Murder in the Abbey- John of Gaunt style

john of gauntIn 1378 Westminster Abbey had to be closed for several months after  an unfortunate interlude.  Murder had been done in the choir and John of Gaunt was implicated.  It didn’t help his reputation as the abbey had to be reconsecrated.

The back story is important. Two knights called Schakell and Hawle or Hauley had taken a Spanish Count prisoner whilst fighting with the Black Prince during the Hundred Years War – the capture took place in 1367 at the Battle of Najera. A ransom was required for the release of the Count of Denia from Aragon.  This was normal procedure and one of the reasons why going to war was so popular as men were able to make a fortune on the battlefield by capturing wealthy men. The Count was allowed to return to Spain to organise the ransom but had to leave his son, Alphonso, as a hostage. Ten years later Alphonso, who was the count’s eldest son was still in England.

Unfortunately for Schakell and Robert Hawle, who was actually Schakell’s squire John of Gaunt was negotiating for the Crown of Castile.  The fact that a Spanish noble was being held hostage until his pa sent back large sums of cash was not good press. Pressure was applied.  Remember this was only a year after Richard II had become king.  John’s power whilst not absolute was non the less impressive.

The two knights refused to release their prisoner. John had them arrested and sent to the Tower of London to focus their minds.   They managed to escape from the Tower and fled to Westminster Abbey where they claimed sanctuary.

You can probably see where this is going.  Sanctuary was ignored by a group of by the Constable of the Tower, Alan Boxhall. Schakell was captured but Hawle and a monk were murdered in the Choir.  All of which sounds as though it was a mad chase through the street and an action which took place in the heat of the moment.

Unfortunately a royal letter made its way to the Abbot of Westminster demanding that Schakell and Hawle be handed over.  The abbot refused.  And that’s when the Constable made his move – so not the heat of the moment. And he didn’t go with a few men.  He took fifty men into the abbey.

The upshot of this was that Bloxhall and all who were involved were excommunicated apart from the young Richard II, his mother Joan of Kent and of course John of Gaunt which seems a bit rich as it’s not a wild leap of deduction to work out who the plan’s mastermind might have been.

Liddel Strength – John of Gaunt on the borders

220px-Edward_III_of_England_(Order_of_the_Garter)John of Gaunt owned more than thirty castles – many came though his marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, others came by gift from his father Edward III.  One of them, Liddel Strength, sitting on the banks of the River Liddel, quite close to the wonderfully named village of Moat in Cumbria, went through assorted hands until it came into the ownership of the Earls of Kent – John the 3rd Earl of Kent died in 1352.  He was twenty-two.   He died without children and his titles passed to his sister Joan.

Joan became the 4th Countess of Kent and Baroness Wake.  History, on the other hand, knows Joan as the Fair Maid of Kent.   Thomas Holland who married her secretly ultimately became the Earl of Kent when Joan extracted herself from a second bigamous marriage that her family had imposed upon her.

All of which was rather unnecessary in this post because John, Earl of Kent passed the castle to Edward III pictured at the start of this post who in turned passed it to John of Gaunt in 1357 after he had proved his martial ability. However, given that the Scots had destroyed the castle in 1346 and behaved rather unpleasantly to the chap responsible for the castle – one Sir Walter de Selby who according to one source was forced to watch two his his sons being strangled prior to his own beheading.

The castle was never rebuilt despite the fact that the area was prone to Scottish raiding given its position on the border.  Edward III’s plan seems to have been that John should become a northern magnate and the lordship gave him the necessary political importance in the region.  Edward was also in the middle of negotiations with King David of Scotland — so a handily placed son was not to be sneezed at in the eventuality of a substitution being required.

Certainly in the 1370s when the intermittent Anglo-Scottish war broke out once more Gaunt went north on Richard II’s behalf with the intention of ending them and had placed the Percy family in a position of greater power than ever on the borders by giving the earl of Northumberland the powers necessary to levy forces from across the marches to repel a Scottish army.

The  title to the Lordship would pass to Henry of Bolingbroke in 1380.

 

The childhood of a prince

john of gauntJohn of Gaunt was born in March 1340 whilst Edward III was on campaign in France trying to claim the French throne through his mother’s, Isabella of France, bloodline – someone hadn’t explained salic law to him.  John was probably born in St Bavo Abbey in Ghent.  In later years the rumour would arise that he was no true son of Edward’s but was instead a Ghentish butcher’s brat – no one ever paused to wonder how Philippa of Hainhault might have met this butcher given that queen’s aren’t prone to popping out to do the shopping for the evening meal.

