Tag Archives: Henry Beaufort

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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Battle of St Albans – round two

wars-of-rosesThe second Battle of St Albans was fought on 17 February 1461 and the result may have come as a bit of a surprise to the Earl of Warwick – he lost.  His young cousin Edward, Earl of March shortly to be King Edward IV beat the Lancastrians at Mortimer’s Cross only a short time previously with no experience in the battlefield but Warwick a battle hardened warrior lost the next confrontation between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians.

The story is as follows – Margaret of York and her allies advanced south from Wakefield.  Her forces included Scots and Northumbrians and “northerners”.  Warwick spread word in London that this group of people were akin to savages in terms of plunder, loot, pillage etc.  In short he won the smear campaign. Londoners swiftly arrived at the conclusion that only Warwick could save them from the hordes of hairy northerners heading in their direction.

Warwick duly obliged by leaving London with a large army.  Unfortunately he didn’t quite know where the hordes of aforementioned hairy bruits were so he had to deploy his force over quite a large front and when one of his scouts told him that they were at Dunstable Warwick dismissed the notion – which was unfortunate because the Lancastrians really were at Dunstable.

The next morning they arrived in St Albans. They were led by Andrew Trollope – who we’ve encountered before, son of a family of Durham dyers, hero of the Hundred Years War and possible deceiver of the Duke of York- he was the first to attack. By the end of the day he would be knighted.

Warwick and his brother John Neville, Lord Montagu (shortly to become Earl of Northumberland), and all their men, had to turn around because they were all looking in the wrong direction for the Lancastrians. Meanwhile Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset had found his way into the middle of St Albans and the Yorkist line of communications turned to to be rather dodgy.  For some reason or another Montagu’s men did a runner, Montagu got himself captured by the Lancastrians and Warwick wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

The Yorkists left in a hurry – so much of a hurry in fact that they left King Henry VI sitting under a tree guarded by only two knights – Sir Thomas Kyrill and Lord William Bonville.  They remained with Henry to protect him and might well have expected more honourable treatment than they received when the dust settled.  Both were executed for their pains – which doesn’t do the Lancastrians credit. The only reason John Neville escaped the same fate was because of the possibility of a prisoner swap.

You’d have thought at that point it was all over bar the shouting but Margaret of Anjou hadn’t counted on the Londoners refusing her entry to the capital city on account of their concerns over the hairy northerners.  So although the road to London was open and the royal Lancastrian family were all reunited Margaret of Anjou was still not victorious.

On the 22nd of February it was the Earl of Warwick and Edward, Earl of March who entered London where Edward was shortly afterwards declared king by popular acclaim.

It would take one more bloody battle before this particular game of chess saw a white rose king taking sole control of the board…for the time being at least.

 

 

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John of Lancaster, First Duke of Bedford

john of lancasterJohn of Lancaster,the man with the pudding basin haircut and rather sumptuous gown on his knees in prayer, was the third surviving son of King Henry IV and his first wife Mary Bohun. He was born in 1389.  His mother died when he was just five.

He is better known in history as the First Duke of Bedford. And he is famous, or perhaps infamous, for having Joan of Arc burnt at the stake for witchcraft.  As a mere girl she shouldn’t have been wearing trousers and she certainly shouldn’t have been leading French armies that thrashed English armies.

John’s eldest brother was Henry of Monmouth who went on to become King Henry V after a dissolute youth causing his father Henry IV despair (refer to Shakespeare Henry IV Part One and Part Two for a full litany of drinking, gambling and womanising along with princely reformation).  In any event Henry of Monmouth shook boorish habits from him as soon as he became king and went off to do what medieval English nobility expected of their monarchs – he went to war with someone, gained victory and land.

Henry IV’s second son was called Thomas but he was killed in 1421 at the Battle of Bauge in France. John was the third son and he was followed by Humphrey.  Much of the period of Henry VI’s minority is filled with the political machinations of John and Humphrey who was created Duke of Gloucester and Earl of Pembroke. Each of the brothers wanted more power than the other. Henry V had relied upon John when he was away fighting to rule in his absence.  He took the reigns of power for his brother three times in total.  However it fell to John to continue the English campaign in France despite the fact that he had been named Regent.  This left Humphrey at home.  He became the Lord Protector during John’s long absences in France.

Not that this stopped Humphrey from dabbling in politics in an attempt to destabilize John’s alliances with other European magnates. There was also the small matter of Humphrey antagonizing the next most important man in the kingdom during Henry VI’s minority – Henry Beaufort who was the Bishop of Lincoln, a key figure on the regency council and the half-uncle of Henry IV’s children. (Henry IV’s parents were John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster while Henry Beaufort’s parents were John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford).

 

John’s time in France had been successful – the French might not have been his greatest admirers given his severe administration techniques- until about 1427 at which point a quiet country girl with a dodgy hair cut, a large sword and angels telling her what to do rather rained on his parade. Her name was Joan of Arc.  He was forced to raise the siege of Orleans in 1429 on account of the peasant girl. Joan’s army took the Loire Valley and defeated the English after which she had King Charles VII of France crowned at Rheims which was against the treaty that the French had agreed to after Agincourt which saw King Henry V marry Katherine of Valois.  The French felt there was a world of difference between a mature victorious king and a baby boy – they perhaps had a point given the chaos that often resulted in England when a child was on the throne.

In any event it didn’t do Joan much good.  She was burned for witchcraft in 1431 – the French king who owed her his crown didn’t lift a finger to help her.  John had his young nephew crowned King of France in Paris so that for a little while at least there were technically two kings of France at the same time, though it rather depended where you were as to which one you recognised in public.

John’s second wife was the seventeen year old Jacquetta of Luxembourg, daughter of Peter I, Count of Saint-Pol. She caused a scandal after John’s death by marrying a mere knight called Richard Woodville.  She went on to have sixteen children and the knight became the first Earl Rivers  for his services to Henry VI and his queen Margaret of Anjou.  So when the Yorkists looked down their nose at Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta’s daughter and King Edward IV’s wife, they were forgetting that she was the grand-daughter of a Count and that her mother had once been at the heart of the royal court – albeit a Lancastrian one.

John, as well as being a soldier and a politician, was also a scholar. He founded the University of Caen and had a collection of important religious manuscripts, many of which survive today including The Bedford Hours which is held by the British Library. John’s first wife Anne of Burgundy gave the book to young Henry VI for Christmas in 1430 (I wonder how the grandchildren would react to a beautifully hand painted devotional text rather than the usual jigsaws, board games and selected Disney dvds).

John’s died at Rouen in 1435 during negations with the Burgundians who were breaking their alliance with the English to make a separate peace with the French.  His demise further weakened the stability of the English court where opposing and increasingly vociferous factions now had no one sufficiently intimidating to hold them in check.  The Plantagenet family were moving ever closer to implosion.

 

 

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, Kings of England, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses