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Queens of Scotland - Joan Beaufort: a Force for Stability in the Reign of James I.

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

Joan Beaufort was born in England. She met King James, who was being held in captivity around 1420. It is suggested the famous poem he wrote at the time, The Kingis Qhair was written about Joan. They were married in England in 1424. Although it was a love match, it has been suggested that the marriage was performed in England in the hope of a fast pregnancy; “the immediate prospect of the conception of an heir gave the possibility of quickly securing the Stewart succession, giving stability to the throne”[1]. Their marriage was partially political, although they seemed to have shared real affection for one another, Joan's dowry of 10,000 merks was deducted from the total of James' ransom. The parts of her reign most remembered are after the death of her husband and before the ascension of her son, James II. Although it is undeniable that Joan’s actions throughout this time are memorable (she was responsible for the capture of her husband’s enemies and bringing them to justice) one of the most interesting parts of her life was throughout the reign of her husband, James I. Joan was a force for stability, as well as a large part of Scottish politics, through assisting James’ image, interceding on behalf of her subjects and participating in the general councils. She also successfully completed the main responsibility of a Queen in the 15th Century, providing the Kingdom with heirs.

By the birth of her first child in December 1424, Joan had completed the single most important political task a Queen was expected to perform. It was suggested that should a Queen fail to produce heirs, they were not fit to be Queen at all. James’ predecessor, David II divorced his wife due to her inability to produce heirs. Joan Beaufort had 8 children to James, 6 daughters, who she ensured married successfully and twin sons, only one of whom survived to adulthood to become King James II. Nonetheless, the fact the Queen had birthed male heirs was a night for great celebration, “In the year 1430 there were born unto the king two male twins, the sons of the King and Queen, whereat all the world exalted, with very great joy all over the Kingdom; and in the town of Edinburgh...bonfire were lighted, flagons of wine were free to all and victuals publically to all comers... all night long proclaiming the praise and glory of God for all his gifts and benefits”[2]. The above passage clearly demonstrates the joy displayed by the Kingdom and inhabitants of Edinburgh specifically upon hearing that a male heir had been born to the King and Queen. Joan assisted in securing good marriages for her daughters, 2 married in France, 1 in Austria, 1 in the Netherlands and 2 in Scotland. The records of the Beaufort embassies to Scotland from 1426-1433 fails to explicitly mention the Queen’s inclusion in any of these meetings, however we do know that at least 2 of the embassy meetings resulted in talks of an Anglo-Scottish marriage[3] indicating Joan’s involvement. It is acknowledged that Beaufort would often parent her children and takes an interest in their upbringing and that her “attempts to educate and influence their children into high moral and religious standards were socially valued[4] thus, in this sense; she fully created stability for Scotland with the successful marriages of her daughters abroad (and the subsequent alliances) and their plentiful education.

Joan Beaufort’s inclusion in politics is another way in which the Queen consort was able to assist in the stability of the Kingdom. The Queen partook in general councils, parliaments and intercessions, not to mention the influence she seemed to have over the King, all of which gave her an active role in the running of the country. Joan Beaufort was one of three known Scottish Queens who practiced intercession;[5] Intercession was the practise where a noble subject could go to the Queen and beg for her to intercede on their behalf. In actuality it was probably a theatrical event staged between the King and Queen [6].

In the August of 1429 the Queen begged on behalf of Alexander Lord of the Isles. Alexander had completed a ceremony of submission, where he was stripped and left kneeling before the King. As he offered his sword, the “symbol of his power as Knight but also the weapon of noble execution[7] Joan and several of the Lords rushed forward to intercede. The King ‘relented’ and sent the Lord of the Isles to Tantallon Castle, in North Berwick. This was almost certainly pre-organised as a way for James to practise mercy without seeming weak in the eyes of his enemies. However it was not just her husband’s image that benefitted from the Intercessions. Queens were expected to practise benevolence in all aspects of their life. However, it is no coincidence that both times Joan interceded she was accompanied by members of the three estates; once with her ladies and members of the clergy, the other with lords of the Kingdom. Hayes explains that “the Queen’s impact was downplayed and the concept of her persuasive influence on the King diluted”[8]; because the Queen never appeared on her own to plead for her subjects, it meant that her own individual power of persuasion over the King was diminished. Joan carefully toed the line between benevolence and interference; if a Queen “was seen to be meddling in political affairs her influence was distrusted and reviled by the chroniclers[9] Thus the involvement of the three estates protected Joan from slander.

Furthermore, Joan’s involvement in General Council’s provided further stability for Scotland. In 1428, prior to James absence in pursuit of the Lord of the Isles, he ordered his nobles to swear an oath of loyalty to Joan in the General Council of the 12th July.

