Tag Archives: Elizabeth of Lancaster

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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Duke of Exeter -was he murdered or did he slip?

holland-armsHenry Holland, Third Duke of Exeter was yet another descendent of John of Gaunt. His grandmother Elizabeth was John’s daughter. He had a claim to the throne after the death of Henry VI, something which Edward IV may have been all too aware of being the aforementioned earl’s brother-in-law.

Henry had been Richard of York’s ward.  Richard married his eldest daughter off to Holland in order to secure the dynastic links and power base.  Unfortunately for both Holland and the Duke of York it would appear that the Exeter lands weren’t terribly productive.  Consequentially Holland was always in finical difficulties which didn’t help his disposition overly.

He developed an unsavoury reputation early in his career when he seized Lord Cromwell’s estate at Ampthill and had him falsely accused of treason.  He also extended his land holding through the convenient method of fraud. This was all dragged through the law courts and resulted in no one wanting to be sheriff of Bedfordshire on account of Holland’s bullying tactics. In the end he aligned himself to one of Cromwell’s enemies in order to further his cause – thus demonstrating beautifully the fact that the Wars of the Roses could be said to be a bunch of local disputes that got seriously out of hand.

There wasn’t any great love between the Yorks and Holland so it probably didn’t unduly bother Holland that his alliance with Lord Egremont was one of the causal factors in him being in the Lancastrian army chasing Richard of York around the countryside in December 1460.  Henry Holland was a commander at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30 1460.  Presumably he hadn’t enjoyed being imprisoned in Wallingford Castle in 1455 after Richard assumed the title of Protector when Henry VI was incapacitated on his father-in-law’s orders.  In reality, Richard’s descent from two sons of Edward III gave him a better claim to be protector than Holland who thought he ought to have the job. He was descended from John of Gaunt and the First Duke of Exeter had been Richard II’s half-brother.  York’s claim came from the fact that he was descended from the second surviving son, Lionel of Antwerp via the Mortimer line.  The Mortimers had been Richard II’s heirs.  As if that wasn’t bad enough Holland wasn’t given a role of any importance. Holland threw his toys out of his pram, fermented rebellion in the north and consorted with the Scots – he was lucky that a year in Wallingford was all that he got.

He was, at least, consistent in his support for the Lancastrian cause being present not only at Wakefield but also at the Second Battle of St Albans and Towton.  He scarpered from the latter and managed to escape to France where he joined Margaret of Anjou.

Unsurprisingly family relations were at an all time low by this point. Not only was his attainted of treason but his wife Anne who had been married off to him when she was eight-years-old sought a legal separation from a man who’d gained a reputation for being deeply unpleasant one way or another. They had one child, Anne Holland who would be married off to one of Elizabeth Woodville’s sons from her first marriage, and pre-decease her unfortunate father.

In 1471 he returned to England with the Earl of Warwick who had stopped being Yorkist and become a Lancastrian in what can only be described as a giant strop when Edward IV stopped listening to his advice.  Warwick died at Barnet. Henry Holland though badly wounded managed to reach sanctuary in London. Edward had him rounded up and sent to the Tower.  He had for a time been the Constable of the Tower so at least he was familiar with his accommodation.

By the following year Anne was able to have the marriage annulled, she went on to marry Thomas St Leger but Edward IV seems to have welcomed Henry back into the fold as he was part of the military expedition that set off to make war on the French. It wasn’t a roaring success from the wider population’s point of view as they’d been heavily taxed and expected a decent battle at the very least. What they got was a treaty whilst Edward IV received money to go away and an annual pension.

As for Henry Holland?  He had an unfortunate accident on the way home.  Apparently he fell overboard.  The Milanese Ambassador suggested that the accident was caused by a couple of burly nautical  types picking him up and throwing him…

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

 

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Elizabeth of Lancaster and Sir John Holland

elizabeth_of_lancasterI’ve found a new author – well, she might not be new but she’s new to me- Anne O Brien.  I’ve just guzzled ‘The King’s Sister’ a novel about Elizabeth of Lancaster, the third child of Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt.

Her story is an everyday tale of the Plantagenets – so there’re two arranged marriages, treachery and a spot of skulduggery for starters.

John of Gaunt arranged a marriage between Elizabeth and John Hasting’s the third Earl of Pembroke in 1380.  She was seventeen, he was eight and got on, in the novel at least, very well with Elizabeth’s little brother Henry of whom more anon.  It isn’t perhaps surprising that she was more attracted to John Holland a son of Princess Joan and her first husband (the one she married when she was twelve before her family married her off to a second more important husband but that’s a different story) who had been married for a third time to the Black Prince and was mother to King Richard II.  John Holland had a reputation as a ladies man and a champion jouster – or in other words a knight errant- as well as gaining a reputation as a soldier in the field in both Scotland and Spain.  Apparently, according to the records of the time, he was smitten with Elizabeth of Lancaster’s great beauty.  He followed her day and night…so what would you do if you were a hormone ridden teenager – remain loyal to the child to whom your father has married you off to or run away with the handsome half brother of the king?   Elizabeth’s marriage to the young Earl of Pembroke was annulled.

The relationship between Elizabeth and John Holland is a tempestuous one in Anne O’Brien’s novel but the historical reality is not without its ironies.  John’s half brother was Richard II.  Elizabeth’s brother was Henry Bolingbroke a.k.a. Henry IV.  I should imagine that the family get together after Henry deposed and imprisoned Elizabeth’s brother-in-law was a tense one.  Although John gave his fealty to the new king he remained loyal to Richard in Pontefract – and despite Richard’s notorious temperamental streak – he’d been good to his half-brother and wife.  John Holland had been created First Duke of Exeter and been rewarded with other posts and estates.

In 1400 he was involved in the so-called ‘Epiphany Plot,’ also known as ‘the Three Earls Plot’ which sought to overthrow Henry, kill him and his sons, and return Richard II to the throne.  The plot was betrayed and John fled but was captured at Pleshy Castle in Essex.  He was fortunate to get so far.  Twenty-nine of the conspirators were executed at Oxford.  John was  was executed by Joan Fitzallan, the Countess of Hereford who had a grudge against Elizabeth’s husband.  Holland had executed her brother (the Earl of Arundel) several years before without going through the niceties of an entirely fair trial.

Henry IV used attainder to impoverish his sister and his nieces and nephews in the short term.  So not what you might call a terribly happy-ever-after for the couple although there is more to Elizabeth’s story and her children because they remained close to the crown and eventually regained their titles if not all of their estates.  As for Richard II, well he apparently starved himself to death very soon after the failed uprising in January 1400.  The chroniclers didn’t believe it either!

As for me I’m pleased to report that there are five other novels by Anne O Brien…as well as a list of places for me to visit that are associated with the Plantagenet princess who broke the rules and ran off with her handsome knight only to find herself embroiled in deadly family politics.

 

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