“Six Degrees” from Eleanor of Aquitaine: Joan of Kent

“Six Degrees” from Eleanor of Aquitaine: Joan of Kent

by Peggy M. Baker

Everything begins with Eleanor of Aquitaine! She is fascinating both for her life and her “life after life.” Eleanor had a bevy of children – two daughters with Louis VII of France, and three daughters and five sons with Henry II of England. Of those ten children, six had children of their own. Through these grandchildren, Eleanor became the ancestor to the expected (the monarchs of England) and the unexpected!

Our “featured Eleanor descendant” is Joan of Kent, who married Edward, the Black Prince, son of Edward III and himself a descendant of Eleanor many times over.

Edward, the Black Prince, had (at least) seven lines to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Edward’s connection was through three of Eleanor’s children: her daughter Marie of France (from Eleanor’s first marriage to Louis VII); King John, her son with Henry II of England; and her oldest daughter with Henry II, Eleanor Plantagenet, who married Alfonso VIII of Castile. Eleanor Plantagenet had two daughters whose descendants married back into the English royal family: Blanche of Castile, who married Louis VIII of France, and Berengaria of Castile, who married Alfonso IX of Leon.

Joan of Kent had (only!) four lines to Eleanor of Aquitaine, many of which overlap Edward’s. One line was through her mother and three through her father.

Joan was the daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, first Earl of Kent, and Margaret, Baroness Wake. Let’s trace Margaret’s solo line to Eleanor first.

Margaret was descended through Berengaria of Castile (Eleanor of Aquitaine’s granddaughter). Berengaria married Alfonso IX of Leon. Their daughter, Berengaria of Leon, married John de Brienne, King of Jerusalem.

John was a French nobleman who had gained his title through his first marriage in 1219. His bride was Maria of Montferrat, the hereditary Queen of Jerusalem.

The “Jerusalem” in John and Maria’s title referred to the “Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem,” the crusader state formed after the First Crusade in 1099. By the time John and Maria came to the throne, the kingdom did NOT include the city of Jerusalem, which had been captured in 1187 by Saladin. Neither the Third Crusade (1187-1182), starring our own Richard the Lionheart, nor the Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) had resulted in the reconquest of Jerusalem.


Jerusalem 1200 Netherlands

A plan of the City of Jerusalem, the often-unattainable goal of pilgrims and crusaders. Courtesy of the National Library of the Netherlands Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

John and Maria had one daughter, Yolanda (or Isabelle), before Maria’s death in 1212. John continued to rule as King of Jerusalem during his daughter’s minority. John then married Stephanie of Armenia; she died in 1220. In 1221, John, 54 years old and twice a widower, came west seeking support for his kingdom. The result was his marriage, in 1224, to the 20-year-old Berengaria.

A year later, John’s daughter Yolanda/Isabella married Frederick II. Frederick was not only Holy Roman Emperor but also ruler of Sicily and considerable territories in Italy. Frederick claimed, quite rightly, that the title to Jerusalem belonged to the bride, and not her stepfather. Frederick now became “King of Jerusalem,” to John of Brienne’s considerable pique.

In 1229, however, John gained another high title. The heir to Constantinople, Baldwin of Courtenay, was only 12 years old. The times were perilous, Constantinople was weak, and a mature warrior was needed. John was invited to become Emperor on the condition that Baldwin be his heir. (This happened peacefully, with Baldwin marrying John and Berengaria’s oldest daughter, Marie.) Emperor John died on 27 March 1237. Empress Berengaria died two weeks later.


The arms of John of Brienne, reversed on his death.

The arms of John of Brienne, reversed on his death. Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

Joan of Kent was descended from John and Berengaria’s younger son John. He married, as his second wife, Marie de Coucy, widow of King Alexander III of Scotland. John and Marie’s daughter Blanche married William II de Fiennes; their daughter Joanna married John, 1st Lord Wake, and became the mother of Margaret, Baroness Wake.

Joan of Kent’s descent on her father’s side was far more regal – but far more usual. Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent, was the son of King Edward I and his second wife, Margaret of France.

Edward I has a direct line, through his father Henry III and his grandfather King John, to his great-grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine through her marriage to Henry II.

Edmund of Woodstock’s mother, Margaret of France, has her own two lines to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her mother was descended from Eleanor’s first marriage to Louis VII of France. Her father was descended from Eleanor’s second marriage to Henry II of England.

Margaret of France’s mother was Mary of Brabant, whose ancestry runs through the early Dukes of Burgundy, to Alice Capet, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France.

Margaret’s father was Philip III of France; her grandfather was Louis IX of France. Louis had fought in not one, but two Crusades of his own, without success. Louis’ first venture was the Seventh Crusade (1248-1254), which aimed at the Moslem power center of Egypt. He captured Damietta in 1249 but then lost his army and was himself captured. The cost of his release was the return of Damietta.

Louis did not give up. He moved on to the Crusader kingdoms, where he wandered about, engaging in diplomacy and building fortifications, for four years before returning to France.

In 1270, Louis tried it again. The crusaders landed at Tunis, in North Africa, where Louis promptly died. Prince Edward of England, later King Edward I, intended to join the Crusade but arrived after Louis’ death.

Louis IX, on his second crusade, lands at Tunis, where he will die.

Louis IX, on his second crusade, lands at Tunis, where he will die. Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

Louis’ mother had been Blanche of Castile, sister of Baroness Wakes’ ancestor Berengaria of Castile. Both Blanche and Berengaria were the daughters of Eleanor Plantagenet, and thus granddaughters of Eleanor of Aquitaine.