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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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