Thomas 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.”
Rather 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