Froissart states that Gaunt’s godfather was John, Duke of Brabant, a reminder of the shifting tides of political affiliation in Europe.

In November the royal family returned to England.  We know very little of John’s early year’s although, as ever, it is the accounts that give us some insight.  We know for instance from Edward III’s wardrobe account for 1340-41 that the baby was provided with some rather snazzy red and green bedding, that he had silken robes and a household of servants.  As well as his nurse there was a female cradle-rocker.   And, as if this wasn’t enough, there were two esquire of the body, six chamber servants and three “domicelli.” Domicelli are also servants but they are of a higher social status.

John probably found himself in the royal nursery with his sisters Isabella and Joan and his older brother Lionel as well as the new baby Edmund.  At the age of seven he would have been deemed old enough to leave the nursery and begin his training as a knight.  We also know, thanks to the accounts again, that Edward set aside £1000 a year for his children and that Philippa of Hainault of seems to have been a very hands on royal mother was granted their guardianship in 1342 whilst Edward was busy across the Channel.

John was also  created the Earl of Richmond. This may have been because his father was already scouting around for prospective brides for his young son.  The earldom was reconfirmed in 1351.

Ecclesiastical documents also reveal that the young John was admitted to the confraternity at Lincoln and later to St Mary’s in York.  The later took place in 1349 just after the Princess Joan had died from the plague.

John’s next step towards adulthood was being placed in the care of his brother, Edward, the Black Prince.  John was probably in his brother’s household between 1350 and 1355 – the accounts tell us this because there were purchases of knightly accoutrements for the young prince.

It was in 1350 that John found himself in the middle of the Battle of Winchelsea.  He was too young to take part in the fight but according to Froissart John was on board the ship with his father because the king was very fond of his son.  Edward III was attempting to intercept the Castilian fleet of Pedro I who had become an ally of France rather than England – despite Edward III attempting to negotiate a marriage between England and Castile.  Edward III won the battle but it was touch and go.  He knighted his son immediately afterwards according to some versions of Gaunt’s history although others think that the narrator was confused in remembering events that had taken place thirty years previously and that Lionel and John were both knighted in 1355.  In either case Philippa of Hainhault spent an unpleasant afternoon with a good view of a sea battle.

BattleofSluys.jpg

This particular image is from Froissart’s Chronicle.  It depicts the Battle of Sluys which was fought in 1340 between england and France but it gives a good idea that a sea battle was really about getting the ships alongside one another and then being engaged in hand to hand fighting.

In 1355 John was old enough to join his father and older brother on their military campaigns in Normandy and from Calais.  Whilst Edward was occupied in France the Scots took the opportunity to capture Berwick-Upon-Tweed but that’s a different story.  The key thing is that John was part of the winter campaign to recapture the town which surrendered on 13 January 1356.

The following year John was granted the  lordship of Liddel – John was going to be a northern lord getting to grips with those pesky Scots.  The next step in securing John’s future would be his marriage to Blanche of Lancaster.  Childhood – such as it had been- was over.

Goodman, Anthony. (1992) John of Gaunt. London: Longman.

The Wykeham Incident

WilliamOfWykehamEngland, until the Reformation, always had its share of clever clerics – think Cardinals Beaufort and Wolsey for example.  Not only did they hold important places in the Church’s hierarchy they also held the reins of power in State matters as well.  Whilst I’m at it, the other two clerics who people may immediately identify are Thomas Becket who became Henry II’s bête noire and Simon of Sudbury who managed to get himself beheaded by revolting peasants in 1381 – his head is still in Sudbury’s parish church if you’re of a ghoulish turn of mind.

So just who is Wykeham? William  Wykeham is Edward III’s leading cleric and statesman and like the above named gentlemen he had the knack of irritating folk – well mainly John of Gaunt.  Wykeham’s story is an interesting one in that he was not the second son of aristocracy or even a member of the gentry.  Generally his family are described as poor.  His father could afford for him not to labour on the land but it would have been a sacrifice as would the education that replaced manual labour. William’s natural talent was recognised and he must have had a sponsor who helped pay for his education.  William was educated in Winchester and then found employment as a clerk (in minor orders) in Winchester.  By 1349 (just in time for the Black Death) Wykeham was in the employ of the Bishop of Winchester.  This would have brought him into the royal orbit as the bishop was Edward III’s treasurer. Winchester also has close associations with the court so it was a place of opportunity for a gifted young man.

