Saturday, 14 February 2015

52 Ancestors 2015 - Week 7 - Love - Katherine de Roet and John of Gaunt

Valentine's Day is a good excuse to look at love stories. Romeo and Juliet is known as a great love story but to many people the story of the relationship between John of Gaunt, the fourth son of Edward III, and Katherine de Roet rates almost as highly.

On 13 January 1396 Katherine and John were married at Lincoln Cathedral when Katherine was 46 and John was 56. This marriage took place twenty-five years after Katherine became John's mistress. Initially the relationship had been discrete but by 1378 the couple were openly living together. The records of John of Gaunt show that between 1372 and 1381 he had made many generous gifts to Katherine. The couple had four children - John (1373-1410), Henry (1375-1447), Thomas (1377-1427) and Joan (1379-1440). When the relationship between John and Katherine became common knowledge it created quite a scandal.

Katherine's name has many spellings - Katharine, Kathryn, Catherine - to name a few. She was born in 1350, some suggest on 25 November 1350 which was the feast day of her patron saint - St Catherine of Alexandria - although no records exist confirming this. In fact very few records exist about the life of Katherine which makes researching her story a challenge. Despite this, Katherine became an influential woman in fourteenth century England and her children made an impact on subsequent historical events.

Katherine was the daughter of Paon de Roet (also known as Gilles de Roet), a herald and then a knight from Hainout who moved to England when Philippa of Hainout married the English king, Edward III. Katherine's sister, Philippa was a member of the Queen's household and was married to the poet, Geoffrey Chaucer. Katherine probably lived in England from 1351.

Around 1366, Katherine married Hugh Swynford, a knight from the manor of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire. A daughter, Blanche, was born in 1367, a son, Thomas, was born in 1368 and they also possibly had a daughter, Margaret, born in 1369.

Also about this time, Katherine became the governess of Phillipa and Elizabeth, the daughters of John of Gaunt and his wife, Blanche. John and Blanche were also the parents of the future Henry IV (born in 1367). Four other children had died in infancy. John and Blanche of Lancaster married  in May 1359. Blanche's father was the 1st Duke of Lancaster and one of the wealthiest men in England. After the death of her father Blanche inherited his fortune ensuring that her husband and her family were extemely wealthy. However this was not just a marriage of convenience between two families but was reported to be a loving match between this couple.  Blanche of Lancaster died on 12 September 1369, possibly from the Black Death.

Katherine's husband, Sir Hugh Swynford died fighting the French in 1372.

In 1371 John of Gaunt married Constance of Castile. This was a political marriage and in 1386 John travelled to Spain to claim the kingship of Castile. The expedition was not successful. John and Constance had two children - Catherine (1372-1418) and John (1374-1375).

John was a soldier and was often away from England for protracted periods. When Edward III died in June 1377, his ten year old grandson, Richard II, became King. John of Gaunt was a principal advisor to the new king until Richard was old enough to reign in his own right. Many in the court resented John's growing influence in the running of the country. Some of the decisions made during this time, particularly in regard to taxation, were unpopular with the people. This all came to a head with the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. John was not in London at the time but his home, the Palace of Savoy, was destroyed and members of his household murdered in the riots against the new poll tax. Fortunately Katherine and her family were not in the palace at the time of the riots.

Up until this time Katherine and her children were living with John and his other children when he was in England. However the Peasants' Revolt caused John to rethink about his position. Considering that God was punishing him for having a mistress, John publicly broke off his relationship with Katherine and she and their children returned to her home at Kettlethorpe. However John issued a 'quit claim' ensuring that all the gifts given by him to Katherine would remain her property. John also continued to support his children.

Then on 24 March 1394, John's second wife, Constance died and John was now free to renew his relationship with Katherine. To the horror of many in court, particularly the ladies, John applied to the Pope and the King for dispensation to marry Katherine and to have their children legitimised. The children were granted the name of Beaufort and were recognised as legitimate children of John of Gaunt although they were barred from inheriting the throne.

John and Katherine had less than five years of legally living together before John died at Leicester Castle on 3 February 1399. He was buried beside his first wife, Blanche, at St Paul's Cathedral. Katherine died on 10 May 1403 and was buried next to her daughter, Joan, at Lincoln Cathedral.

Katherine's coat of arms
The facts about Katherine's life are limited. There is some information in the records of John of Gaunt as well as mentions in church records however, despite this, the story of their love has continued through the centuries and today is perpetuated in fiction and also in historical writing. The best known novel about Katherine is by Anya Seton. Entitled, Katherine, the novel was published in 1954 and is still in print. At more than 500 pages this historical romance provides a graphic, fictional depiction of what might have been the relationship between Katherine and John. The best known biography, Katheryn Swynford: the story about John of Gaunt and his scandalous mistress, was written by Alison Weir and published in 2007. The book was also published under the title, Mistress of the Monarchy: the life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancasteres

It was assumed that Katherine was a beautiful woman but no known pictures of her exist, although there have been suggestions that she may appear in the background in some paintings. A number of suggested interpretations are shown in the images below.
The romance of Katherine and John has been the subject of a number of blog posts:
Unusual Historicals - Love affairs - Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt
Girl with her Head in a Book - Katherine, Anya Seton vs Katherine Swynford, Alison Weir

Other websites:
The Katherine Swynford Society
Books by Alison Weir - Katherine Sywnford
Goodreads - Katherine by Anya Seton
All About Romance - Katherine
Anne O'Brien - The elusive face of Katherine de Swynford

English Monarchs - John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster
NNDB - John of Gaunt

John of Gaunt and Katherine de Roet were my 19 x great grandparents