son by his previous partner, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, which was quite convenient given that Joan's son would be in line to inherit. Joan’s ability to make repeated successful approaches to her father may possibly indicate that she was the daughter of a noblewoman, perhaps a favourite of John, or a close associate of one. The peace was not to last, however, because of King John’s oppressive practices, and in 1212 the Welsh, with Llywelyn as their leader, resumed hostilities against the crown and Llywelyn was able to re-establish himself in the Perfeddwlad.

In late 2012, when John was preparing for an expedition against France Llywelyn seized the occasion to cross the border. The King changed his plans, and prepared to lead his troops to Wales instead of France. A muster was summoned for September at Nottingham, and John went thither to meet his troops. "Before tasting meat", in Roger of Wendover’s graphic narrative, "he hanged twenty–eight Welsh hostages", boys of noble family, whom he held as sureties that Llywelyn would keep the peace.

Almost immediately thereafter, two messengers arrived simultaneously from Scotland and from Wales with unexpected tidings. John’s daughter, Joan, and William the Lion, King of Scots, each independently warned John that his English barons were prepared to revolt, under shelter of Pope Innocent III’s absolution from their allegiance, and either to slay him or betray him to the Welsh. In a panic John disbanded the feudal levies; and, accompanied only by his mercenaries, moved back to London. Matthew Paris wrote:

  • "The same year, when the king was preparing to go on a military expedition, and to invade the Welch, a report was suddenly spread abroad that the earls and barons at Chester had conspired against him; on which account he returned, as if thunderstruck, and as he was greatly agitated at the circumstance, some of them excused themselves, and denied it."

Interestingly, Paris mentions Chester as a possible center of the "conspiracy". It could be said that Joan's clever intervention prevented war. Whether she was concerned more for the safety of her father or her husband, her actions suggest she was an intermediary and moderator between the two political and cultural groups and helped determine not only the actual extent of the penetration of the Normans into Wales, and the survival of the Welsh political group, but also the nature of that survival. On 18 December, 1214 King John ordered Engelard de Cigogné to set free three of the Welsh hostages who were Llywelyn’s men, ‘at the request of our daughter the wife of Llywelyn’. Joan’s success in securing the release of Welsh hostages is noteworthy, particularly in view of John’s reputation regarding the treatment of hostages.

The Magna Carta of 1215 was the first document in which reference is made to English and Welsh law alongside one another, including the principle of the common acceptance of the lawful judgement of peers.

  • Chapter 56: The return of lands and liberties to Welshmen if those lands and liberties had been taken by English (and vice versa) without a law abiding judgement of their peers.
  • Chapter 57: The return of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, illegitimate son of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great) along with other Welsh hostages which were originally taken for "peace" and "good"

King John dies

King John died in 1216 and was succeeded by Henry III as a boy king (aged nine). William Marshall was effectively the initial head of government, but died in 2019. During Henry's minority his early rule was then dominated first by Hubert de Burgh and later Peter des Roches. Ranulf was away on the Fifth Crusade from 1218-1220.

John Canmore at the Town Hall in Chester.

John le Scot (John Canmore) who married Joan's daughter, Elen ferch Llywelyn, in 1222 was Earl of Huntingdon and Cambridge. Historians consider that Llywelyn’s motivation for arranging this marriage for his daughter Elen was that John le Scot was the nephew and heir of Ranulf, the earl of Chester, and the close proximity of Chester to north Wales made this alliance very important politically. The chronicle of Ranulf Higden stresses the political significance of this marriage when it states that John le Scot took as his wife the daughter of Llewelyn prince of Wales:

  • "as for final concord between Llewelyn and his uncle Ranulf earl of Chester"

On the occasion of the marriage Ranulf, the earl of Chester, gave John a grant of lands in Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire, as well as a thousand silver pounds and other considerations. The choice of John as a husband for Elen may have also been motivated by the fact that at the time he was ‘heir-presumptive’ to King Alexander II of Scotland. This marriage probably did not please Henry III: it is unlikely that the crown would have wished for an alliance between Wales and Scotland. However when the wedding was arranged Henry was still a minor (aged 15), and possibly with the help of Ranulf the regents were persuaded to consent. Turning the viewpoint around, if Ranulf de Blondeville's wife was Joan's mother then from her perspective this could be a good match. Unfortunately, although the marriage lasted 15 years, it did not produce any children. When John the Scot died, Henry was old enough to realise that he now had the opportunity to take the Earldom of Chester back under his personal control and he promptly began to do so.

