Joan Beaufort – Mother of the Fifteenth Century by Nathen Amin

I’m delighted to be hosting Day 2 of Nathen Amin’s blog tour for his latest book, House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown. Nathen has written a fascinating guest article about Joan Beaufort, daughter of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster.

Joan Beaufort – Mother of the Fifteenth Century

By Nathen Amin

At a distance of between 500 and 600 years, it is difficult sometimes to view proceedings in the fifteenth century as anything other than a group of separate families jostling for supremacy. The Yorks, the Lancasters, the Beauforts, the Nevilles, the Percys, the Bourchiers, the Staffords, the Mowbrays and so on. We like to pigeonhole the individual earls, dukes and kings that represent each family into convenient familial units, from which they are not to step outside.

Yet real-life was far more complicated than that, for many members of the aforementioned families were related, sometimes several times over. One woman, perhaps above most, was responsible for the complex kinship between many of the foremost lords of fifteenth century England, and that was Joan Beaufort, the only female of the first generation of Beauforts, the illegitimate offspring of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster.

Joan was born around 1379, and her early life is generally undocumented, with the assumption being that she was brought up with her three elder brothers by their mother Katherine Swynford. We know that at the age of 7, she was betrothed to Robert Ferrers, the ten-year-old son of Sir Robert, 1st Baron Ferrers of Wem, and Elizabeth, 4th Baroness Boteler, an established gentry family based in Shropshire and Staffordshire. The marriage eventually took place in 1392 shortly after Robert’s sixteenth birthday, and she soon fell pregnant with their first child shortly afterwards. If Joan, or Lady Ferrers as she was now regarded, was born in 1379 as seems likely, then she was only around fourteen-years-old at the time, which although young was nonetheless two years older than the widely observed age of consent. The Ferrers’ child was christened Elizabeth, presumably in honour of her grandmother, Baroness Boteler. A second daughter soon followed and was named Mary. The girls were the first mutual grandchildren of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt

After Joan was legitimised in 1397, she instantly benefitted from her new-found status and began her rise to the top of English society in earnest. After her husband Robert Ferrers passed away early in 1396, Joan was left with two young daughters to raise, not unlike her mother’s situation after the premature death of Hugh Swynford in 1371. Fortunately for Joan, the papal dispensation bestowing legitimacy upon the Beauforts had enhanced her marital prospects considerably, and with her father keen to secure another politically expedient union, she was betrothed to Sir Ralph Neville, 4th Baron Neville de Raby, in November 1396. Her new husband was a lord of rising influence in northern England, and in his early thirties at the time of the marriage, the baron’s second. Neville already had two sons and six daughters with his first wife Margaret Stafford, although, as time would tell, Joan’s relationship with her stepchildren would prove far from amicable.

Once settled into her role as a wealthy baron’s wife, Joan focused on producing several more children to strengthen the burgeoning Beaufort-Neville alliance. Ironically, it would be the descendants of this union that would ultimately destroy the Beauforts as a force some seventy years later. Although many nobles regularly campaigned away from home during the first decade of the fifteenth century, Ralph Neville remained close to his northern estates, charged by successive kings with securing the troublesome Scottish border. This proximity to his various residences, such as Raby Castle in County Durham or Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire, probably accounts for the regularity of Joan’s pregnancies throughout this phase of their marriage. The countess spent much of the first two decades of her second marriage with child, and in total bore Neville fourteen children, an astounding strain on her body even discounting the two children she already had from her first marriage with Sir Robert Ferrers.

The birth order of these Beaufort-Neville children is uncertain, although the eldest are generally acknowledged to be Katherine, Eleanor and Ralph, all born at the start of the century. These were followed by Robert, William and George, probably between the years of 1404 to 1407, with Henry, Thomas, Cuthbert, John, Edward and Joan following thereafter. As the countess approached her mid-thirties, the rate of birth slowed considerably, with Joan giving birth to Anne around 1414 and her final child Cecily, the famed ‘Rose of Raby’, in 1415. Some of the children died young, a distressing if inevitable reality of the medieval period, but those that survived provided a substantial Beaufort-blooded brood upon which to build the Neville future. And it was these Beaufort-blooded Neville children that gave Joan Beaufort an astounding legacy over the fifteenth century.

