Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Joan Skerne
  • Creator:
  • Description: Joan Skerne was the younger daughter of Alice Perrers (d. 1400/1401) who was the acknowledged mistress of King Edward III. Most recent scholarship treats Joan and her brother and sister as the king’s children. Alice did not come from a prominent family but profited from the king’s favor to buy properties, engage in lucrative business transactions, and wield significant political influence. Upon Edward’s death, she was brought to trial for offenses against the king and people and lost all of her lands in 15 counties. From the trial petitions and chronicles, it is evident that Alice generated great resentment because she flagrantly violated social and gender norms in her successful business pursuits. Subsequently, Alice claimed that she had not been a single woman at the trial but had been secretly married to Sir William Windsor, a royal lieutenant in Ireland, so that the court needed to take his rights into consideration. Alice, with help from Joan (and likely from Joan’s husband, Robert, a lawyer), continued to fight for restitution of her properties, even referring in her will (August 15, 1400) to manors which were wrongly held by others. Joan, as Alice’s executor, vigorously pursued a number of lawsuits including ones against Windsor’s heir and her own sister. Eventually she was able to recover properties in Oxford and in the counties of Berkshire and Essex.

    On her tomb, Joan is presented as a wealthy, fashionable woman. The large brooches which fasten her mantle match the design of her jeweled necklace. The nets holding her hair are richly decorated with gems; the elaborate headdress is carefully arranged so that viewers can admire her fine, high forehead. Perhaps some of Joan’s concern with appearance was due to her questionable status as the unacknowledged daughter of a royal father and of a mother marked by notoriety. Joan and Robert had no known children, and Robert’s heir, his nephew William, set up a chantry at the altar of Saint James in All Saints’ Church for a priest to pray for the good of their souls. Since Alice Perrers had left money for the church of Upmynster and for the poor, it seems fitting that remnants of her estate also helped fund the church in Kingston upon Thames.

  • Source: Haverford College donated by David and Maxine Cook
  • Rights: Permission of Haverford College
  • Subject (See Also): Brass Rubbing Fashion Noble Women Tomb Effigies
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1431
  • Related Work: Brass rubbing of Robert Skerne in the Haverford College collection: http://library.haverford.edu/staff/mschaus/feminae/robert_skerne.jpg;
    Drawing of the tomb monument with the effigies of both Joan and Robert Skerne: http://effigiesandbrasses.com/media/cache/effigiesandbrasses.com/original/robert_skerne_s117_r2978_large.jpg
  • Current Location: Haverford College
  • Original Location: Kingston, Surrey, England. All Saints’ Church.
  • Artistic Type (Category): Brass rubbing
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Heelball; Paper
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 30.48 cm/93.98 cm/
  • Inscription: Roberti cista Skerni corpus tenet ista, Marmorie petre, conjugis atque suæ, Qui validus, fidus, disertus, lege peritus; Nobilis, ingenuus, perfidiam renuit: Constans sermone, vitâ, sensu, ratione, Communiter cuique justitiam voluit. Regalis juris unicos promovit honores; Fallere vel falli, res odiosa sibi. Gaudeat in celis, qui vixit in orbe fidelis; Nonas Aprilis pridie qui moritur, Mille quadringentis D[omi]ni trigintaque septem A[ni]mis ipsius Rex miserere Jesu. Translation: This chest of marble stone holds the body of Robert Skerne, and of his wife. He was able, trustworthy, discrete, learned in law. Noble, worthy, he rejected perfidy. Constant in speech, life, feeling, thought, he wished justice to anyone in common. He promoted the unique honors of the royal law. To deceive or be deceived was hateful to him. May he rejoice in heaven who lived faithful on earth, who died on the nones of April in the year of the Lord 1437. King Jesus, have mercy on his soul.
  • Related Resources: Coales, John, ed. The Earliest English Brasses: Patronage, Style, and Workshops, 1270-1350. Monumental Brass Society, 1987;
    Norris, Malcolm. Monumental Brasses. Faber and Faber, 1978;
    Owen-Crocker, Gale, Elizabeth Coatsworth, and Maria Hayward, eds. Encyclopaedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of British Isles, C. 450–1450. Brill, 2012.