“On which day our lord, the king, from the deliberation and consent of the whole council, decreed that all and singular successors of the prelates of the kingdom whomsoever, and also all and singular future heirs of earls, barons and all freeholders of the lord king should be held to make a similar oath to our lady queen, and no prelate henceforth should be admitted to his temporality, or the heirs of any tenant of the lord king to his tenancy unless he has previously performed that oath to the queen[10] This essentially ensured that every current noble, as well as their heirs swore loyalty to Joan, if they objected then they would effectively be disinherited. This shows the level of pressure James applied in forcing his nobles to follow Joan. In the event of the King’s death, the nobles would still be loyal to the Queen, enabling her to protect her children and herself. Furthermore in the January of 1435 letters of Fidelity were presented to Joan in parliament.[11] This further provided stability in the sense that it effectively named Joan as regent during a potentially unstable time. She gave their Scottish subjects a sense of continuity and furthermore established Joan as her husbands’ political partner and gave her her own identity within the political sphere.

In another General Council in 1428 regarding the continuation of the Franco-Scottish alliance, Joan, the King and seven bishops were named explicitly in an oath to uphold the alliance; “the aforesaid should proceed to be given more firm and secure support by our most beloved consort Queen”.[12] This is not the first time that Joan Beaufort’s persuasive power of “secure support” was mentioned or at least acknowledged. Women during Joan’s lifetime were heavily influenced by the church. Arguably, it is through their teachings that the majority of Scottish Queens failed to ever have any power of their own.[13] Although the Queens of Scotland were able to hold some influence over their husbands. This is clearly shown in 1436, when Pope Eugenius IV sent letters to James I, the Queen and several nobles. The letters were in favour of the ecclesiastical diplomat, the Bishop of Urbino. The Pope requested that Joan “exhort the King[20]” in favour of the diplomat. Here, the Pope is clearly recognising Joan’s power. This is the more common form of intercession. The Queen could put forward the name of the diplomat and convince her husband to support him. This is another of the ways in which Joan Beaufort was able to promote stability, by stabilising their link with the Papacy.

James I was assassinated in 1437 but Joan Beaufort escaped. From there, her life changed drastically. She led in the capture and punishment of her husband’s assassins. She eventually died in 1445, after being arrested and forced to give up custody of her son.

Arguably Joan's most brilliant acts came after her husband's death. However, her life prior to this is usually underexamined. She was, regardless, a powerful Queen who brought a degree of stability to Scotland throughout her husband's reign.

[1] Katie Stevenson, Power and Propaganda, Scotland 1306-1488 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014) p39 [2] Maurice Buchanan, Liber Pluscardensis, (Edinburgh: W. Paterson) 1877-1880, p.285 [3] Downie, Queenship, 197 [4] Hayes, Queen, 145 [5] Hayes, Queen, 75 [6] Downie, Queenship, 92 [7] Downie, Queenship, 92-3 [8] Hayes, Queen, 80 [9] Hayes, Queen, 52 [10] RPS, 1428/7/2. [11] RPS, 1435/4. [12] RPS, 1428/7/3. [13] Downie, Queenship, 8 [14] Hayes, Queen, 83


Primary Sources

K. M. Brown et al. (eds.) The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 (St Andrews, 2007-9), [RPS] 1428/7/2 []

Date Accessed: 23/10/2018

K. M. Brown et al. (eds.) The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 (St Andrews, 2007-9), [RPS] 1428/7/3 []

Date Accessed: 25/10/2018

K. M. Brown et al. (eds.) The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 (St Andrews, 2007-9), [RPS] 1435/4 []

Date Accessed: 4/11/2018

Maurice Buchanan, Liber Pluscardensis, (Edinburgh: W. Paterson) 1877-1880

Date Accessed 14/11/2018

Secondary Sources

Alexander Grant, Independence and Nationhood, Scotland 1306-1469 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1984) pp. 48-50

Amy V. Hayes, 2016, The Late Medieval Scottish Queen c.1371- c.1513, Doctor of Philosophy Degree, Aberdeen University, Aberdeen

Fiona Downie, She is but a Woman, Queenship in Scotland 1424-1463 (Edinburgh: Birlinn LTD, 2006) pp. 99-154, 197, 125-8

Katie Stevenson, Power and Propaganda, Scotland 1306-1488 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014) p39

Michael Brown and Steve Boardman ‘Survival and Revival, Late Medieval Scotland’ in Jenny Wormald (eds.) ‘Scotland a History’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) pp 77-107

Works Consulted

Diane R. Marks, ‘Poems from Prison: James I of Scotland and Charles of Orleans’, Fifteenth Century Studies 15 (1989): 245

Fiona Downie, 1998, Sche is but a womman: the queen and princess in Scotland 1424 – 63, Doctor of Philosophy Degree, Aberdeen University, Aberdeen

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