In 1382 John of Gaunt formally disavowed himself of his long term mistress Katherine Swynford. They had been in a relationship for ten years and Katherine had given the duke four children. At the time of the Peasants’Revolt the previous year her youngest daughter, Joan, was a babe in arms.
In order to keep Katherine safe, Gaunt issued a quitclaim on 14 February 1382. It was an unusual Valentine as it essentially stated that neither of them owed one another anything – they were separate entities. All accounts between the couple were settled.
So that was that…in public at least. Gaunt continued to send Katherine gifts and to provide for his Beaufort family. It is of course possible that the couple continued their affair in secret. But the thing about a good secret – is that its a secret – and that rather puts a damper on historical evidence.
In the meantime Katherine continued to be a welcome guest in the household of Gaunt’s son Henry of Bolingbroke and his young wife Mary de Bohun. The gifts that Katherine received from Henry were rather impressive – silk gowns trimmed with miniver (unspotted white fur – think squirrels and stoats in winter); lengths of damask (expensive silks with a pattern created by the warp and the wet of the design originated in Damascus) and on one occasion a large diamond set in a gold ring. The gold ring is, of course the advent item in this post!
And being completely shameless, my latest book from Pen and Sword is probably more affordable than any of the items that Henry gifted to his not quite step-mother. Its on special offer from the publisher at the moment but I’m delighted to say its available from all good bookshops as well as the place that shares the same name as a very large South American river.
Julia A Hickey, Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women Who Slept with Kings and Princes, (Pen and Sword, 2022) –