Katherine had been John of Gaunt's mistress for many years. After they married, their four grown children were legitimized by Richard II as the Beaufort family. Katherine must have been a fascinating person, and perhaps one of the most interesting women in English history. Certainly she and John have one of the most romantic stories.
First, it was very rare for nobility, let alone royalty, to marry anyone with whom premarital relations had taken place, let alone been acknowledged. In the 300 years the Plantagenets ruled England, history records only three Plantagenet couples about whom anything like that was even rumoured: Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine; John and Katherine; and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Eleanor Cobham. John and Katherine represent the only indubitable case--and even if the other two couples did have premarital relations, it would have been for just a few months. (See notes about Eleanor of Aquitaine and Duke Humphrey for discussions of whether premarital relations were likely.)
John and Katherine, in contrast, had four grown children, ranging in age from 17 to 24, when they married.
Katherine went from being the widow of an obscure knight to being the highest ranked woman in England (she dropped to second several months after the wedding when King Richard married his second wife). Their marriage was not received well by the nobility, particularly by Katherine's royal sisters-in-law, but was very popular with the lower and middle classes.
Katherine's sister Philippa was married to the great poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Katherine may have been the model for Criseyde in her brother-in-law's Troilus and Criseyde. It is possible that Chaucer owed at least some of his civil service advancement to Katherine's influence with John of Gaunt.
Katherine must have been very beautiful. Although she was buried in Lincoln, the now-destroyed tombstone of John of Gaunt in the old St. Paul's Cathedral described her as: "eximia pulchritudine feminam" (exceedingly beautiful woman).
Katherine was the subject of one of the great historical novels, "Katherine," by Anya Seton, a warm and historically accurate version of Katherine's remarkable life.
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