The Full Wiki

John of Gaunt: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


(Redirected to John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John of Gaunt
Duke of Lancaster; Duke of Aquitaine
Successor Henry IV Bolingbroke, King of England (2nd Duke of Lancaster and of Aquitaine)
Spouse Blanche of Lancaster
m. 1359; dec. 1369
Infanta Constance of Castile
m. 1371; dec. 1394
Katherine Swynford
m. 1396; wid. 1399
Philippa, Queen of Portugal
Elizabeth Plantagenet, Duchess of Exeter
Henry IV Bolingbroke, King of England
Katherine, Queen of Castile
John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset
Henry Cardinal Beaufort
Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter
Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland
House House of Plantagenet
Father Edward III of Windsor, King of England
Mother Philippa of Hainault
Born 6 March 1340(1340-03-06)
Ghent, Belgium
Died 3 February 1399 (aged 58)
Leicester Castle, Leicestershire
Burial St Paul's Cathedral, City of London

John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, Duke of Aquitaine (6 March 1340 – 3 February 1399) was a member of the House of Plantagenet, the third surviving son of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. He got his name "John of Gaunt" because he was born in Ghent (in today's Belgium), then Gaunt in English. John exercised great influence over the English throne during the minority reign of his nephew, Richard II, and during the ensuing periods of political strife, but was not thought to have been among the opponents of the King.

John of Gaunt's legitimate male heirs, the Lancasters, included Kings Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI. His legitimate descendants also included his daughters Philippa of Lancaster, Queen consort of John I of Portugal and mother of King Duarte of Portugal. John was also the father of Elizabeth, Duchess of Exeter, the mother of John Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter through his first wife, Blanche; and by his second wife, Constance, John was the father of Katherine of Lancaster, Queen consort of Henry III of Castile, granddaughter of Peter of Castile and mother of John II of Castile.

John of Gaunt fathered five children outside marriage, one early in life by one of his mother's ladies-in-waiting, and four, surnamed "Beaufort", by Katherine Swynford, Gaunt's long-term mistress and eventual third wife. The Beaufort children, three sons and a daughter, were legitimized by royal and papal decrees after John married Katherine in 1396. Descendants of the marriage to Katherine Swynford included their son Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester and eventually Cardinal; their granddaughter Cecily Neville, mother to Kings Edward IV and Richard III; and their great-great-grandson Henry Tudor, who became King of England after the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and established the House of Tudor.

When John of Gaunt died in 1399, his estates were declared forfeit to the crown, as King Richard II had exiled John's son and heir, Henry Bolingbroke, in 1398. Bolingbroke and Richard II were first cousins; John of Gaunt and Richard II's father Edward (The Black Prince) were brothers. Bolingbroke returned from exile to reclaim his confiscated inheritance and deposed the unpopular Richard. Bolingbroke then reigned as King Henry IV of England (1399–1413), the first of the descendants of John of Gaunt to hold the throne of England.

John of Gaunt was buried alongside his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, in the nave of Old St. Paul's Cathedral in an alabaster tomb designed by Henry Yevele (similar to that of his son in Canterbury Cathedral).


Duke of Lancaster

Kenilworth Castle, a massive fortress extensively modernized and given a new Great Hall by John of Gaunt after 1350.

Henry of Grosmont and King Edward III were second cousins; they were both great-grandsons of King Henry III. John of Gaunt was King Edward III's son; Blanche of Lancaster was Henry Grosmont's daughter; they were, therefore, third cousins. Blanche and John married in 1359 at Reading Abbey.

Upon the death of his father-in-law in 1361, John received half of Henry's lands, the title Earl of Lancaster, and the distinction as the greatest landowner in the north of England, inheriting the Palatinate of Lancaster. He also became the 14th Baron of Halton. John received the rest of the inheritance when Blanche's sister, Maud, Countess of Leicester (married to William V, Count of Hainaut), died on 10 April 1362.

John received the title "Duke of Lancaster" from Edward III on 13 November 1362. John was by then well established, owning at least thirty castles and estates across England and France. His household was comparable in scale and organization to that of a monarch.

After the death of his elder brother, Edward of Woodstock (also known as The Black Prince), John of Gaunt contrived to protect the religious reformer John Wyclif, for reasons that cannot be determined, but possibly to counteract the growing secular power of the Roman Catholic Church. However, John's ascendancy to political power coincided with widespread resentment of his influence.

