Katherine Swynford

Lady Margaret Beauford Arms
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  • Known for: Katherine Swynford was the governess of the children of John of Gaunt, then his mistress, and finally his wife. John of Gaunt was a son of King Edward III of England. Katherine Swynford was, through the children she had with John of Gaunt before their marriage, an ancestor of the Beaufort family, key players in such British historical events as the Wars of the Roses and the rise of the Tudors. She was an ancestor of Henry VII, the first Tudor King.
  • Dates: about 1350 - May 10, 1403. Her birthday may have been November 25, which is the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
  • Also known as: Katherine Roet, Katherine de Roet, Katherine (de) Roët, Katherine (de) Roelt, Katherine Synford

Early Life

Katherine Swynford was born about 1350. Her father, Sir Payn Roelt, was a knight in Hainaut who went to England as part of the retinue of Philippa of Hainaut when she married Edward III of England.

In 1365, Katherine was serving Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, the wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, a son of Edward III. Katherine married a tenant of John of Gaunt, Sir Hugh Swynford. Hugh accompanied John of Gaunt to Europe in 1366 and 1370. Hugh and Katherine had at least two (some say three) children, Sir Thomas Swynford, Blanche, and probably Margaret.

Relationship to John of Gaunt

In 1368, John's first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, died, and Katherine Swynford became the governess for Blanche and John's children. The next year, John married Constance of Castile in September. In November of 1371, Sir Hugh died. In the spring of 1372, there were signs of Katherine's increased status in the duke's household, probably signaling the start of their affair.

Katherine gave birth to four children from 1373 to 1379, acknowledged as children of John of Gaunt. She also continued as governess for the Duke's daughters Philippa and Elizabeth.

In 1376, John's oldest brother, heir apparent Edward known as the Black Prince, died. In 1377, John's father Edward III died. John's nephew, Richard II succeeded as king at 10 years old. Also in 1377, the Duke granted Katherine title to two manors. The reaction was negative: John had been serving as de facto regent for his father and older brother; he was an active advisor to his nephew though he had been explicitly excluded from any such formal office. John was laying the groundwork to claim title to the crown of Spain through this marriage (he finally landed an army in Spain in 1386). Also in 1381 was the Peasants' Revolt.

So, probably to protect his popularity, in June of 1381 John formally renounced his relationship with Katherine and made peace with his wife. Katherine left in September, moving first to her late husband's home in Kettlethorpe and then to a townhouse in Lincoln that she rented.

Through the 1380s, there is a record of regular but discreet contact between Katherine and John. She was even frequently at his court.

Marriage and Legitimization

Constance died in March of 1394. Suddenly, and apparently, without notice to his royal relatives, John of Gaunt married Katherine Swynford in January of 1396.

This marriage then allowed for their children to be legitimized, achieved through a September 1396 papal bull and a February 1397 royal patent. The patent bestowed the patronym Beaufort on the four offspring of John and Katherine. The patent also specified that the Beauforts and their heirs were excluded from the royal succession.

Later Life

John died in February of 1399, and Katherine returned to Lincoln. His nephew Richard II took over John's estates, which eventually led John's son, Henry Bolingbroke, in October of 1399 to take the crown from Richard and rule as Henry IV. This Lancaster claim to the throne was later threatened when Richard, Duke of York, displaced Henry VI, grandson of Henry IV, the beginning of the Wars of the Roses.

Katherine Swynford died in Lincoln in 1403 and was buried in the cathedral there.

Daughter Joan Beaufort and Her Descendants

In 1396, Joan Beaufort married Ralph Neville, then Baron Neville of Raby, later Earl of Westmorland, an advantageous marriage. This was her second marriage. Around 1413, Joan met the mystic Margery Kempe, and, in a later controversy, Margery was accused of meddling in the marriage of Joan's daughter. Joan's husband Ralph helped depose Richard II in 1399.

Joan's grandson Edward deposed Henry VI and ruled as Edward IV, first Yorkish king in the Wars of the Roses. Another of her grandsons, Richard III, followed Edward IV as king when Richard III put Edward's son, Edward V, and his younger brother Richard in the Tower, after which they disappeared. Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, was also a descendant of Joan Beaufort.

Son John Beaufort and His Descendants

John Beaufort's son, also named John, was the father of Margaret Beaufort, whose first husband was Edmund Tudor. The son of Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor took the crown of England by right of conquest, as Henry VII, the first Tudor king. Henry married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and thus a descendant of Joan Beaufort.

The elder John Beaufort's daughter Joan married King James I of Scotland, and through this marriage, John was an ancestor of the House of Stuart and of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her descendants who were British royal rulers.

Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt and Henry VIII

Henry VIII was descended from John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford: on his mother's side (Elizabeth of York) through Joan Beaufort and on his father's side (Henry VII) through John Beaufort.

Henry VIII's first wife Catherine of Aragon was a great-great-granddaughter to Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt by his first wife Blanche. Catherine was also a great-granddaughter of Catherine of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt by his second wife Constance of Castile.

Henry VIII's sixth wife Catherine Parr was descended from Joan Beaufort.

Family Background:

  • Father: Payn Roet or Roelt (also known as Paganus Ruet), a knight in the service of Philippa of Hainaut, queen consort of Edward III of England
  • Mother: unknown
  • Siblings included:
    • Philippa Roelt who married English writer Geoffrey Chaucer
    • Isabel de Roet, who headed the convent of St. Waudru in Mons
    • Walter de Roet, who was left in Queen Philippa's care when Payn Roelt died

Marriage, Children:

  1. Hugh Ottes Swynford, knight
    1. Sir Thomas Swynford
    2. Margaret Swynford (according to some sources); Margaret became a nun in the same house as her cousin Elizabeth, daughter of Philippa de Roet and Geoffrey Chaucer
    3. Blanche Swynford
  2. John of Gaunt, son of Edward III
    1. John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset (about 1373 - March 16, 1410), the paternal grandfather of the mother of Henry VII (Tudor), Margaret Beaufort
    2. Henry Beaufort, Cardinal-Bishop of Winchester (about 1374 - April 11, 1447)
    3. Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (about 1377 - December 31, 1426)
    4. Joan Beaufort (about 1379 - November 13, 1440), married (1) Robert Ferrers, Baron Boteler of Wem, and (2) Ralph de Neville, Earl of Westmorland. Cecily Neville, a figure in the Wars of the Roses, was a daughter of Ralph de Neville and Joan Beaufort.
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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Katherine Swynford." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/katherine-swynford-bio-3529737. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Katherine Swynford. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/katherine-swynford-bio-3529737 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Katherine Swynford." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/katherine-swynford-bio-3529737 (accessed June 7, 2023).