 

Wykeham continued working for the bishop until the mid 1350s at which point he suddenly accrued a number of official roles at court.  He was also made surveyor of the works for Windsor Castle and its park.  He had arrived – the long path to overnight success had been trodden and from now on he made rapid advances in royal service.  He turns up in Calais negotiating the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360.

Wykeham became more and more influential as the 1360s progressed.  It did not make him very popular with the rest of Edward III’s advisors not least because having decided to undergo ordination he also squirrelled away some very lucrative livings at a point when there was peace with France and the rich pickings of earlier years were not so readily available.  in 1366 on Edward III’s orders he was elected Bishop of Winchester.  He also went on to become Edward’s chancellor.

john of gauntIt seemed as though there would be no stopping him but as ever the currents of political power eddy and swirl.  Parliament ultimately petitioned the king to stop the practice of ecclesiastics having positions of power and not being liable to account for their actions, and that non-clerical laymen should replaced them. An important supporter of this action was John of Gaunt who was not keen on Wykeham – which is a bit rich coming from the man who used Edward III’s increasing infirmity as an opportunity to take control of the court and to reverse reforms made by the king.

In 1371 Gaunt had his way and Wykeham found himself transformed from one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom to being utterly reliant on the charity of his friends when he was kicked out of the See of Winchester and forced to resign the chancellorship. John of Gaunt tried to have Wykeham charged with corruption.

In 1377 when Richard II became king Wykeham received a full pardon although it should be noted that initially Wykeham was specifically excluded from the pardon and it was only after an ecclesiastical uproar that his name was added to the list. He went on to be one of the king’s councillors demonstrating that John of Gaunt did not control the regency council in the way that is often suggested given that he and Wykeham were at loggerheads with one another.  Between 1389 and 1391 Wykeham was Richard II’s chancellor. In 1391 he was back on the case of the war with the French – by now the war was sixty years long on and off.

He died in 1404 having welcomed Henry of Bolingbroke to Winchester in 1400 as king.

So why is Wykeham important? Firstly he isn’t of noble birth – which no doubt caused quite a lot of resentment at the time.  In an age when blood line was all important Wykeham is a role model for the self made man.  He’s symptomatic of changing times.  War and plague as well as some effective patronage opened up possibilities for his advancement. Second, we are used to hearing that Gaunt was all powerful.  In 1377  Gaunt was unable to continue his campaign against Wykeham despite the fact that he is usually depicted as the leading member of the regency council.  And thirdly, the reason usually given for Gaunt’s unrelenting campaign against Wykeham is that allegedly Wykeham spread the rumour that Gaunt was actually the son of a Ghentish butcher rather than Edward III – and well all know how history loves a good conspiracy theory.

 

 

The House of Lancaster – the basics

 

The House of Lancaster - kingsi.jpgThis afternoon I’ve been learning how to convert a word document into a jpeg.  It is rather a straight forward process as it turns out.  The word document needs to be saved as a pdf which can then be saved as a jpeg.  I am therefore a very happy woman and well under way with planning the first part of the forthcoming day school on the Beaufort  family.

Here then is a brief reminder of why the House of Lancaster ended up wearing the crown.

Edward III was a long lived king.  He became king in 1327, at the age of 14, when his father Edward II “abdicated” at the suggestion of Edward III’s mother Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.  Three years later Edward III overthrew his regents and took charge of his kingdom. In part it was because Edward was now a young man but other factors must have included the fact that Roger Mortimer’s military campaign in Scotland didn’t go terribly well and there was the all important factor that Isabella of France had become pregnant with Mortimer’s child.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out that with Mortimer in charge that Edward III was a hindrance to perhaps placing his own child upon the throne.  Edward became involved in a coup of his own. Men loyal to Edward III burst in to Nottingham Castle through a secret passage and arrested Mortimer who was promptly carted off to London where he was executed. Alison Weir speculates that the child that Isabella was carrying was either still born or miscarried.  There certainly isn’t any further reference to an illegitimate child of the queen’s.

Meanwhile Edward III had married, the year after he became king in name only, Philippa of Hainhault. Edward and Philippa had thirteen children not all of whom survived infancy which is rather impressive since Edward III was busy governing his kingdom and launching the Hundred Years War base don the fact that his mother was a french princess, there was a vacancy and no one had explained salic law to him.   In addition to his heir, also called Edward (of Woodstock) and whom History knows as the Black Prince he had four other sons who lived into adulthood. Edward wished to ensure that all his sons were well provided for so turned them into dukes and ensured that they were all married to heiresses.

