Tag Archives: The House of Lancaster

The House of Lancaster part III: The Beauforts


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.



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