The marriage of John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III to Katherine Swynford on 13th January 1396 was unannounced and rather controversial.
John of Gaunt’s role within government
John was a son of King Edward III, he had acted as regent in England during his father’s absences in France and also for his eldest brother, The Black Prince, in Gascony. At the succession of his nephew, Richard II, he was excluded from holding an official role but remained highly significant and was known as a senior advisor to the young King.
John of Gaunt meets Katherine Swynford
Gaunt’s first wife was Blanche of Lancaster. Blanche was his third cousin, daughter of Henry of Grosmont, the first Duke of Lancaster. One of Blanche’s Ladies in Waiting was Katherine, daughter of Sir Payn Roelt, who at the time was married to Sir Hugh Swynford. When Blanche died in 1368, Katherine Swynford was appointed as Governess to the children of John and Blanche: the future King Henry IV among them.
Katherine Swynford as mistress to John of Gaunt
John then made a diplomatic marriage, in 1369, to Constance of Castile. Through this he would press a claim for the Castilian throne. Katherine’s husband died in 1371. The widow continued to work for John of Gaunt and soon she became his mistress. Between 1373 and 1379 Katherine bore four children who were acknowledged as being John of Gaunt’s children.
The relationship between John and Katherine posed problems at court. She was being shown favour, the Duke’s wife was not being treated properly. Following the death of both his father and the Black Prince, pressure grew on Gaunt to end his relationship with Katherine Swynford. In 1381 he did so, renouncing her and resuming a more appropriate relationship with his wife.
Marriage of John of Gaunt to Katherine Swynford
John, however, maintained discreet contact with Katherine. Following the death of Constance in 1394, the Duke once again turned to his mistress and mother of his illegitimate children. This time, he married her. Due to his rank John of Gaunt should have asked for the Kings permission to do so. He did not, which led to legal issues. A Papal Bull was sought to give retrospective permission for the marriage, granted in September of 1396. In February 1397, a full 13 months after the marriage had happened, King Richard II issued a Royal Patent. This patent acknowledged the marriage, recognised the children that the couple had prior to the marriage and legitimised them as sons of the Duke and bestowed upon children of the pair the family name, Beaufort. The patent also stated that this line was excluded from royal succession.
The relationship between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford did, however, include royal succession. It is through this line that the house of Tudor lay claim to the throne.