Royals of the day: Kissing cousins

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 10:34 07/04/2014
 The Fair Maid of Kent found her true love at 12, married a man she didn't at 13 and ended up with her cousin.
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COUSINS IN LOVE: The Fair Maid Of Kent (left) and The Black Prince (right) had love life drama worthy of a soap opera.

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Edward the Black Prince and his wife Joan were the young, hot power couple of the 14th century. They also happened to be first cousins.

Born the son of King Edward III, the young man who came to be known as the Black Prince seemed predisposed to be both a great warrior and a cunning politician.

By the age of 16 he was already leading men in battle. At Crecy, in 1346, he commanded one wing of the English army which routed a much larger French force, fighting in the front rank of the men-at-arms while his proud father watched on.

Alongside his military exploits, young Edward found time to take several mistresses and father at least three bastard children.

It was for his cousin, though, that he always held a candle.

Joan of Kent was two years older than him and a famous beauty. In fact, she was called the most beautiful woman in England. She had grown up alongside Edward, but entered a secret marriage with a lord called Thomas Holland when she was only 12.

When Thomas went overseas a year later, her family, who hadn't been informed of her marriage, ordered her to wed a lord called William Montacute. Scared that admitting that Thomas had in fact seduced her would lead to his execution, she didn't tell her family she was already married until he returned to England several years later.

Thomas had made his fortune overseas and confessed the marriage to the King when he got back before appealing to the Pope to annul Joan's marriage to William.

When Joan's new husband William found out he locked Joan up, but the Pope did annul the wedding and so she went back to Thomas.

The couple had four children over eleven years, until Thomas died in 1360.

The Black Prince was waiting and had not forgotten his cousin. Almost as soon as her husband died he was back on the scene, heedless of her scandalous history.

Despite the disapproval of the King and the fact cousin marriage required a special dispensation from the Church, the couple got married and went to live in Aquitaine, one of England's possessions in France.

By now the Black Prince was a grown man and the most famous - or infamous - warrior of his age. At Poitiers in 1356 he had annihilated a French army and captured the King of France himself.

But his was a bloody record. English troops used a strategy called chevauchee, which involved marching through the countryside killing, burning and raping as they went. He massacred towns who defied him. It was what warriors in the middle ages were supposed to do.

All his skill with the sword could not save him from death, though. At the age of 45, after he and Joan had returned to England, he caught dysentery.

Yes, for all his glory and his triumph on the battlefield, it was illness that killed him. 

His father died a year later. The Black Prince never got to be King.

Edward and Joan had two sons. Their eldest, Edward of Angoulême, died young, but the younger, Richard, became king, albeit a very bad one.

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Joan lived on. She became the power behind Richard's throne, and was well liked in England.

Proving how much the people liked her, during the Peasant's Revolt, where commoners rose up against the nobles, she was allowed to pass through the rebel band of Wat Tyler unmolested.

She died in 1385, and did not live to see the dethroning of her son. Despite the love between her and Edward, she chose to be buried next to Thomas Holland, the low-born knight who had stolen her heart as a young girl.

- Stuff

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