Joanna of Navarre (c. 1370–1437)

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Joanna of Navarre (c. 1370–1437)

Queen of England by her marriage to Henry IV who was later accused of witchcraft and of plotting the death of her stepson Henry V, imprisoned for three years, and then restored to her former position as dowager queen. Name variations: Joan of Brittany; Joan of Navarre; Joan, Johanne, Juana; Joanna Evreux. Born Joanna around 1370 in Pamplona; died on July 9, 1437, at Havering-atte-Bower, Essex, England; interred at Canterbury Cathedral, Kent; daughter of Charles II d'Albret also known as Charles II the Bad, king of Navarre (r. 1349–1387), and Jane of France (1343–1373, daughter of King John II of France); married John IV de Montfort (1339–1399), 5th duke of Brittany (r. 1364–1399, son of Jeanne de Montfort ), on September 11, 1386, at Saillé, near Guerrand, Navarre (died, November 1, 1399); became second wife of Henry IV (1367–1413), king of England (r. 1399–1413), on February 7, 1403; children: (first marriage) Joanna (1387–1388); daughter (1388–1388); John V (1389–1442), duke of Brittany (r. 1339–1442); Marie of Dreux (1391–1446); Arthur of Brittany (1393–1458), count of Richmond, duke of Brittany (r. 1457–1458); Gilles or Giles (1394–1412), lord of Chantocé; Richard Montfort (1395–1438), count of Étampes; Blanche of Dreux (c. 1396–c. 1418); Margaret de Rohan (1397–1428); (second marriage) none. Henry IV's first wife was Mary de Bohun (1369–1394).

Betrothed at age ten to John, the heir of Castille (a betrothal which was later broken off); held as a hostage in Paris with her two brothers (1381); became third wife of John IV, duke of Brittany, at age 16; was widowed for four years; married King Henry IV of England (1403); was widowed again after ten years of marriage; imprisoned for three years on charges of witchcraft; remained in England as dowager queen until her death at age 67.

Although Joanna of Navarre was the second wife of King Henry IV of England, and no offspring were produced from this marriage, she has the unique and unforgettable claim of being the only queen of England charged with sorcery and necromancy and imprisoned for treason. Her life leading up to this event, although less well-known, was no less eventful.

Joanna was the second daughter of Charles II d'Albret, king of Navarre, also called Charles the Bad. Her mother was Jane of France , daughter of King John II of France. In 1380, Joanna was betrothed to John (I), heir of Castille, as her eldest brother Charles (III), heir of Navarre, was married to John's sister Eleanor Trastamara . But upon the death of his father, John I broke his engagement with Joanna and married instead the princess Eleanor of Aragon (1358–1382).

Charles the Bad's motives and actions centered solely on his desire to regain the disputed throne of his grandfather, King Louis X of France, by any possible means. On one occasion, Joanna and her two older brothers, Charles III and Pierre, were imprisoned in Paris in 1381 and kept as hostages to insure their father's good behavior. While in Paris, the siblings remained under the guardianship of their dead mother's brothers, the dukes of Berri and Burgundy, and consequently were well treated by the French court. John I, now the king of Castille, was responsible for their eventual release from prison.

In 1386, marriage negotiations began between Joanna and another John, John de Montfort IV, duke of Brittany. This was to be his third marriage; neither of his first two marriages with Mary (1344–1362), daughter of Edward III of England, and Joan Holland , half-sister of Richard II of England, produced children. The dukes of Berri and Burgundy, Joanna's protective uncles, encouraged this union to secure a stronger alliance between Brittany and the French monarchy. Like many marriages of this period, the union was primarily a political one.

After Joanna's father Charles the Bad agreed to give his daughter 120,000 gold francs and to pay 6,000 francs owed to John, duke of Brittany, for the rent of certain lands, the marriage contract was signed at Pampeluna on August 25, 1386. For her dowry, John gave to Joanna the cities of Nantes and Guerrand and three baronies, and the marriage took place in Saillé, on September 11, 1386, before the most noble knights, squires, and ladies of the realm. Many feasts and lavish celebrations followed the wedding ceremony.