The suggestion that Elen poisoned her husband, leading to his death in 1237, can be found in Matthew Paris (who is not always to be believed):

  • About this time, too, John Scott, earl of Chester, closed his life about Whitsuntide, having been poisoned by the agency of his wife, the daughter of Llewellyn. The life of the bishop of Lincoln, too, was also attempted by the same means, and he was with difficulty recalled from the gates of death. In the same year, in the week before Whitsuntide, there fell storms of hail which exceeded the size of apples, killing the sheep ; and they were followed by continued rain.

The bishop would have been Robert Grosseteste, and Paris appears to be the only source for his supposed poisoning. One curious fact about John's death (near Northwich) is found in the "calender of patent rolls". While John is generally accepted to have died on June 6th/7th 1237 (dates vary), the patent rolls record that Henry III was already sending his condolences on June 6th 1237. It does not seem possible that he could have reacted so quickly. Thereafter, Henry would retain the Earldom of Chester as a royal fief.

Elen remarried shortly after her first husband’s death in 1237. The Dunstable Anallist for 1237 stated that the daughter of Llywelyn had married Robert de Quincy (died 1257) and that this had angered her father (Lewelinus indignatus est). Robert de Quincy was a younger son of Saer de Quincy the earl of Winchester and the wife of his eldest brother (confusingly another Robert! - who died in 1217) was Hawise of Chester, 1st Countess of Lincoln. She was the sister and a co-heiress of Ranulf de Blondeville.


One of the most controversial aspects of Joan’s marriage to Llywelyn was that she committed adultery with William de Braose (the younger) in 1230. This is not the same William de Braose, 4th Lord of Bramber who was a court favourite of King John and the suspect in the death of Arthur of Brittany, but a grandson of that one. This particular de Braose was known to the Welsh as "Black William" and was imprisoned by Llewelyn ap Iorwerth in 1229 during Hubert de Burgh's disastrous Kerry (Ceri) campaign. He was ransomed and released after a short captivity during which he agreed:

  • to pay a ranaom of £2000, and agree never to take up arms against Llewelyn again,
  • to arrange the marriage between his eldest daughter Isabel to Dafydd, son and heir of Llewelyn and to cede Builth as a marriage portion on her betrothal.
Crogen on the River Dee had a motte (probably Norman), Branas Uchaf a chambered cairn and there is a hill-fort at Llechwedd Cilan.

The following Easter, Llewelyn discovered "an intrigue" between his wife, Joan, and William when de Braose was found alone with her in her bedroom. Thus, he was not a prisoner of Llewelyn at the time of the supposed adultery, and, in fact was visiting to sort out some details of his ransom. De Braose was hanged and Joan was placed under house arrest for twelve months, after which, according to the Chronicle of Chester, Llywelyn took her back and restored her to all her former positions and titles. According to one version De Braose is traditionally said to have been hung at Crogen (on the River Dee near Llandderfel) before a crowd of 800. Another version has him hanged from a tree in a field behind the palace of Garth Celyn in Abergwyngegyn.

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:

  • "L. prince of Aberfrau, lord of Snowdonia, to his esteemed friend E. de Braus, with love, greetings. We ask you in so far as you might inform us regarding your wish, whether you would want to persist with the alliance made between David, our son, and I., your daughter; because she will never remain with us except that the alliance will stand. And if you would not want this, lest any worse harm might be able to happen, you would want to make known soon your will regarding that alliance and regarding the authority of your daughter with us. And you may know that in no way might we have been able to avert what judgement the magnates of our land might not do, considering what revenge they have done because of the scandal and our outrage. And whatever you will have done from there you might take the trouble to make known to us." - Royal Letter No 763a
Pen y Bryn (said to be Garth Celyn) in 1811, sepia drawing by Sir Richard Colt-Hoare.

