Joan of England was born in either 1333 or 1334 in the Tower of London to Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. In 1345 she was betrothed to Peter of Castile, and in the summer of 1348, Joan departed England with a heavily armed retinue.
The fleet consisted of four English ships which departed from Portsmouth and arrived in Bordeaux. The company settled into a castle. Joan travelled with a portable chapel so she would not have to use the local churches. Her trousseau consisted of 150 meters of rakematix for her wedding dress, a suit of red velvet, two sets of twenty-four buttons made of silver gilt and enamel, five corsets with gold patterns of stars, crescents and diamonds and two elaborate dresses, beds, bed curtains, ceremonials garments and different sets of clothes for riding and daily wear.
The plague had already broken out in Bordeaux by the time Joan arrived, but the company did not appear to be too alarmed, but soon members of the entourage fell ill. Joan was probably moved to a smaller village, but she too fell ill. It was a quick death, taking place on 1 July 1348. She was probably buried in Bayonne Cathedral, and a statue of her is placed near her father’s tomb in Westminster Abbey.
Her grief-stricken father wrote to Alfonso XI of Castile,
‘We are sure that your Magnificence knows how, after much-complicated negotiation about the intended marriage of the renowned Prince Pedro, your eldest son, and our most beloved daughter Joan, which was designed to nurture perpetual peace and create an indissoluble union between our Royal Houses, we sent our said daughter to Bordeaux, en route for your territories in Spain. But see, with what intense bitterness of heart we have to tell you this, destructive Death (who seizes young and old alike, sparing no one and reducing rich and poor to the same level) has lamentably snatched from both of us our dearest daughter, whom we loved best of all, as her virtues demanded
No fellow human being could be surprised if we were inwardly desolated by the sting of this bitter grief, for we are humans too. But we, who have placed our trust in God and our Life between his hands, where he has held it closely through many great dangers, we give thanks to him that one of our own family, free of all stain, whom we have loved with our life, has been sent ahead to Heaven to reign among the choirs of virgins, where she can gladly intercede for our offenses before God Himself.’
The Black Death spared no one, not even royalty, and this young girl was an unfortunate victim of an ill-timed departure from England.