At a time when English forces encountered setbacks in the Hundred Years' War against France, and Edward III's rule had started becoming domestically unpopular, due to high taxation and to the king's affair with Alice Perrers, political opinion closely associated the Duke of Lancaster with the failing government of the 1370s. Furthermore, while the king and the Prince of Wales had the status of popular heroes due to their successes on the battlefield, John of Gaunt had never won equivalent military renown which might have bolstered his reputation. Although he fought in the Battle of Nájera, for example, his later military projects such as his chevauchée of 1373 and his invasion of Castile in 1386, were unsuccessful.

On his marriage to Infanta Constance of Castile in 1371, John assumed the title of King of Castile and Leon, and insisted that his fellow English nobles henceforth address him as 'my lord of Spain.'

When King Edward III died in 1377 and John's ten-year-old nephew succeeded to the throne as Richard II of England, John's influence strengthened further. However, mistrust remained, and some suspected him of wanting to seize the throne for himself. John took pains to ensure that he never became associated with the opposition to Richard's kingship. As the virtual ruler of England during Richard's minority, he made some unwise decisions on taxation that led to the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, during which the rebels destroyed his Savoy Palace in London.

In 1386, John of Gaunt left England to make good his claim to the throne of Castile. However, crisis ensued almost immediately, and in 1387, Richard's misrule brought England to the brink of civil war. Only John of Gaunt, upon his return to England in 1389, was able to bring about a compromise between the Lords Appellant and King Richard, ushering in a period of relative stability and harmony. During the 1390s, John of Gaunt's reputation of devotion to the well-being of the kingdom was much restored. John of Gaunt died of natural causes on 3 February 1399 at Leicester Castle, with his third wife Katherine by his side.

Marriages and descendants

  • John's first child was an illegitimate daughter known as Blanche Plantagenet (1359-1388/89). Blanche was the daughter of John's mistress Marie de St. Hilaire of Hainaut (1340-after 1399), who was a lady in waiting to his mother, Queen Philippa. The affair apparently took place before John's first marriage, which was to his cousin Blanche of Lancaster. John's daughter, Blanche Plantagenet, married Sir Thomas Morieux in 1381. Morieux held several important posts, including Constable of the Tower the year he was married, and Master of Horse to King Richard II two years later. He died in 1387 after six years of marriage. Blanche Plantagenet Morieux was not included in the decree which legitimated John's children by Katherine Swynford in 1396.[1][2][3]
Coat of arms of John of Gaunt asserting his kingship over Castile and Leon, combining the Castilian castle and lion with lilies of France and the lions of England
  • During his marriage to Constance, John of Gaunt had fathered four children by a mistress, the widow Katherine Swynford (whose sister Philippa de Roet was married to Chaucer). Prior to her widowhood, Katherine had borne at least two, possibly three, children to Lancastrian knight Sir Hugh Swynford. The known names of these children are Blanche and Thomas. (There may have been a second Swynford daughter.) John of Gaunt was Blanche Swynford's godfather.[3]

Constance died in 1394. John married Katherine in 1396, and their children, the Beauforts, were legitimised by King Richard II and the Church, but barred from inheriting the throne. From the eldest son, John, descended a granddaughter, Margaret Beaufort, whose son, later King Henry VII of England, would nevertheless claim the throne.

All monarchs of England and later of Great Britain, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Realms from Henry IV onwards are descended from John of Gaunt.


The Lady and the Unicorn -possibly Blanche of Lancaster
1640 drawing of tombs of Katerine Swynford and daughter Joan Beaufort
Coat of arms designed for Katherine Swynford: three gold Catherine wheels ("roet" means "little wheel" in Old French) on a red background.

Relationship to Chaucer

Arms of Castile and León: castile = castle; León = lion

John of Gaunt was a patron of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer who recorded much of the mores of England at the time of John in The Canterbury Tales. Near the end of John's life, they were brothers-in-law. Chaucer was married to Philippa de Roet; John's third wife, Katherine, was Philippa's sister. John's children by Katherine were Chaucer's nieces and nephews.

Chaucer's Book of the Duchess, also known as The Deth of Blaunche, was written in commemoration of Blanche of Lancaster, John's first wife. The poem refers to John and Blanche in allegory as the "Black Knight" and the "Lady White." "Blanche" means "white." At the end of the poem reference is made to John's marriage to Blanche by playing on the sound of their titles of Lancaster and Richmond in the form of "long castel" (line 1318) and "riche hil" (line 1319).

Some have suggested that the "long castel" line could also refer to Constanza of Castile, John's second wife, and the heraldic arms of Castile, which display a castle, part of the tradition of heraldic canting arms.

Titles, styles, arms and honours



Royal arms with a label of three points ermine

As a son of the sovereign, John bore the arms of the kingdom, differentiated by a label argent of three points ermine.[6]

Popular culture

John of Gaunt

The Lancaster city centre has a public house called The John O'Gaunt. An administrative ward on the city council also bears the name.

