In the midst of the spooky season, we’re reminded of a former Castle resident, Joan of Navarre, the only English queen to be accused of witchcraft. Read on to find out more…

Who was Joan of Navarre?

Joan was born in Normandy in 1368, the daughter of Charles the Bad, King of Navarre. The king was known for his deviousness and scheming, and this led to the regents of France holding Joan and her brothers hostage in an attempt to improve the King’s behaviour. The King, keen for his children’s return, tried to poison the regents, which increased hostile feelings toward him. This experience is all the more strange considering the regents were children’s uncles.

What became of Charles the Bad?

Aged 54, and in declining health, a physician prescribed the king be ‘wrapped up from head to foot, in a linen cloth impregnated with brandy, so that he might be inclosed in it to the very neck as in a sack.’ [1] This treatment sounds terrible enough, however, one of the women attending to the king accidentally ignited the alcohol-soaked monarch, who ‘fearfully burnt, but lingered nearly a fortnight, in the most terrible agonies.’[2] Of course, some considered this awful end divine retribution.

Queen Joan

Joan married the middle aged, and already twice wed, Duke John at Saille, and had seven children. When the Duke died in 1399, Joan governed Brittany until her son was old enough to take up his position – at this point, Joan was still only 33. After negotiations, and an offer of marriage, Joan and King Henry of England married. Joan was independently wealthy now from her first marriage, and left her children to marry a second time, so it suggests she was happy with this union. Life was not easy for her as a foreigner in the court, particularly as there were demands to remove foreigners from the household, and this included her daughters.

Joan as Queen Mother…and witch?

King Henry died of leprosy in 1413 and as dowager queen, Joan was a prominent figure and devoted to her duties. Her stepson Henry V’s finances had been severely depleted through his military campaigns in France. Meanwhile, Joan was immensely wealthy, and this inspired Henry to demand his stepmother’s arrest for witchcraft in 1419. The parliamentary record states that Friar Randolph, Joan’s confessor claimed she was guilty of ‘compassing the death and destruction of our lord the king in the most treasonable and horrible manner that could be devised’.[3] Two domestic sorcerers were also accused of helping Joan conjure the powers of darkness and cause Henry’s death, although there was no evidence! No other queen in England had ever been accused of such a crime.

Joan was ‘imprisoned’ for three years at Pevensey Castle and Leeds Castle, albeit in luxury, and Henry took control of her wealth and valuable properties.

After Henry died in 1422, and Joan was pardoned, she lived in Nottingham Castle until 1437. The four windmills at Brewhouse Yard, Sparrow, Donne, Dosse and Gloff were named by her.

Source material
Witchcraft, Joan of Navarre; Why Joan of Navarre wasn’t such an Invisible Queen, Sunday Post; Necromancy and Witchcraft – or Theft?, University of Oxford; Charles II, King of Navarre, Britannica;

[1] Francis William Blagdon, Paris as it was and as it is, 1803, C and R Baldwin.
[2] John Cassell, Illustrated History of England, 1857, W Kent and Company
[3] Necromancy and Witchcraft – or Theft?, Dr Rowena Archer, University of Oxford.