Joan Plantagenet, Queen Consort of Scotland

JoanEnglandPrincess Joan was the eldest legitimate daughter of King John and Isabella of Angouleme was born in 1210. She was originally destined to marry Hugh of Lusignan. This was politically tactful as Joan’s mother Isabella should have married Hugh but John virtually stole the bride – ensuring war with France and a deeply unpopular Queen of England.

On John’s death Isabella returned to Angouleme and naturally wanted to see her daughter who was being raised in the court of Hugh X. Somehow or other Isabella ended up married to Hugh and Joan became a hostage to the return of Isabella’s dower. The Regency Council of Henry III were not very happy that Isabella had married without their permission but a princess in the hand is worth a volatile queen dowager on the loose so Isabella got her dower back and England received it’s princess which was just as well because the council were already in mid negotiation for another marriage.

Joan’s new marriage was negotiated on a promise made as early as 1209 by King John to William of Scotland that there should be a royal wedding of a Plantagenet princess to the Scottish heir to the throne- Alexander. If Joan had not been retrieved, Henry III’s other sister Isabelle would have been in the frame to become Queen of Scotland. There had also been some suggestion that a Scottish princess might have travelled south. However, the originally negotiations begun by King John had become somewhat unravelled during the Baron’s War and it probably didn’t help that Magna Carta safeguarded the rights of the Scottish king – a fact which John ignored. After John’s death Henry III’s regency council slowly regained order once more. In 1217 Alexander, now King Alexander II of Scotland made his terms with the English. He kept hold of Tynedale and there would be a royal marriage to help cement the peace. Joan and Alexander were married in 1221 in York Minster. There was a thirteen-year age gap between the happy couple – Joan being all of ten-years-old at the time.

Scotland was not a peaceful location. Alexander’s hold on the throne was threatened by a number of families with claims dating to the reign of Duncan II. One of these families – the MacWilliams- rose in rebellion once to often. It resulted in the family being hunted down – the youngest member of the family a baby girl was to have her brains dashed out on the market cross at Forfar in 1230.

The royal marriage was not without its difficulties either. Joan did not arrive laden down with loot. Alexander claimed that Joan should have come with Northumbria. The English weren’t having any of it and for the first ten years of their marriage Joan was financially dependent upon her husband. It was only in later years that Henry III gave his sister several substantial manors for life so that she had an income which didn’t go into Alexander’s coffers – but the Scots didn’t get Northumbria which caused a fair amount of grumbling and bad feeling between the brothers-in-law.

The other problem was that Joan failed to do what queens were expected to do – she did not produce an heir.

Joan died, childless, in 1238 at the age of twenty-eight during a visit to England. She’d gone on pilgrimage to Canterbury, spent Christmas at her brother’s court and then began to make plans to return to Scotland in later January 1238. Before she could do so she became ill and died. Mathew Paris noted in his chronicle that it was inappropriate for Joan to spend so much time away form Scotland – to modern eyes it looks as though Joan was not particularly happy in her marriage- but that is speculation and has nothing to do with the medieval concept of royal matrimony.

She was buried in Tarrant Crawford Abbey, Dorset rather than in Scotland by her own wish as stated in her will. Nothing remains thanks to the dissolution of the monasteries.

Alexander II died ten years later having married Marie de Coucy who duly presented him with a bouncing baby boy who was to become Alexander III.

Netley Abbey

IMG_5242A Bishop of Winchester called Peter des Roches wanted to found an abbey for Cistercian monks. The bishop died in 1238 having purchased land for this purpose, not only for its building but to support it financially. King Henry III completed the project in 1239 and went on to make them other gifts including a tun of wine each year. A group of monks came from the Cistercian abbey of Beaulieu.  Three of the four remaining crossing pillars contain inscriptions dedicated to Henry III relating to his foundation of the abbey.  Building continued during the thirteenth century.  The days of Cistercian austerity had passed and this is, in part, reflected in the size of the church.

Disaster struck in the fourteenth century. The abbey was too close to The Solent. Passing mariners demanded hospitality and in 1338 stole large numbers of the abbey’s flock of sheep. The days of the abbey’s financial prosperity were over. It struggled with debt thereafter.

The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 estimated Netley’s annual income at £160 2s. 9½d but the income it received was only £100 12s. 8d.; it was a lesser monastery. On 30 May, 1536, Sir James Worsley and the other commissioners presented their report. Netley was ‘A hedde house of Monkes of thordre of Cisteaux, beinge of large buyldinge and situate upon the Ryvage of the Sees. To the Kinge’s Subjects and Strangers travelinge the same Sees great Relief and Comforte.’ In addition the commissioners listed seven monks with whom no fault could be found as well as thirty-two servants who worked the abbey estate.

The king gave to Sir William Paulet, the comptroller of his household the site and buildings of the abbey. Paulet turned the abbey into a Tudor mansion. The nave of the church became his hall while the eastern range became his living-rooms. The cloister was turned into a courtyard.

It was only in the eighteenth century the abbey/mansion was to be demolished by a builder from Southampton. The enterprising chap was crushed to death beneath some falling masonry at which point everyone else decided it was a sign not to knock the building down. In 1922 it passed into the hands of the delightfully named Ministry of Works.

Of the ruins that remain today the abbot’s house retains evidence of the abbot’s own personal convenience whilst the drainage system for the reredorter (the monks toilet) is a work of engineering excellence. It should also be added that Netley Abbey is today the largest Cistercian ruin in the south of England – it’s not as grand as Rievaulx or Fountains but it’s story is still very interesting as are the narrow Tudor bricks that show where Paulet made some of his alterations.