Anne O Brien

Was Joanna of Navarre a Witch?

Posted on October 22, 2015

The Halloween Giveaway of two signed copies of The King's Sister is now closed. 

Thank you to all who visited this page and took part.


Was Joanna of Navarre a Witch? 


To mark the occasion of my soon to be published novel of the dramatic life of

Joanna of Navarre 

The Queen's Choice.

I am offering an international giveaway.

Two signed copies of The King's Sister to be won.

Enjoy my blog and follow the directions to enter. 

Was Joanna of Navarre, Dowager Queen of England, guilty of necromancy?


So Halloween is approaching and thoughts turn to witchcraft with bats and black cats and things that go bump in the night.  All light-hearted stuff and to be enjoyed. 

For Joanna of Navarre, her experience of witchcraft was anything but enjoyable. 

This is the marble image of Joanna and Henry from their tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.

In 1419 Joanna of Navarre, now widow of King Henry IV of England, was accused of necromancy: 'of compassing the destruction of our lord the king in the most treasonable and horrible manner that could be devised.'  In fact, that by sorcery and necromancy, she had attempted to destroy King Henry V. 

Such an accusation must have been quite unexpected for Joanna. After Henry IV's death in 1413 Joanna had chosen to remain in England, closely in touch with her family-by-marriage.   She continued to live in her various dower properties which would remain hers until her eventual death.  Relations between her and Henry's children and siblings were excellent, particularly it seemed with the new King Henry V, her step-son.  Joanna was given an honoured place at Court, with a role as Queen Dowager in all ceremonial events and particularly the rejoicing after the victory of Agincourt in 1415. 

And yet she was accused, in 1419, of necromancy and treason against the king. 

The accuser was her father confessor, John Randolf, a Franciscan friar, and two others of her household, Roger Colles and Peronell Brocart.  Father Randolf was said to be the one who had lured the Queen Dowager into witchcraft. 

A metal cast of Joanna made from the effigy on her tomb.  It is the only contemporary image of her that we have.  It was made under her direction so perhaps there is some authenticity to how she actually looked.

As a result, on the instructions of the Royal Council, Joanna was arrested from her manor at Havering atte Bower in Essex and taken under guard to the royal manor at Rotherhythe in Surrey. 

For the next three years Joanna was kept prisoner at Rotherhythe, at Pevensey Castle and latterly at her own previous dower property of Leeds Castle.  Her possessions were confiscated, her dower lands and income appropriated and the servants of her household dismissed.  She was placed under the guardianship of Sir John Pelham, owner of Pevensey Castle.  Joanna would have waited for her trial with severe trepidation.  The penalty for witchcraft could be dire, and against a king it would be treason.  The outcome, if she was found guilty, might well have been death by burning. 


This is the remains of Pevensey Castle where Joanna was imprisoned for a short time.

It was used as evidence against her that her father, King Charles 'the Bad' of Navarre, had a reputation that included the use of necromancy amongst a range of sins from poison to murder.  Like father, like daughter. 

But was Joanna guilty of this heinous crime?  It has to be said that the treatment of the Dowager Queen during these three years of captivity was unusual, with much evidence to suggest that she was not to any degree guilty. 

- No evidence was ever produced of what Joanna's crime actually entailed.  How did she intend to kill the king?  Was it poison?  Was it a bewitchment?  No detail of the methods used was ever made plain.  

- Joanna was never put on trial where the evidence would have to be produced and weighed against her.  In a crime such as treason, would a trial not have been immediate?  Surely her guilt would have been displayed for all to see, and her punishment be such as to deter others from attempting a similar attack against the King. 

- Her confinement, although she was not free to travel, was not a hardship in itself.  Joanna  was given a substantial allowance, a household her own with a considerable array of servants and her own treasurer, a clerk called Thomas Lilbourne, who spent the money in her allowance as she directed and for her own comfort.  She purchased clothing, food and wine, silver cups, medicinal items, as well as a popinjay. A household of servants was restored to her.  She was allowed to ride out in the close vicinity on Sir John Pelham's horses.  Is this the punishment meted out to one involved with witchcraft or treachery? 


 A very romantic view of Leeds Castle where Joanna spent most of her captivity.

- Joanna was allowed visitors.  It is on record that Bishop Henry of Winchester and Humphrey of Gloucester, uncle and brother of Henry V, both came to Leeds Castle on more than one occasion to dine with her.  The Archbishop of Canterbury was also a visitor.  There was no suggestion of solitary confinement. 

- Joanna's confessor John Randolf was never put on trial.  Nor was he punished for his role in the necromancy.  He died in 1429 in a prison brawl, it is said with a mad priest. 

- Lord Thomas de Camoys, a loyal and lifelong friend of both Henry IV and Joanna, moved into Leeds castle to live with her and keep her company for nine months before his death in 1421.  Again there was no restriction on the company she kept. 

- Joanna was finally released on the orders of Henry V in the weeks before his death, when he knew that he was dying, in August 1422.  Her dowry and possessions were restored to  her.  Henry's words are interesting:

'We, doubting lest it should be a charge unto our conscience for to occupy for longer the said Dowager in this wise, the which charge we be avised no longer to be on our conscience...'

And so Joanna, without fuss, was released.  Henry personally ordered the horses and litter for her use. 

Portrait of King Henry V

- Joanna lived out her life in England, mostly at Havering atte Bower, until her death in July 1437 at the age of 69 years.  She visited court and was well liked by the young king Henry VI who presented her with gifts.  One was a tablet of gold decorated with rubies, pearls and a great sapphire, suggesting that she was well loved. 

So was Joanna guilty of necromancy?  All the evidence would seem to suggest that she was not.