By marrying the duke of Brittany, Joanna aligned herself not only with the Bretons, but with the English, for her husband John had developed, during his two marriages with English women, a longstanding relationship with the English in order to resist the influence and powers of the French monarchy. This required, on John's part, ending a lengthy friendship with Oliver de Clisson, who opposed John's political alliances with England. John also formed a strong bond with Charles III, now king of Navarre, Joanna's eldest brother.

At this time, Joanna gave birth to their first child, a girl named Joanna, who lived for only a few months. By the time Joanna was expecting their second child, John had tempered his hostile feelings against the French and went so far as to travel to Paris to perform homage to King Charles VI, although the sincerity of this public service has often been questioned. Despite John's reputation for ruthless political ambitions combined with a violent temper, contemporary sources record that he consistently treated his three wives with kindness and affection.

In 1388, Joanna gave birth to a son, the first heir to the duchy of Brittany. He was baptized Pierre, but afterwards, the duke changed his name to John (V). By the time of Joanna's third child, the princess Marie of Dreux , rumors had spread that Duke John was secretly renewing treaties with King Richard II of England, causing anger and alarm among the French king and nobles. Joanna urged her husband to put aside his hatred of the French for the sake of herself and their children. Consequently, John met again with the king of France, paid him homage, and together they agreed that the duke's son, John V, would marry the king's third daughter, Joan Valois . Once again, the promise of marriage was used to help repair difficult negotiations between political rivals. This reconciliation and marriage agreement were the cause for much celebration and festivity.

Eleanor Trastamara (d. 1415)

Queen of Navarre. Name variations: Leonor of Castile. Died in 1415; daughter of Enrique II also known as Henry II, king of Castile and Leon (r. 1369–1379), and Joanna of Castile (1339–1381); married Charles III, king of Navarre; children: Blanche of Navarre (1385–1441).

Joan Holland (c. 1356–1384)

Duchess of Brittany. Name variations: Jane. Born around 1356; died in 1384; daughter of Joan of Kent (1328–1385) and Thomas Holland, 1st earl of Kent; half-sister of Richard II, king of England; second wife of John IV, 5th duke of Brittany.

Joan Valois (1391–1433)

Duchess of Brittany. Name variations: Jeanne, duchess of Bretagne; Joan de France; Joan of France. Born in 1391; died in 1433; third daughter of Charles VI, king of France (r. 1380–1422), and Isabeau of Bavaria (1371–1435); first wife of John V (1389–1442), duke of Brittany (r. 1339–1442); children: Francis I (b. 1414), duke of Brittany; Peter II, duke of Brittany.

The peaceful period which followed proved temporary. Oliver de Clisson and his supporters instigated a civil war in Brittany. Though Duke John was their sovereign, many of the Breton knights and squires refused to fight against de Clisson, so John and Joanna were forced to seek shelter in Vannes while de Clisson won conquest after conquest. Eventually, after realizing his precarious and vulnerable position, John sent a letter to de Clisson proposing reconciliation. De Clisson, not trusting this former friend-turned-adversary, demanded that John's only son be sent to him as a pledge. When John followed through with this request, de Clisson believed his sincerity, and a peace treaty was signed on December 28, 1393. In 1396, Joanna's son John, the heir of Brittany, married Joan Valois, further solidifying this political union between the Bretons and the French.

By 1398, Duke John was once again attempting to establish relations with England. This time, he traveled to England, requesting that King Richard return to him the earldom of Richmond. The request was granted and both sovereigns acquitted each other of any debts owed to one another. A year later, John shifted his loyalties by agreeing to assist King Richard's rival, Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV of England), in an assault on England to reclaim his inheritance. Henry's first visit to Brittany, seeking shelter and military assistance, provided Joanna with the chance to meet for the first time the man who would eventually become her second husband.