Hungerford in Berkshire also has ancient links to the Duchy, the manor becoming part of John of Gaunt's estate in 1362 before James I passed ownership to two local men in 1612 (which subsequently became Hungerford Town & Manor). The links are visible today in the Town and Manor-owned John O'Gaunt pub, the John O'Gaunt state secondary school, as well as various street names. It is also customary for the Loyal Toast to be given by residents as "The Queen, the Duke of Lancaster." There is also a secondary school in Trowbridge, Wiltshire bearing the same name, which is built upon land that he once owned.

John held large tracts of land in Lincolnshire and the City of Lincoln. At the appropriately named site of Gaunt Street, he maintained a palace, remains of which were found in the late 60's. A Finial window, complete, was found between two walls in the then 'West's Garage'. This was moved and now adorns the entrance through the East bail of Lincoln castle.

Opposite the Palace site, stands St.Mary's Guildhall, locally known as John O'Gaunt's stables. This large medieval building, once formed the entrance to the Football ground of Lincoln City F.C., until they moved to their present ground. It was known as The John O'Gaunt ground.

The remnants of the castle at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, once owned by John, sit on John o' Gaunt's Street.

The John of Gaunt Stakes is a British race for Thoroughbred horses run annually in June.

In William Shakespeare's play Richard II, the famous England speech is attributed to John of Gaunt as he lay on his deathbed.

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their birth
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's Son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!
—Act II, scene i, 42–54

The Tragedy of King Richard II at Wikisource

Anya Seton's bestselling 1954 novel Katherine depicts John's long-term affair and eventual marriage to Katherine Swynford.

The eponymous character of the US comic book series GrimJack is legally named John Gaunt. According to author John Ostrander, he took the name from the historical figure simply because it sounded impressive, without any specific historical reference.

John of Gaunt is a major character in Garry O'Connor's Chaucer’s Triumph: Including the Case of Cecilia Chaumpaigne, the Seduction of Katherine Swynford, the Murder of Her Husband, the Interment of John of Gaunt and Other Offices of the Flesh in the Year 1399.

The romance novel "Almost Innocent" by Jane Feather tells the story of a possibly ficticious illegitimate daughter of Jaunt of Gaunt, and contains much history and vivid description of John and of royal life.

John of Gaunt's armour has been on display in the Tower of London for many years, and is of exceptional size, since the man himself was 6'7" tall. However, in Alison Weir's biography of Katherine Swynford (2007), Weir states that this is legend and that the armor in question is of German origin, not English.


  1. ^ Genealogics: John of Gaunt, genealogical record. Accessed 11 March 2008.
  2. ^ Blanche Plantagenet, genealogical record at The Peerage website citing Alison Weir, Britain's Royal Family: A Complete Genealogy (London, U.K.: The Bodley Head, 1999), page 99. Accessed 11 March 2008.
  3. ^ a b Dame Blanche Morieux in John of Gaunt: King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Aquitaine and Lancaster by Sydney Armitage-Smith, pp. 460-461. (1904, 1905). Accessed 11 March 2008.
  4. ^ Leese, Thelma Anna, Blood royal: issue of the kings and queens of medieval England, 1066-1399, (Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 219.
  5. ^ Leese, Thelma Anna, Blood royal: issue of the kings and queens of medieval England, 1066-1399, (Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 222.
  6. ^ Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family

Further reading

  • Armitage-Smith, Sydney (1904) John of Gaunt, King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Lancaster, &c. London: Constable
  • Cantor, Norman F. (2004) The Last Knight: the Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era New York: Free Press, 2004
  • Goodman, Anthony (1992) John of Gaunt: the Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth-Century Europe. New York: St. Martin's Press
  • Walker, Simon (1990) The Lancastrian Affinity, 1361–1399 Oxford: Clarendon Press

External links


John of Gaunt
Born: 6 March 1340 Died: 3 February 1399
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster
Lord High Steward
Succeeded by
Henry Bolingbroke, 2nd Duke of Lancaster
Peerage of England
New creation Duke of Lancaster
Succeeded by
Henry Bolingbroke, 2nd Duke of Lancaster and of Aquitaine, 6th Earl of Leicester and of Lancaster, 3rd Earl of Derby
Preceded by
Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster
Earl of Leicester, Lancaster and Derby
New creation Earl of Richmond
French nobility
New creation Duke of Aquitaine
Succeeded by
Henry Bolingbroke
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
 King of Castile
with Constance


Reason for succession failure:
John's uncle-in-law, Henry II of Castile, seized the throne
Succeeded by


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address