Unfortunately the Black Prince instead of settling down to beget plentiful heirs of his own became embroiled in a love story to compete with that of his younger brother John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.  He settled his heart upon Joan of Kent who was the granddaughter of Edward I and his second wife (Margaret of France).  Young Joan or the Fair Maid of Kent as she is sometimes called had a bit of a reputation.  The Black Prince aside from being quite closely related to her was her third husband – husbands one and two had both been alive at the same time and there had been quite some scandal over the whole affair when she selected the knight Thomas Holland to be her spouse rather than the heir of the Earl of Salisbury. She had several children but only one child, Richard of Bordeaux, who survived infancy with her third husband the Black Prince.  The Holland children and their descendants turn up throughout the Wars of the Roses having married into various families adding to the general sense of internecine quarrelling.

The Black Prince careered around France, irritating the French, winning battles and inconveniently dying of dropsy in 1376 the year before his father which meant that the heir to the throne was a nine-year-old boy with four wealthy adult male uncles…and for those readers who enjoy a good pantomime this was clearly not a good position to be in.

It says something for the stability of the kingdom that Richard II became king in 1377 aged just ten.  Four years later the Peasants were revolting and Richard showed his metal by riding out to meet their leader Wat Tyler at Mile End and then at Smithfield.  The rebellion was unsuccessful and this is not the post to explore it any further. Let’s just say that the reign didn’t go well after a promising early start.

Richard’s lords, the so-called Lords Appellant plotted against him.  One of the men was his uncle – Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester.  He would have a nasty accident in Calais with a mattress which suffocated him on his nephew’s orders. Another uncle Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence was already dead – poisoned it would appear by his Italian father-in-law. The Duke of York (Edmund of Langley) kept his nose clean and receives mention in Richard II’s will as a potential heir along with Lionel’s grandson by his only child Philippa who married Roger Mortimer, Earl of March (a descendent of Isabella of France’s lover)- which just leaves us with the most powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.  Everyone believed that Gaunt wanted to be king but he was never anything but loyal to his nephew.

The same can not be said of Gaunt’s eldest son, Henry of Bolingbroke (the Earl of Derby). Henry had joined the Lords Appellant in 1387 to plot against Richard who bided his time until he had gained sufficient power to take his revenge.  Henry meanwhile had learned the error of his ways and John of Gaunt had returned from making his claim to the throne of Castile to help keep order in the family. Henry of Bolingbroke reported an alleged treasonous comment in 1398 made by Thomas Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk.  The pair were to fight a duel at Coventry but Richard changed his mind and banished Mowbray for life.  Henry was banished for a period of ten years, ostensibly to avoid further blood shed.  The following year John of Gaunt died and rather than send the revenue from the Lancaster estates to his cousin Henry, Richard II now took the opportunity to banish Henry of Bolingbroke for life and claim all of his uncle’s lands.  Richard had cousin Henry’s young son, also called Henry with him as a hostage for Henry of Bolingbroke’s good behaviour when he sailed off to Ireland to deal with the Irish.

Henry of Bolingbroke, now returned to England claiming that he wanted nothing more than what was rightfully his. He swiftly gained sufficient power to claim the kingdom for himself and bingo Henry of Bolingbroke, a.k.a the Earl of Derby transformed overnight into King Henry IV (though he did spend the rest of his life looking one this shoulder for potential plotters and assassins).  Richard II was carted off to Pontefract Castle where someone (Thomas Swynford as it happens) forgot to feed him and he died. Young Henry the hostage would turn into Henry V,

The house of Lancaster now seemed secure on the throne as Henry IV had many sons. Unfortunately his eldest son Henry V contracted dysentery and died leaving a nine month old child, also called Henry on the throne. After a while the hold of the House of Lancaster unravelled – Henry VI aside from not wanting to thrash the French actually married one of them, failed to produce an heir for such a long time that when Prince Edward finally turned up there were plenty of rumours about paternity.  It didn’t help that Henry VI had suffered a mental breakdown and was incapable of ruling let alone acknowledging his son.

The descendants of all those dukes began to look back up their family trees.  Factions formed and it was one short step from angry words to drawn swords on various battle fields.  Ultimately Prince Edward of Lancaster would died at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 meaning that the house of Lancaster would have to look back up its own family tree for a potential heir.

Henry V’s brothers were as follows:

Thomas who died in 1421 at the Battle of Bauge.  He had no legitimate children.

