Book Review: “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy

43211731 (1)Strong medieval women who helped lead armies were unusual phenomena. Women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and  Margaret of Anjou, have been seen as “she-wolves” and their stories have lived on for centuries. They were all queens, but strong women from the past could be of any rank, even though their stories are not celebrated as much. Take, for example, the story of Joanna of Flanders, Countess of Montfort and Richmond, Duchess of Brittany. She was a wife and mother who protected Hennebont Castle in Brittany from the French in 1342 while her husband was held captive. She then leaves her beloved Brittany for the court of Edward III of England and all but disappears from the historical record until her death in 1374. What happened to this extraordinary woman and why did she disappear from the historical records? Julie Sarpy answers these questions and more in her book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. Before I read this book, I knew absolutely nothing about Joanna of Flanders or the part she played in protecting Brittany from France.

In the past, historians, especially Arthur Le Moyne de La Borderie,  have claimed that Joanna was held in confinement by Edward III because she went “mad”. However, Sarpy does not agree with this assessment of her life and she hopes to change that view with this book, as she explains in her introduction:

This book strives to set the record straight about Joanna of Flanders through a fresh reading of legal and administrative records, narrative accounts and comparative studies. It seeks to reveal the pretense behind her guardianship and the means by which Edward III of England perpetrated a hoax. I have tried to separate the facts from fiction and reconcile the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life after October 1343 when she retired to Yorkshire with the known record. Centrally, it is an attempt to demonstrate that her captivity at the hands of Edward III was purposeful and politically motivated. Unfortunately, since then, some authors have been complicit in the sullying of her reputation by claiming she was incarcerated due to mental defect and I seek to correct that. (Sarpy, 10). 

Sarpy introduces her readers to the complex relationship between Brittany, France, and England, as well as the de Montforts and the Blois- Penthievre faction that all played a part in the First Breton Civil War. It is these relationships that are crucial to understanding the events of Joanna of Flanders’ life. The siege of Hennebont showed Joanna as a threat to Edward III’s plans for Brittany, so he had to do something about her. Joanna takes her children to England and Edward III will eventually send her to Tickhill Castle. Sarpy explores mental illness, the medieval laws towards protecting them and about the confinement of the nobility. What Sarpy does very well is that she shows examples of legal cases as well as those who were mad and compared their stories to Joanna’s own story. 

Sarpy’s book contains a ton of information, both historical and legal, but it is relatively easy to understand. As I stated earlier, I didn’t know anything about Joanna of Flanders before I read this book and I did take copious amounts of notes. This book tells the story of Joanna of Flanders in such a way that those who are not familiar with her legacy can understand, yet it also sheds new light for those who knew her story beforehand. Julie Sarpy’s book, “Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” was an enlightening read and I recommend it to those who are interested in learning about Joanna of Flanders, Edward III, the early years of the Hundred Years’ War, and mental illness and confinement in medieval Europe. 

“Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile” by Julie Sarpy will be released in the US on October 1, 2019. If you would like to pre-order this book, you can find more information here: https://www.amazon.com/Joanna-Flanders-Heroine-Julie-Sarpy/dp/1445688549/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Joanna+of+Flanders%3A+Heroine+and+Exile&qid=1562077490&s=digital-text&sr=1-1-catcorr

 

Biography: Jasper Tudor

410px-Arms_of_Jasper_Tudor,_Duke_of_Bedford.svg(Born November 1431- Died December 21, 1495). Son of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois. Married to Catherine Woodville. Jasper was really one of the unsung heroes of the Wars of the Roses. He never gave up on fighting for the cause he believed in and he did his best to keep his nephew Henry Tudor safe.

Jasper Tudor was the second son born to Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois born in 1431. He was the brother of Edmund Tudor and half- brother of King Henry VI. After his mother’s death on January 3, 1437, Jasper and Edmund were sent to Barking Abbey where they were raised and educated by Katherine de la Pole from July 1437 until March 1442. Around that time, their half-brother Henry VI allowed for Edmund and Jasper to live at court, where they received the military training that would be essential for their survival later in life. In 1449, Jasper was knighted and in 1452, he was created the earl of Pembroke.

Jasper worked hard to stop the fighting between the Yorks and the Lancasters while he was still living in the courts. Jasper’s brother Edmund took in a young Margaret Beaufort as his ward and he later married her on November 1, 1455. The following year, on November 3, 1456, Edmund died of the plague, leaving his young and pregnant widow in Jasper’s custody. Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond was born on January 28, 1457.  Jasper was also responsible for maintaining the Lancastrian ties in Western Wales between 1456 and 1459. In 1460, Jasper was able to capture the Duke of York’s North Welsh stronghold of Denbigh Castle.

Jasper and his father Owen Tudor raised an army in Wales for Henry VI and met against the Yorkist forces at the battle of  Mortimer’s Cross on February 2, 1461. It was an utter defeat for the Lancastrians. Owen Tudor was taken into custody and executed while Jasper escaped first into Ireland and then into Scotland.  Jasper then went to France where he was welcomed by King Louis XI in 1462. He stayed in France for 6 years, until he returned to Wales in 1468, when he lost his title of earl of Pembroke and Pembroke Castle to William Herbert.

Jasper did regain the earldom of Pembroke when Henry VI was restored to the throne, but in 1471, he fled to the continent yet again once Edward IV was crowned king. Jasper  and Henry tried to gather more support for the Lancastrian cause but they got caught in a bad storm in the English Channel while escaping from Tenby. They landed in Brittany where they sought the protection of Francis II, Duke of Brittany, which he did give to them.The Lancastrians along with Jasper and Henry, were housed at  the Château de Suscinio in Sarzeau. Edward IV tried his best to apprehend Jasper and Henry but he failed to do so.

In October 1483, Jasper and Henry tried to go back to England, but it failed and they were forced to return to Brittany. When the Duke of Brittany got very ill in 1484, his treasurer Pierre Landais made a deal with Richard III to give over Jasper and Henry in exchange for 3,000 English archers to defend a French attack. A bishop in Flanders John Morton heard about the deal and warned Jasper and Henry just before Landais could reach them. Jasper and Henry fled into France where King Charles VIII allowed them to stay until Duke Francis II felt better.

Jasper and Henry made their way back to England in August 1485, where they faced off against Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. Richard III was defeated and Henry became Henry VII. Jasper’s titles and properties were all returned to him and he was made a Knight of the Garter as well as Duke of Bedford. On November 7, 1485, Jasper married Catherine Woodville, the sister of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. They had no children. Jasper would die on December 21, 1495 at Thornbury Castle at the age of 64.