John of Gaunt – the Beaufort family.

KatSwynford

Possible image of Katherine Swynford

John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford began an affair after Blanche of Lancaster and Katherine’s husband Hugh had both died.  Their affair continued for a decade from   1372  until 1382 when in the aftermath of the Peasant’s Revolt John sent Katherine a quitclaim severing all ties with her.  Having said that the records show that Katherine was very much present in the lives of Henry of Bolingbroke and his wife Mary de Bohun.  It was only after Constanza of Castile died that John renewed his relationship with Katherine – this time making her his wife much to the surprise of everyone else.

The duke of Lancaster marriedhis mistress  Catherine de Roet{widow of Hugh Swinford), which caused indignation among many great ladies, as the duchess of Gloucester, the countess of Derby and the countess of Arundel, who said that they would never come into any place where she should be present.

Froissart

Katherine was approximately forty-six so there was no question of another family.  However, Katherine already had four surviving children by John of Gaunt: John, Henry, Thomas and Joan – all of whom were acknowledged and provided for by John.  Their surname Beaufort probably came from their father’s lost lordship in Anjou – meaning that they would never have any claim on the lands of his first family through Blanche of Lancaster.

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John Beaufort Earl of Somerset

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Joan Beaufort

In September 1396 a papal bull  was issued by Pope Boniface IX legitimising the Beaufort brood.  This was followed the next year in February 1397  by a royal patent issued by Richard II legitimising the family.  The patent was read out in Parliament giving it the force of law.  When Henry IV later scribbled in the margins of the patent that the Beaufort were legitimate in every aspect of law apart from inheritance of the throne he did not have the amendment read out in Parliament – thus it was not a law – and still causes dissent between supporters of the Houses of York and Lancaster.  The family tree below can be downloaded and viewed in a larger scale if you wish.
John Beaufort was either born at the end of 1372 or by March 1383.  Henry was born between 1374 and 1375, Thomas was born in 1377 and Joan, pictured in this post with her daughters, was born in 1379.
John Beaufort became the 1st Beaufort earl of Somerset.  He served both Richard II and Henry IV.  He fought against Owen Glyn Dwr and also against the French in the Hundred Years War.  His brother Henry was a scholar who entered the church.  His was a political career that had an impact on the growing inter family rivalries of the period.  He was also intent on building the Beaufort family fortunes.  Henry at least does not knot the Plantagenet family tree into any more tangles but John married Margaret Holland. They had six children.  Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, is descended from John and Margaret.  I will post about this branch of the family tree in due course.
Margaret Holland is part of the Plantagenet family.  Her grandmother was Joan of Kent.  Her father was  Joan’s son Thomas Holland, the Second earl of Kent – so a descendant of King Edward I by his second wife Margaret of France.  Margaret’s mother was Alice FitzAlan, the daughter of the tenth Earl of Arundel and his wife Eleanor of Lancaster – the grand daughter of Edmund Crouchback and great grand daughter of Henry III.  All I can say is that the demand for papal dispensations must have been huge in the Plantagenet family.
Meanwhile Thomas Beaufort was part of the Lancaster entourage and a close friend of Henry of Monmouth.  In 1410 he became the Lord Chancellor, went to war against the French and also the Welsh during Owen Glyn Dwr’s rebellion and was an active military leader against the northern rebels led by the Earl of Northumberland and Archbishop Scrope.  In 1412 he was made Earl of Dorset under the rule of his friend Henry of Monmouth he became the Duke of Exeter.
After Henry V died Thomas Beaufort was one of the executor’s of the king’s will so was on the regency council in 1422.  In 1426 he died having been predeceased by his wife Margaret Neville of Hornby.  Their son Henry died young.
Of John’s children with Katherine Swynford this leaves Joan Beaufort.  My next post will be about her.

 

Plantagenet- Lancaster and Beaufort

john of gauntToday we have arrived at the third surviving son of Edward III – John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.  I’ve posted about him before so I don’t intend to write about him in any great detail here – but there is a very tangled Plantagenet skein to unravel in terms of his children.

John married three times – his first marriage was to Blanche of Lancaster.  She was the daughter of Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster.  His grandfather was Edmund Crouchback, the younger brother of Edward I.  This makes Blanche the great-great-grand-daughter of Henry III (yes- another one.)  Her mother Isabella de Beaumont came from an equally prestigious bloodline.  Her great grandfather was King of Jerusalem and somewhere along the line, inevitably, there was some Plantagenet blood flowing in Isabella’s veins.

