Joan of Acre

Joan of Acre (April 1272 – 23 April 1307) was an English princess, a daughter of King Edward I of England and Queen Eleanor of Castile.[2] The name "Acre" derives from her birthplace in the Holy Land while her parents were on a crusade.

Joan of Acre
Countess of Hertford
Countess of Gloucester
Joan with her betrothed Hartman of Germany.
BornApril 1272
Acre, Kingdom of Acre
Died23 April 1307 (aged 35)
Clare Castle, Clare
Burial26 April 1307
SpouseGilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Gloucester, 6th Earl of Hertford
m. 1290; dec. 1295
Sir Ralph de Monthermer[1]
m. 1297; wid. 1307
IssueGilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Hertford
Eleanor de Clare
Margaret de Clare
Elizabeth de Clare
Mary de Monthermer
Joan de Monthermer
Thomas de Monthermer, 2nd Baron Monthermer
Edward de Monthermer
FatherEdward I of England
MotherEleanor of Castile

She was married twice; her first husband was Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Gloucester, one of the most powerful nobles in her father's kingdom; her second husband was Ralph de Monthermer, a squire in her household whom she married in secret.

Joan is most notable for the claim that miracles have allegedly taken place at her grave, and for the multiple references to her in literature.

Birth and childhood

Joan (or Joanna, as she is sometimes called) of Acre was born in the spring of 1272 in the Kingdom of Acre, Outremer, now in modern Israel, while her parents, Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, were on crusade.[3] At the time of Joan's birth, her grandfather, Henry III, was still alive and thus her father was not yet king of England. Her parents departed from Acre shortly after her birth, traveling to Sicily and Spain[4] before leaving Joan with Eleanor's mother, Joan, Countess of Ponthieu, in France.[5] Joan lived for several years in France where she spent her time being educated by a bishop and "being thoroughly spoiled by an indulgent grandmother."[6] Joan was free to play among the "vine clad hills and sunny vales"[7] surrounding her grandmother's home, although she required "judicious surveillance."[8]

As Joan was growing up with her grandmother, her father was back in England, already arranging marriages for his daughter. He hoped to gain both political power and more wealth with his daughter's marriage, so he conducted the arrangement in a very "business like style".[9] He finally found a man suitable to marry Joan (aged 5 at the time), Hartman, son of King Rudolph I of Germany. Edward then brought her home from France for the first time to meet him.[10] As she had spent her entire life away from Edward and Eleanor, when she returned she "stood in no awe of her parents"[6] and had a fairly distanced relationship with them.

Unfortunately for King Edward, his daughter's suitor died before he was able to meet or marry Joan. The news reported that Hartman had fallen through a patch of shallow ice while "amusing himself in skating" while a letter sent to the King himself stated that Hartman had set out on a boat to visit his father amidst a terrible fog and the boat had smashed into a rock, drowning him.[11]

First marriage

Edward arranged a second marriage almost immediately after the death of Hartman.[12] Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, who was almost thirty years older than Joan and newly divorced, was his first choice.[13] The earl resigned his lands to Edward upon agreeing to get them back when he married Joan, as well as agreed on a dower of two thousand silver marks.[14] By the time all of these negotiations were finished, Joan was twelve years old.[14] Gilbert de Clare became very enamored with Joan, and even though she had to marry him regardless of how she felt, he still tried to woo her.[15] He bought her expensive gifts and clothing to try to win favor with her.[16] The couple were married on 30 April 1290 at Westminster Abbey, and had four children together.[17] They were:

  1. Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Hertford
  2. Eleanor de Clare
  3. Margaret de Clare
  4. Elizabeth de Clare

Joan's first husband, Gilbert de Clare died on 7 December 1295.[18]

Secret second marriage

Joan had been a widow for only a little over a year when she caught the eye of Ralph de Monthermer, a squire in Joan's father's household.[19] Joan fell in love and convinced her father to have Monthermer knighted. It was unheard of in European royalty for a noble lady to even converse with a man who had not won or acquired importance in the household. However, Joan secretly married Ralph in January 1297.[20] Joan's father was already planning another marriage for Joan to Amadeus V, Count of Savoy,[20] to occur on 16 March 1297. Being already married, unbeknownst to her father, Joan was in a dangerous predicament.

