Joan, Lady of Wales

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Lady of Wales
Detail of Joan's sarcophagus in St Mary's and St Nicholas's Church, Beaumaris
Bornc. 1191
Died2 February 1237 (aged 45–46)
SpouseLlywelyn the Great
IssueDafydd ap Llywelyn
Gwladus Ddu
Elen ferch Llywelyn
Susanna ferch Llywelyn
Marared ferch Llywelyn
Elen the Younger ferch Llywelyn
FatherJohn of England

Joan, Lady of Wales and Lady of Snowdon, also known by her Welsh name often written as Siwan (said, approximately /sɪuːan/) (c. 1191/92 – February 1237) was the illegitimate daughter of King John of England, and was the wife of Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales (initially King of Gwynedd), effective ruler of all of Wales.[1] Joan or Siwan in Welsh has been referred to as both "Lady of Wales"[2] and "Princess of Wales".[3]

Early life[edit]

Joan should not be confused with her half-sister, Joan, Queen consort of Scotland.

Little is known about her early life. Her mother's name is known only from Joan's obituary in the Tewkesbury Annals, where she is called "Regina Clementina" (Queen Clemence); there is no evidence that her mother was in fact of royal blood.[4] Joan may have been born in France, and probably spent part of her childhood there, as King John had her brought to the Kingdom of England from Normandy in December 1203, in preparation for a marriage alliance to Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth.

Thomas Pennant, in "Tours in Wales", Volume 2, published London, 1810, writes : "It is said that Llewelyn the Great had near this place [Trefriw] a palace; ... The church of Trefriw was originally built by Llewelyn, for the ease of his princess, who before was obliged to go on foot to Llanrhychwyn, a long walk among the mountains."


Joan was betrothed to Llywelyn the Great in 1204, and the marriage is thought to have taken place in 1205, although some of the annals of the abbey of St Werburgh in Chester say that it occurred in 1204.[5] She and Llywelyn had at least four children together:

Some of Llywelyn's other recorded children may also have been Joan's:

Joan often mediated between her husband and her father. According to Brut y Tywysogion (The chronicle of the princes), when John was successfully campaigning in North Wales, "Llywelyn, being unable to suffer the king's rage, sent his wife, the king's daughter, to him, by the counsel of his leading men, to seek to make peace with the king on whatever terms he could."[1]

In April 1226 Joan obtained a papal decree from Pope Honorius III, declaring her legitimate on the basis that her parents had not been married to others at the time of her birth, but without giving her a claim to the English throne.


At Easter 1230, William de Braose, who was Llywelyn's prisoner at the time, was discovered with Joan in Llywelyn's bedchamber. William de Braose was hanged on 2 May 1230, according to local folklore at Abergwyngregyn; the place was known as Gwern y Grog. A letter from Nicholas, Abbot of Vaudy, suggests that the execution took place at Crogen near Bala (crogi means to hang).[6]

Joan was placed under house arrest for twelve months after the incident. She was then, according to the Chronicle of Chester, forgiven by Llywelyn and restored to favour. She may have given birth to a daughter early in 1231.

Joan or Siwan in Welsh has been referred to as both "Lady of Wales"[2] and "Princess of Wales".[3]

Death and burial[edit]

Joan died at the royal home at Abergwyngregyn, on the north coast of Gwynedd, in 1237. Llywelyn's great grief at her death is recorded; he founded a Franciscan friary in her honour on the seashore at Llanfaes, opposite the royal residence. This was consecrated in 1240, shortly before Llywelyn died. It was destroyed in 1537 by Henry VIII of England during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A stone coffin originally identified as Joan's can be seen in St Mary's and St Nicholas's parish church, Beaumaris, Anglesey. Above the empty coffin is a slate panel inscribed:

"This plain sarcophagus, (once dignified as having contained the remains of Joan, daughter of King John, and consort of Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of North Wales, who died in the year 1237), having been conveyed from the Friary of Llanfaes, and alas, used for many years as a horsewatering trough, was rescued from such an indignity and placed here for preservation as well as to excite serious meditation on the transitory nature of all sublunary distinctions. By Thomas James Warren Bulkeley, Viscount Bulkeley, Oct 1808"

The slate panel at Beaumaris

In recent years doubt has been cast on the identity of the woman shown on the coffin lid, which is not thought to belong to the coffin on which it rests. Experts have suggested the costume and style of carving belong to a much later decade than the 1230s when Joan died, although the coronet would indicate a member of the royal family. Eleanor de Montfort is thought the likeliest alternative.[7]

In literature[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kate Norgate and A. D. Carr: "Joan [Siwan]", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004), Retrieved 2 February 2019.
  2. ^ a b Messer, Danna R. (30 September 2020). Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John's Daughter. Pen and Sword History. p. 172. ISBN 978-1-5267-2932-3.
  3. ^ a b Sims-Williams, Patrick (25 November 2010). Irish Influence on Medieval Welsh Literature. OUP Oxford. p. 297. ISBN 978-0-19-159159-4.
  4. ^ Danna R. Messer. "Joan (Siwan) (died 1237), princess and diplomat". Dictionary of Welsh Biography. National Library of Wales. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  5. ^ Michael Prestwich; R. H. Britnell; Robin Frame (2005). Thirteenth Century England X: Proceedings of the Durham Conference 2003. Boydell Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-84383-122-8.
  6. ^ The Acts of Welsh Rulers: 1120–1283, ed. Huw Pryce. University of Wales Press, 2005. ISBN 9780708323830. p. 429. Accessed 6 October 2015.
  7. ^ Madeleine Gray (2014). "Four weddings, three funerals and a historic detective puzzle: a cautionary tale" (PDF). Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  8. ^ "Carla Nayland Book Review – The Green Branch by Edith Pargeter".
  9. ^ Penman, Sharon Kay (1985). Here Be Dragons. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. ISBN 9780030627736.


  • Lee, Sidney, ed. (1892). "Joan (d.1237)" . Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 29. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  • Rotuli Litterarum Clausarum in Turri Londinensi I, p. 12.
  • Henry Luard. Annales Monastici 1, 1864
  • Tewkesbury Annals
  • Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists Who Came to America Before 1700; by Frederick Lewis Weis, Lines: 27–27, 29A–28, 29A–29, 176B–27, 254–28, 254–29