Joan of Acre’s first marriage was of her father’s choice. However, after the death of her first husband, she did something that shocked the English court – marrying against her father’s wishes. This caused quite the outrage from her hot-tempered father. But Joan was eventually able to win her father over to her side.
Even though she was an English princess, Joan was born far away from England. Joan was born in the spring of 1272 in Akko (Acre) in present-day Israel. She was born there because her parents, Edward I of England and Eleanor of Castile, were on a crusade. Joan was the eighth of her parent’s sixteen children, but only the second to survive childhood. Around this time, many English princes and princesses were named after their birthplaces, so Joan became known as Joan of Acre. Joan was the second child of Edward and Eleanor to be born on a crusade, about a year before they had a daughter born in the Holy Land, whose name was not recorded and died shortly after birth.
Edward and Eleanor left the Holy Land in September 1272, taking Joan with them. Edward’s father Henry III died in England in November 1272, but the new king did not rush home. While in France, Eleanor gave birth to a son, Alfonso. Edward and Eleanor finally arrived in England in August 1274. Joan remained in France, where she lived with her maternal grandmother, Joan, Countess of Ponthieu.
After her grandmother’s death in 1279, Joan came to England for the first time. By this time, her father was already making marriage arrangements for her. Joan was betrothed to Hartman, the second son of the first Habsburg king, Rudolph I of Germany. This marriage never happened, because Hartman drowned in a shipwreck in December 1281. Some believe he was on his way to England to meet Joan. Hartman’s death would change the fate of Joan.
Joan’s first marriage
Eventually, Edward decided to marry Joan to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, one of his barons. It wasn’t that common for English princesses to marry in their own country at the time, but Gilbert was one of England’s most powerful barons. Joan refused to marry until she had the same number of attendants as some of her sisters. On 30 April 1290, Joan and Gilbert were married. Gilbert was twenty-eight years Joan’s senior and had recently divorced his first wife, Alice de Lusignan. By her, Gilbert had two daughters, Isabella and another Joan, both older than Joan of Acre. Edward wanted for Joan to attend the wedding of her next sister, Margaret, a few months after her own. Joan refused and left for her husband’s estates soon after her wedding, without her father’s permission. A displeased Edward took seven dresses that were made for her, and gave them to Margaret instead.
It is not known whether or not if the marriage was happy. Either way, Joan bore four children in quick succession. First came a son named Gilbert, and then three daughters, Eleanor, Margaret, and Elizabeth. Just five years after the wedding, in December 1295, Gilbert de Clare died. Joan was left a widow at twenty-three with four young children.
Joan’s secret second marriage
Edward wanted his widowed daughter to marry again. This time, he chose a foreign match, Amadeus V, Count of Savoy. But Joan was already in love with someone else. This man was one of Gilbert’s squires, Ralph de Monthermer. In late 1296, Joan sent him to her father to be knighted.
Joan and Ralph were married in secret around January 1297. In March, having no idea of his daughter’s new marriage, Edward formally announced Joan’s betrothal to the Count of Savoy. When he found out about his daughter’s secret marriage, he was so angry that he threw the crown he was wearing into the fire. He then had Ralph imprisoned and seized all of Joan’s lands.
Joan eventually pleaded for herself and her new husband. She is said to have told her father that if it was no disgrace for an earl to marry a poor woman, then it was not shameful for a countess to advance a capable young man. By this time, it was also apparent that Joan was pregnant with Ralph’s child. Edward eventually accepted the situation, and freed Ralph, and restored most of Joan’s lands to her. Joan was allowed to keep her title as Countess of Gloucester and Hertford after Gilbert’s death, and by 1304, Ralph held these titles in right of his wife.
Joan and Ralph had at least four children – Mary, Joan, Thomas, and Edward. By 1304, Ralph seems to have been in the king’s favour. Joan was close to her youngest and only surviving full-brother, Edward. When father and son were quarrelling in 1305, Joan lent her brother her personal seal.
Joan died on 23 April 1307, around the time of her 35th birthday. The cause of her death is not known for certain, but it is sometimes thought to have been the birth of a ninth child who did not survive. On her death, Ralph lost his title of Earl of Gloucester to Joan’s son, Gilbert, from her first marriage. Ralph, in turn, was given the title 1st Baron Monthermer. Edward I died a couple of months after his daughter and was succeeded by his son, Edward II. Ralph married for a second time eleven years later. His second wife was Isabel Hastings (nee Despencer). This marriage also happened without the king’s permission. He died in April 1325, eighteen years after Joan.
The story of Joan of Acre is unique among medieval princesses. She seems to have been a woman of strong character, who refused to submit to her father. Due to her known relationship to her brother, Edward, she could have provided great support to him had she lived into his reign. 1