Joan – the daughter of John Beaufort the first Earl of Somerset (John of Gaunt’s eldest son with Katherine Swynford) married James Stewart in February 1424. James was James I of Scotland and had the misfortune to be captured by Henry IV when he was a child on his way to safety in France. He’d been proclaimed king of Scotland in 1406 aged eleven but not released until the June of the same year that he married Joan – so whilst it was a love match it was also very convenient for Henry VI’s regency council and for Cardinal Henry Beaufort who was doing his level best to elevate and enrich the Beaufort family. Ultimately it meant that the King of Scotland was tied to the Plantagenets through marriage to Henry’s cousin. He was also required to pay a hefty ransom and sent back to Scotland to create some order from the anarchy into which it had descended.
The love element of the romance is recorded in a poem written by James called The Kingis Quair. Apparently he saw Joan for the first time when he looked out of his window at Windsor and saw her walking her dog in the garden below. Before long he was dropping roses from his window so that he beloved could pick them up on her morning perambulations. When the household came together to dine that evening she was wearing the first of the roses pinned to her dress. The rest, as they say, is history. There was a brief interlude whilst James joined Henry V in the Hundred Years War – a ploy to stop the Scots from joining in the war on the side of the French.
Unfortunately for the happy couple James who had been educated in England had developed a taste for English forms of government which did not go down particularly with with his nobles. One of the first things James did on return to Scotland was to curtail the power of the Albany Stewarts – he had a fair few of them executed. He also restricted the power of the Church in Scottish affairs. Essentially James was a strong monarch which made him popular with the commons, especially when he sought to reform the legal system and its application but less popular with his extended family.
It is perhaps not too surprising that there was an attempted coup led by the Earl of Atholl – who fancied the crown for himself. He was staying in Perth Priory with Joan when the conspirators struck having bribed someone to let them in. The royal couple heard the sound of feet on the paved floor, knew that it represented danger but on seeking to bar the door discovered that the all important bar was missing. Joan’s lady in waiting- thrust her own arm through the bars in a bid to slow down James’ assassins whilst James used a poker to prise up the floor boards so he could escape.
James fled to the vaults beneath the priory and the place he had been using as a tennis court. Lady Kate Douglas’s arm was broken when the conspirators finally forced an entry. He sought to escape and headed into a drain – which he had unfortunately had netted off as his tennis balls kept disappearing down there. As for Joan who attempted to save her husband, she was injured but managed to escape. She went immediately to her son James, secured the throne and then demonstrated her descent from Edward I and John of Gaunt by taking a bloody revenge on the men who had killed her husband.
Joan oversaw the hunt for James’ murderers and their torture and their executions. It was a three day affair; on the first day he was put in a cart with a crane and then pulled between the cart and the crane – think of it as a travelling rack. He was then put in the pillory and made to wear a burning crown of iron. On the second day he was dragged on a hurdle through Edinburgh – and presumably pelted with lots of unpleasant things. On the third day he was disembowelled and then his heart torn out and burned – and if that doesn’t put you off breakfast nothing will.
Joan’s family of Stewarts were as follows – the marriages of the girls demonstrate how the daughters of a monarch became international rather than national pawns in treaties. Margaret who married Louis of France. He became Louis XI but the marriage was childless and it is thought unhappy. Margaret was eleven when she went to France and was immediately popular with the french court for her doll like beauty.
Isabella married the Duke of Brittany and had two daughters, the younger of whom married her first cousin once removed – so became the duchess of Brittany in a country that did adhere (sort of) to a salic law. The pair had one son who died young.
Eleanor married the Archduke of Austria – there were no children. Mary, a younger sister, married a count of Zeeland but had not children who survived infancy and Annabella (Jean in some sources) was married to a Count of Geneva who went on to become the King of Cyprus. This match was dissolved and Annabella found herself back in Scotland married into the Gordon family.
Joan, who was mute, remained in Scotland and married the earl of Morton. One of her children married Patrick Hepburn , first Earl of Bothwell. The pair had a daughter who married into the Seton family. The Setons would play an important role in the attempts by Mary Queen of Scots to involve the Spanish in plots to free her from English captivity. The family would also play an important role in the household of James VI of Scotland (1st of England.) Unsurprisingly the family were also Royalist in their allegiances during the English Civil War – which is perhaps better described as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.
There were four daughters born before twin boys born in 1430. Alexander died the same year. His younger brother would become James II of Scotland. His grandson James IV married Margaret Tudor – so all those Stewart and Hanoverian kings of England have a little Plantagenet blood in their veins thanks to Queen Joan Beaufort.
Joan married for a second time to James Stewart the Black Knight of Lorne with whom she had three sons. The youngest became the Bishop of Moray but the eldest became the ancestor of the Dukes of Atholl.
Weir, Alison. Britain’s Royal Families.