Marriage_of_Blanche_of_Lancaster_and_John_of_Gaunt_1359During the latter part of the 1350s Edward III was looking to provide wealth and land for his older sons. Blanche married John of Gaunt at Reading Abbey in May 1359.  Blanche gave birth to seven children between 1360 and her death in 1368 but only three survived to adulthood: Philippa, Elizabeth and Henry of Bolingbroke. Philippa married into the royal house of Portugal in 1387 as part of the Treaty of Windsor so for the time being we can remove her from the intersecting Plantagenet lines – possibly with a huge sigh of relief.

When Henry of Bolingbroke usurped his cousin Richard II one of the pieces of “fake news” circulated by Lancaster sympathisers to justify the take over was that Edmund Crouchback was actually Edward I’s older brother but that because he was deformed, the younger brother took the crown.  This was a fabrication.  Edmund was called Crouchback because he had taken the cross and gone on Crusade. It is interesting none-the-less that Henry IV made his claim not from his grandfather Edward III but from his maternal link to Henry III.

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Constanza of Castile – the source is the British Library 

Gaunt’s second wife was Constance (Constanza) of Castile.  John had aspirations to wear his own crown rather than simply watch over this nephew Richard II and there were plenty of members of Richard’s council who were delighted when John developed a continental interest.  The marriage produced a child Catherine in 1372, a year after the marriage, followed by a son John who did not survive infancy.  Catherine married Henry III of Castile and became the country’s regent during the minority of her son – John II of Castile.

Just to add to the familial knot:- Gaunt’s brother, Edmund of Langley – Duke of York married Constanza’s sister Isabella of Castile who was the mother of his children rather than his second wife Joan Holland.

KatSwynford

 

The third wife is the famous one – Katherine Swynford.  John married her in 1396 but the couple had begun an affair soon after Blanche of Lancaster’s death and the death of Katherine’s husband Hugh.  Kathryn’s eldest son by John was born the year after Constance of Castile had Catherine.  There were four members of the Beaufort brood – John, Henry, Thomas and Joan.  When John married Katherine he arranged for the entire family to be legitimised by the Church and the State.

Where does that leave us – aside from the need for a fortifying cup of tea? It leaves us with the two children from John’s marriage to Blanche of Lancaster who remained in England and the four from his relationship with Katherine Swynford – but as Cardinal Henry Beaufort had no legitimate children we are left with a total of five children who married and extended the Plantagenet line – which isn’t so bad until you realise exactly how large Joan Beaufort’s family actually was!

Next time: John of Gaunt’s Lancaster children – Philippa, Elizabeth and Henry. Be ready for the complications of Elizabeth’s marriage!

Weir, Alison. Britain’s Royal Families

 

 

 

 

 

 

The House of Lancaster part III: The Beauforts

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On 24 March 1394 Constance of Castile died at Leicester Castle.  She was interred in the church of St Mary in the Newark.  In 1396 John of Gaunt wrote a letter to Pope Boniface explaining that he and Katherine Swynford desired to marry and asked for a dispensation because he was Blanche Swynford’s godfather.  A dispensation was duly granted – the pope noting that John and Katherine already had offspring. John of Gaunt’s relationship with Katherine Swynford had resulted in four children  during the course of their affair which started after John of Gaunt’s first wife had died and Katherine’s husband had died in France.  In January 1396 John married Katherine “from affection to their children” according to Froissart – who as Weir notes seems unable to comprehend that a duke might marry for love.  The following year the Beauforts were legitimised by the Church and by parliament through Richard II’s charter.

John Beaufort was enabled in February 1397 and in the same year he acquired a wealthy wife in the form of Margaret Holland.  Margaret was Richard II’s cousin via his mother (Joan of Kent) and her first family.  John repaid Richard II’s generosity by helping to condemn the Duke of Gloucester, the Earl of Arundel and the Earl of Warwick of treason.  The Duke of Gloucester, Richard II’s youngest uncle was murdered in Calais before he could be arrested – it was put out that he had died but the rumours were swift to fly.  The Earl of Arundel was executed and the Earl of Warwick was banished.  As a result of this successful outcome John Beaufort was elevated from being an earl to a marquess.

