To mark the beginning of women’s history month, it is appropriate to celebrate a woman often forgotten by history: Joan II of Navarre. The granddaughter of Philip IV of France and Joan I of Navarre, born in 1312 to their eldest son Louis and his wife Margaret of Burgundy. Being their first grandchild, it is easy to imagine her birth was met with grand celebration and luxury. Whether that is true or not has been lost to history, and her adolescence plagued by uncertainty. Her mother is accused of an affair in 1314 that occurred during the time Joan was conceived. The issue of her legitimacy would haunt her for the next two years. Her mother would die in the prison as her father ascended the French throne. He remarried to Clementia of Hungary, and when Louis X died she was pregnant, and declared Joan his child. John I died five days after he was born, leaving Joan as his only heir.
All except Joan had greedy uncles, and her paternal uncle usurped both her thrones, Philip V. He dug up the Salic law and re-established it in France, barring the young princess from claiming the French throne. Her maternal uncle, Odo, Duke of Burgundy, was more sympathetic of her plight. He would fight her claim to both thrones, but would ultimately fail when Philip had himself crowned as King of Navarre. Philip’s uncle, Charles of Valois, gave him sweeping victories. Then Philip married his daughter to Odo and it seemed Joan’s fate was sealed. She was married at the precious age of four to Philip of Êvreux, though they lived apart until they were of age, before being sent to be raised by her grandmother-in-law, Marie of Brabant. Set to live a simple life and be forgotten.
At least until her uncles let the Capet dynasty die out.
After Philip came Charles, and when Charles died without male heirs, both crowns were without a ruler. Philip IV would take the French throne as the 1st Valois monarch, but he had no claim to Navarre. She would finally inherit her mother’s county of Navarre as well as the counties Champagne and Brie, though Philip would convince them renounce their claim to the latter in exchange for Loungville, Mortain, and Angoulême.
Joan was met with joy by her people, and she was coronated alongside her husband with relative ease. She pushed vigorously to ensure her husband was treated as her equal, though only her claim was recognized. The couple worked relatively well together when it came to administration not only in Navarre but their French territories (where they lived the majority of the time). They defended Jews, pushed for peace with their neighbors, and lived in relative calmness throughout their reign. As for the marriage itself, not much is known other that they had 9 children. There are not reports of them arguing, but there are not reports of them being overly affectionate at any point in their marriage. After his death in 1343 she began to dismiss certain lords that her husband had appointed long before, which suggests he had more control over her government than original thought, but there is no proof this is true or false.
We do know that she was an affective ruler with or without her husband. In 1344, she had the Fuegos of Navarre published with room to translate it to French published if she desired. It outlined the laws of the land and was used as a constitution of sorts until the 1800s.
In 1337 the Hundred Years war began and appreciated her French territories were in a strategic place for both countries. Joan did her best to support France. At first… When it became clear in 1346 that her French cousin had no chance of winning the war, she allowed the English to travel through Angoulême so long as her lands were protected. Philip was unable to act against her, but the victory would be short-lived. The Black Death began to spread and in 1349, it claimed Joan as it’s victim. Her legacy would live on through the bloodline of her nine children, which included, Charles II of Navarre, Blanche of Navarre, Queen consort of France, and Maria, Queen consort of Aragon.
Her heart was buried at the Basilica de St. Denis, but she was laid to rest next to her husband in the Couvent de Jacobins. The church was demolished in the 1800s.
- The Flores historiarum of Bernard Gui records the birth “V Kal Feb” in 1311 of “Ludovicus rex…filiam Johannam“. Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, vol. XXI, Guigniaut, Wailly (dirs.) Paris, 1855: E floribus chronicorum auctore Bernardo Guidonis, p. 724.
- Connolly, Sharon Bennett (2017). Heroines of the Medieval World. Amberley Publishing.
- Canadian Journal of History, http://www.utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/cjh.47.3.630?journalCode=cjh.