Happy Birthday Queen Joan of Scotland

Joan of the Tower, the youngest daughter of Edward II of England and the wife of King David II of Scotland, is a sterling example of what history does with royal women who are never mothers and never scandalous.


Joan was born in the Tower of London on 5 July 1321 and she had one job; marry as part of a royal treaty. This she did at twelve days after her seventh birthday when she plighted her infant troth to the four year old son of Scotland’s king.

The marriage was part of a treaty during the decades-long battle by the English throne to subsume the Scots. It started in 1291 when the Guardians of Scotland asked Edward I of England, a trusted ally, to help them figure out which one of the 13 claimants to the Scottish crown was the man to be king. The Guardians were trying to avert a civil war between the two leading contenders, Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale and John Balliol, Lord of Galloway. A noble goal, but seeking help from Edward Longshanks was a cure worse then the disease.

Longshanks was a loving father and a devoted husband and a great king and an evil bastard to everyone else. He saw a chance to make Scotland into a vassal state and he wasn’t one to waste an opportunity.

Edward agreed to meet the guardians at Norham in 1291. Before the process got underway Edward insisted that he be recognised as Lord Paramount of Scotland. When they refused, he gave the claimants three weeks to agree to his terms, knowing that by then his armies would have arrived and the Scots would have no choice. Edward’s ploy worked, and the claimants to the crown were forced to acknowledge Edward as their Lord Paramount and accept his arbitration. Their decision was influenced in part by the fact that most of the claimants had large estates in England and, therefore, would have lost them if they had defied the English king … On 11 June, acting as the Lord Paramount of Scotland, Edward I ordered that every Scottish royal castle be placed temporarily under his control and every Scottish official resign his office and be re-appointed by him. Two days later, in Upsettlington, the Guardians of the Realm and the leading Scottish nobles gathered to swear allegiance to King Edward I as Lord Paramount. All Scots were also required to pay homage to Edward I, either in person or at one of the designated centres by 27 July 1291 … Balliol was named king by a majority on 17 November 1292 and on 30 November he was crowned King of Scots at Scone Abbey. On 26 December, at Newcastle upon Tyne, King John swore homage to Edward I for the Kingdom of Scotland

Unsurprisingly, King John went to the French for help and rebelled against his overlord. This lead to a massive war which the English won. By 1305 it seemed as though the Scots would suffer the same fate as the Welsh. However, in early 1306 Robert the Bruce, the grandson of the alternate Scots king Robert Bruce, 5th Earl of Annandale, rallied the people of Scotland to rebel once more. After some serious setbacks, Bruce’s forces began to win. The resistance was renewed in their determination when Edward Longshanks died on 7 July 1307 but it wasn’t until 1320 that the English, lead by King Edward II, signed the Declaration of Arbroath that acknowledged Scottish independence and recognized King Robert I of Scotland.

As part kiss-and-make-up phase of Anglo-Scots relations, it was agreed that Joan would marry Robert’s only son, David. The little boy became king earlier than anyone wanted after the death of his father on 7 June 1329, leaving a 5 year old child as King David II. The new king of England, Edward III, was every inch his grandfather’s get and attacked Scotland with the intent of subjugation. Edward III successfully drove his 10 year old brother-in-law and teenage younger sister out of Scotland in the spring of 1334. The young royals fled to France where they were sheltered by the queen’s cousin, King Philip VI. He was kind to them, and installed them in the Château Gaillard for their comfort.

Joan_of_the_Tower with David

The Scots, as usual, pulled it together under a competent military leader and drove out the English. David and Joan returned to their country in June 1341, celebrating their thirteenth wedding anniversary at their new court.

By now the seventeen year old king and his almost 20 year old bride had probably consummated their marriage and had started the royal business of making a royal heir. The couple were unable to conceive in the 5 years before David led a military assault on England in 1346, and after that foray the king was imprisoned in his wife’s birthplace, the Tower. For the next eleven years Joan’s big brother allowed her to visit her husband occasionally, but no pregnancy resulted.

David and Joan, although being together for almost 30 years, never developed a close relationship. When the king was ransomed and freed in 1537, Joan opted to remain in England and live with her mother, the queen dowager Isabella of France. After her mother’s death, Joan stayed in England where she was a king’s sister rather than returning to Scotland where she was a queen.

Joan died in 1362, while still on English soil. She was only 41. She was reportedly interred in Christ Church Greyfriars, London, but there is nothing left of her tomb. Joan, with neither offspring or scandal to keep her in the history books as anything other than a daughter or a sibling of famous men, has almost entirely faded from the public memory and popular culture. She was well-behaved, so she is forgotten.  

David remarried but remained childless, suggesting that he was the source of Joan’s infertility.

Rest in peace, Joan of the Tower.


2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Queen Joan of Scotland

  1. Fascinating stuff! It makes me realise how little Scots history I am unaware of other than the famous Mary Queen of Scots. Food for thought.

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