John, the Duke of Bedford who took over the campaign and governance in France after the death of his brother Henry V.   He had been married twice for reasons of allegiance, firstly to Anne of Burgundy and then to Jacquetta of Luxembourg (yes, that one who was mother of Elizabeth Woodville).  Neither wife had produced a little scion of the house of Lancaster.

Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester who took over ruling in England on behalf of his little nephew Henry VI counterbalanced by the child’s half great-uncle Cardinal Beaufort.  Humphrey is known as the “Good Duke.”  His first wife was Jacqueline of Holland, Zeeland and Hainault (all very useful for waging war against the French).  The marriage was annulled  and Humphrey married his mistress Eleanor Cobham.  In 1441 Humphrey’s grip on political power was removed when his wife was convicted of witchcraft and the pair were forcibly divorced.  There were no children and Humphrey died unexpectedly in 1447…possibly from poison.

For the House of Lancaster to continue to vie for the throne after the death of Henry Vi and his son in 1471 it would have to look elsewhere for its sprigs – which is, of course, where the House of Beaufort comes into the equation.

Meanwhile there’s always an opportunity for spotting heraldic devices on modern pubs.  The white hart was Richard II’s favoured heraldic device whereas Henry IV used several including the fettered swan of his wife Mary de Bohun.  Henry V sometimes used the fettered swan as well.  And then of course there is Henry VI’s spotted panther  incensed (means its shooting flames) which is rather wonderful but which so far as I am aware does not feature as a pub.

 

The Cavendish Connection

john of gauntPrior to the sixteenth century Derbyshire did not have an extremely powerful local magnate to dominate affairs.  The position was occupied in latter half of  the fourteenth century by John of Gaunt who acquired manors, castles and rights through his marriage to Blanche of Lancaster.  On his death the land and power base, along with the loyalty of the local affinity when largely to his son Henry of Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby who returned from exile to reclaim his father’s title and estate when Richard II confiscated them.  As a consequence of this Bolingbroke turned into Henry IV and duchy land turned into Crown estates.

It was only in the sixteenth century that Derbyshire acquired its own homegrown power base rather than the Crown or the Earls of Shrewsbury who owned land to the north including Sheffield Castle. I’m taking the opportunity provided by snow drifts and gales to cement my understanding of that power base’s affinity of kinship.

bessofhardwickIn 1547, at Bradgate in Leicestershire, Bess of Hardwick as she would become known married Sir William Cavendish.  Cavendish was the younger son of a Suffolk family but had gained a foothold in the household of Cardinal Wolsey thanks to the support of his older brother George who remained a loyal servant of the cardinal’s throughout Wolsey’s life. In 1529 when Wolsey had fallen from favour Thomas had gone into Thomas Cromwell’s service putting him nicely in place as an auditor for the Court of Augmentations to profit from the dissolution of the monasteries.

250px-william_cavendish_c1547Like Bess, who was his third wife, Thomas had an eye for a bargain.  The pair soon started to build up a property portfolio.  Bess’s mother wrote to her telling her of bargains to be had in Derbyshire. Bess would marry twice more after her husband’s death in 1557 first to Sir William St Loe and then to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury but she would have no more children.  She ensured all her children made good marriages – a dynasty had been founded.

Frances Cavendish (1548- 1632) – Frances married Sir Henry Pierrepoint from Nottinghamshire.  He was did what gentry did in those days.  He was a justice of the peace and a member of parliament.  He and his wife had three children.  Their eldest son would marry into the Talbot family and Frances’ grandson would become Marquis of  Dorchester.  The family would go on to spawn the Dukes of Kingston-Upon-Hull.  Frances’ youngest daughter, Grace, would marry Sir George Manners – making her the mother of the 8th Earl of Rutland.

henrycavendish1549.jpgHenry Cavendish (1550 – 1616) was married off to Grace Talbot as part of Bess and the Earl of Shrewsbury’s marriage agreement.  As the eldest son he should have inherited Chatsworth but he managed to get into Bess’s bad-books and got himself disinherited.  He didn’t have any legitimate off spring.  It should be noted that he actually did inherit Chatsworth but sold it to his brother.  One of his illegitimate sons, also called Henry, founded the Cavendish of Doveridge line.

