Book Review: “John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father to Another” by Kathryn Warner

52652190Medieval princes are often viewed as men who will one day be king of their homeland or another country. They are seen as wealthy men with prestige and honor who live lavish lifestyles and go to war to earn titles and estates. One of these noble medieval princes was a man who married three times, including to his most beloved mistress. He was the son of Edward III, the uncle of Richard II, and the father of the queen of Castile and King Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king. His children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would rule in different European countries, even though he never had the chance to wear the crown of England or Castile for himself. His name was John of Gaunt, and his story is told in Kathryn Warner’s latest biography, “ John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father to Another.”

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. John of Gaunt is one of my favorite Plantagenet figures to study, so when I heard about this title late last year, I was intrigued to read it. I wanted to see what new information Warner would provide in the research of John of Gaunt and his family.

Warner takes her readers on a journey from the birth of the third son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault to his death in 1399. The matter that truly defined John of Gaunt’s life was his connections not only in England but throughout Europe, which Warner explains in great detail. We go on a journey through his three marriages; first to Blanche of Lancaster to become Duke of Lancaster, then to Constanza of Castile, who allowed him to try and fight for the kingdom of Castile, and finally his mistress Katherine Swynford. Katherine Swynford was the mother of the Beauforts who would help create the Tudor dynasty. However, not only his marital connections made Gaunt so well known. As the son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, his family was connected to every corner of Europe through marriage. Even though John of Gaunt never became King of England or Castile, his family would fulfill his dream of ruling a kingdom and gaining wealth and prestige.

The will of John of Gaunt, written on the same day of his death, is included in its entirety, showing how wealthy this particular Plantagenet prince was at the time of his death. Unlike other biographies about John of Gaunt, this focuses on his family connections and financial records, Warner’s specialty. However, we tend to view John of Gaunt as a gallant prince. Those who lived in England as peasants considered him the enemy during his lifetime, especially during the Great Uprising in 1381, also known as The Peasants Revolt.

Kathryn Warner has once again illuminated the life of a famous Plantagenet figure through genealogical and financial records. Although he ended up becoming one of the most hated men in England and the enemy to his nephew Richard II, he would go down as one of the fascinating men to study from the Plantagenet dynasty. If you want to learn more about the founding of the Lancastrian dynasty and the rise of the Beauforts through John of Gaunt, I would recommend you read “John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father to Another, “ by Kathryn Warner.

Biography: John of Gaunt

gaunt(Born March 6, 1340- Died March 15, 1399). Son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.  He had three wives, Blanche of Lancaster, Constance of Castile, and Katherine Swynford. He was the 1st Duke of Lancaster, the Duke of Aquitaine, King of Castile, and one of the wealthiest men of his time. His children would become the House of Lancaster, the Beauforts, the monarchs of Portugal and Castile, and the Hapsburgs.

 

John of Gaunt was the third surviving son of Edward III. He wasn’t supposed to be as wealthy or influential as he became but he achieved prestige by marrying well. With his first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt was able to become the first Duke of Lancaster. Blanche of Lancaster would die in 1369 and John would marry Constance of Castile in 1371. She was next in line for the throne of Castile and for years John fought for her crown against the Spanish. The problem was that they were also fighting the French as the Hundred Years’ War was just starting.   After his brother Edward The Black Prince’s death in 1376, John took John Wycliffe under his protection as he now had more of a political influence.

When Edward III died, John of Gaunt’s nephew Richard II became king and John was his right hand man. There was a lot of mistrust with the nobility and the common folk which lead to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, which was quickly and brutally taken care of. John went  back to Castile try to take the throne, but as soon as he left, England almost fell into civil war because of how poorly Richard II ruled. John gave up his claim to the Castilian throne to help bring England back to some stability.

 

He would also help sponsor  Geoffrey Chaucer, who was his brother in law since Chaucer married the sister of John’s third wife and long time mistress, Katherine Swynford. John and Katherine met while he was married to Constance and had 4 children out of wedlock. After they were married in 1396, their children were made legitimate and given the name “Beaufort”. There was one catch, they were not allowed to inherit the throne, although their half- brother Henry IV allowed them to have some royal status. John of Gaunt died  of natural causes on March 15, 1399 with Katherine Swynford by her side. He would later be buried by his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster.