Tag Archives: Froissart

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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James the Unfortunate

James_III_of_Majorca_large.jpgI posted recently about the Battle of Crecy and noted that as well as the flower of French nobility that  John, the blind king, of Bohemia and  Jaime the King of Majorca met their maker that day.

 

It turns out, as explained to me by my friend John, that reports of the death of the King of Majorca at the Battle of Crecy were somewhat exaggerated in that he was alive and kicking for the next three years. Froissart got it wrong – which just goes to prove that you should check your facts extra especially carefully when relying upon a medieval chronicle.  I have given myself a stern talking to and will be checking very carefully before killing anyone else off on the word of anyone even remotely medieval.

 

As John explained to me, King Jaime III (Jaume if you like to vary your spelling and James for all those folk who like solid English sounding names) probably fought at Crecy, he might even have been wounded, but was killed in 1349 at the Battle of Llucmajor in Majorca.  The rest of this post courtesy of John Hearnshaw with grateful thanks- I throughly enjoyed learning about Jaime even though he’s a bit off my usual geographical radar.

Jaime III had had a fairly chequered career.  He is sometimes called Jaime the Unfortunate but he is also known as Jaime the Rash. He was the last independent king of Majorca. He was unusual for that era in that he believed that no king could have lordship over any other king.  Consequently he refused to swear fealty to his cousin Pero IV of Aragon (Peter).  Pero took his time but in 1344 he kicked Jaime out of Majorca and annexed the Balearic Islands to the Crown of Aragon where they stayed until the crown of Catalonia-Aragon and that of Castille were united by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

 

Consequently, by the time of Crecy in 1346, Jaime was king of nowhere-in-particular (which would account for why he was gallivanting around France).  He may well have been wounded at Crecy but by 1349 he was well enough to lead a mercenary army back to Majorca in an attempt to retake the island from its governor, who had been appointed by his cousin.  Jaime put up a decent fight but he was ultimately defeated.

 

jaimeiiistatueIf you ever go to Llucmajor there is little to show of the battle itself apart from a small memorial but there is a nice tomb in Llucmajor church and a statue on the outskirts of the town of Jaime and his standard bearer (who may or may not have been his brother) dying together.

Double click on the image of the statue to open a new page about the kings of Majorca and a link to the Battle of Llucmajor.

 

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Battle of Crecy anniversary

Battle_of_crecy_froissart.jpgIt’s the 670th anniversary of the Battle of Crecy this year on August 26th, so no doubt I’ll return to the subject in due course.

The Hundred Years war commenced in 1337 as these things do with an exchange of views about the import of wool into Flanders. Nor were the English terribly happy that the French were encouraging the Scots to rebel so Edward III put his thinking hat on and came up with his family tree. His mother, was of course, Isabella of France a.k.a. the She-wolf. England didn’t have a salic law and Edward couldn’t see that the fact that the French prohibited women from inheriting the throne being a particular problem. He calmly announced that although he had supported Philip of Valois in 1328 when Charles IV had died without sons that he had decided, upon careful reflection, that his own claim was a better one.

 

The war kicked off with a few cross-channel raids. In 1340 things changed. The English navy defeated the French at Sluys ensuring control of the English Channel or La Manche as the french prefer to call it. This was followed by a full scale invasion of France by an English army of 12,000 of whom more than half were longbow men. These men were veterans of the Scottish campaigns. The English enjoyed a holiday in Normandy doing what medieval soldiers did – think pillage and rape.

 

The French massed their army of 12,000 plus 6,000 or so mercenaries with crossbows. It should also be added that there were huge numbers of peasants who’d been pressed into service as foot soldiers – so plenty of bill hooks and scythes in evidence. Philip moved this army to the Somme thinking to place Edward at a disadvantage.

 

Edward ignored the water hazard and made for the top of a hill where he divided his force into three groups and instructed them to dig ditches and plant sharpened stakes in the ground. The French had not encountered the power of the longbow men against foot soldiers or cavalry before but it was this battle that made their name and ensured that the weapon came to dominate the war. By the end of the afternoon the French had been soundly beaten.

 

In other news of the battle the Black Prince, a sixteen-year-old novice at warfare, was in charge of the English right flank and when it looked as though the French might be successful at that end of the battlefield the king told his commanders to let his son get on with it – something of a steep learning curve. It was in this battle that the blind King of Bohemia managed to get himself killed along with the King of Majorca and a thousand or so French knights. Philip of Valois was lucky to escape capture.

 

Our account of the battle comes from Froissart who was born in 1337 or thereabouts so not on the scene of the battle itself but employed at the age of twenty-four by Phillipa of Hainault (Edward III’s lady wife) in a literary capacity. He is recorded as making careful research and asking lots of questions before putting quill to parchment– he’s also more or less the only detailed chronicler of events. For his report of events click on the picture at the start of this post to open up a new window.  The picture is an illustration from Froissart’s Chronicles.

 

It is worth remembering that the Hundred Years War is the backdrop to the reign of Richard II, the social unrest of his reign and his deposition by Henry IV.  It returns to the forefront of popular history with King Henry V of Agincourt fame and his marriage to Katherine of Valois and lingers during much of Henry VI’s reign- think Joan of Arc- resulting ultimately in Richard of York becoming decidedly aggrieved about Henry VI’s reliance upon the Beauforts  and Margaret of Anjou’s advice.  Henry VI’s failure to repeat his father’s victories and the decades of constant warfare are all part of the fateful mix that contribute to the Wars of the Roses.  And, of course without Katherine of Valois and a certain Clerk of the Wardrobe there would have been no Henry Tudor.

 

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