You rarely hear of a woman who was able to rule a kingdom in her own right during the high middle ages. Queen Matilda lost her crown in England, while Urraca of Leon’s ex-husband was occupying her lands. There was one woman who managed to keep control of her kingdom: Queen Joan I of Navarre.
Joan (Jeanne in French) was born on January 14th, 1273. She had an older brother, Theobald, who was about to marry the daughter of the King of Castille before he fell out of a window. He was only a toddler. But like, he literally fell out a window. This family is a truly crazy one.
And yes, this was the time when there were four Christian kingdoms in Spain (Castille, Leon, Aragon, and Navarre), and the Muslims to the south, as well as the small rising power we call Portugal. As there was no “Spain”, the proper term is “the Iberian Peninsula”, but I’ll just be calling it “Spain”.
Joan’s father, King Henry I of Navarre, was fat. Like, really fat. So fat that nickname was Henry the Fat. He succeeded his brother, King Theobald II, and became King of Navarre, and Count of Champagne and Brie. Not the cheese, but the cheese was named after the place. And, of course, Champagne and Brie are in present-day France, and Navarre was quite close to France.
Joan’s mother, Blanche of Artois, was the only daughter of the Count of Artois (in France, so Joan was very French). Now, let’s look at Joan’s father for a moment. As I mentioned, he was very fat. So fat that his fat suffocated him. His own fat killed him in 1274. You don’t want to end up like Henry the Fat, so why not stop eating that junk in your pantry?
In the one portrait I found of him, he looked fat, but not too fat. The portraits likely would’ve downplayed his fatness, so I think it’s safe to say that Henry deserved his moniker. Anyway, Joan’s father was dead, and so was her only brother, and Joan was her father’s only remaining legitimate child. This meant that Joan got to be Queen of Navarre. Amazing, right?
Well, no. Joan was one year old. Okay, you can’t expect Joan to be ruling or anything right now. She’s a year old. Her mother, Blanche of Artois (who was around twenty years old at this time) became her regent. A lot of women had been regents by that point, but barely any women had ever ruled in their own right, even though there was no law against it in Navarre. Of course, the neighboring kingdoms will sense weakness and attack.
There were two ways for the neighboring rulers to take control of Navarre: marry Joan and take over, or just conquer Navarre, because why do they need her? And there were quite a few people who’d always wanted Navarre and had been waiting for an opportunity as simply amazing as this one to go grab Navarre.
I mentioned that Joan’s brother, Theobald, was about to marry the King of Castille’s daughter before he fell out a window to his death. Well, that same King of Castille, Alfonso X, decided to attack Navarre. The King of Aragon, Peter III, was thinking about marrying Joan or one of her relatives. But even though the King of Aragon wanted to marry Joan or a relative (which is the grossest thing I’ve ever heard, because Joan is still about a year old), Navarre was still under attack. Maybe this all wouldn’t have happened if his future son-in-law hadn’t fallen out of a window.
Alfonso X of Aragon laid siege to Viana, an important city in Navarre. The inhabitants of the city didn’t surrender and were rewarded generously by Blanche of Artois. But Blanche knew that Navarre wasn’t safe and that it was the 1200s — a female ruler would be seen as nothing but weakness, a perfect time to invade. So she ran away to France, and baby Joan, obviously, went with Blanche. In fact, we don’t even know if Blanche spent any time in Navarre while she was a child.
Now, Blanche of Artois would need some alliances if she wanted to keep her daughter on the throne and herself as regent. So, she betrothed Joan to a couple of different old men. Joan wasn’t even two years old, but does that really matter? Blanche was just trying to keep her head. Since Joan and Blanche had fled to France, they were at the court of King Philip III. Philip was like, “hey Blanche! That’s a nice Navarre you’ve got there. Mind if we share?”
And that’s when Blanche had her “aha” moment. If she could just betroth Joan to Philip III’s eldest son, Louis, then all her problems would be solved, and she and her daughter would be safe. Philip III was pretty excited about this since Joan would probably rule jointly with his son, which meant — you guessed it — new territory for France! So Philip III agreed. That, of course, didn’t mean that one-year-old Joan and her new almost sorta probably maybe possibly definitely future husband were going to go live together and consummate their almost sorta probably maybe possibly definitely marriage. They were literally babies, even people in the 13th century weren’t that weird. Blanche and Philip III signed the Treaty of Orleans, and Joan was betrothed to Philip III’s eldest son, Louis.
And what did this mean? This meant that Philip, Joan’s almost sorta probably maybe possibly definitely future father-in-law was now Joan’s regent. What else did this mean? Blanche was free to remarry. If Blanche had remarried while still Joan’s regent, there was a chance that her new husband would take over as regent. So who was Blanche’s lucky new groom? A brother of Edward I of England, Edmund Crouchback (because yes, there were two brothers named Edmund and Edward — apparently this is an acceptable arrangement).
Meanwhile, Joan’s almost sorta probably maybe possibly definitely future husband, Louis, dies. Louis’s father, Philip III is like, “Oh no, my son is dead. Check the nursery to see if there’s any more.” And just like that, Joan was now betrothed to Philip III’s next son, also named Philip (because that’s totally not confusing at all).
But plot twist: this time, Joan actually marries the younger Philip! And then, Philip III drops dead, so we don’t have to be confused anymore! So now, Joan is Queen-Regnant of Navarre, Countess-Regnant of Champagne, and Queen of France. That’s too many titles.
Anyway, Joan’s not one year old anymore, she’s eleven. Her marriage to Philip IV wouldn’t be consummated for a few years, because no, but we know it was consummated fairly quickly, because their first child was born in 1288 when Joan was about fourteen. The baby was a daughter, Margaret, who died a few years later.
So, what did Joan look like? According to Wikipedia, she was “plump and plain”, and her husband, Philip IV, was known as Philip the Handsome. But that didn’t really matter to Philip, because Joan had become Queen of Navarre at a very young age, so she had been educated well for the role. Joan may not have been super pretty, but she was captivating. She and Philip were very close since they’d pretty much grown up together. And that meant — and this is something literally nobody could’ve guessed — Joan had a happy marriage.
Joan gave birth to seven total children: Margaret, her first child, who died in childhood; Louis, the future king of France and Navarre; Blanche, who died in childhood; Philip, the future king of France and Navarre, because yes, Louis died; Charles, the future king of France and Navarre, because yes, Philip died; Isabella, the She-Wolf of France, who became Queen of England and overthrew her husband, Edward II; and Robert, who died in childhood.
Philip did really like Joan, who started getting involved in politics more. He even gave Joan the position of regent for their son if he died while their son was still a minor.
Joan, Queen of Navarre, never went back to Navarre, and never did much ruling from France. It was sort of like the French were occupying Navarre, and that Joan was just letting them. Still, though, Joan was very popular in Navarre, and everyone blamed Philip for not letting Joan come to Navarre and rule. Joan’s father-in-law had sent governors to rule for her, and after his death, they were sent by Philip, and everyone just had to assume that Joan was fine with other people ruling her country. Joan never visited Navarre.
As Countess of Champagne, though, Joan was much more involved in governing the county. She visited it often, unlike with Navarre. Joan’s husband pretty much left her alone when it came to Champagne. This guy named Count Henry III of Bar decided to sorta invade Champagne, and even though Philip didn’t do anything, Joan raised an army against him. She’s literally amazing. It’s no doubt that she was a very popular ruler.
There was another guy who was making Joan angry, which by now we should know is a bad decision. This guy was the Bishop of Troyes, who was allegedly stealing funds from Champagne. Just before her death, Joan founded the College of Navarre and then died. We don’t know exactly how Joan died. She had been ill for a while before she died, and allegedly, she died in childbirth, on April 2nd, 1305. She was just thirty-two. She only allegedly died in childbirth, though, and people suspected that the Bishop of Troyes, the one who was stealing funds, had killed her with witchcraft.
Philip outlived Joan by nine years and never remarried. He died in 1314, leaving the throne to their eldest son — who was already king of Navarre — Louis X. Navarre would be ruled by Louis until his death, after which his daughter, Joan II, inherited the throne of only Navarre, as she, a woman, couldn’t inherit the throne of France. Joan II’s descendants were the House of Bourbon, which ended up becoming France’s ruling house nearly 300 years after Joan’s death.