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John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster > Biography

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Given Names: John  Family Name: Plantagenet
Titles: Knight of the Garter
  Earl of Richmond (1342 cr)
  Earl of Lancaster (1361 m - 1st)
  Earl of Derby (1362 m - 1st)
  Earl of Leicester (1362 m - 1st)
  Earl of Lincoln (1362 m - 1st)
  Duke of Lancaster (1362 cr - 1st)
  Duke of Aquitaine (1389 cr)
Ghent, Flanders, Belgium
Holborn, London, England
(Age 58, Natural Causes)
  English/Scottish Royal Blood: 100%   [?] Buried: St. Paul's Cathedral, London, England
Father: King Edward III 13 Nov 1312 - 22 Jun 1377
Mother: Philippa of Hainault About 1314 - 15 Aug 1369
Marriage: Blanche of Lancaster 1341 - 12 Sep 1369
  Date: 19 May 1359 His Age: 19 Her Age: 18
  Place:  Reading, Berkshire, England
+9  Philippa Plantagenet 31 Mar 1360 - 19 Jul 1415
+0  John Plantagenet About 1362 - About 1365
+5  Elizabeth Plantagenet Before 21 Feb 1364 - 24 Nov 1425
+0  Edward Plantagenet About 1365 - About 1368
+0  John Plantagenet Before 4 May 1366 - ?
+7  King Henry IV 3 Apr 1367 - 20 Mar 1413
+0  Isabel Plantagenet About 1368 - ?
  (The number to the left of each offspring indicates the total number of children for that person.)
Marriage: Constance of Castile 1354 - 24 Mar 1394
  Date: Sep 1371 His Age: 31 Her Age: 18
  Place:  Roquefort, Gascony, France
+3  Katherine Plantagenet 1372 - 2 Jun 1418
+0  John Plantagenet 1374 - 1375
Marriage: Katherine Rouet About 1350 - 10 May 1403
  Date: 13 Jan 1397 His Age: 57 Her Age: 47
  Place:  Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England
+6  John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset About 1373 - 16 Mar 1410
+0  Henry Beaufort About 1375 - 11 Apr 1447
+1  Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter About Jan 1377 - 27 Dec 1426
+15  Joan Beaufort About 1379 - 13 Nov 1440

  • 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..." Richard II 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." Richard II 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." Richard II Act 2, scene 1
  • Click here for Wikipedia article.
  • Johnofgaunt
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