Tag Archives: Blanche Swynford

Blanche Swynford

KatSwynfordBeing a girl, daughter of a minor and somewhat impecunious Lincolnshire knight claiming descent back to the Saxons, no one thought it sufficiently important to make note of Blanche Swynford’s date of birth. Of course, History reveals little Blanche to be the god-daughter of John of Gaunt and daughter of Katherine Swynford. Nor for that matter is History terribly sure about the number of her sisters.

 

Historians are uncertain whether Blanche is older or younger than her brother Thomas who was born on 21 September 1368.  Anthony Goodman argues that Blanche was born sometime in 1366 whilst John of Gaunt’s first wife was still alive.  It makes sense that if Gaunt was her godfather that Blanche of Lancaster may well have been her godmother.  Equally it is possible to argue that the baby was named after the late duchess and not born until 1370 (ish).  Both scenarios are equally valid although there may be some shifting in the dates depending on the text.

Weir suggests that Blnache may have been born earlier given that Hugh inherited his estates in 1361 pushing the marriage date for Katherine and Hugh back to the start of the decade, at a point where Katherine would have only just attained a legally marriageable age, rather than placing it sometime between 1366 and 1367 as is usual.  In part the problem arises because Historians are uncertain whether Katherine married at a very young age or not.  The argument often given is that it seems unlikely that a very young woman would have been made governess of Gaunt’s children.

What we can be certain about is that the papal dispensation for the marriage between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford mentions Blanche because of the relationship that being godparent created.  There is also some evidence to suggest that Blanche grew up with John’s daughters – which makes sense given that Katherine was their governess- and which Weir uses as evidence of Katherine being married by the end of 1362 with Blanche making an arrival the following year.  The fact that Blanche is in Gaunt’s records as being in the household of his daughters in 1368 helps this viewpoint.

She turns up again in the aftermath of Queen Philippa’s death on 14 August 1369.  Edward III provided mourning for the ladies at court and Blanche as lady-in-waiting or more accurately demoiselle to John of Gaunt’s daughters received suitable garb for the occasion.  Weir argues that the mourning given to the Swynford family at this time reflects the fact that Philippa remained fond of Katherine and  Philippa Chaucer after their years growing up in the queen’s household.

Lucraft identifies the fact that Gaunt takes an active interest in his godchild.  Katherine was awarded the wardship of Robert Deyncourt in 1375 specifically to cover Blanche’s dowry. Of course, one of the key factors of having a wealthy ward was to marry him into the family as soon as decently possible.  Weir writes that Gaunt intended Deyncourt, a scion of the Lancaster Affinity, as a groom for his godchild. However – Blanche did not marry Robert.

Did she die young? Was Blanche dead by 1378? Possibly.  Alternatively the records provide us with another possible groom in the form of Sir Thomas Morrieux – the gift Gaunt gave the happy couple was extremely generous including as it did silver spoons, saucers and a basket with a silver top. The difficulty is that this may be a different Blanche. Froissart says that Morrieux’s wife was Gaunt’s illegitimate daughter. Either Froissart thought Blanche Swynford was Gaunt’s; or she was the daughter of Marie de St Hillaire or Froissart was wrong (his chronicles do contain errors). The evidence that this particular Blanche is Blanche Swynford is circumstantial- Morrieux was a Lancastrian retainer with an annuity of £100 p.a who died in Spain. Our lack of knowledge about his wife reflects the difficulty of decoding the past where records are incomplete and names not always terribly helpful.

The difficulties of working out relationships from fragmentary evidence and deductions without necessarily knowing exact dates for events are summarised by Sydney Armitage-Smith writing in 1904 about John of Gaunt:

But the attempt to identify the Duke s daughter and the daughter of his later mistress breaks down hopelessly. (It was made by Sir N Nicolas, Scrope v Grosvenor Con
troversy 11 185) For (i) there is Froissart’s explicit state ment quoted above ; (11) Blanche is never mentioned among the Beauforts , (ui) there is the insuperable difficulty of age.
Katharine Swynford, born in 1350, and married to Sir Hugh Swynford m 1367, whose elder child, Sir Thomas Swynford, was born in 1368, could not possibly have been the mother of Blanche, who was married to Sir Thomas Moneux in 1381.

https://archive.org/stream/johnofgaunt001003mbp/johnofgaunt001003mbp_djvu.txt

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

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Sir Hugh Swynford

william bell scott john of gaunt.jpgSir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe and Coleby in Lincolnshire married Katherine de Roet in about 1366, although Alison Weir suggests the earlier date of 1362 based on the possible ages of the couple’s three children.  Weir also suggests that the union was arranged by Blanche of Lancaster and her husband John of Gaunt.

