James I and Joan Beaufort: A Royal Love Story

James I

The story of King James I of Scotland and his queen, Joan Beaufort, is one of those rarities in Medieval history; a true love story. He was a King in captivity and she a beautiful young lady of the court.

Following the murder of his brother, David, Duke of Rothesay, James was the only surviving son of Robert III of Scotland. He had been on his way to France, for his safety and to continue his education, when his ship was captured by pirates in April 1406. Aged only 11, he was handed over to the English king, Henry IV, and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Shortly after his capture, James’s father died and he was proclaimed King of Scots, but the English would not release him.

James was closely guarded and regularly moved around, but he was also well-educated while in the custody of the English king and was an accomplished musician and poet. He was held at various castles, including the Tower, Nottingham Castle – where he was allowed to go hunting – and Windsor Castle.

Probably born in the early 1400s, Lady Joan Beaufort was the daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and legitimated son of John of Gaunt (himself the 3rd son of Edward III) by his mistress and, later, wife Kathryn Swynford. Joan’s mother was Margaret Holland, granddaughter of Joan of Kent (wife of Edward the Black Prince) from her marriage to Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent.

Joan Beaufort was very well-connected; she was a niece of Henry IV, great-niece of Richard II and  great grand-daughter of Edward III. Her uncle, Henry Beaufort, was a cardinal and Chancellor of England.

Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scotland

Little seems to be known of her early life, but she was at court in the early 1420s, when James first set eyes on her. James wrote of his love for Joan in his famous poem, The Kingis Quair. According to Nigel Tranter, James was with the court at Windsor, when he saw Joan for the first time while walking her little lap-dog in the garden, below his window.

His narrow window afforded him only a limited view, but the Lady Joan walked the same route every morning and James wrote of her;

“Beauty, fair enough to make the world to dote, Are ye a worldy creature? Or heavenly thing in likeness of nature? Or are ye Cupid’s own priestess, come here, To loose me out of bonds”

One morning James managed to drop a plucked rose down to Lady Joan, which he saw her wearing the following evening at dinner. Nigel Tranter suggests Lady Joan grieved over James’s imprisonment and even pleaded for him to be released.

Their romance grew apace, but was interrupted when James had to accompany Henry V on his French campaign. Henry was hoping that James’s presence would make the Scots, fighting with the French, think twice about engaging with him. However, the strategy had little effect.

Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany

James’s imprisonment lasted for 18 years. His uncle Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and Guardian of Scotland in James’s absence, refused to ransom him, in the hope of gaining the throne for himself. He never quite garnered enough support, but managed to keep the Scottish nobles in check.

However, when he died in 1420 control passed to his son Murdoch (who had also been imprisoned by the English for 12 years, but was ransomed – instead of James – in 1414) and Scotland fell into a state of virtual anarchy.

Henry V had finally decided that it was time for James to return to Scotland when he died. It was left to Henry’s brother, John, Duke of Bedford, as Regent for the infant Henry VI, to agree the terms of James’s freedom. James was charged 60,000 marks in ransom – to cover the costs for his upkeep and education for 18 years, it was claimed. The agreement included a promise for the Scots to keep out of England’s wars with France, and for James to marry the Lady Joan Beaufort.

James and Joan were married at the Church of St Mary Overie, Southwark, on 2nd February 1424. James was released on the 28th March and the couple returned to Scotland shortly after. They were crowned at Scone by Henry de Warlaw, Bishop of St Andrews, on 21st May 1424.

James and Joan had 8 children together, 7 of whom survived childhood. Their 6 daughters helped to strengthen alliances across Europe. The oldest, Margaret, was born around Christmas 1424. At the age of 11 she was sent to France to marry the Dauphin, Louis – the future Louis XI – narrowly escaping her father’s fate when the English fleet tried to capture her en route. She died in 1445, leaving no children.

Isabella of Scotland

Isabella married Francis I, Duke of Brittany; she had 2 daughters and died in 1494. Eleanor married Sigismund, Archduke of Austria, and died in 1480. Joan was born mute and married James Douglas, Earl of Morton and had 4 children – her eldest son, Sir John Douglas, 2nd Earl of Morton, was probably killed at Flodden in 1513. Joan herself died in 1486.

