Today we have arrived at the third surviving son of Edward III – John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. I’ve posted about him before so I don’t intend to write about him in any great detail here – but there is a very tangled Plantagenet skein to unravel in terms of his children.
John married three times – his first marriage was to Blanche of Lancaster. She was the daughter of Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster. His grandfather was Edmund Crouchback, the younger brother of Edward I. This makes Blanche the great-great-grand-daughter of Henry III (yes- another one.) Her mother Isabella de Beaumont came from an equally prestigious bloodline. Her great grandfather was King of Jerusalem and somewhere along the line, inevitably, there was some Plantagenet blood flowing in Isabella’s veins.
During the latter part of the 1350s Edward III was looking to provide wealth and land for his older sons. Blanche married John of Gaunt at Reading Abbey in May 1359. Blanche gave birth to seven children between 1360 and her death in 1368 but only three survived to adulthood: Philippa, Elizabeth and Henry of Bolingbroke. Philippa married into the royal house of Portugal in 1387 as part of the Treaty of Windsor so for the time being we can remove her from the intersecting Plantagenet lines – possibly with a huge sigh of relief.
When Henry of Bolingbroke usurped his cousin Richard II one of the pieces of “fake news” circulated by Lancaster sympathisers to justify the take over was that Edmund Crouchback was actually Edward I’s older brother but that because he was deformed, the younger brother took the crown. This was a fabrication. Edmund was called Crouchback because he had taken the cross and gone on Crusade. It is interesting none-the-less that Henry IV made his claim not from his grandfather Edward III but from his maternal link to Henry III.
Gaunt’s second wife was Constance (Constanza) of Castile. John had aspirations to wear his own crown rather than simply watch over this nephew Richard II and there were plenty of members of Richard’s council who were delighted when John developed a continental interest. The marriage produced a child Catherine in 1372, a year after the marriage, followed by a son John who did not survive infancy. Catherine married Henry III of Castile and became the country’s regent during the minority of her son – John II of Castile.
Just to add to the familial knot:- Gaunt’s brother, Edmund of Langley – Duke of York married Constanza’s sister Isabella of Castile who was the mother of his children rather than his second wife Joan Holland.
The third wife is the famous one – Katherine Swynford. John married her in 1396 but the couple had begun an affair soon after Blanche of Lancaster’s death and the death of Katherine’s husband Hugh. Kathryn’s eldest son by John was born the year after Constance of Castile had Catherine. There were four members of the Beaufort brood – John, Henry, Thomas and Joan. When John married Katherine he arranged for the entire family to be legitimised by the Church and the State.
Where does that leave us – aside from the need for a fortifying cup of tea? It leaves us with the two children from John’s marriage to Blanche of Lancaster who remained in England and the four from his relationship with Katherine Swynford – but as Cardinal Henry Beaufort had no legitimate children we are left with a total of five children who married and extended the Plantagenet line – which isn’t so bad until you realise exactly how large Joan Beaufort’s family actually was!
Next time: John of Gaunt’s Lancaster children – Philippa, Elizabeth and Henry. Be ready for the complications of Elizabeth’s marriage!
Weir, Alison. Britain’s Royal Families