Thursday, 16 January 2014

The queen of dowagers

No one did as good a turn as a dowager in the 15th century than Joanna of Navarre.  The queen of Henry IV had already been duchess of one of the most powerful areas of France before she decided that middle age would be quite nice spent as a consort.  She was the only queen England had in 1414 as her husband had died the year before and his son and successor, Henry V, wouldn't marry for another six years as he established his rule.  But while the dowager queen was left to mourn and get used to her new role in 1414, her future in England would be much more dramatic.

A later imagining of Joanna of Navarre who became Queen of England in 1403 but whose role as dowager put her very life in danger

Because in 1419, Joanna was accused of witchcraft and imprisoned.  Deprived of her freedom and her lands and rights as queen dowager of England, she spent three years hidden away from public view - at times, in fear of her life.  For the punishment for anyone convicted of witchcraft was death and for a while it wasn't certain whether the wilful woman who had married Henry IV in 1403 when both had been widowed for several years would escape trial and conviction.  She did, but emerged to a very different England.  By the time she was released in 1422, England had a new queen as Henry V had chosen Katherine of Valois as his consort and the couple had a young son, Henry.  

A portrayal of Henry IV and his consort, Joanna

But in 1414, Joanna was enjoying the calm before the storm.  She was the first adult dowager queen England had known since the 1330s but her time as the elder stateswoman of the court began far more peacefully than that of Isabella of France who had taken the dowager's role in 1327 after helping usurp her husband, Edward II, from the throne.  Joanna was said to get on well with her stepson, new king Henry V, and she also had years of experience as a dowager as her first husband had been John, Duke of Brittay who had died after thirteen years of marriage leaving her a widow at the age of 29 with a teenage son in charge of this powerful area of modern day France.  She was his protector and the dowager duchess for four years before swapping her title for an even better one, that of queen.  So when Henry IV died in 1413, Joanna knew all about retiring to the sidelines.  The later drama of her life has been attributed by some historian to anti French bias at court and in the country at large.  In 1414, that was just a distant cloud on the horizon.

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