Duke John died on November 1, 1399, and Joanna assumed the role of regent for their eldest son John V, caring for all his needs and governing in his name. Joanna immediately enacted a public reconciliation with Oliver de Clisson and his supporters, and a treaty between the two sides was signed on January 1, 1400. A little more than a year later, the 12-year-old John V made his solemn entrance into Rennes on March 22, 1401. He was knighted the following day and invested as duke of Brittany. This investiture was a preliminary step in Joanna's eventual marriage to Henry Bolingbroke, now King Henry IV of England. An obstacle to their union was religion, since Joanna was under the jurisdiction of the pope of Avignon, while King Henry held to the authority of the pope in Rome.

Joanna sent a trusted emissary, Antoine de Riczi, to England to finalize her marriage treaty with King Henry IV. After the contract was signed, the marriage took place on April 3, 1402, at the palace of Eltham, with de Riczi standing in as a proxy for Joanna. The French court was highly troubled by this political union, believing that Joanna's children would travel to England with her and eventually form political attachments with that nation. Joanna agreed to leave her older children under the protection of the duke of Burgundy, a powerful figure in the French government who had positioned himself to assume their guardianship as the closest relative of the children and as uncle to Joanna. The young duke, John V, along with his two brothers Gilles and Arthur of Brittany, traveled to Paris with the duke of Burgundy to pay homage to King Charles VI.

Joanna traveled with her two infant daughters, Blanche of Dreux and Margaret de Rohan , to Camaret, the port from which she departed for England with a large retinue on January 13, 1403. A violent storm at sea caused the English warship transporting them to land at Falmouth in Cornwall instead of at Southampton. From there, the retinue traveled by land to Winchester to meet with King Henry. The marriage was publicly performed there in the church of St. Swithin on February 7, 1403. Joanna's coronation as queen of England was held in Westminster Cathedral on February 26, 1403, accompanied by great processions and celebrations.

The joyful period following these matrimonial celebrations was shattered by the French fleet's attack on the Isle of Wight and Breton ships assaulting the coast of Cornwall. Suddenly, the new queen fell out of favor with many English people. In February 1404, Arthur of Brittany, Joanna's second son, made a visit to England and, after performing homage to King Henry, was bestowed with the earldom of Richmond. At the same time, Joanna's eldest son John V demanded the return of the princesses Blanche and Margaret, reminding his mother that the children were the property of Brittany, not England. However, it was not until 1406 that both daughters sailed for France, where their brother John was arranging marriages for them.

Subsequent events caused the English populace to be displeased with the situation at the royal court. In 1405, Henry IV pardoned and released Breton prisoners who had been captured during an attack on Dartmouth. In addition, parliamentary records of 1405 state that "great discontents were engendered in the minds of all classes of men, on account of the influx of foreigners, which the king's late marriage had introduced into the realm." The House of Commons then formed a special committee to oversee appointments in the royal household, limiting the presence of foreigners to a small number of the queen's own attendants.

During the summer of 1406, the king and queen stayed at Leeds Castle in Kent, because of terrible plague outbreaks in London that resulted in many deaths. Joanna earnestly encouraged peaceful relations between England and Brittany, between her husband Henry and her son John, which resulted in a truce announced between the two powers on September 13, 1407.

After a period of increasing feebleness and illness, King Henry IV died on March 19, 1413, age 47, and his eldest son from his first marriage assumed the position of monarch as Henry V. Initially, Henry V maintained good relations with his stepmother, Dowager Queen Joanna. It benefitted both of them to foster amiable feelings towards Joanna's son John V, duke of Brittany; the queen desired her son and stepson to be in accord with one another, while for the new king, an alliance with Brittany could only assist his ambitions to resume the title of king of France. Sources disagree about whether or not Joanna acted as queen regent when Henry V undertook his military campaigns in France. John, duke of Bedford, King Henry V's brother, was appointed lord-lieutenant of England, but the queen continued to command the confidence and respect of her stepson. Before leaving for his expedition on June 16, 1415, Henry V stopped at Westminster to take personal leave of Queen Joanna and granted her a pension of 1,000 marks a year for life. Joanna was permitted, in the king's absence, to reside at any of the royal palaces of Windsor, Wallingford, Berkhamstead, or Hertford.

