“What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?”–Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn) in The Lion in Winter.
Katherine Hepburn’s droll delivery of that line became a mantra in my head as I wrote A Triple Knot, my book about Joan of Kent, the daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent.
Edmund of Woodstock was the youngest son of King Edward I and his second wife, Margaret of France. So Joan was the granddaughter of King Edward I, the niece of King Edward II, and the cousin of King Edward III. It was her cousin’s mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who raised an army and deposed his father, Edward II. And Joan’s father was executed for having tried to rescue his half brother the king; or perhaps Edmund’s true crime was that he’d seemed to support Isabella for a while, and then changed his allegiance.
Joan’s mother was implicated in the “treason” of which Edmund was accused, and for which he lost his head, but she was spared because she was pregnant. Nevertheless, her lands and titles were forfeit, as she was the wife of a traitor. So it could be seen as a noble, generous, quite forgiving gesture on the part of King Edward III that he provided for Margaret and her children by bringing them into his queen’s household. But this Edward, Joan’s cousin, had been king when Mortimer executed her father, and he did nothing to stop it. He claimed he was king in name only. But in short order he took control, captured Mortimer, ruled him a traitor, and had him executed. Too late. Nothing could bring back Joan’s father. Nothing could right the wrong that had been done her family. And so, in my sense of Joan, her distrust took root.
“I’ve snapped and plotted all my life. There’s no other way to be alive, king, and fifty all at once.” –Henry II (Peter O’Toole) in A Lion in Winter
By the time Joan was of marriageable age, she would know this about her cousin the king: she was safe in his household only so long as she was useful to him. Relatively safe. But she did not want to be useful to him. He’d done nothing to save her father. And it was through his mother’s blood that he claimed the right to rule France–Joan certainly had no cause to support her. But as long as she cooperated with them, she was safe. Temporarily. Once married off, her new family might change sides, support the French, and then how safe would she be? Or Edward might lose, and then how safe would she be? And how carefully might he have vetted the family? Hence her catch-22. And that’s why Henry’s “snapped and plotted all my life” quote kept running in my head. But it wasn’t Edward saying it, it was Joan, altered slightly: “There’s no other way to be alive, a Plantagenet, and thirty all at once.” (Joan’s in her early thirties at the end of the book.)
I’ve spent the day thinking about Joan, on this, publication day of A Triple Knot. I do enjoy her company.