Her eldest son, Richard Neville, became Earl of Salisbury, Lord Chancellor, and one of the prime movers in English society by the 1440s. Through Richard’s children, Joan Beaufort was the ancestress of several important figures and families of the mid-to-late fifteenth century, including Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, Anne Neville, Queen of England, Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales and Edward, Earl of Warwick. Through Salisbury’s line, other notable persons Joan Beaufort was the ancestor of included Cecily Neville, 1st Duchess of Warwick, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, John Neville, Marquess of Montagu, George Neville, Duke of Bedford, George Neville, archbishop of York, and Katherine Neville, Baroness Hastings and husband of the baron famously executed by Richard III in 1483.

Joan Beaufort’s eldest daughters Katherine Neville and Eleanor Neville also produced noteworthy offspring. Katherine’s eldest son was John Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who in turn fathered John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk. Eleanor, meanwhile, was married to Henry Percy, through whom she was the ancestor of one of the foremost dynasties of the Wars of the Roses. Descendants of Joan Beaufort through Eleanor included Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland, Eleanor Percy, Duchess of Buckingham, Thomas Percy, Baron Egremont, Katherine Percy, Countess of Kent, George Grey, Earl of Kent, Sir Ralph Percy, and William Percy, Bishop of Carlisle.

Another son of Joan Beaufort’s, Robert Neville, served as Bishop of Salisbury and then Durham, whilst William Neville was Baron Fauconberg and 1st Earl of Kent. Another daughter, Anne Neville, became duchess of Buckingham and her children included Humphrey Stafford, earl of Stafford and father of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, Henry Stafford, husband of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, and John Stafford, 1st Earl of Wiltshire.

Two other sons of Joan Beaufort included George Neville, 1st Baron Latimer and Edward Neville, 3rd Baron Bergavenny. It was Joan’s youngest daughter, Cecily Neville, who would perhaps become the most well-known of her children. Through her marriage to Richard, duke of York, Cecily would become the mother of not one, but two, kings of England and the ancestress of every English sovereign since 1471. As well as Edward IV, Richard III and George, Duke of Clarence, Cecily was also the mother of daughters who became duchesses of Exeter, Suffolk and Burgundy, the husbands of whom were participants in the Wars of the Roses to varying degrees.

As shown above therefore, during the fifteenth century, Joan Beaufort was connected to many of the foremost dynasties of the period, including but not limited, to the Nevilles, Yorks, Mowbrays, Percys, Staffords, Hollands and de la Poles. Her descendants quite simply read like a who’s who compilation between 1400 and 1499.

Joan herself passed away on 13 November 1440, and may have been mortified by how England soon ripped itself apart in civil war less than a generation after her death, much of which was caused by her own descendants.  The dowager countess of Westmorland had spent the last two years of her life in the palatial manor of Howden, an ecclesiastic property twenty miles south-east of York which had come into the possession of her son Robert Neville after his translation to the bishopric of Durham in early 1438.

Effigies of Ralph Neville and his two wives, Margaret Stafford and Joan Beaufort, Staindrop Church

She may have lived and died a northern countess, with a tomb already prepared for her alongside her husband in the collegiate church in Staindrop, within walking distance of her erstwhile home at Raby, but Joan requested to be buried a dutiful daughter alongside her mother in Lincoln Cathedral. Touchingly, their bond was as noticeable in death as it had been in life. Today, many people visit the tomb for its connection to Katherine Swynford, something of a ‘fiction celebrity’ through the commendable work of authors such as Anya Seton, and often disregard the other lady interred beneath the tomb – Joan Beaufort, mother of the Fifteenth Century.

Author Biography

Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Wales was released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort, was released in 2017 and became an Amazon #1 Bestseller for Wars of the Roses. He is currently working on his fourth book, Pretenders to the Tudor Crown, for release in 2019.

Nathen is also the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has been featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.

Visit Nathen’s official website.

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  1. Alicia Mae says:

    How fascinating! I am looking forward to picking up my own copy of House of Beaufort and learning more.

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