Joan Stewart, a Defiant Deaf Princess in the Middle Ages


It was 1406 when the King of Scotland, Robert III of Scotland, died of a heart attack. By succession, James I was only 12 years old. With his marriage he had eight children, one of whom was Joan, deaf from birth.

Not much is known about Joan. He lived between 1428 and 1486, so the Middle Ages was a hard time for any deaf person, although some royal families were perhaps better treated. Joan, being deaf, was called in Latin la muta domina (mute lady).

Actually, although Joan was the daughter of a king, she was not a princess because this was a condition that was not recognised in Scotland for the children of kings or queens until two centuries later. However, when Joan finally married James Douglas, Baron of Dalkeith, and he was named Count of Morton before the marriage, Joan won the title of Countess of Morton.

Tomb of Joan Stewart and James Douglas in Dalkeith, Scotland (photo: Erica Howton in Geni)

Two facts are important about Joan: one, that she used Sign Language even in public, something that at that time was considered impolite, so it can be guessed that Joan was somewhat challenging for her time. And the second is that Joan, on her death, a few months after her husband's death, was buried next to him in St Nicholas Buccleuch Parish Church, so her tomb is believed to be the world’s oldest image of a known Deaf person.


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