Joan Beaufort (1379-1440)

Relation to me: 17th Great Grandmother

Joan was the fourth of the four children that were born illegitimately to John of Gaunt and Katherine de Roet. During her widowhood, she was a powerful landowner in the north of England. Joan had probably been born at the Swynford manor in Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire. Swynford manor was the home of her mother from her first husband, Hugh Swynford, who had passed away. Joan’s surname is probably a reflection of her father’s lordship of Beaufort in Champagne, France, there is a possibility for it to be another location of where she was born, rather than in England.

There’s not a whole lot known of Joan’s life, however we do know that in 1391, when Joan was just twelve years of age she married Robert Ferrers, the 5th Baron Boteler of Wem at Beaufort-en-Vallee, Anjou, France. Together the couple would have two daughters before Robert’s death in about 1395. Therefore, making Joan a widow at just sixteen years old with two children to take care of.

We also know that along with her three brothers, Joan had privately been declared legitimate by their cousin Richard II of England in 1390. Joan’s parents were married in Lincoln Cathedral in February of 1396, at the time Joan was already an adult when her father and mother were married with papal approval. The Beauforts were later barred from inheriting the throne by a clause inserted into the legitimization act by their half-brother Henry IV of England. Although it is not clear if Henry had actually possessed the sufficient authority to alter the existing parliamentary statute by himself,

Ralph de Neville
Ralph de Neville

without further approval from Parliament. Not long after the sibling’s legitimization, on the 3rd of February 1397, when Joan was eighteen years old, she had married Ralph de Neville, the 1st Earl of Westmorland, who had also been previously married once before.

When Ralph died in 1425, his lands and titles by the law of rights should have been passed on to his grandson through his first marriage, another Ralph Neville. Instead, the bulk of his rich estates went to his wife, even though the title, Earl of Westmorland and several of his manors had been passed down to his grandson. This may have been done so as to ensure that Joan, a widow for a second time in her life, would have been well provided for. However, by doing this, Ralph had essentially split his family in two. The result was years of bitter conflict between Joan and her stepchildren, who would fiercely contest her acquisition of their father’s lands. With Joan’s royal blood and connections she was far too powerful to be called to account and the senior branch of Nevilles received little redress for their grievances. Inevitably, when Joan had passed away, the lands had been inherited by her own children.

Joan passed away on the 13th of November of 1440 at Howden in Yorkshire. Rather than being buried with her husband Ralph, who was not buried with his first wife either, even though his monument has effigies of himself and his two wives, she was entombed next to her mother in a beautiful sanctuary at Lincoln Cathedral. Joan’s tomb is the smaller of the two tombs there, both were decorated with brass plates, full-length representations of her and her mother on the tops, and small shields bearing the coats of arms around the sides. These were damaged or destroyed though in 1644 by Roundheads during the English Civil War. A drawing from 1640 of the tombs still survives, but in the drawing the tombs are side-by-side rather than end-to-end, as they are situated now.

Joan Beaufort and Katherine de Roet Tombs
Joan Beaufort’s Tomb (left behind pew) and Katherine de Roet (on right)

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