The Swynfords themselves were proud of their Saxon heritage and Hugh was part of Gaunt’s retinue.  Hugh’s father Thomas held Coleby for John of Gaunt – a reminder that the Lancaster inheritance was a far reaching one.  When he married Katherine de Roet he’d been a soldier fighting in the Hundred Years War for about ten years (if we take the traditional 1366 date).  He was also born in about 1340 making him a decade older than his  barely teenage bride (she was about twelve) when they married in the church of St Clement Dane.

Weir reveals that he’d fought first for the Black Prince and then transferred into the retinue of John of Gaunt, who was after all, his  feudal overlord.  Hugh wasn’t particularly wealthy, the rents from Kettlethorpe and Coleby appear to have been irregular, although he’d inherited his father’s estates in 1361.  It probably didn’t help that it wasn’t the most fertile of ground and even the mill lay in ruins.  Realistically his income came from his pay in Lancaster’s service and any loot or ransoms he could acquire whilst in France.  He was, however, a knight so the match between him and Katherine who held some lands in Hainault was considered a good one because she didn’t have much in the way of a dowry- though what Katherine, having been raised in the court of Philippa of Hainault, must have thought is not recorded.  Not that it would have mattered; marriage was not about love it was a business arrangement that would secure Katherine and Hugh’s future as vassals of the Lancaster family.  Realistically we don’t know much about the marriage – the portrayal of Swynford as rough and uncouth is based entirely on Anna Seyton’s book Katherine which has Katherine married off to Sir Hugh against her will.

The marriage took place, it is often stated, on In November 1366 Sir Hugh took himself off to Guienne to continue his duties as a knight in Gaunt’s service.  Katherine was pregnant.  Their son Thomas was born on 24 February 1367.  His arrival is often the reason that the marriage is dated to the previous year but the dates of his sisters’ births are not recorded  Weir argues that Blanche who was Gaunt’s godchild and named after the Duchess of Lancaster could have been the older of the siblings but that because she was a girl and because she wasn’t born whilst Katherine was in the company of the Duchess of Lancaster that the dates was not recorded. It is possible to argue the case both ways.

Swynford returned from France in 1369 but was summoned once more for military service the following year.  Katherine would not see him again.  He died on the Gironde in Aquitaine on the 13th November 1371. Katherine was only twenty-one when she was widowed.  Her story was about to take a dramatic turn as portrayed by the image at the start of this post.  It’s one of those Victorian History paintings that they loved so much.  Its by William Bell Scott and depicts John of Gaunt being read to by Chaucer.  The two women are Katherine Swynford and her sister Philippa Chaucer.

When John of Gaunt and Katherine petitioned the pope to legitimise their Beaufort children they stated that the affair had not begun during Hugh’s lifetime.  Froissart believed otherwise and when it came to Sir Hugh’s son Thomas inheriting his mother’s Hainault lands there were some problems on account of the rumour that he was actually the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt.  In the end King Henry IV wrote a letter stating that Thomas, who had been four when his father died in France, was legitimate.  Whatever the truth of the matter Hugh is for the most part a footnote in one of English History’s great love stories or a fictional counterfoil to the heroic personage of John of Gaunt – neither of which seems particularly fair- but without any other evidence its impossible to flesh him out any further.

Lucraft, Jeannette, (2010) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: The History Press

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Jonathan Cape

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Katherine Swynford

KatSwynfordKatherine de Roet was probably born about 1350 in Hainault.  As is often the case we have no exact records of her birth.  What we do know about Katherine’s early life is found in the accounts of chronicler Jean Froissart who was also from Hainault.  He talks of Katherine as a ‘Hainaulter’ so its a reasonable assumption to make. 