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. The actual penalty under Welsh law at the time was a large fine of cattle. 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. However, Given-Wilson and Curteis, in "The Royal Bastards of Medieval England" (p. 129) suggest that Joan and Llywelyn conspired together to entrap William de Braose in a compromising position with the much older Joan, in order to bring about his downfall.

Joan of Wales died at the royal palace of Abergwyngregyn, on the north coast of Gwynedd, in February 1237. Llywelyn's great grief at her death was recorded at the time. Llywelyn founded a Franciscan Friary near the shore of Llanfaes in her memory, where Joan was buried. The Friary was consecrated in 1240, just a few months before Llywelyn's death in April of the same year. The Friary was destroyed in 1537 during the dissolution of the monasteries and Joan's tomb was desecrated. The whereabouts of the coffin were unknown for many years until it was suposedly found in the town of Beaumaris, Anglesey, where it was being used as a horse trough. It was moved to St Mary's and St Nicholas's Church, Beaumaris but there is some debate as to whether it is actually her sarcophagus: experts have suggested the costume and style of carving belong to a much later decade than the 1230s when Joan died.


One of the problems with the chronology of this period is that some dates, especially birth dates of daughters vary widely between sources.

  • 1188: In his account of his journey in 1188, Gerald of Wales mentions that the young Llywelyn was already in arms against his uncles Dafydd and Rhodr


  • 1192: Charter of John of Mortain (later King John) to the citizens of Chester for their protection and freedom of trade with Ireland.
  • 1197: Llywelyn captured Dafydd and imprisoned him.
  • 1199: Richard dies. John becomes king.


  • 1200 Ranulf de Blondeville, Earl of Chester married to Clemence of Fougères; daughter of William of Fougères, widow of Alan de Dinant, and sister of Geoffrey of Fougères. Gruffudd ap Cynan died and left Llywelyn the undisputed ruler of Gwynedd.
  • 1201: Constance of Brittany dies. Llywelyn took Eifionydd and Llŷn from Maredudd ap Cynan on a charge of treachery. In July, Llywelyn concluded a treaty with King John of England. This is the earliest surviving written agreement between an English king and a Welsh ruler, and under its terms Llywelyn was to swear fealty and do homage to the king. In return, it confirmed Llywelyn's possession of his conquests and allowed cases relating to lands claimed by Llywelyn to be heard under Welsh law.
  • 1202: Charter of King John to the Citizens of Chester in which he styles himself "King of England and Lord of Ireland" and "requests all Justices, Constables, Bailiffs and faithful people in the whole of Ireland to grant the citizens of Chester liberty to trade in Ireland as in the time of our Father King Henry I"
  • 1203: in April Arthur of Brittany dies possibly at the hands of King John. Also in April, King John took a renewed oath of fealty from Ranulf de Blondeville. Llywelyn received a papal dispensation to marry a daughter of the King of the Isle of Man. A betrothal was probably entered into, but the marriage did not take place.
  • 1204: Joan was betrothed to Llywelyn the Great.
  • 1205: Joan was married to Llywelyn the Great. As Joan’s dowry John provided Llywelyn with the manors of Knighton and Norton and Ellesmere.
  • 1206: King John gave Isabel, the widow of Geoffrey of Chester, to Hugh le Despenser, unaware that she had privately married Roger de Creisy [who in 1207 obtained pardon for this offence]. In compensation Hugh got £20 annual rent in the manor of Waltham.
  • 1207: Elen ferch Llywelyn born. Innocent III threatens to place England under an Interdict. In response, John confiscates church property. Many of the English bishops of the great churches in the country flee abroad to the Continent.
  • 1208: Ranulf de Blondeville approves a law, as part of the market charter' to the efect that there cannot be another market within six and two third miles of Chester Market (as the crow flies). Abbot Hugh Grylle is elected. Gwenwynwyn of Powys fell out with King John who summoned him to Shrewsbury in October and then arrested him and stripped him of his lands. Llywelyn took the opportunity to annex southern Powys and northern Ceredigion and rebuild Aberystwyth castle.
  • 1209: Basingwerk castle burnt by Ranulf de Blondeville, Earl of Chester, after complaints from the monks of Chester that they had lost the Well Church at Basingwerk during the wars with the Welsh Princes. Ranulf had the castle rebuilt to protect the many pilgrims to the Well Church. Innocent III excommunicates John for attacks on Church property.