Mary was created Countess of Buchan in 1444; she married Wolfert, Count of Grandpre, of the Netherlands, having 2 sons who died young before she died in 1465. A last daughter, Anabella, married, firstly, Louis of Savoy but following their divorce in 1458 she married George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly. They had 2 children together before divorcing on the grounds of consanguinity in 1471.

James and Joan finally had twin sons in 1430. Born on 16th October, Alexander died the same year, but James would go on to succeed his father and married Mary of Gueldres in 1449.

On his return to Scotland, James immediately set about getting his revenge on the Duke of Albany’s family and adherents; executing some, including Murdoch, Albany’s son and heir. Two other claimants to James’s throne were sent to England, as hostages to the payment of his ransom.

James and Joan ruled Scotland for 13 years; James even allowed Joan to take some part in the business of government. His reforms, however, and desire for a firm but just government made enemies of some nobles, including his own chamberlain Sir Robert Stewart, grandson of Walter, Earl of Atholl, who had been James’s heir until the birth of his son.

Blackfriars Monastery, Perth

Due to his long imprisonment in the fortresses of England, James tended to avoid castles. On 21 February 1437 the King was staying at the Blackfriars in Perth when his chamberlain dismissed the guard and, having removed the locking bar to the King’s quarters, let the assassins into the priory.

James and Joan were alone with the queen’s ladies when they heard the men approaching. On seeing the locking bar missing, Joan’s lady, Kate Douglas, used her own arm to bar the door. The queen hid the king in an underground vault as Kate’s arm broke and the plotters gained entry. They dragged James from his hiding placed and stabbed him to death; Joan herself was wounded in the scuffle.

James II

The plotters, led by Walter, Earl of Atholl, James’ own uncle, had expected to seize power, but were arrested and executed as the nobles rallied around the new king, 6-year-old James II.

James I was buried in Perth and Joan took an active role the government for her son, getting caught in a contest of power between Sir Alexander Livingstone and Sir William Crichton. Her second marriage to Sir James Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorne, led to her arrest by Livingstone, under the pretext that she may abduct the child-king.

Joan and her new husband were only released on the condition that she give up her custody of James II and leave the court.

They would go on to have 3 sons together before Joan died during a siege at Dunbar Castle on 15 July, 1445; although whether her death was caused by illness or the violence of the siege has not been determined. She was buried in the Carthusian priory in Perth alongside her first husband, King James I.


Sources: The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Brewer’s British royalty by David Williamson; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens and British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; History Today Companion to British History Edited by juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.


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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

38 thoughts on “James I and Joan Beaufort: A Royal Love Story

  1. VickiB 01/04/2015 / 01:02

    Interesting article. I love the story of James I and Joan Beaufort.

    Small correction: Joan Beaufort was not the niece of Richard II, she was his cousin. For her to be his niece, one of her parents would have to be Richard’s sibling, which of course they were not.


    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 01/04/2015 / 06:54

      Hi Vicky, thanks for your comments.
      Sorry I tried to over-simplify it in the article by saying niece (I’ve altered it now). Joan was Richard II’s great-niece – her grandfather was Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent, son of Joan of Kent and half-brother to Richard II. How that makes sense.
      Regards, Sharon


      • Jan 22/05/2016 / 07:54

        Not to be nit-picky, but you’re both right. Joan would have been Richard II’s great-niece on her mother’s side, as her mother’s father (Thomas Holland) was half-brother to Richard. But on her father’s side, she would have been Richard II’s first cousin, once removed. Joan’s father was John Beaufort, who was the son of John of Gaunt. John of Gaunt was the brother of the Black Prince, making Richard II and John Beaufort first cousins. John Beaufort’s daughter, Joan, would then be Richard II’s first cousin, once removed.

        I really enjoyed this. I had never read of their love story before. Thanks for bringing us all these “interesting bits” of history!


