John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (June 24, 1340 â February 3, 1399) was the third surviving son of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. He gained his name "John of Gaunt" because he was born at Ghent in 1340. The fabulously wealthy Gaunt exercised tremendous influence over the throne during the minority reign of his nephew, Richard II, and during the ensuing periods of political strife, but took care not to be openly associated with opponents of the King.
John of Gaunt's legitimate male heirs, the Lancasters, included Kings Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI. John of Gaunt's illegitimate descendants, who ultimately became legitimate by his marriage to Katherine Swynford in 1396, the Beauforts, later married into the House of Tudor, which ascended to the throne in the person of Henry VII. In addition, Gaunt's legitimate descendants included his daughters Philippa of Lancaster, Queen consort of John I of Portugal and mother of King Edward of Portugal, Elizabeth, Duchess of Exeter, the mother of John Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter, and Katherine of Lancaster, Queen consort of Henry III of Castile, a grand-daughter of Pedro of Castile and the mother of John II of Castile.
When John of Gaunt died in 1399, his estates were declared forfeit to the crown, as Richard II had exiled John's less diplomatic heir, Henry Bolingbroke, in 1398. Bolingbroke returned and deposed the unpopular Richard, to reign as King Henry IV of England (1399â1413), the first of the descendants of John of Gaunt to hold the throne of England.
John of Gaunt was buried in the nave in an alabaster tomb designed by Henry Yevele (similar to that of his son in Canterbury Cathedral) in the nave of Old St Paul's.
John of Gaunt
Duke of Lancaster
Upon the death of his father-in-law Henry of Grosmont, he received half of Henry's lands, the title Earl of Lancaster, and the distinction as the greatest landowner in the north of England, because of his first marriage to his cousin, Blanche of Lancaster (1359), heiress to the Palatinate of Lancaster. John received the rest of the inheritance only when Blanche's sister, Maud, Countess of Leicester (married to William V, Count of Hainaut), died on April 10, 1362.
Gaunt received the title "Duke of Lancaster" from Edward III on 13 November 1362. John was by then well-established as a fabulously wealthy prince, owning at least thirty castles and vast estates across England and France. His household was comparable in scale and organisation to that of a monarch.
After the death of his elder brother, Edward, the Black Prince, John of Gaunt became increasingly powerful. He contrived to protect the religious reformer John Wyclif, with whose aims he sympathised. However, Gaunt's ascendancy to political power coincided with widespread resentment at his influence. At a time when English forces encountered setbacks in the Hundred Years' War against France, and Edward III's rule had started to become 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 success on the battlefield, John of Gaunt had never known equivalent military success, which might have bolstered his reputation. Although he did fight in the Battle of Náª¥ra (Navarette), for example, his later military projects were unsucessful.
When King Edward III died in 1377 and John's ten-year-old nephew succeeded to the throne as Richard II of England, Gaunt'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; but 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 1386, Richard, who had by now assumed more power for himself, dispatched Gaunt to Spain as an ambassador. 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, 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 became much restored. Gaunt died of natural causes on February 3, 1399 at Leicester Castle, with his beloved third wife Katherine by his side.
Marriages and descendants
Blanche died in 1369. It is believed the poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote and dedicated his "Book of the Duchess" to her, as the poem not only mentions the Black Knight, but the "Lady White"; whom we can take to be Blanche, in allegory.
In 1371, John married Constance of Castile, daughter of King Pedro of Castile, thus giving him a claim upon the kingdom of Castile, which he would pursue unsuccessfully.
In the meantime, John of Gaunt had fathered four children by a mistress, Katherine Swynford (whose sister married Geoffrey Chaucer). Constance died in 1394. He married Katherine in 1396 or 1397, and their children, the Beauforts, were 'legitimised' but barred from inheriting the throne. From the eldest son, John, came a granddaughter, Margaret Beaufort, whose son, later King Henry VII of England, would nevertheless claim the throne.
John of Gaunt's legitimate son from his first marriage, Henry Bolingbroke, proved less of a diplomat than his father; and Richard II banished Henry from the kingdom in 1398. When John of Gaunt died in 1399, his estates were declared forfeit to the crown. This caused Bolingbroke to return. He deposed the unpopular Richard, to reign as King Henry IV of England (1399â1413).
Children of John of Gaunt
By Blanche of Lancaster:
Philippa Plantagenet (1360â1426), married King John I of Portugal (1357â1433)
John Plantagenet (1362â1365)
Elizabeth Plantagenet (1364â1426), married (1) in 1380
John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke (1372â1389), annulled 1383; married (2) in 1386 John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter (1350â1400); (3) Sir John Cornwall, 1st Baron Fanhope and Milbroke (d. 1443)
Edward Plantagenet (1365â1368)
John Plantagenet (1366â136x)
Henry IV of England (1367â1413), married (1) Mary de Bohun (1369â1394); (2) Joanna of Navarre (1368â1437)
Isabel Plantagenet (1368â136x)
By Constance of Castile:
Catalina (Catherine) Plantagenet (1372â1418), married King Henry III of Castile (1379â1406)
John Plantagenet (1372â1375)
By Katherine Swynford (or Catherine Swinford):
John Beaufort (1373â1410), Earl of Somerset, married Margaret Holland (1385-1429)
Henry Cardinal Beaufort (1375â1447)
Thomas Beaufort (1377â1426), Duke of Exeter, married Margaret Neville
Joan Beaufort (1379â1440), married (1) Robert Ferrers, 3rd Baron Ferrers of Wemme (d. 1396); (2) Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmoreland (1364â1425)
Coats of Arms of John of Gaunt
The Lancaster city centre has a pub called The John O'Gaunt, noted for its live jazz music and its large collection of whiskies. 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 O'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. There is also a secondary school in Trowbridge, Wiltshire bearing the same name.
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
âAct II, scene i, 42â54
The Tragedy of King Richard II at Wikisource
Anya Seton's bestselling 1954 novel Katherine depicted Gaunt'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 referent (as well as making a pun on the Ayn Rand character John Galt, of whom Grimjack is in many ways the antithesis).
In the fictional Harry Potter series, The House of Gaunt (a fictional magical family) may be related to John of Gaunt.