No birth certificate, no notice published in the local paper, no pink-edged cards of lace-trimmed cradles or storks bearing happy little bundles in their beaks; no announcement on Facebook, no Tweets; Joan’s birth wasn’t even mentioned by the chroniclers of the day. So how do we know when she was born?
The short answer is, we don’t. But there are assumptions we can make and certain facts which we do know.
We know that a papal dispensation for her father, Edmund, to marry “a woman related to him in the third or fourth degree” was granted by Pope John XXII on 6th October 1325 and we know from the medieval chronicle, the Annales Paulini, that the marriage of Joan’s parents took place around the time of the death of Charles, Count of Valois, which meant about 16th December 1325. The Count of Valois was the brother of the late Philip IV, King of France, and was therefore not only uncle to Edward II’s wife, Queen Isabella, but also Edmund’s uncle.
Our small world was covered in snow and ice on the day the count of Valois died. It was as if God had shaped the frozen landscape to match the coldness which swept into people’s hearts. As soon as the dying man breathed his last, King Charles plunged the court into deep mourning. This for an uncle who had been much more to him than just his father’s brother. People said the king had made no decisions without first consulting the old man, so what would he do now? Solemn requiem masses were sung in every church in Paris, the shops ran out of black cloth, and only Edmund seemed unmoved by the death.
We know that Joan’s young brother John was born posthumously on 7th April 1330 at Arundel castle and baptised on the same day. Assuming Edmund and Margaret waited until they were married to consummate their union (and bearing in mind that their marriage was probably a love match and Margaret was an experienced woman having already buried one husband, that must surely be open to question) Joan would have been born sometime between September 1326 and May 1329.
Joan had two or possibly three siblings: a brother Edmund who died between November 1330 and October 1331, a possible sister Margaret and a second brother, John. Apart from John who was the youngest, we don’t know the birth order of the children.
It would be difficult to squeeze four pregnancies into the space of 4 years and 3 months (Mid-December 1325 to early April 1330) remembering that a woman was “off-limits” for six weeks after a birth, but it would be feasible. Alternatively two of the children might have been twins. Another possibility is the non-existence of the shadowy “Margaret”. It is generally assumed (though there is no good reason to do so) that Edmund was the eldest child and as we know John was the youngest, Joan’s birth date must lie somewhere between August 1327 and May 1329.
At John’s Inquisition Post Mortem in 1352/3 a juror mentioned John being “lifted from the sacred font” by “Edmund, son of Edmund (of Woodstock, Earl of Kent) and by Joan, sister of the said Edmund” at his baptism on 7th April 1330. The phrase “lifted from the sacred font” may simply be a euphemism for Joan being the child’s godmother and not a statement of fact. At the most she would have been three and a half years old and in all probability only two and a half. Also two sets of jurors mention Joan’s birth date as being 29th September, the feast day of St Michael the Archangel, although they disagree as to which year, one placing it as 1326 and the other as 1327.
It was highly unlikely that Joan was born as late as 1328, as when she married Thomas Holand in the spring of 1340 she would have to have been already twelve years of age or the papal tribunal which later sat in judgement on her marriages would not have considered her competent to contract a marriage. In the eyes of the Church a child had to have reached the age of puberty to give valid consent to a marriage and the age of puberty was fixed at 12 for girls and 14 for boys. Therefore Joan had to have been born before the spring of 1328.
That would place her birth in late September 1326 or more likely late September 1327.
As to where she was born? Nobody knows.
The Clandestine Marriages of the Fair Maid of Kent by Karl P. Wentersdorf
Excerpt: The Queen’s Spy by Caroline Newark