While Joanna's son John V remained neutral in the contest between England and France, Arthur of Brittany, the queen's second son, led an attack on King Henry V's camp near Agincourt, was wounded in the battle, and imprisoned. When news of the English victory at Agincourt reached London on October 29, 1415, the queen, nobility, and civic leaders of the city marched in procession from St. Paul's to Westminster Abbey for a solemn service of thanksgiving. Joanna's divided loyalties to her former homeland had to remain hidden as she fulfilled the role of queen, even though her brother, Charles III of Navarre, was killed in the battle and her son Arthur of Brittany was held captive.

Arthur was brought before the queen briefly, having not seen his mother for 12 years. Many historians claim that he was unable to recognize his mother from among the ladies of the court, until she identified herself to him, and they fell into each other's arms weeping. After this reunion, Arthur was imprisoned in the Tower of London and later at Fotheringay Castle, since Henry V was unwilling to negotiate for his release or ransom. It was 1417 before Henry would agree to a truce with John V, duke of Brittany, which supposedly resulted from the strong intercession of Joanna.

The situation for Joanna in England changed gravely in October 1419, when she was arrested by the duke of Bedford, the regent of England. According to Walsingham's chronicle, Joanna, "accused by certain persons of an act of witchcraft, which would have tended to the

king's harm, was committed … to the custody of sir John Pelham." Charged by her confessor, John Randolf, a Franciscan friar, of resorting to witchcraft to poison Henry V, Joanna was originally detained at the royal manorhouse of Rotherhithe but spent the majority of her confinement at Leeds Castle. Henry ordered that the queen's dowry, rents, and personal property be confiscated. Joanna was imprisoned solely based on allegations and never received the fair treatment of a trial.

Before her accusation and arrest, Henry had attempted to acquire, on loan, monies from the queen's dowry. The king and kingdom were in great need of finances from every quarter to support the ongoing efforts of the military campaign in France, which had left the treasury largely depleted. It has been suggested that the accusation of witchcraft was merely a pretense for securing the queen's resources which, until this time, had been outside of the king's control. Henry returned victorious from France in 1421 with Catherine of Valois (1401–1437), nearly a relative of Joanna, as his bride. Catherine was the sister of Joan Valois, the duchess of Brittany, Joanna's daughter-in-law.

Joanna was imprisoned for over three years before her stepson had a change of heart and returned to her the property and money that had been confiscated. Realizing that his end was near, he declared on July 13, 1422, to the lords of his council, "that ye make deliverance unto our said mother, the queen, wholly of her said dower, and suffer her to receive it as she did heretofore." Although Henry did not openly declare Joanna's innocence with this injunction, the absence of any mention of the charges seems to imply a recognition of her innocence. After the restoration of her property, Joanna resumed her place of privilege and even favor in the royal court. She was treated with proper consideration by the young Henry VI, who gave her an elaborate gold and jeweled tablet on New Year's Day, 1437.

Joanna of Navarre died on July 9, 1437, while residing at Havering-atte-Bower. "Also the same year died all the lions in the Tower," notes the Chronicle of London, "the which was nought seen in no man's time before out of mind." The queen was buried beside her second husband in Canterbury Cathedral on August 6, 1437.


Hutchison, Harold F. King Henry V. NY: John Day, 1967.

Myers, A.R. "The Captivity of a Royal Witch: The Household Accounts of Queen Joan of Navarre, 1419–21," in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. Vol. 24. October 1940, pp. 263–284.

Strickland, Agnes. Lives of the Queens of England. Vol III. Philadelphia, PA: Blanchard and Lea, 1857.

suggested reading:

Jones, Michael C.E. Creation of Brittany: A Late Medieval State. Rio Grande, OH: Hambledon Press, 1988.

Kittredge, George L. Witchcraft in Old and New England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1929.

Karen E. Mura , Associate Professor of English, Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania

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Joanna of Navarre (c. 1370–1437)

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