So if not, who perpetrated the act against her?

To say more here would let this most interesting black cat out of its medieval bag.

But to discover more is a simple matter.

All will be revealed in January 2016 when Joanna's life will be made fascinatingly plain in

The Queen's Choice. 

Not to be missed.


To win a signed copy of The King's Sister simply click on the right below on

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Good luck to all lovers of historical fiction!





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Is this the real Joanna of Navarre?

Posted on June 5, 2015

Historical Paintings: fact or fiction.

Is this the real Joanna of Navarre?

Historical paintings:  Authenticity v. Drama


This is a painting of Duke Arthur III of Brittany, painted by the French artist Henriette Lorimier and exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1806 when Romanticism was the order of the day.


It is of interest to me because it is one of the few representations we have of Joanna of Navarre, second wife of King Henry IV of England.  It shows her, beside the tomb of her late husband Duke John V of Brittany, in the role of caring mother, instructing her young son in the need for piety, in the importance of family history, and in his duty to the role of Duke which he would inherit from his dead father, John de Montfort.  Joanna is dark-haired, attractive, every inch a Navarrese and Valois princess. 

I would like to think this would be a valuable image for me in bringing Joanna to life when writing about her.  But how accurate a representation is it?  There is much to intrigue the historian in this painting, and the choice that Henriette Lorimier made when deciding to portray Arthur as the young Duke. 

In colouring and appearance of Joanna, we have no historical idea.  It is not on record.  We have no contemporary portraits of her.  If she is seen kneeling at her husband's impressive tomb, it would have been after 1409, when Joanna had personally had the alabaster image sculpted in England and sent to Nantes Cathedral.  She would have been at least 40 years old.  Arthur by this time would have been 16.  Yet both mother and son look younger than this - clearly to maintain the romantic image of the young and beautiful widow and the young child with all the duty on his shoulders.  As Queen of England, Joanna never returned to Brittany to see the tomb completed, as far as the records show. 


It could be argued of course that this image was from the date of Duke John's death in November 1399, in which case Joanna was only thirty one, and Arthur was six years old, which makes the image more realistic, but still does not explain the magnificent tomb beside which she is kneeling. 

Another interesting point: Arthur was not the heir to the Dukedom when John de Montfort died.  Why chose to paint this child, receiving his mother's encouragement and instruction?  The heir was another John, the eldest son, who became John VI on the death of his father in 1399.  So why paint Arthur? 

The choice of costume is also highly romantic.  Joanna is wearing a fur trimmed cote-hardie, which by 1409 would have been regarded as not the height of fashion by members of the Court.  Joanna, who was known to spend extravagantly on clothes, would have worn a houppelande with its high neckline and heavy folds, and her hair would certainly have been covered by a veil if not one of the rolled chaplets or a caul.  Arthur appears to be wearing something  romantically childlike for 1409.  I expect that the artist thought that a romantic, easily recognisable 'medieval' image was more important than authenticity.

 And finally, to return to why Henriette chose to paint Arthur.  He actually became Duke of Brittany but not until 1457 in the final year of his life, taking the title after his nephew Peter who died childless.  Thus Arthur was 64 years old when he became Duke.  I would suggest that he was chosen for the subject of this highly romantic picture because of the role he played in French history, where he gained something of a reputation as Constable of France, particularly fighting alongside Joan of Arc.  Arthur also played a major role in bringing peace between France and Burgundy at the Treaty of Arras.  This alliance led ultimately to the defeat of English pretensions to the French crown.  Duke Arthur commanded the French army in the Battle of Formigny in 1450 which resulted in the conquest of Normandy.  Thus Arthur was a heroic figure in French military history.  I can only presume that this was the reason for the painting in the nationalistic years of Napoleonic France.


What a splendidly sentimental portrait this is.  Do the historical inaccuracies matter? 

 I would suggest that accuracy has no bearing on the subject, and so we must be prepared to accept dramatic license.  It was not painted to make a genuine historical comment but to heighten the emotion of the relationship between the young widowed duchess and her little son, to tug at the heart-strings of the onlooker.  It makes her an appealing figure, which is what was intended.  As long as we know the intentions of the artist, then we are able to appreciate the worth of this romantic painting.

 As an interesting post script; this painting gained an immense success when it was exhibited in 1806. Empress Joséphine immediately purchased it for her paintings gallery at the Malmaison. 

Please feel free to leave a comment.  Click on 'Click here to read comments.' I always enjoy hearing from readers.


Categories: All Things Romantic, The Queen's Choice, Women in History,

Celebratory Giveaway

Posted on February 25, 2015

To mark the release of The King's Sister in paperback in the UK and Australia.

My Celebratory Giveaway

To mark the exciting release of The King's Sister in paperback in the UK and Australia on 26th February 2015.

Is Now Closed.

Thank you to all who dropped by.

I will post the two winners on Facebook.



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Reviews for The King's Sister

' -it's a tale of scandal and its effects, of loyalty worth dying for and it's all put together in a beautiful, seamless and completely readable fashion.' Gizzimomos Bookshelf

'It’s a brilliantly researched and well-told story; you won’t be able to put this book down.' Candis

' - a fast paced historical drama that is full of suspense.'  Essentials Magazine

'Anne O'Brien evokes the spirit of the age in full colour with all the detail and drama needed to fully engage the reader. Her characters are well developed and appealingly real, their choices are not clear-cut and the consequences are devastating adding up to an exciting and intriguing story of love and historical politics.'
We Love This Book
'... packed with love, loss and intrigue ...'  S Magazine
'... moving account of tangled loyalties and impossible choices.'  Historical Novel Society
'... epic historical adventure ...'  Heat

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