Joan was born on 16 November 1528 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye as the daughter of King Henry II of Navarre and Marguerite of Angoulême, who was the sister of Francis I of France. He took over her education as soon as she was two and she was raised in the Chateau de Plessis-Lez-Tour in the Loire Valley. A short-lived brother was born in 1530 when her mother was 38. It soon became clear that Joan would be their only surviving child. The Kingdom of Navarre allowed for the succession of women, as opposed to the Kingdom of France.
She displayed her stubborn side when she was forced to marry at the age of 12 to William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, who was the brother of Anne of Cleves. She continued to protest the marriage all the way to the altar and was carried there by Anne de Montmorency, the Constable of France. This particular marriage was annulled four years later on the grounds that it had not been consummated and Joan never stopped protesting against it. Her second marriage was more to Joan’s liking. She married Antoine de Bourbon, who was a Prince of the Blood on 20 October 1548. He was a descendant of Louis IX of France, and it was through him that their son Henry became King of France. They also had a daughter named Catherine and two sons and a daughter who did not survive to adulthood. Though it was a love match from Joan’s point of view, Antoine was a philanderer. He fathered at least one illegitimate son.
Joan succeeded her father on 25 May 1555, and she and Antoine became joint rulers of Navarre. They were crowned together on 18 August 1555. Joan decided to convert to Calvinism and declared it to be the official religion of her Kingdom by 1560. She and Antoine stood against each other in the French Wars of Religion as he supported the Catholic faction. In 1562 Antoine was fatally wounded at the siege of Rouen, but Joan could not join him at his side as she would have to cross enemy lines. From his death on she was Navarre’s sole sovereign, but as a young widow, she was still an attractive marriageable party. Not much came to this due to her religion.
Peace finally came in August 1570 as a marriage was negotiated between her son and sister of the current King of France, Margaret of Valois. Despite Joan’s mistrust of her mother, Catherine de’Medici, she went to a personal meeting to negotiate the marriage settlement. Though she wrote to her son that she was treated shamefully by her son, the marriage was settled. However, Joan would not see it take place. On 4 June 1572 Joan was in Paris preparing for the wedding and returned from a shopping trip feeling ill. She woke up the next day with a fever and an ache and died suddenly five days later. It’s alleged that she been poisoned but this was never proven. Her and Antoine’s tomb was destroyed during the French Revolution.
She was succeeded by her son Henry, and he married Margaret on 18 August. He ascended the throne of France in 1589 as Henry IV.