The Wedding of King Henry IV and Joan of Navarre

Mary de Bohun, Countess of Derby and wife of Henry, Earl of Derby, died in the summer of 1394. In the interim, Henry usurped the throne from his cousin, King Richard II and became the first Lancastrian King, Henry IV. After some time, a marriage was contemplated between Henry IV and Joan of Navarre, Dowager Duchess of Brittany. The couple had met each other on at least one occasion and it is unknown who first brought up the idea of a marriage. The union has all the appearances of a love match.

Henry and Joan were married by proxy at Eltham Palace on April 2, 1402, shortly after Joan received the papal bull allowing a dispensation for being related within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity. It was not until December 26 that Joan departed Nantes, accompanied by her two younger daughters Blanche and Margaret, heading for the coast where she boarded ship on January 13, 1403. The winter seas made the voyage very rough and they were forced to land a Falmouth six days later.

Henry, in Surrey at the time, headed west as soon as he heard Joan had arrived. Joan slowly made her way from Falmouth to Bodmin and then Okehampton which was twenty-two miles from Exeter. With Joan coming from the west and Henry coming from the east, they eventually met near Exeter where they were entertained by the city with celebrations on January 30. From Exeter, they traveled to Winchester via Bridgeport and Salisbury.

The bishop of Winchester, William Wykeham, was very ill (he would die the following year) and therefore unable to preside over the wedding. Because Wykeham was the primary prelate who had lent him money, Henry may have chosen Winchester Cathedral for the ceremony as a special favor to the bishop. In Wykeham’s stead, Henry’s half-brother, Henry Beaufort, presided over the wedding. The nave of the cathedral had recently been rebuilt and looked splendid. Attending the wedding were Henry’s sons by Mary de Bohun, John and Humphrey, along with many of the English nobility.

Following the ceremony, there was a magnificent feast, costing over five hundred and twenty-two pounds and for which the menu survives. They ate roast cygnets, ‘capons of high grease’, venison, griskins (pork chop), rabbits, bitterns (small herons), stuffed pullets, partridges, kid (young goat), woodcock, plover, quails, snipe (a type of long-billed marsh bird), fieldfares (thrush), cream of almonds, pears in syrup, custards, pancakes, fritters and subtleties decorated with crowns and eagles. Other dishes included jelly, fried sweet cottage cheese, crustaceans, sturgeon, roasted salmon, pike, crab, lampreys, trout, eels and perch. The pièce de résistance was a cake shaped like crowned panthers, with each panther having flames issuing from his mouth and ears.

Henry’s wedding gift to his new wife was a dazzling jeweled collar costing three hundred and eighty-five pounds. The motto of the jewel was ‘Soveignez’ (French for remember) and it had ten amulets garnished with nine pearls, twelve diamonds, eight rubies, and eight sapphires. The large clasp was shaped as a triangle with a great ruby garnished with four pearls. This appears to be the same collar Joan is pictured wearing in her tomb effigy.

After the wedding, the entire party returned to London where they were received by the citizens on Blackheath. They processed into the city, through Cheapside and finally to Westminster. Joan was crowned on February 26 and there were more feasts and jousting. Following all the festivities, Henry took Joan to his favorite palace of Eltham. After touring Kent, they returned to Eltham for Easter. Henry had been fortunate enough to find a companionable and evenly matched spouse following the death of his first wife Mary nine years before.

Further reading: “The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England’s Self-Made King” by Ian Mortimer, entry on Joan [Joan of Navarre] in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by Michael Jones, “Royal Witches: From Joan of Navarre to Elizabeth Woodville” by Gemma Hollman