From the author of “The King’s Mistress” comes a tale of Joan, the “Fair Maid of Kent”. Joan, the cousin of King Edward III and mother of Richard II, was an enigmatic figure who has been relegated to a minor part in the historical record. The daughter of an executed traitor, Joan’s relationship with her father’s family was complicated at best, particularly with Ned, the Prince of Wales, who became known as Edward, the “Black Prince”. If Campion’s version is true – and we know relatively little for sure about Joan’s life to either support or refute it – Joan achieved the unthinkable as a woman of royal blood who married not once, but twice, for love. Determined, fearless, and loyal, Joan grows up surrounded by her scheming family and her cousin Ned, whose deep infatuation for his beautiful cousin has a dark, menacing aspect to it. When Edward III arranges a foreign marriage for Joan to help secure his own debts, Joan foils his plans by marrying Thomas Holland in secret. Joan thinks herself safe until Edward III and her mother declare her marriage to Holland void and force her to marry Will Montagu, the Earl of Salisbury, a man Joan detests. Despite all odds, Holland, a mere knight who like Joan, is a child of an executed traitor, petitions the pope to validate his marriage, and Joan and Holland are reunited.
After years apart, Joan looks forward to many years with her love, and they have several children together. And yet Ned’s jealousy remains a dark shadow over their lives. Holland is sent on several dangerous campaigns which eventually claim his life. As the story concludes, Joan has to look to her own future and that of her children.
I was thrilled to see Joan’s story come to life. Not much is known about her life (there are large gaps in the historical narrative) but that doesn’t make her tale any less interesting. Her life was anything but easy. Growing up a Plantagenet in the same household as the dowager queen who oversaw her father’s execution, Joan goes to drastic measures to chart her own course, openly flouting the wishes of her cousin the king. Any royal woman of that time who chose her own husband, not once but twice, who escaped the shadow of her father’s treason, and became the queen of England is an extraordinary story and Campion tells Joan’s with incredible detail.
The voice of Queen Phillipa (wife of Edward III) is a welcome addition to the narrative – a woman who adores her husband but knows full well of his philandering; one who cares for Joan but acknowledges the girl’s importance as a bargaining chip; and a mother who loves her first born son and yet fully realizes his darker nature.
The book does end abruptly, however. So much time is spent on the court battle to reunite Holland and Joan that when Holland dies, Campion’s Joan allies with her cousin Ned rather quickly and in a manner that doesn’t feel authentic. Throughout much of the book, Joan hates and fears the man – and for good reason – but then suddenly takes up with him less than a year after the death of her “beloved”, a man whom the prince treated shabbily towards the end of his life. We know Joan did take up with the prince, eventually becoming queen and giving birth to Richard II, but greater insight into how Joan’s feelings for Ned changed after Holland’s death would have been welcome.
A descriptive account of a fascinating 14th-century woman, this story uncovers what the real Joan may have been like.
Amazon link for the book is here.