John of Gaunt was married three times.
His first marriage was to Blanche of Lancaster. She had a sister but ultimately she was the sole heiress of Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster. She was descended from Henry III on both sides of her family but the huge wealth associated with the dukedom came Edmund Crouchback who was the second surviving son of Henry III. Henry of Grosmont wasn’t Edmund Crouchback’s eldest son but his big brother Thomas who initially inherited the titles and estate died without heirs so Henry became the third earl of Lancaster. This title and all the land was inherited in turn by Blanche who also brought the Earldom of Derby into John of Gaunt’s family.
In addition to Henry of Bolingbroke who became Henry IV, there was Philippa who married King John I of Portugal. Henry the Navigator is her son. Another daughter Elizabeth married into the Holland family and her descendants, the dukes of Exeter and Oxford, were involved in the Wars of the Roses.
Blanche of Lancaster died September 1369. Traditionally she is thought to have died from bubonic plague but historians increasingly think that she died from complications associated with childbirth. In any event soon after her death John became romantically attached to a young woman in his household, the widowed wife of one of his knights – a certain Katherine Swynford. Katherine may or may not have been related to the royal family of Hainhault but the fact is that the widow of a Lincolnshire knight was not a suitable match for a royal duke with aspirations.
On the 21 September 1371 John of Gaunt married for a second time to Constance of Castile. Constance was the daughter of the rather descriptively named Pedro the Cruel of Castile who had been deposed by his half-brother Henry. Whilst Constance was the Queen of Castile in name following her father’s death she never actually ruled there and part of the reason for her marriage to John of Gaunt was that she wanted someone with a bit of clout and a large army to retrieve her kingdom for her. Equally John rather fancied being a king and Richard II’s advisers thought that it was a good idea as they didn’t totally trust John of Gaunt not to snaffle his nephew’s kingdom. The marriage was a political one but it produced two children – a short-lived son called John and a daughter called Catherine of Lancaster who married back into the royal house of Castile when she married Henry III of Castile who was her half-cousin. It is Catherine of Lancaster’s descendants who can be seen on today’s Lancaster family tree at the start of this post linking back in to the English royal family when her great granddaughter, Katherine of Aragon, married Henry VIII.
Tomorrow – wife number three and the Beauforts. I have my fingers very firmly crossed that I have managed to spell Castile correctly throughout the whole post – just let’s say that I had a problem with the number of “l”s involved, in much the same way that when I wrote a university essay about private journals I somehow ended up writing about milking parlours despite rewriting the essay three times and reading it very carefully on each occasion!