There were other promotions as four new earldoms were created at the same time.  Ralph Neville, Lord of Middleham and Raby became the Earl of Westmorland.  He had become engaged to John Beaufort’s sister Joan in November 1396.  On one hand it could be said that Richard II was rewarding loyalty and punishing treachery – on the other hand it does look, in hindsight, remarkably like bribery on a huge scale.

There can be no doubting the tension within the country as Richard became increasingly unpredictable and life must have become difficult for the marquess when his half-brother, Henry of Bolingbroke, was banished.  John was on good terms with his half brother so seems to have had no difficulty in swapping his allegiance from cousin Richard to brother Henry when Henry returned to England and became King Henry IV.

John’s family would continue to be involved in English politics.  They were, after all, family.  They also owed everything to their definitely legitimate half sibling who carefully changed Richard II’s charter to make it clear that although the Beauforts were legitimate that they might never inherit the throne.  Given that Henry IV had a healthy brood of sons it seemed unlikely at the time that he wrote his addition in the margins that it would have much relevance.  John Beaufort’s sons and sons-in-law would be involved in the running of the kingdom during Henry VI’s minority.  John’s son Edmund would be suspected of wanting to marry his cousin Henry V’s widow and there are some historians who speculate that Katherine of Valois had to marry Owen Tudor in order to ensure that she didn’t become the mother of another illegitimate Beaufort baby. John’s grandsons would die on battlefields across England and be dragged to their execution by triumphant Yorkists until in the end only a single girl would remain with the name Beaufort – his eldest son, also called John, having died in 1444 as a suspected suicide resulting from the shame of his military blunders in France.

Meanwhile John of Gaunt and Katherine’s third son Thomas who had a place within Henry of Bolingbroke’s retinue would benefit from Richard II’s revenge against the Lords Appellants in that he was granted lordship of Castle Acre which had been in the hands of Thomas Mowbray.  Thomas Beaufort would retain his place in his half-brother’s affinity and become a confidant of young Henry of Monmouth (to be Henry V) and would campaign with him against the Welsh and Owen Glendower.  He would go to France with Henry V and he would be wounded at Harfleur.  Thomas was elevated to the dukedom of Exeter for his loyalty to Henry V but although he married his son did not live long and that line of Beauforts died out.  He reflects the fact that the first generation of Beaufort boys were part of the Lancaster affinity. After their father’s death their loyalty belonged to their half-brother.

Henry Beaufort, the second Beaufort son born to John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford,  also benefited from his family’s respectability when he became Bishop of Lincoln in February 1398.  He was just twenty-three years old.  He would become Bishop of Winchester in 1405 and a Cardinal in 1426.  He would dominate the political scene becoming a pivot on Henry VI’s regency council between his half-nephews Humphrey of Gloucester who governed domestic affairs and John of Bedford who conducted the war in France and governed England’s French territories.

Joan Beaufort is the only daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.  Her first marriage to Robert Ferrers of Wem reflects her status as an illegitimate child of a duke.  Robert was part of the Lancaster affinity.  By giving his daughter in marriage to the 2nd Baron Ferrers John of Gaunt bound the baron more closely to the affinity and elevated his daughter to a position of gentility.  The pair had two daughters.  One, Elizabeth married  John Greystoke and the second called Margaret, Mary or Margery depending upon the source married her step-brother Sir Ralph Neville – a son of Joan Beaufort’s second husband Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland – which must have been complicated as the first family of the Earl of Westmorland did not much like the children of his second marriage to Joan Beaufort.

You will note that there are sheets 2 and 3 to follow as I could not fit all fourteen of Joan Beaufort’s children with the Earl of Westmorland on to this particular family tree.  In some respects it is perhaps just as well that they are not represented here,  as these children help to cloud the issue of red and white rose – Richard Neville became the Earl of Salisbury.  His son was the Kingmaker.  One daughter, Ann, married the Duke of Buckingham.  Her second son married his Beaufort cousin Margaret and appears at the bottom right hand side of the family tree at the start of this post. Another daughter married the Earl of Northumberland, whilst the most famous of Joan’s daughters, Cecily, married Richard of York and was mother to the two Yorkist kings – Edward IV and Richard III demonstrating that the Wars of the Roses really was a war between cousins.

Sheet 3 identifies the descendant’s of the first earl’s daughter also named Joan.  Her story, like her grandmother’s, is a love story.  Her royal children married into the Scottish nobility and into continental royalty becoming dauphinesses, duchesses and archduchesses.  Her son was James II of Scotland meaning that when James VI of Scotland became James I of England the five times great grandson of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford sat upon the throne (if I’ve counted correctly)….I keep telling you that everyone powerful in English History is related.

 

 

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.

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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].

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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

Sir Hugh Swynford

william bell scott john of gaunt.jpgSir Hugh Swynford of Kettlethorpe and Coleby in Lincolnshire married Katherine de Roet in about 1366, although Alison Weir suggests the earlier date of 1362 based on the possible ages of the couple’s three children.  Weir also suggests that the union was arranged by Blanche of Lancaster and her husband John of Gaunt.

The Swynfords themselves were proud of their Saxon heritage and Hugh was part of Gaunt’s retinue.  Hugh’s father Thomas held Coleby for John of Gaunt – a reminder that the Lancaster inheritance was a far reaching one.  When he married Katherine de Roet he’d been a soldier fighting in the Hundred Years War for about ten years (if we take the traditional 1366 date).  He was also born in about 1340 making him a decade older than his  barely teenage bride (she was about twelve) when they married in the church of St Clement Dane.

Weir reveals that he’d fought first for the Black Prince and then transferred into the retinue of John of Gaunt, who was after all, his  feudal overlord.  Hugh wasn’t particularly wealthy, the rents from Kettlethorpe and Coleby appear to have been irregular, although he’d inherited his father’s estates in 1361.  It probably didn’t help that it wasn’t the most fertile of ground and even the mill lay in ruins.  Realistically his income came from his pay in Lancaster’s service and any loot or ransoms he could acquire whilst in France.  He was, however, a knight so the match between him and Katherine who held some lands in Hainault was considered a good one because she didn’t have much in the way of a dowry- though what Katherine, having been raised in the court of Philippa of Hainault, must have thought is not recorded.  Not that it would have mattered; marriage was not about love it was a business arrangement that would secure Katherine and Hugh’s future as vassals of the Lancaster family.  Realistically we don’t know much about the marriage – the portrayal of Swynford as rough and uncouth is based entirely on Anna Seyton’s book Katherine which has Katherine married off to Sir Hugh against her will.

The marriage took place, it is often stated, on In November 1366 Sir Hugh took himself off to Guienne to continue his duties as a knight in Gaunt’s service.  Katherine was pregnant.  Their son Thomas was born on 24 February 1367.  His arrival is often the reason that the marriage is dated to the previous year but the dates of his sisters’ births are not recorded  Weir argues that Blanche who was Gaunt’s godchild and named after the Duchess of Lancaster could have been the older of the siblings but that because she was a girl and because she wasn’t born whilst Katherine was in the company of the Duchess of Lancaster that the dates was not recorded. It is possible to argue the case both ways.

Swynford returned from France in 1369 but was summoned once more for military service the following year.  Katherine would not see him again.  He died on the Gironde in Aquitaine on the 13th November 1371. Katherine was only twenty-one when she was widowed.  Her story was about to take a dramatic turn as portrayed by the image at the start of this post.  It’s one of those Victorian History paintings that they loved so much.  Its by William Bell Scott and depicts John of Gaunt being read to by Chaucer.  The two women are Katherine Swynford and her sister Philippa Chaucer.

When John of Gaunt and Katherine petitioned the pope to legitimise their Beaufort children they stated that the affair had not begun during Hugh’s lifetime.  Froissart believed otherwise and when it came to Sir Hugh’s son Thomas inheriting his mother’s Hainault lands there were some problems on account of the rumour that he was actually the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt.  In the end King Henry IV wrote a letter stating that Thomas, who had been four when his father died in France, was legitimate.  Whatever the truth of the matter Hugh is for the most part a footnote in one of English History’s great love stories or a fictional counterfoil to the heroic personage of John of Gaunt – neither of which seems particularly fair- but without any other evidence its impossible to flesh him out any further.

Lucraft, Jeannette, (2010) Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Stroud: The History Press

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

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

 

 

Henry VII – king of ‘spin’?

henryviiHenry VII’s claim to the throne was weak – and that’s putting it mildly. There was only the thinnest of Plantagenet threads running through his blood. Even that had to be legitimised in 1397 by Richard II who issued Letters Patent to that fact when the children of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford (they’d finally married the previous year) were bought into Parliament along with their parents to stand beneath a canopy of State. Pope Boniface IX had already issued a papal dispensation legitimising the Beaufort clan. However, Henry IV added a note into the legal record in 1407 stating that the Beauforts were not to inherit the throne. It might not have been strictly legal but it weakened Henry’s already weak claim.  In addition to which England did not have a salic law prohibiting women from the crown so technically the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth should have seen the crowning of Queen Margaret.

