Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent: A Fourteenth-Century Princess and Her World.
In Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, we have another historical female personage who has, up until recently, been paid scant attention by scholars; an unsurprising occurrence given the past marginalization of female authority figures in medieval studies. Joan was a king's mother, her son being Richard II (r. 1377-1399). She was not, however, a crowned queen consort, since her husband, Edward the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III (r. 1327-1377), predeceased his father. What evidence and scholarship exists in relation to Joan indicates that she figured as a person of some note at the royal court and lived through some tumultuous events including the 1381 rebellion. There was also more than a whiff of scandal surrounding her two unconventional marriages; the first to a young and initially poor and obscure knight, Sir Thomas Holand, and her second marriage to her cousin, the Black Prince, neither of which was an arranged marriage as was the custom of the day. There was also a bigamous marriage made with William Montague, heir to the Earl of Salisbury, while she was secretly married to Holand. All of which make compelling reasons why a study of Joan's life and the circumstances she lived in should be of interest, not only to gender scholars but also to political historians interested in late Plantagenet politics.
This biography of Joan is the late Professor Anthony Goodman's last published work and was prepared for publication by his widow, Jackie Goodman. Professor Goodman observed that the destruction of Joan's tomb during the Reformation, leaving no physical monuments to remind us of her, may explain the paucity of study of her life. As such, this book, together with another recently published biography of Joan by Penny Lawne (Amberley Publishing, 2016), present a welcome opportunity for both the medieval scholar and the uninitiated public to acquaint themselves with a remarkable medieval princess. It is arranged chronologically and traces the princess's life from birth to death, generally dividing the chapters according to domestic periods in her life including her time with Holand, the period spent as Princess of Wales and Aquitaine, and as the king's mother.
Despite the lack of substantial primary sources directly related to Joan of Kent, Goodman is able to draw upon a broad range of peripheral sources to fill out the context and background of her life, the people among whom she lived, and the society in which she dwelt. In many of the chapters there is a significant amount of space devoted to exploring the political and social contexts of Joan's world. In common with many biographies, there is a certain amount of conjecture applied where sources fail, but far from detracting from the book, it serves as testament to Goodman's considerable experience in creating for his readers a sense of history, relevance, and the timeless appeal of this fourteenth-century noblewoman.
Goodman presents Joan as a new medieval woman who, while conforming in most ways to the expectations and conventions of the time, found a way to exercise a degree of independence. For him, her life represents the opening of possibilities for women as a result of gradually changing attitudes towards their gender that were beginning to surface in such things as rules for Christian living. The considerable focus on the domestic aspects of Joan's story may well be to the liking of those more interested in attributing romantic motivations to her life story. Yet it does not do complete justice to a woman who surely was aware of her worth, not only in aesthetic but also in social terms. There are also hints of more complicated facets to Joan's personality and character. Her close association with the likes of Sir Lewis Clifford, a known Lollard knight who was 'notorious for his unorthodox religious devotion' (p. 126), and her defence, in 1377-78, of John Wycliff, the leader of the Lollard movement, point at the very least to an interest in unorthodox religious views. This aspect of Joan's life deserves more extensive discussion than Goodman's casual dismissal of her actions as favours for her kinsman, John of Gaunt.
Nonetheless, this book is an important contribution towards a further redressing of a gender imbalance in studies of medieval public figures. Lay readers will revel in the love stories implicitly referred to in discussions of the lady's marriages. Yet scholars too, both of medieval and gender studies, will rejoice in the illumination of the life of an almost-queen, one that was multi-faceted and not in the least one-dimensional. Barring her marital lives, that Joan otherwise appears to have led a conventional life should not diminish our interest in her. On the contrary, this book presents many aspects in her life that point to additional possibilities of future rewarding scholarship.
MICHELE SEAH, University of Newcastle
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2018|
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