John of Gaunt

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John of Gaunt, (1340-1399), named from his birthplace Ghent in Flanders, was the fourth son of Edward III of England, but the eldest to survive him. Through his marriage to the heiress, Blanche of Lancaster, he was to become the greatest landowner in England and honoured as the 2nd Duke of Lancaster. He was created Duke of Aquitaine in 1390.

He led a busy life: both in England where he was to become the elder statesman during his father’s declining years, and as head of the regency council advising the young Richard II, his nephew; and abroad in France and Spain supporting his brother, Edward the Black Prince in the family’s on-again off-again pursuit of the Hundred Years War, and his own dynastic ambitions in Castile.

John was a capable, but not brilliant commander; he was however a more than capable administrator, and an adept politician who, whilst alienating the populace with his perceived autocratic manner - his Savoy Palace in London was a particular focus of the mob during the Peasants' Revolt and was completely destroyed - he managed to steer the kingdom through a particularly turbulent time with a minimum of bloodshed.

He married three times. The issue from his marriage to Blanche included Henry “Bolingbroke”, (the future Henry IV), and Philippa, who became Queen of Portugal and the mother of Henry the Navigator. Blanche died in a recurrence of the plague in 1368, and John made a political union with Constance of Castille. Their daughter, Katherine, became Queen of Castille.

Late in life he married his long-time mistress, Katherine Swynford. Lines from their legitimised offspring (named “Beaufort” after one of John’s obscure little holdings in France) were to form part of both sides of the Wars of the Roses and be reconciled in the union between the Tudor king Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, in 1486.

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