Joan sent her four young children to their grandfather, in hopes that their sweetness would win Edward's favor, but her plan did not work.[21] The king soon discovered his daughter's intentions, but not yet aware that she had already committed to them,[18] he seized Joan's lands and continued to arrange her marriage to Amadeus of Savoy.[17] Soon after the seizure of her lands, Joan told her father that she had married Ralph. The king was enraged and retaliated by immediately imprisoning Monthermer at Bristol Castle.[17] The people of the land had differing opinions on Joan's predicament. It has been argued that the noblemen who were most upset were those who wanted her hand in marriage.[22]

With regard to the matter, Joan famously said, "It is not considered ignominious, nor disgraceful, for a great earl to take a poor and mean woman to wife; neither, on the other hand, is it worthy of blame, or too difficult a thing for a countess to promote to honor a gallant youth."[23] Coming at the time of a pregnancy which may have been obvious, Joan's statement seemed to soften Edward's attitude towards the situation.[22] Her first child by Monthermer was born in October 1297; by the summer of 1297, when the marriage was revealed to the king, Joan's condition would certainly have been apparent, helping to convince Edward that he had no choice but to recognize his daughter's second marriage. Edward I eventually relented, for the sake of his daughter, and released Monthermer from imprisonment in August 1297.[17] Monthermer paid homage on 2 August, was granted the titles of Earl of Gloucester and Earl of Hertford, and rose in the King's favour during Joan's lifetime.[24]

Monthermer and Joan had four children:

  1. Mary de Monthermer, born October 1297. In 1306 her grandfather King Edward I arranged for her to marry Duncan Macduff, 8th Earl of Fife.
  2. Joan de Monthermer, born 1299, became a nun at Amesbury.
  3. Thomas de Monthermer, 2nd Baron Monthermer, born 1301.
  4. Edward de Monthermer, born 1304 and died 1339.

Relationship with family

Joan of Acre was the seventh of Edward I and Eleanor's fourteen children. Most of her elder siblings died before the age of seven, and many of her younger siblings died before adulthood.[25] Those who survived to adulthood were Joan, her younger brother, Edward of Caernarfon (later Edward II), and four of her sisters: Eleanor, Margaret, Mary, and Elizabeth.[26]

Joan, like her siblings, was raised outside her parents' household. She lived with her grandmother in Ponthieu for four years, and was then entrusted to the same caregivers who looked after her siblings.[27] Edward I did not have a close relationship with most of his children while they were growing up, yet "he seemed fonder of his daughters than his sons."[26]

However, Joan of Acre's independent nature caused numerous conflicts with her father. Her father disapproved of her leaving court after her marriage to the Earl of Gloucester, and in turn "seized seven robes that had been made for her".[28] He also strongly disapproved of her second marriage to Ralph de Monthermer, a squire in her household, even to the point of attempting to force her to marry someone else.[28][29] While Edward ultimately developed a cordial relationship with Monthermer, even granting him two earldoms,[28] there appears to have been a notable difference in Edward's treatment of Joan as compared to the treatment of the rest of her siblings. For instance, her father famously paid messengers substantially when they brought news of the birth of grandchildren, but did not do this upon the birth of Joan's daughter.[30]

Joan retained a fairly tight bond with her siblings. She and Monthermer both maintained a close relationship with her brother, Edward, which was maintained through letters. After Edward became estranged from his father and lost his royal seal, "Joan offered to lend him her seal".[31]


Joan died on 23 April 1307, at the manor of Clare in Suffolk.[24] The cause of her death remains unclear, though one popular theory is that she died during childbirth, a common cause of death at the time. While Joan's age in 1307 (about 35) and the chronology of her earlier pregnancies with Ralph de Monthermer suggest that this could well be the case, historians have not confirmed the cause of her death.[32]

Less than four months after her death, Joan's father died. Joan's widower, Ralph de Monthermer, lost the title of Earl of Gloucester soon after the deaths of his wife and father-in-law. The earldom of Gloucester was given to Joan's son from her first marriage, Gilbert, who was its rightful holder. Monthermer continued to hold a nominal earldom in Scotland, which had been conferred on him by Edward I, until his death.