William_Cavendish,_1st_Earl_of_Devonshire.jpgWilliam Cavendish (1552 – 1626) started off having the kind of career that readers of this blog might expect of a scion of the gentry.  He was an MP and a justice.  He was also the Sheriff of Derbyshire.  He became a baron in 1605 thanks to his niece Arbella Stuart who presents this case to her cousin King James I. After his mother’s death he became very wealthy and together with his court connections was able to gain the title Earl of Devonshire.  It is reported that he paid James I £10,000 for the privilege.  I shall be coming back to William tomorrow. I find that I need an understanding of who is who in the Devonshire fold – as someone said to me recently – it’s impossible to escape the Devonshires in Derbyshire and whilst on one hand the fact that quite a lot of them are called William means that I can get away with a lot its an aristocratic skein that I need to untangle.

Charles Cavendish (1553-1617) was the godson of Queen Mary and the father of William Cavendish who became the Duke of Newcastle – he went through the titles earl and marquis before gaining the dukedom in 1665 when he pointed out to Charles II that the Crown owed him rather a lot of back pay and that he was seriously out of pocket for having supported Charles I during the English Civil War.  If that succession of titles wasn’t confusing enough for the casual reader he was also created Viscount Mansfield in 1620.   From this branch of the family come the dukes of Newcastle and also Portland.

William had a younger brother also called Charles who worked loyally on his brother’s behalf.  Aubrey described him as a “little, weak, crooked man.” Aside from becoming an MP and going into exile with his brother the Marquis of Newcastle in July 1644 after the Battle of Marston Moor, Charles deserves more mention because of his advancement of the science of mathematics and correspondence with continental mathematicians .  There can’t be many men defined in the National Archives as a Knight Mathematician and it would have to be said that Aubrey notes that having been left estates and money he purchased books and “learned men.”  The books, which were all mathematical were sold upon his death, by his wife, for waste paper.

Elizabeth Cavendish (1555-1582) married Charles Stuart the younger brother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley the unfortunate second husband of Mary Queen of Scots.  Margaret, Countess of Lennox and Bess, then Countess of Shrewsbury, met at Rufford Abbey along with their respective off-spring and the rest, as they say, is history.  The result of the marriage was Arbella Stuart and a possible contender for the Crown being descended from the eldest daughter of Henry VII.

Mary Cavendish (1556-1632) married Gilbert Talbot who became the 7th Earl of Shrewsbury upon his father’s death.  Mary’s home life was complicated by the 6th earls increasing hostility to Bess and to her family not to mention his family.  The pair had five children but their two sons died in infancy.  Their three daughters married as follows; the earls of Norfolk, Pembroke and Kent.

Essentially the descendants of a poor Derbyshire squire’s daughter had married into some of the most prestigious families in the land. The Dukeries area in Nottinghamshire is so-called because it was once home to the Dukes of Norfolk descended from Mary Cavendish;  Dukes of Portland  and Dukes of Newcastle descended from Charles Cavendish and the Dukes of Kingston descended from Frances. Bess’s descendants have impacted on  British politics since the seventeenth century and whilst she was unable to ensure that her grand-daughter Arbella Stuart wore the crown it should be noted that Elizabeth II is descended from her through the Bowes-Lyons and that Princes William and Henry are related to her not only through their paternal line but also through Princess Diana’s ancestry.

 

Katherine Swynford locations

It’s inevitable that many of these locations feature as castles belonging to John of Gaunt: Tutbury, Leicester, Herefored and Hertford to name a few.  I’ve also included a few places associated with Mary de Bohun whose household Katherine is listed in during some of the period when she and Gaunt went their separate ways.

 

Double click on the pointer to open up a box with a snippet of information about each of these locations. If nothing else it is possible to see how widely travelled John of Gaunt was within England. It is possible to see the lines of Roman roads as well as the marches between England and Wales as you look at the locations, a reminder that in the past boundaries determine fortifications and that key transport networks made it possible for the great and the good to administer their estates.

Thomas Walsingham – and the “Scandalous Chronicle.”

KatSwynfordThomas Walsingham was a Benedictine monk.  He lived at St Albans Abbey where he had been educated and is usually considered the last of the great medieval chroniclers being a prolific producer of manuscripts including the “Chronicon Angliae” which covering the years 1328 to 1388.  It is in this chronicle that he criticises John of Gaunt.   The “Gesta Abbatum” or the St Albans Chronicle or Chronica Maiora as a continuation of that of Mathew Paris – and in fact his histories draw heavily on Paris’s work. His writings end in 1422 when he died but it is from Walsingham that we know about Wat Tyler, John Wycliff and the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV.

