Joan Beaufort

Raby Castle, County Durham, home of the Duke of Cleveland, c1880.
Print Collector/Getty Images / Getty Images


Joan Beaufort was one of four children born to Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt's mistress at the time. Joan's maternal aunt Philippa Roet was married to Geoffrey Chaucer.

Joan and her three older brothers were acknowledged as their father's children even before her parents married in 1396. In 1390, Richard II, her cousin, declared Joan and her brothers legitimate. In the decade that followed, records show that her half-brother, Henry, gave gifts to her, acknowledging their relationship.

Joan had been betrothed to Sir Robert Ferrers, an heir to Shropshire estates, in 1386, and the marriage took place in 1392. They had two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, probably born in 1393 and 1394. Ferrers died in 1395 or 1396, but Joan was not able to gain control of the Ferrers estates, which Elizabeth Boteler, Robert Ferrers' mother, controlled.

In 1396, after her parents married, a papal bull was obtained legitimizing the four Beaufort children including Joan, the youngest. The next year, a royal charter was presented to Parliament which then confirmed the legitimization. Henry IV, the half-brother to the Beauforts, later amended the legitimization act without the approval of parliament, to state that the Beaufort line was ineligible to inherit the crown of England.

On February 3, 1397 (old-style 1396), Joan married the recently-widowed Ralph Neville, then Baron Raby. The papal bull of legitimization probably arrived in England shortly after the marriage, and the act of parliament followed. The year after their marriage, Neville became the Earl of Westmorland.

Ralph Neville was among those who helped Henry IV depose Richard II (Joan's cousin) in 1399. Joan's influence with Henry is attested to by some appeals for support by others addressed to Joan.

Joan had fourteen children by Neville, many of whom were important in the years ahead. Joan's daughter Mary from her first marriage married the junior Ralph Neville, her husband's second son from his first marriage.

Joan was apparently educated, as history records her being in possession of a number of books. She also had a visit in about 1413 from the mystic Margery Kempe, who later was accused of meddling in the marriage of one of Joan's daughters.

In 1424, Joan's daughter Cecily was married to Richard, Duke of York, a ward of Joan's husband. When Ralph Neville died in 1425, Joan was made Richard's guardian until he attained his majority.

After her husband's 1425 death, his title passed to his grandson, yet another Ralph Neville, son of his eldest son by his first marriage, John Neville who had married Elizabeth Holland. But the elder Ralph Neville had ensured by his later will that most of his estates passed to his children by Joan, with a good part of the estate in her hands. Joan and her children fought legal battles over may years with that grandson over the estate. Joan's eldest son by Ralph Neville, Richard, inherited most of the estates.

Another son, Robert Neville (1404 - 1457), with the influence of Joan and her brother Cardinal Henry Beaufort, gained important appointments in the church, becoming bishop of Salisbury and Bishop of Durham. His influence was important in the battles over inheritance between Joan's Neville children and her husband's first family.

In 1437, Henry VI (grandson of Joan's half-brother Henry IV) granted Joan's petition to establish a daily celebration of mass at her mother's tomb at Lincoln Cathedral.

When Joan died in 1440, she was buried next to her mother, and her will also specified that the tomb is enclosed. The tomb of her second husband, Ralph Neville, includes the effigies of both of his wives lying beside his own effigy, though neither of these wives is buried with him. The tombs of Joan and her mother were seriously damaged in 1644 during the English Civil War.


Joan's daughter Cecily was married to Richard, Duke of York, who contended with Henry VI for the crown of England. After Richard was killed in battle, Cecily's son, Edward IV, became king. Another of her sons, Richard of Gloucester, later became king as Richard III.

Joan's grandson Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, was a central figure in the Wars of the Roses. He was known as the Kingmaker for his role in supporting Edward IV in winning the throne from Henry VI; he later switched sides and supported Henry VI in winning (briefly) the crown back from Edward.

Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth of York married Henry VII Tudor, making Joan Beaufort the 2 times great grandmother of Henry VIII. Henry VIII's last wife, Catherine Parr, was a descendant of Joan's son Richard Neville.

Joan's eldest daughter, Katherine Neville, was known for being married four times and surviving all four husbands. She survived even the last, in what was called at the time the "diabolical marriage" to John Woodville, a brother of Edward IV's wife Elizabeth Woodville, who was 19 years old when he married the wealthy widow Katherine who was then 65.

Background, Family

  • Mother: Katherine Swynford, mistress of John of Gaunt at the time of Joan's birth, and later his wife and Duchess of Lancaster
  • Father: John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III of England and his wife, Philippa of Hainault
  • Siblings:
    • John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset. His son John was the father of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, the first Tudor king
    • Cardinal Henry Beaufort
    • Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter
  • Half-siblings, by her father's earlier marriages:
    • Philippa of Lancaster, Queen of Portugal
    • Elizabeth of Lancaster, Duchess of Exeter
    • Henry IV of England
    • Catherine of Lancaster, Queen of Castile

Marriage, Children

  1. Husband: Robert Ferrers, 5th Baron Boteler of Wem, married 1392
    1. Children:
      1. Elizabeth Ferrers (married John de Greystoke, 4th baron Greystoke)
      2. Mary Ferrers (married Ralph Neville, her stepbrother, son of Ralph Neville and his first wife Margaret Stafford)
  2. Husband: Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, married February 3, 1396/97
    1. Children:
      1. Katherine Neville (married (1) John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk; (2) Sir Thomas Strangways, (3) John Beaumont, 1st Viscount Beaumont; (4) Sir John Woodville, a brother of Elizabeth Woodville)
      2. Eleanor Neville (married (1) Richard Le Despenser, 4th Baron Burghersh; (2) Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland)
      3. Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury (married Alice Montacute, Countess of Salisbury; among his sons was Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, "the Kingmaker," father of Anne Neville, Queen of England, and Isabel Neville)
      4. Robert Neville, Bishop of Durham
      5. William Neville, 1st Earl of Kent
      6. Cecily Neville (married Richard, 3rd Duke of York: their children included Edward IV, father of Elizabeth of York; Richard III who married Anne Neville; George, Duke of Clarence, who married Isabel Neville)
      7. George Neville, 1st Baron Latimer
      8. Joan Neville, a nun
      9. John Neville (died in childhood)
      10. Cuthbert Neville (died in childhood)
      11. Thomas Neville (died in childhood)
      12. Henry Neville (died in childhood)
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Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Joan Beaufort." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Joan Beaufort. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Joan Beaufort." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).