 

Henry was able to make a play for the throne simply because by 1483 there weren’t many Lancaster sprigs left – the Wars of the Roses took a terrible toll on the aristocratic male population who counted themselves as having direct male descent from Edward III whether they were for York or for Lancaster. George, Duke of Clarence’s son, Edward – the young Earl of Warwick, was a child. The Duke of Buckingham claimed Plantagenet blood but like Henry Tudor’s it came from the Beaufort line and a junior one to Henry’s. There were others descended from female lines including the de la Poles who would be regarded as a key threat to the Tudors.  After Henry came to the throne as well as demonstrating prudent fiscal policy Henry also demonstrated a dab hand at pruning the Plantagenet branches still further – as did his son, to ensure that the Tudor dynasty continued.

 

DSCF2105.JPGWhatever one might think of the twists and turns of the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485, not to mention the Stanley turncoats, the fact is that Richard III’s army gave way to Henry’s and Richard lost his life. Henry became king of England on the battlefield by conquest and thus by God’s will – Divine Right – working on the principle that God had given Henry the power to overcome Richard III. Yes, I know that some of the readers of this post are going to mutter about treachery but the view is a valid one when one takes account of the medieval/early modern mind set. The badge to the left of this paragraph is in the keeping of the British Library and it reflects this fact.  Henry wasn’t shy about reminding people.

bosworth-windows.jpgThere were also ballads entitled ‘Bosworth Field’ and the ‘Ballad of Lady Bessie”.  The earliest printed version (well – a summary) dates from the sixteenth century and there is some question as to whether these ballads are pure fiction, their reliability is questionable. However, it is not unreasonable to assume that Henry would have encouraged ballads like this in order that ordinary people heard about the fact that someone who was really very obscure had taken the crown on the battle field.  According to the ballad – in a king on king struggle to the death Henry was personally victorious…history is after all the winners version and does not necessarily take all the facts into consideration. Double click on the image on the right to open a new window linking to the American branch of the Richard III society and a version of the ballad.

 

Henry was equally swift to ensure that the written word reflected not only the Tudor right to rule but how much better they were than their immediate predecessors.  Polydore Vergil arrived in England in 1502 to collect Peter’s Pence but as a humanist scholar Henry VII was keen to have him on board.  It is thought that he began writing the Anglica Historia in 1505, although it wasn’t published until 1534. Double click on the title to open a new window and the online version of Vergil’s unashamedly pro-Tudor writing.  In this excerpt we see Vergil extol Henry’s virtues as he took up the reigns of office:

 

His chief care was to regulate well affairs of state and, in order that the people of England should not be further torn by rival factions, he publically proclaimed that (as he had already promised) he would take for his wife Elizabeth daughter of King Edward and that he would give complete pardon and forgiveness to all those who swore obedience to his name. Then at length, having won the good-will of all men and at the instigation of the both nobles and people, he was made king at Westminster on 31 October and called Henry, seventh of that name. These events took place in the year 1486 after the birth of Our Saviour.

 

There were other contemporary chronicles, principally The Great Chronicle of London and the Chronicle of Calais as well as later chroniclers including Edward Hall who wrote The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke, more commonly known as Hall’s Chronicle – Hall was born in 1497.  Sir Thomas More wrote about the reign of Richard  III – he was four in 1485. And, of course, there was Holinshed’s Chronicle which heavily influenced Shakespeare. It made its first appearance in 1577. All of them were vehicles for the Tudor State one way or another.

gold medal.jpgBack to Henry – having driven home the message that he was king by Divine Right and because he was better (yes, I know its Tudor spin) than his predecessors because he paid attention to the country and didn’t murder small boys he also needed to make it clear that the Tudor dynasty was a fresh start. The pope had been so glad that the English had stopped slaughtering one another that he didn’t hesitate in signing the dispensation that allowed Henry to marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York. He  was swift to honour his pledge to marry her, once the stain of illegitimacy had been revoked by Parliament. A medal was struck commemorating the marriage in 1486. This rare survivor is in the hands of the British Museum.  Double click on the image to open a new page with information about the medal. Elizabeth wasn’t crowned until the Tudor dynasty looked like becoming a certainty. Henry did not want to be seen as Elizabeth’s consort. He wanted it to be understood that he was king in his own right.

marriagebed + henry tudorBizarrely Henry VII’s marriage-bed came to end up in a car park in Chester.  However, since it’s identity has been verified the magnificent carvings can be used to tell the story that Henry wanted to tell in his union with Elizabeth of York Double click on the image to open a window and find out more.

