Princess Joan had a very big problem in the summer of 1297. Joan, 23, was political gold. Her father – the feared and volatile 6’4” Edward I of England – was arranging a second marriage for her. Joan was a widow. Edward had married her off at 17 to the powerful, red-haired Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Gloucester, almost 30 years her senior. Like King Edward, he also had a hair-trigger temper. Five years after the wedding, he died at the age of 52.
Now King Edward had a second opportunity to use Joan as a marriage pawn. He chose Amadeus V, the wealthy, aging Count of Savoy. Amadeus was looking for a young wife. Joan was looking for something quite different. She was in love with Ralph de Monthermer, 25 and – gasp! – a commoner. Actually, a squire in her household. Would Joan dare stand up to her father? No. So she married Ralph in secret. But being married and in love, she was soon pregnant. No hiding that for very long. She had to face her father and admit the truth. King Edward, predictably, was outraged. He tossed Ralph into the dungeons, but he could not offer a pregnant Joan to the Count of Savoy.
Joan finally won her father’s grudging support by pointing out that there was absolutely nothing amiss in an old, rich nobleman marrying “a lowly woman,” so what was so wrong with a Princess of the Blood marrying a squire? Edward did more than relent. He let Ralph out of prison in time for the baby’s birth – a daughter. Edward even gave Monthermer the titles that had belonged to Gilbert de Clare. Joan and Ralph could enjoy their life together.