Joan of England, Queen of Sicily

Joan and Richard I of England greet Phillip II of France.

Joan was the youngest daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. At the age of 11 she married William II, King of Sicily and was crowned Queen of Sicily. Sicily at this time would have been a huge culture shock for Joan, Sicily was a hybrid of the cultures of Europe and the Middle East, and while her husband and the court were Christian they had customs from the Middle East, for example her husband William had a harem.

Sadly their marriage didn’t last long, as William fell ill and died in 1189. He died without any surviving heirs, it is believed Joan and William had a son named Bohemond but he died in infancy. This left Joan in a precarious position, William’s illegitimate cousin Tancred seized the throne, which many believed to be the superior option to the throne passing to William’s aunt Constance who he had married off to the heir of the Holy Roman Empire, Henry VI. It seems William never believed a German Sicilian union would occur, he was young and healthy, as was his wife.

Tancred, fearing a German invasion via Monte Sant’Angelo, which were Joan’s lands left to her by William, seized her lands and kept her in seclusion from court. Her brother Richard I (otherwise known as ‘Lionheart’) arrived in 1190, on his way to the Holy Land. He was outraged by her treatment and demanded she be returned to him along with every penny of her dowry. Tancred refused and in retaliation Richard seized a monastery, the castle La Bagnara and the city of Messina. Eventually Tancred acceded to these demands.

Joan was now free, and Richard decided to take her on crusade to have her accompany his betrothed, Berengaria of Navarre. One of the main reasons he wanted to take Berengaria on crusade was because she had arrived during Lent when marriage was forbidden, and he wanted to marry her as soon as possible. During the crusade Richard posed the idea of Joan marrying Saladin’s brother Al-Adil and making them joint rulers of Jerusalum. While Al-Adil was not opposed to the idea, many high ranking priests were horrified and said Richard would be excommunicated if he followed through with his plan.

Joan did remarry 6 years after the death of William, and she became the third wife of Raymond VI of Toulouse. They had 3 children together; Raymond, Joan and Richard. Joan died shortly after hearing about the death of her brother Richard, she knew she was dying and asked that the child she was carrying be named Richard after her brother. Sadly the child did not long outlive her and they were buried together. Joan is rare in that she was admitted to Fontevrault Abbey, and shrouded as a nun on her deathbed, highly unusually for a married and pregnant woman.

-Danielle Triggs
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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