John is sometimes given the title "King of Castile and Leon", a reference to his marriage to Constance of Castile.
Because John's romance with Katherine Swynford has been such a distinctive part of his biography, it is easy to overlook the devotion he apparently felt for his first wife, Blanche. After her death, he established a number of chantries to say masses for her soul, and funded an expensive yearly memorial service. John's great biographer, Sidney Armitage-Smith reports that there is no evidence that John was ever unfaithful to Blanche.
In 1377, King Edward III changed the status of John's county of Lancaster, making him the Earl Palatinate, as John's late father-in-law, Henry of Grosmont had been. This had significant implications for the county as a revenue unit, and formed the basis on which John's son Henry IV sectioned off the Duchy of Lancaster to keep its fortune separate from that of the crown. Over the years, the set of transactions has had enormous financial implications for the holder of the duchy (its revenues, for instance, funded much of the Lancastrian war effort in the Wars of the Roses). The duchy's bondsmen were in technical thrall long after serfdom was abolished in England, and Elizabeth I manumitted a great number of them.
John's third wife, Katherine Swynford, had been his mistress for many years. After they married, their four grown children were legitimized by Richard II as the Beaufort family.
Among John's lesser-known achievements: some historians credit him with introducing morris dancers to England from Spain.
According to some sources, John died at Leicester Castle.
John is depicted in a stained-glass window in the chapel of All Soul's College, University of Oxford. The window apparently shows him late in life, because his hair and beard are almost white.
In his lifetime, nobody called him John of Gaunt after his very early childhood; the name only became popular 200 years later after Shakespeare used it in Richard II.
A character in Shakespeare's play Richard II, who says one of the playwright's most famous lines:
"This royal throne of kings, this sceptr'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..."
Act 2, scene 1
In Richard II, Shakespeare assigns John a number of good speeches. After John's son Henry is banished, John gives him some advice:
"GAUNT. Call it a travel that thou tak'st for pleasure.
BOLINGBROKE. My heart will sigh when I miscall it so,
Which finds it an enforced pilgrimage....
GAUNT. All places that the eye of heaven visits
Are to a wise man ports and happy havens.
Teach thy necessity to reason thus:
There is no virtue like necessity."
Act 1, scene 3
As Gaunt is dying, he admonishes his nephew, King Richard:
"Why, cousin, wert thou regent of the world,
It were a shame to let this land by lease;
But for thy world enjoying but this land,
Is it not more than shame to shame it so?
Landlord of England art thou now, not King."
Act 2, scene 1
Where shown, product prices are accurate as at the date and time indicated. Prices and product availability are subject to change. Any price displayed on the Amazon website at the time of purchase will govern the sale of these products.
Alistair Grieve is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. CERTAIN CONTENT THAT APPEARS ON THIS SITE COMES FROM AMAZON SERVICES LLC. THIS CONTENT IS PROVIDED 'AS IS' AND IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE OR REMOVAL AT ANY TIME.