  • 1210: King John lands at Waterford looking for the rebel baron William de Broase who had supposedly fled to Ireland. John took the opportunity to visit his lands in Ireland receiving homage from the Irish Chieftains. Maud, de Braose's wife and son were captured, taken back to England and starved to death in Corfe Castle. At Chester Castle the Agricola Tower is built as the bailey gatehouse with a first floor chapel, decorated with wall paintings.
  • 1211: King John visits Chester. Henry de Lacy rescues Ranulf de Blondeville from siege at Rhuddlan by collecting a body of "players, fiddlers and other loose persons" from the midsummer fair. This led to the Dutton/Button family being granted the right to hold the "Minstrel Court". Llywelyn was facing defeat from the invading army that had swept into Gwynedd, capturing the Bishop of Bangor (Robert of Shrewsbury) in his own cathedral, he then sent Joan to negotiate: "Llywelyn, being unable to suffer the King’s rage, 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." Joan managed to negotiate peace, but at a high price, including the loss of the Four Cantrefs (Perfeddwlad: the land between the Conwy and the Dee rivers), a heavy tribute of cattle and horses and the surrender of hostages, including Llywelyn’s son by his previous partner, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn ap Iorwerth
  • 1212: King John impounds the revenue of all prelates appointed by bishops, who have deserted him at his excommunication. He remains on good terms, however, with churchmen who stood by him, including Abbot Sampson, who this year bequeaths John his jewels. Matthew Paris wrote: "The same year, when the king was preparing to go on a military expedition, and to invade the Welch, a report was suddenly spread abroad that the earls and barons at Chester had conspired against him; on which account he returned, as if thunderstruck, and as he was greatly agitated at the circumstance, some of them excused themselves, and denied it.". The Welsh, with Llywelyn as their leader, resumed hostilities against the crown and Llywelyn was able to re-establish himself in the Perfeddwlad. Dafydd ap Llywelyn (c. March 1212 – 25 February 1246) born.
  • 1213: Innocent III declares John deposed; Llywelyn took the castles of Deganwy and Rhuddlan. Llywelyn made an alliance with Philip II Augustus of France. John resigns his kingship to the pope and receives it back as a holding from the Roman legate, thereby ending the interdict.
  • 1214: Ranulf de Blondeville established the abbey of Dieulacres at Abbey Green, near Leek, Staffordshire by moving Poulton Abbey. Philip II succeeded in putting an end to the Angevin Empire by defeating a coalition of his rivals at the Battle of Bouvines. Otto IV was deposed by Pope Innocent III, marking Frederick II Hohenstaufen's accession to the Imperial throne. King John was compelled to hand over Anjou, the ancient patrimony of the Angevin kings of England, to Philip in a peace settlement.
  • 1215: Ranulf de Blondeville present at the "signing" of the Magna Carta by John John's seal was the only one placed on it, and he did not sign it. The barons neither signed nor attached their seals to it. Less than three months after it had been agreed, John and the loyalist barons firmly repudiated the failed charter: the First Barons' War erupted. Llywelyn was rewarded with several favourable provisions relating to Wales, including the release of his son, Gruffydd, who had been a hostage since 1211.
  • 1216: Innocent III dies suddenly. Honorious III becomes Pope. Before John's death, rebel barons had offered the throne of England to Louis, the heir to the French throne. Louis had invaded the country during the summer of 1216. Succumbing to dysentery and moving from place to place, John stayed one night at Sleaford Castle before dying on 18 October (or possibly 19 October) 1216, at Newark Castle (then in Lincolnshire, now on Nottinghamshire's border with that county). Numerous, possibly fictitious, accounts circulated soon after his death that he had been killed by poisoned ale, poisoned plums or a "surfeit of peaches". Henry III (1 October 1207 – 16 November 1272) becomes king (aged 9). Llywelyn held a council at Aberdyfi to adjudicate on the territorial claims of the lesser princes, who affirmed their homage and allegiance to Llywelyn.
Easter 1217. The French invader and the rebels hold the shaded area to the East and the castles in green. Ranulf's lands are shown shaded and his castles in yellow. Some other important English castles are shown as well - Dover and Corfe are under seige.
  • 1217: Ranulf de Blondeville's military experience was utilised in defeating the rebels at the second Battle of Lincoln. Following the battle, in recognition of his support, Ranulf was created Earl of Lincoln by Henry III on 23 May 1217. With William Marshal acting as regent, a call for the English "to defend our land" against the French led to a reversal of fortunes on the battlefield. After Louis' army was beaten at Lincoln on 20 May 1217, and his naval forces (led by Eustace the Monk) were defeated off the coast of Sandwich on 24 August 1217, he was forced to make peace on English terms. In 1216 and 1217 Prince Louis also tried to conquer Dover Castle but without success. The principal provisions of the Treaty of Lambeth were an amnesty for English rebels, Louis to undertake not to attack England again, and 10,000 marks to be given to Louis. The effect of the treaty was that Louis agreed he had never been the legitimate King of England. Ranulf de Blondeville, granted the office of master-serjeant to Vivian de Davenport and his heirs. Reginald de Braose of Brecon and Abergavenny, who had been allied to Llywelyn and married his daughter, Gwladus Ddu, was induced by the English crown to change sides. Llywelyn responded by invading his lands, first threatening Brecon, where the burgesses offered hostages for the payment of 100 marks, then heading for Swansea where Reginald de Braose met him to offer submission and to surrender the town.


