Written by my youngest son 🙂
Christmas at the Front by Rhys age 14.
My direct ancestor, Jeanne de Valois, c1294 – 7 March 1352), Countess consort of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland. She married William I, Count of Hainault. A skilled mediator, she brokered peace between many warring factions during the first half of the fourteenth century.
My direct ancestor, Eleanor of Castile, (1241 – 1290), wife of Edward I, a political match that developed into love. Well educated, Eleanor was a keen patron of literature and encouraged the use of tapestries and carpets in the Spanish style. She was also a keen businesswoman.
While tracing the Stradling branch of my family tree, I discovered a direct connection to Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster.
Born Katherine de Roet, Katherine is thought to be the youngest child of Paon (aka Payn) de Roet, a herald and later a knight. Her birthdate is uncertain, although some sources place it on 25 November 1350 in Hainaut, Belgium.
Around 1366 at St Clement Danes Church, Westminster, Katherine married Sir Hugh Swynford. From Lincolnshire, Sir Hugh was in the service of John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III and arguably the most powerful man of his age. For Katherine, this was a political not a love match and we can only imagine her feelings as she embarked upon a new life with Sir Hugh.
As Lady Swynford, Katherine gave birth to the following children:
Blanche (born 1 May 1367)
Sir Thomas (21 September 1368 – 1432)
And possibly Margaret Swynford (born c1369), later recorded as a nun in Barking Abbey
Katherine served John of Gaunt, a charismatic, chivalric knight, as governess to his daughters, Phillippa of Lancaster and Elizabeth of Lancaster. In turn, John of Gaunt was named as the godfather of Katherine’s daughter, Blanche. At this stage it was evident that Katherine and John of Gaunt were close. In due course, that relationship became more intimate.
John of Gaunt’s wife, Blanche of Lancaster, died on 12 September 1368 of the plague. A few years later, after the death of Sir Hugh on 13 November 1371, Katherine and John of Gaunt embarked upon a love affair that produced four children out of wedlock. The children were:
John, 1st Earl of Somerset (1373 – 1410)
Henry, Cardinal Beaufort (1375 – 1447) My direct ancestor.
Thomas, Duke of Exeter (1377 – 1426)
Joan, Countess of Westmorland (1379 – 1440)
The illicit relationship continued until 1381 when it was truncated for political reasons. The ensuing scandal damaged Katherine’s reputation, and we can only imagine her feelings at losing John of Gaunt, the man she truly loved, and the gossip around court.
Another union for political reasons followed: John of Gaunt’s marriage to Constance of Castile (1354 – 24 March 1394). On 13 January 1396, two years after Constance’s death, Katherine and John of Gaunt were married at Lincoln Cathedral. Subsequently, the Pope legitimised their four children.
Katherine lived through many of the major events of the fourteenth century including the Black Death, the Hundred Years’ War and the Peasants’ Revolt. At the royal courts she met the greatest personalities of her age. While the London courts were often flamboyant and licentious she was also familiar with the pastoral aspects of Lincolnshire. Both locations must have offered a sharp contrast to her childhood in Hainaut.
When John of Gaunt died on 3 February 1399, Katherine was then styled as ‘Dowager, Duchess of Lancaster’. She outlived him by four years, dying on 10 May 1403 in her early fifties.
Katherine’s descendants were members of the Beaufort family, the name assigned to her children. This family played a major role in the Wars of the Roses when Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, derived his claim to the throne from his mother, Margaret Beaufort, a great-granddaughter of Katherine and John of Gaunt. Furthermore, five American presidents are descended from Katherine.
Katherine has been the subject of numerous novels, including Anya Seton’s Katherine, published in 1954, and non-fiction works including Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess by Alison Weir.
A footnote to Katherine’s story. Her sister, Phillipa, married Geoffrey Chaucer, thus placing the great poet on my family tree.
As ever, thank you for your interest and support.
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