    • Colleen grasso 23/07/2019 / 01:59

      Interesting to find this story as I am a descendant of Joan queen of scots and king James the 1st.. they are my great grand parents 12/13 …


  2. Cathy Kinney 01/04/2015 / 23:51

    I love this! It’s the historical background – at least part of it – for a marvelous but little-known novel of Scotland, “The World, the Flesh and the Devil” by Reay Tannahill. It’s such a good book and such a great love story and I’ve been re-reading it every couple of years since I discovered it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maggie 18/10/2018 / 16:57

      Can’t find that book on Amazon..


  3. Joyce 31/10/2015 / 00:32

    sixth paragraph – a ‘grand-nice’? really?


    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 31/10/2015 / 09:31

      Edited, thank you for so graciously pointing that out. Unfortunately, spelling errors are always easily to overlook.:)


  4. vallypee 01/11/2015 / 07:47

    Fascinating! A real love story indeed! Joan was very fertile wasn’t she? And strong too! What a woman!


  5. evelynralph 02/02/2016 / 19:36

    Very interesting. Do not know a great deal about Scottish heritage as up to a point, it Is sort of involved with English heritage. Thanks.


    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 02/02/2016 / 20:32

      Thank you Evelyn, glad you liked it. I recommend looking into Scottish history, it’s fascinating – so much intrigue! Watch out though – once you’re hooked its hard to escape. 🙂


  6. James 30/03/2016 / 19:52

    This is part of my genealogy so I take a great interest in Joan Beaufort and King James I. Thank you for writing this Sharon. It does make me want to learn more about their backgrounds, and this love story. Would anyone out there know of a good factual book about their life story?


    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 30/03/2016 / 20:08

      Thank you James, I’m so glad you liked it. I’m afraid I don’t know if a book that just tells their story. I discovered James’ and Joan’s story in Nigel Tranter’s “The Story of Scotland”. Best wishes, Sharon


  7. Lassister Neale Clifton Sr. 21/05/2016 / 16:06

    I found your article quite interesting. I am a descendant of The Scotch Stewarts and the English Stuarts. They are descendants of Alan Fitz Flaad, born in Dol, Normandy, France in 1078 and died in 1114. He married Aveline de Hesding. They had a son, William Fitzalan.


  8. Shelley Stratton 23/05/2016 / 07:08

    Thank you for writing this article. I was trying to find out if Joan Beaufort actually married James Stewart I (King of Scotland) and I learned she was married to him and also a Sir James Stewart and he had the same name as King James I. How confusing! I just found out my former mother-in-law was descended from Joan Beaufort and King James I of Scotland was her ancestor. I was trying to find in my genealogy if both are also my ancestors.


    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 23/05/2016 / 07:17

      People in the past didn’t make it easy for us modern-day researchers, did they? There were so many people around with similar names. But it makes finding the true facts all the more interesting and rewarding. Good luck in your research, Shelley, and thank you. 🙂


  9. travellerdee 27/08/2016 / 08:10

    Such an interesting read, thank you Sharon. I am staying in Perth and last night walking to dinner I saw a memorial on a corner. Never liking to leave a memorial unread I discover it marks the sight of the Carthusian monastery and burial place of Joan Beaufort. I have read about Kathryn Swnford in the past so googled later and found your nice piece and blog. Looking forward to reading more now.


    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 27/08/2016 / 08:25

      Thank you for your lovely comment. What a wonderful discovery on your walk – history is, indeed, all around us! And welcome to the blog, I’m so glad you found it. Best wishes, Sharon 🙂


  10. Shealie Dunigan 20/06/2017 / 00:28


    I am a descendant of Joan and James, and was wondering if you have any more sources or information on their lives. I am very interest in this love story, and would be interested in reading more. Thank you for this great article!


    • Sharon Bennett Connolly 20/06/2017 / 06:16

      Hi Shealie, thank you so much. It is a great love story, isn’t it? There will be more about them in my book, Heroines of the Medieval World, when it comes out in September. Amy Licence’s book, Red Roses, also has Joan’s story in it, plus the books listed at the bottom of the article. Best wishes Sharon. ☺


  11. Judy A. Holmes 22/02/2022 / 03:15

    What a trove of information! I have just discovered that James 1 & Joan Beaufort are my 14th great grandparents. You have helped bring them to life. Well done. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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