  • 1220: Ranulf de Blondeville returns from the crusades and raises the Everton Beacon. On arrival in Chester he is met by Llywelyn the Great. Ranulf de Blondeville is offered the position of King of Jerusalem but turns it down. Trial by ordeal is abolished in England. Ranulf starts work on Beeston Castle. Dafydd was recognised as Llywelyn's heir by the English court at Shrewsbury by Henry (aged 13).
  • 1221: Fulk Fitzwarin III began rebuilding his fortress (Whittington Castle), with one eye on Wales for the reaction of Prince Llywelyn and his friend, Ranulf de Blondeville of Chester. One of the most prominent legends concerning Whittington Castle regards the Marian Chalice, thought by some to be the Holy Grail. According to this legend, Sir Fulk FitzWarin, the great grandson of Payne Peveril and one in the line of guardians of the Grail and King Arthur. A story from the 13th century states that the Grail was kept in a private chapel of the castle when Sir Foulke was there.
  • 1225: Ranulf surrenders many of the castles obtained from John in 1215-27 to Henry III (who is now 18).
  • 1226: Abbot Hugh Grylle dies, William Marmion becomes Abbot of St. Werburgh. Joan obtained a papal decree (Register of Honorius III, Reg. Vat. 13, fol. 122 ), from Pope Honorius III (July 1216-March 1227) which declared her legitimate.
  • 1228: William Marmion dies and Walter de Pincebeck becomes Abbot of St. Werburgh. Llywelyn was engaged in a campaign against Hubert de Burgh, who was Justiciar of England and Ireland and one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. Hubert had been given the lordship and castle of Montgomery by the king and was encroaching on Llywelyn's lands nearby. The king raised an army to help Hubert, who began to build another castle in the commote of Ceri. However, in October the royal army was obliged to retreat and Henry agreed to destroy the half-built castle in exchange for the payment of £2,000 by Llywelyn. Llywelyn raised the money by demanding the same sum as the ransom of William de Braose, Lord of Abergavenny, whom he had captured in the fighting.
  • 1229: King Henry III calls for an army to be assembled at Portsmouth to be transported to Normandy to regain lost territories from the French. A large army of knights turns up ready to go but not enough ships have been provided. Henry blames Hubert de Burgh for the fiasco and in his rage will have killed him if Ranulf of Chester has not intervened. This marks the beginning of the rift between Henry and Hubert de Burgh. Meanwhile, the expedition is postponed until the mid of 1230.