Joan's burial place has been the cause of some interest and debate. She is interred in the Augustinian priory at Clare, which had been founded by her first husband's ancestors and where many of them were also buried. Allegedly, in 1357, Joan's daughter, Elizabeth De Burgh, claimed to have "inspected her mother's body and found the corpse to be intact",[32] which in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church is an indication of sanctity. This claim was only recorded in a fifteenth-century chronicle, however, and its details are uncertain, especially the statement that her corpse was in such a state of preservation that "when her paps [breasts] were pressed with hands, they rose up again." Some sources further claim that miracles took place at Joan's tomb,[32] but no cause for her beatification or canonization has ever been introduced.

Joan in fiction

Joan of Acre makes an appearance in Virginia Henley's historical romance Infamous. In the book, Joan, known as Joanna, is described as a promiscuous young princess, vain, shallow and spoiled. In the novel she is only given one daughter, when she historically had eight children. There is no evidence that supports this picture of Joan.[33]

In The Love Knot by Vanessa Alexander, Joan of Acre is an important character. The author portrays a completely different view of the princess from the one in Henley's novel. The Love Knot tells the story of the love affair between Ralph de Monthermer and Joan of Acre through the discovery of a series of letters the two had written to each other.[34]

Between historians and novelists, Joan has appeared in various texts as either an independent and spirited woman or a spoiled brat. In Lives of the Princesses of England by Mary Anne Everett Green, Joan is portrayed as a "giddy princess" and neglectful mother.[35] Many have agreed to this characterization; however, some authors think there is little evidence to support the assumption that Joan of Acre was a neglectful or uncaring mother.[36]



  1. called Earl of Hertford, jure uxoris; later 1st Baron Monthermer
  2. Weir (2008), pp. 83–84
  3. Green (1850), p.318
  4. Green 1850, p. 319
  5. Parsons (1995), p.39
  6. Parsons (1995), p.40
  7. Green (1850), p 319
  8. Green (1850), p.320
  9. Green (1850), p.321
  10. Green (1850), p321.
  11. Green (1850), p.323
  12. Oxford, p. 626.
  13. Green (1850), p.327
  14. Green (1850), p.328
  15. Green (1850), p329.
  16. Green 1850, p329
  17. Oxford, p. 626
  18. "Joan or Joanna of Acre, Countess." Oxford, p. 626
  19. Green (1850), p.342
  20. Green (1850), p.343
  21. Green (1850) p.345
  22. Higginbotham (2009), p.3
  23. Green (1850), p. 347
  24. Oxford, p.627
  25. Prestwich (1988), p.51
  26. Prestwich (1988), p.52
  27. Higginbotham (2009), p.1
  28. Higginbotham (2009), p.2
  29. Prestwich (1988), p.54
  30. Prestwich (1988), p.55
  31. Prestwich (1988), p.53
  32. Higginbotham (2009), p.4
  33. Higginbotham (2009) p.4
  34. Higginbotham, (2009) p.5
  35. Green (1850), p. 342
  36. Higginbotham (2009), p.5
  37. Hamilton 2010, p. viii; Carpenter 2004, pp. 532–536; Prestwich 1988, p. 574; O'Callaghan 1975, p. 681; Durand, Clémencet & Dantine 1818, p. 435; Howell 2004; Parsons 2004


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  • Lee, Sidney, ed. (1892). "Joan of Acre" . Dictionary of National Biography. 29. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 390.
  • O'Callaghan, Joseph F. (1975). A History of Medieval Spain. Ithaca, US: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-0880-9.
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  • Parsons, John Carmi (2004). "Eleanor [Eleanor of Castile] (1241–1290), queen of England, consort of Edward I". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8619.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Prestwich, Michael (1988). Edward I. Berkeley, US and Los Angeles, US: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06266-5.
  • Underhill, Frances Ann (1999). For Her Good Estate: The Life of Elizabeth de Burgh. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-21355-7.
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