In part because he wasn’t a fan of John Wycliff and Lollardy – he took against John of Gaunt who was regarded as offering protection to reformers, Wycliff in particular. However, it should be added that there are two versions of Walsingham’s chronicle – one which is deeply hostile to John of Gaunt describing him as having “unbridled malice and greed, fearing neither God nor man.”  Walsingham’s general view was that Gaunt was after his nephew’s crown. True, Gaunt was the power behind the throne but hindsight shows that he never sought to take the crown by force despite several provocations.  It would also have to be said that Walsingham was just repeating what other people thought.  In 1377 his arms were reversed and marched through London by an angry mob. In 1381 his London palace, the Savoy, was burned to the ground. Walsingham was also critical of John’s relationship with  Katherine Swynford describing her as an “unmentionable concubine” and a “whore.”

william bell scott john of gauntRather amusingly and to the detriment of the chronicle a second version was penned after Henry IV, who was of course Gaunt’s son, came to the throne. Oddly all the unpleasant remarks about Gaunt were removed…so that the first version came to be known as “the scandalous chronicle.”

In all fairness Walsingham was critical of most of Richard II’s courtiers describing them as knights of love rather than war and better with words than weapons – well he should know about that!

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

Get thee to a nunnery! Swynford and Chaucer

nun5.gifIt was quite common in the earlier part of the Middle Ages for a parent to dedicate a baby or a young child to holy orders.  These children were called oblates because the child was offered to God with an altar cloth wrapped around their right hand – an oblation or offering.

Prior to the invasion of 1066 William, duke of Normandy, and his wife Matilda sent their daughter Cecilia into the noviciate at the abbey of Holy Trinity in Caen.  The date is significant – 18 June 1066.  She didn’t become a fully professed nun until 1075 when she was about nineteen or twenty.

It’s easy to speculate that Cecilia was offered in exchange for a successful invasion. Equally many parents gave their child as an offering in hope of heavenly brownie points. It should also be added that if you were a man with many daughters and insufficient lands you might be tempted to palm the plainest or least marriageable daughter off on the Church to avoid all the expenditure that accompanied nuptial arrangements.  Until the rule of Innocent III (1198-1215) children who were given to the Church had no power to quit the religious life once they grew up.  This could lead to unfortunate incidences of runaway or pregnant nuns not to mention nuns like Chaucer’s abbess who dressed well and kept pets.

Katherine Swynford’s eldest daughter Margaret along with her cousin Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery at Barking when they were children.  It is possible that Katherine Swynford and Philippa Chaucer were following family tradition in dedicating a daughter to the Church because evidence suggests that the pair had an older sister (probably a half sibling) called Elizabeth or possibly Isabelle who entered the nunnery of St Wandru in Mons in 1349.

medieval-nuns

 

Elizabeth Chaucer entered the nunnery in 1381 following nomination by Richard II – demonstrating the influence of Katherine by this time.  Elizabeth had previously been lodged in the convent of St Helens in Bishopgate.  We know that John of Gaunt paid her admission fee – in lieu of a dowry.  It was a large sum- £51 8s 2d.  This in its turn has given rise to the rumour that Philippa may have had an affair with the duke of Lancaster and that Elizabeth was his daughter.  As Weir points out, Gaunt acknowledged his other illegitimate children and provided for them handsomely so why would he be furtive about Elizabeth, if she was indeed his?.She also notes that the care given by Gaunt to  members of his household was generous so there should be no raised eyebrows about the gift, although of course Auntie Katherine may have had a hand in it so that her own daughter would have, at least, had the company of a cousin. Margaret went on to become the abbess of Barking in 1419.

The abbess of Barking had the legal status of a baron- a reminder that for women the Church was more or less the only way to wield power in your own right so long as you made it to the top of the job ladder.  Margaret Swynford is recorded as dying in 1433.

Its not much information about the two girls but it’s all there is!

Weir speculates as to whether Sir Hugh and Katherine Swynford might have had other children.  She notes that there was a Katherine Swynford at Stixwold Priory in 1377.  However, other than the name and the fact that it is just possible that the traditionally accepted marriage date for Hugh and Katherine is wrong there is no evidence that this particular Katherine was a member of our Katherine Swynford’s immediate family.  Also Barking was a prestigious location.  It would be here that Jasper and Edmund Tudor were sent after their mother’s death.  By contrast Stixwold was rather impoverished.

 

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House

‘Houses of Benedictine nuns: Abbey of Barking’, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, ed. William Page and J Horace Round (London, 1907), pp. 115-122. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol2/pp115-122 [accessed 7 September 2017].