  • 1230: Joan committed adultery with William de Braose (the younger). De Braose was hanged and Joan was placed under house arrest for twelve months. Henry III invades France but signs a truce with Louis IX (the Saint) and returns to Portsmouth. He leaves a small force under Peter Mauclerc and Ranulf de Blondeville, to act against the French in Brittany and Normandy.
  • 1231: Ranulf de Blondeville's sister Hawise became 1st Countess of Lincoln in April, when her brother resigned the title in her favour. He granted her the title by a formal charter under his seal which was confirmed by King Henry III. She was formally invested as suo jure 1st Countess of Lincoln by King Henry III on 27 October 1232 the day after her brother's death. Hubert de Burgh becomes a powerful lord in the Welsh Marches, controlling the castles at Cardigan and Carmarthen. He begins to threaten the local Welsh leaders, Llywelyn the Great launches a campaign against Norman lordship in Wales.
  • 1232: Ranulf de Blondeville dies (26th October), aged 60. His heart was buried at Wallingford Castle, while his body was buried at St Werburg's. His earldom of Chester went to the son of his sister Maud of Chester, John Canmore known as "John the Scot". Henry III was anxious to be seen as the legitimate successor of the Norman earls, and especially of Ranulf de Blondeville. As early as 1232 he granted £3 a year from the manor of Newcastle-under-Lyme (Staffs.) to support a chaplain at Chester abbey to pray for Ranulf de Blondeville's soul. Hawise made an inter vivos gift, after receiving dispensation from the crown, of the Earldom of Lincoln to her daughter Margaret de Quincy who then became 2nd Countess of Lincoln suo jure and her son-in-law John de Lacy, Baron of Pontefract who then became the 2nd Earl of Lincoln by right of his wife. (John de Lacy is mistakenly called the 1st Earl of Lincoln in many references.) They were formally invested by King Henry III as Countess and Earl of Lincoln on 23 November 1232. Matthew Paris states that the John de Lacy was brought over to the king's party, with John Canmore, 7th Earl of Chester, by Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, for a bribe of 1,000 marks. Hubert de Burgh was removed from office and later imprisoned in Devizes Castle.
  • 1233: August: Richard Marshal, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, signs an alliance with Llywelyn the Great, to join forces to revolt against Henry III. Richard is faced by demands from royal bailiffs in September – where the garrison of Usk Castle is forced to surrender. November: Henry III's army camped at Grosmont Castle was attacked in the night by a force of Welsh and English rebels. Several of Henry's supporters are captured and the castle returned to Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent, one of the rebels.
  • 1234: J. earl of Lincoln and constable of Chester had made fine with the king by 1000 m. for the custody of the lands and heir of Nigel de Mowbray, …. By the justiciar and Hugh Despenser. (S) FRsHIII.
  • 1237: Joan of Wales died at the royal palace of Abergwyngregyn, on the north coast of Gwynedd, in February 1237. John Canmore dies (June 7th) aged 30, without issue, at Darnal and is buried at Chester the next day. Henry III hears of his death and is quick to take control of his castles at Beeston and Chester. John de Lacy appointed High Sheriff of Cheshire, and Governor of Chester Castle.


Ranulf de Blondeville and his wife Clemence turn up frequently in the story of Joan, and her daughter Elen. Whether this indicates that Clemence was the mother of Joan remains unproven, but she remains a strong candidate. In c.1203 when the marriage of Elen and Llywelyn was first proposed, Ranulf would have been in his early thirties, and Clemence a little younger. However, it does not appear that Llywelyn‘s alliance with Ranulf, did not begin until after peace was concluded between Llywelyn and the Crown after the death of John in 1216.

Sources and Links


Related Pages



  • Ranulf of Chester: A Relic of the Conquest by James W. Alexander;
  • The Royal Bastards of Medieval England (1984);