The family headed by Katherine’s father  Paon de Roet arrived in England as part of Philippa of Hainault’s entourage when she married Edward III in 1328.  Paon served in the royal household. Historians think he died in the early 1350s.  Katherine  and her sister Philippa served in the queen’s household  and received their education there as well as developing links with some of the most important people in the country.  Philippa married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer whilst Katherine found herself looking after the daughters of John of Gaunt and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster; Elizabeth and Philippa.  

Blanche died in 1368, most historians think from the Black Death.  By this time Katherine was married to Sir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire. It was considered an advantageous marriage for Katherine at the time. Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt held many estates in the area. Historians tend not to think that Katherine had begun her affair with John of Gaunt before Blanche of Lancaster’s death.  Certainly Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess suggests that the duke deeply mourned the wife that gave him seven children and made him the wealthiest man in the kingdom.

Katherine and Hugh appear to have had three children who survived infancy.  The oldest child was a boy called Thomas, the second was a girl called Blanche presumably named after Blanche of Lancaster.  John of Gaunt was Blanche’s god-father and when the time came for John to make his union with Katherine legal and also to legitimise his children this would cause a degree of problem as the papacy deemed that there was a degree of prohibited relationship on account of John’s role as godfather. Blanche grew up with Elizabeth and Philippa of Lancaster. The third child probably grew up to be a nun.  Her name may have been Margaret. Katherine swore her affair with John of Gaunt did not begin until after Sir Hugh Swynford died but Froissart says differently.

Hugh died in 1372 and Katherine’s first child by John of Gaunt was born the following year. John Beaufort was named after the french castle that Gaunt owned and where John was possibly born.  The  couple went on to have three more children who survived infancy; Henry, Thomas and Joan who had her own dramatic love story.  John had married his second wife Constance of Castile in  1371.  It was a state marriage that gave John a claim to the throne of Castile but the existence of a much loved mistress in John’s life cannot have helped the relationship nor the fact that it is known that during some periods Katherine lived quietly in the home of John’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV). During the Peasants Revolt of 1381 the lovers parted company or they became more secretive about their liaison possibly because John was so hated or because John wished to pursue his claim to the Castilian throne.  Not that this prevented Katherine from being made a Lady of the Garter in 1388.

Wife number two died in 1394.  There followed a flurry of letters to the pope and two years later John of Gaunt took the unusual step of marrying his mistress.  They were married on  13 January 1396 at Lincoln Cathedral.  This had the effect of putting rather a lot of noses out of joint. Not only did Katherine become the duchess of Lancaster  but because the king, Richard II, had no queen and John was the next most important man in the country Katherine automatically became the first lady to whom all others had to give way… I should imagine that some very stiff necked ladies muttered rather a lot about that particular turn up for the books. 

John and Katherine’s children were not only legitimised by the pope but also legitimised by Act of Parliament on the command of their cousin Richard II on 9th February 1397.  Later Henry IV would add a note in his own hand to the effect that whilst the Beauforts might be legitimate they couldn’t inherit the throne.  This didn’t stop Henry IV from making effective use of his Beaufort half-siblings.

katherine swynford coat of arms.jpg

Katherine Swynford’s coat of arms – after her marriage to John of Gaunt

Katherine died on the 10th May 1403 having outlived John of Gaunt by four years.  She’d survived a period of plague, seen the Peasants revolt and the Hundred Years War as well as having caused a national scandal.  She and her daughter Joan are buried in Lincoln Cathedral having lived quietly in Lincoln in her final years.  We can still identify her house.

There was a brass of the dowager duchess but it was destroyed or certainly very badly treaded by the Roundheads in 1644 so we have no certain primary source image of the woman who stole the heart of the most powerful man in England despite the fact that there is now a brass over Katherine’s tomb it is not the original and she’s wearing a widow’s veil which doesn’t help matters but it is an effective way of the engraver dealing with the fact he didn’t know what the duchess looked like.  Froissart describes her as young and pretty in his chronicles. The image at the start of this post comes from a fifteenth century edition of Chaucer’s work and it shows the key people of Richard II’s reign. John of Gaunt is identifiable.  It’s possible that the girl in blue is Katherine.

Weir, Alison.(2007) Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess. London: Jonathan Cape

 

 

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