SaveSave

Blanche Swynford

KatSwynfordBeing a girl, daughter of a minor and somewhat impecunious Lincolnshire knight claiming descent back to the Saxons, no one thought it sufficiently important to make note of Blanche Swynford’s date of birth. Of course, History reveals little Blanche to be the god-daughter of John of Gaunt and daughter of Katherine Swynford. Nor for that matter is History terribly sure about the number of her sisters.

 

Historians are uncertain whether Blanche is older or younger than her brother Thomas who was born on 21 September 1368.  Anthony Goodman argues that Blanche was born sometime in 1366 whilst John of Gaunt’s first wife was still alive.  It makes sense that if Gaunt was her godfather that Blanche of Lancaster may well have been her godmother.  Equally it is possible to argue that the baby was named after the late duchess and not born until 1370 (ish).  Both scenarios are equally valid although there may be some shifting in the dates depending on the text.

Weir suggests that Blnache may have been born earlier given that Hugh inherited his estates in 1361 pushing the marriage date for Katherine and Hugh back to the start of the decade, at a point where Katherine would have only just attained a legally marriageable age, rather than placing it sometime between 1366 and 1367 as is usual.  In part the problem arises because Historians are uncertain whether Katherine married at a very young age or not.  The argument often given is that it seems unlikely that a very young woman would have been made governess of Gaunt’s children.

What we can be certain about is that the papal dispensation for the marriage between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford mentions Blanche because of the relationship that being godparent created.  There is also some evidence to suggest that Blanche grew up with John’s daughters – which makes sense given that Katherine was their governess- and which Weir uses as evidence of Katherine being married by the end of 1362 with Blanche making an arrival the following year.  The fact that Blanche is in Gaunt’s records as being in the household of his daughters in 1368 helps this viewpoint.

She turns up again in the aftermath of Queen Philippa’s death on 14 August 1369.  Edward III provided mourning for the ladies at court and Blanche as lady-in-waiting or more accurately demoiselle to John of Gaunt’s daughters received suitable garb for the occasion.  Weir argues that the mourning given to the Swynford family at this time reflects the fact that Philippa remained fond of Katherine and  Philippa Chaucer after their years growing up in the queen’s household.

Lucraft identifies the fact that Gaunt takes an active interest in his godchild.  Katherine was awarded the wardship of Robert Deyncourt in 1375 specifically to cover Blanche’s dowry. Of course, one of the key factors of having a wealthy ward was to marry him into the family as soon as decently possible.  Weir writes that Gaunt intended Deyncourt, a scion of the Lancaster Affinity, as a groom for his godchild. However – Blanche did not marry Robert.

Did she die young? Was Blanche dead by 1378? Possibly.  Alternatively the records provide us with another possible groom in the form of Sir Thomas Morrieux – the gift Gaunt gave the happy couple was extremely generous including as it did silver spoons, saucers and a basket with a silver top. The difficulty is that this may be a different Blanche. Froissart says that Morrieux’s wife was Gaunt’s illegitimate daughter. Either Froissart thought Blanche Swynford was Gaunt’s; or she was the daughter of Marie de St Hillaire or Froissart was wrong (his chronicles do contain errors). The evidence that this particular Blanche is Blanche Swynford is circumstantial- Morrieux was a Lancastrian retainer with an annuity of £100 p.a who died in Spain. Our lack of knowledge about his wife reflects the difficulty of decoding the past where records are incomplete and names not always terribly helpful.

The difficulties of working out relationships from fragmentary evidence and deductions without necessarily knowing exact dates for events are summarised by Sydney Armitage-Smith writing in 1904 about John of Gaunt:

But the attempt to identify the Duke s daughter and the daughter of his later mistress breaks down hopelessly. (It was made by Sir N Nicolas, Scrope v Grosvenor Con
troversy 11 185) For (i) there is Froissart’s explicit state ment quoted above ; (11) Blanche is never mentioned among the Beauforts , (ui) there is the insuperable difficulty of age.
Katharine Swynford, born in 1350, and married to Sir Hugh Swynford m 1367, whose elder child, Sir Thomas Swynford, was born in 1368, could not possibly have been the mother of Blanche, who was married to Sir Thomas Moneux in 1381.

https://archive.org/stream/johnofgaunt001003mbp/johnofgaunt001003mbp_djvu.txt

Lucraft, Jeannette. (2006) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: Sutton Publishing

Weir, Alison. (2007) Katherine Swynford:The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House