Joanna of England
Queen of Sicily, 1177-1189
"Buffeted by fate but unbowed"
Joanna was born in 1165 into the tempestuous, volatile family of King Henry II of England and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. During her short lifetime, she encountered love, happiness and adventure; suffered loss and rejection; and finally found peace.
When she was only eleven she was betrothed to King William II of Sicily and undertook the long journey from England to Palermo, William's royal city on the sunny isle in the Mediterranean. It was a happy marriage. Joanna was a good queen, a helpmeet to her husband and popular with the people. The couple's only sorrow was that they had no children. Joanna longed to be a mother; William longed for an heir. Perhaps in time their prayers would have been answered, but in 1189, when Joanna was only twenty-four, William died.
At once her life was turned upside down. William's uncle, Tancred, seized control of Sicily and sequestered Joanna in a palace in Palermo—-virtually a prisoner. He denied her the inheritance due her as William's widow and her dowry. But to her great joy, her beloved older brother, Richard the Lionheart, appeared. Richard had recently assumed the crown of England after the death of his father, Henry II. Now he'd come to Sicily with his troops and ships to launch the Third Crusade. He rescued Joanna and forced Tancred to restore her rights and her inheritance.
Another change of direction: Richard enlisted Joanna—who was, to be sure, at loose ends—to be a companion to his new wife, Berengaria of Navarre, who was to accompany him on the Crusade. Once more Joanna ventured into unknown territory. First came the perilous voyage to the Holy Land; then a year of waiting, with Berengaria, for the Crusaders to conquer; then Richard's reluctant decision to suspend the battle against Saladin and the effort to retake Jerusalem.
Back in France, in 1196 Joanna agreed to marry Count Raymond VI of Toulouse, perhaps out of love, perhaps because she felt lost and needed an anchor in her life. But he proved an unsteady anchor. In hindsight, we can say she should have known better. He had already repudiated three wives before marrying her. Two years after the birth of their son, he accused her of conniving with his rebellious lords and she fled. All she wanted now was to leave the world and take holy orders. At Fontevraud Abbey, where her mother was living, she finally prevailed on the sisters to let her take the veil, though she was pregnant.
When her time came and the child was born, it lived only a day but long enough to be baptized as Richard.
Joanna died a day later, Sept. 24, 1199. Peace at last.
Learn more about Queen Joanna of Sicily:
The Normans in Sicily: The Magnificent Story of "The Other Norman Conquest", by John Julius Norwich. Penguin Books, 1992.
Joan of England, Queen of Sicily,, by Daniela Paglia. Best of Sicily Magazine
Wikipedia: Joan of England, Queen of Sicily