 

DSC_0002Which – brings us back to the dodgy bloodline.   Henry got around the problem by simply using a much older legacy. He claimed that he was descended from the ancient British hero Cadwallader, and produced pedigrees to prove it.  He fought under the red dragon at Bosworth and a red dragon was swiftly added to the permitted armorial supporters before his coronation. Cadwallader was reflected on his coat of arms as shown in the first image in this post. The white greyhound is the Richmond greyhound but the red dragon, which flew on Henry’s banner as he marched through Wales from Pembroke belonged to the ancient king. Other images show Henry’s coat of arms also bearing a portcullis. This came from the Beaufort armorial bearings.

Penn’s acclaimed book about Henry VII demonstrates the lengths that Henry went to in order to secure his kingdom and his dynasty.  An article published in The Guardian in 2012 notes that Henry didn’t just use the red dragon he also made use of the red rose of Lancaster – a somewhat obscure symbol at that time- which was then united with the white rose of York to create the Tudor Rose signifying the union of the two houses and the end of the thirty years of conflict.  He then proceeded to plant his roses everywhere: on architecture, on pre-existing manuscripts and on new documents. Double click on the image of Henry’s banner to open a new page with the full article.

 

Another well used symbol locating Henry’s right to be king in conquest is the image of that crown perched on a wild rose bush. This was a reminder that Henry had won his crown on the battlefield. In an age of low literacy it was important for there to be symbolism that people understood. Henry was a master of propaganda, right down to the Tudor livery of green and white. White symbolised purity whilst green represented renewal.

DSCF2103Henry also looked to the legend of King Arthur.  Unsurprisingly Henry simply claimed him as an ancestor and reminded folk of Merlin’s prophecy that Arthur would return with the union of the red king and the white queen.  It probably isn’t co-incidence that Malory’s Morte d’Arthur was one of the first books off Caxton’s printing press in England. Elizabeth of York went to Winchester which Malory claimed was Camelot in order to have her first child.  Prince Arthur was duly born and baptised in Winchester.  The Italian humanist, Petrus Carmelianus wrote a poem to celebrate the birth and the end of the civil war.  One of the illustrated pages shows the royal coat of arms being supported by two angels (back to Divine Right). It might also be worth noting that Petrus went on to become Henry VII’s Latin secretary and chaplain.  Double click on Petrus Carmelianus to open a new page with an illustration of one of the pages from his poem. Henry also reinstated Winchester’s round table which dates from the reign of Edward III.  This together with a small number of King Arthur related tapestries and images, according to the article on the subject by Starkey, is all that remains of Henry’s arthurian public image strategy – one which he’d borrowed, it should be added from earlier Plantagenet kings including Edward III and Edward IV.roundtable.jpg

In other respects Henry simply took up long established traditions such as being portrayed in manuscripts as a king, including one where he was depicted as a classical hero and issuing coinage which showed a very lifelike looking Henry.

The most easily accessible online image in a manuscript of Henry as king can be found in the British Library. The book called Henry VII’s book of Astrology shows him sitting on his throne in royal regalia receiving the book of astrology as a gift. Obviously Fate and the stars were on Henry’s side when he became king. Double click on the image from the manuscript to open a British Library article about the imagery in the text.  The manuscript itself has been digitised and pages can be viewed on the British Library website Astrology was a ‘proper’ science. All the Tudors had court astrologers – the most famous being Dr John Dee during the reign of Elizabeth I.

henry vii receiving book.jpgHenry VII’s astrologers appear not to have been a particularly able bunch.  One predicted that Elizabeth of York would live until she was eighty whilst William Parron’s 1503 manuscript predicted that young Prince Henry would grow up to be a good son of the Catholic Church. Parron had originally found favour by predicting that all of Henry VII’s enemies would die…

 

 

 

 

 

Doran, Susan. The Tudor Chronicles. London:Quercus

Penn, Thomas. (2012) Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England. London:Penguin

Starkey, David, “King Henry and King Arthur,” in Arthurian Literature XVI, ed. James Patrick Carley, 171-196. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D.S. Brewer, 1998.