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John of Gaunt
Succeeded by Henry Bolingbroke
Personal details
Born (1340-03-06)6 March 1340
Ghent, Flanders (now in Belgium)
Died 3 February 1399(1399-02-03) (aged 58)
Leicester Castle, Leicestershire
  • Blanche of Lancaster
    m. 1359; dec. 1369
  • Infanta Constance of Castile
    m. 1371; dec. 1394
  • Katherine Swynford
    m. 1396; wid. 1399

John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, KG (6 March 1340 – 3 February 1399) was a member of the House of Plantagenet, the third surviving son of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. He was called "John of Gaunt" because he was born in Ghent, then rendered in English as Gaunt. When he became unpopular later in life, scurrilous rumours and lampoons circulated that he was actually the son of a Ghent butcher, perhaps because Edward III was not present at the birth. This story always drove him to fury.[1]

As a younger brother of Edward, Prince of Wales (Edward, the Black Prince), John exercised great influence over the English throne during the minority of his nephew, Richard II, and during the ensuing periods of political strife, but was not thought to have been among the opponents of the king.

John of Gaunt's legitimate male heirs, the Lancasters, included Kings Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI. His other legitimate descendants included, by his first wife, Blanche, his daughters Queen Philippa of Portugal and Elizabeth, Duchess of Exeter; and by his second wife, Constance, his daughter Queen Catherine of Castile. John fathered five children outside marriage, one early in life by a lady-in-waiting to his mother, and four surnamed "Beaufort" (after a former French possession of the Duke) by Katherine Swynford, Gaunt's long-term mistress and third wife. The Beaufort children, three sons and a daughter, were legitimised by royal and papal decrees after John and Katherine married in 1396; a later proviso that they were specifically barred from inheriting the throne, the phrase excepta regali dignitate (except royal status), was inserted with dubious authority by their half-brother Henry IV. Descendants of this marriage included Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester and eventually Cardinal; Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland, grandmother of Kings Edward IV and Richard III; John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, the grandfather of Margret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII; and Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scots, from whom are descended, beginning in 1437, all subsequent sovereigns of Scotland, and successively, from 1603 on, the sovereigns of England, of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the United Kingdom to the present day. The three succeeding houses of English sovereigns from 1399—the Houses of Lancaster, York and Tudor—were descended from John through Henry Bolingbroke, Joan Beaufort and John Beaufort, respectively.

Lancaster's eldest son and heir, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, was exiled for ten years by King Richard II in 1398 as resolution to a dispute between Hereford and Thomas de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk.[2] When John of Gaunt died in 1399, his estates and titles were declared forfeit to the crown as King Richard II named Hereford a traitor and changed his sentence to exile for life.[2] Henry Bolingbroke returned from exile to reclaim his inheritance and depose Richard. Bolingbroke then reigned as King Henry IV of England (1399–1413), the first of the descendants of John of Gaunt to hold the throne of England. Due to some generous land grants, John was not only one of the richest men in his era, but also one of the wealthiest men to have ever lived. Taking into account inflation rates, John was worth a modern equivalent of $110 billion, making him the sixteenth richest man in history.[3]

Duke of Lancaster

Kenilworth Castle, a massive fortress extensively modernised and given a new Great Hall by John of Gaunt after 1350

John was the fourth son of King Edward III of England. His first wife, Blanche, was also his third cousin, both being great great grandchildren of King Henry III. They married in 1359 at Reading Abbey as Edward III arranged matches for his sons with wealthy heiresses. Upon the death of his father-in-law in 1361, John received half his lands, the title "Earl of Lancaster", and the distinction as the greatest landowner in the north of England, inheriting the Palatinate of Lancaster. He also became the 14th Baron of Halton and 11th Lord of Bowland. John inherited the rest when Blanche's sister, Maud, Countess of Leicester (married to William V, Count of Hainaut), died without issue on 10 April 1362.

John received the title "Duke of Lancaster" from his father on 13 November 1362. He was by then well established, owning at least thirty castles and estates across England and France. His household was comparable in scale and organisation to that of a monarch. He owned land in almost every county in England, producing a net income of between £8,000 and £10,000 a year (several millions in today's terms).[4]

After the death of his older brother Edward of Woodstock (also known as the Black Prince), John of Gaunt contrived to protect the religious reformer John Wycliffe, possibly to counteract the growing secular power of the [church[5]]. However, John's ascendancy to political power coincided with widespread resentment of his influence. At a time when English forces encountered setbacks in the Hundred Years' War against France, and Edward III's rule was becoming unpopular due to high taxation and his affair with Alice Perrers, political opinion closely associated the Duke of Lancaster with the failing government of the 1370s. Furthermore, while King Edward and the Prince of Wales were popular heroes due to their successes on the battlefield, John of Gaunt had not won equivalent military renown that could have bolstered his reputation. Although he fought in the Battle of Nájera, for example, his later military projects were unsuccessful.

When Edward III died in 1377 and John's ten-year-old nephew succeeded as Richard II of England, John's influence strengthened. However, mistrust remained, and some suspected him of wanting to seize the throne himself. John took pains to ensure that he never became associated with the opposition to Richard's kingship. As virtual ruler during Richard's minority, he made unwise decisions on taxation that led to the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, when the rebels destroyed his home in London, the Savoy Palace. Unlike some of Richard's other unpopular advisors, John was away from London at the time of the uprising and thus avoided the wrath of the rebels.

In 1386, John left England to claim the throne of , through his marriage to his second wife, Constance. However, crisis ensued almost immediately, and in 1387, King Richard's misrule brought England to the brink of civil war. Only John, on his return to England in 1389, was able to persuade the Lords Appellant and King Richard to compromise, ushering in a period of relative stability. During the 1390s, John's reputation of devotion to the well-being of the kingdom was largely restored. John died of natural causes on 3 February 1399 at Leicester Castle, with his third wife Katherine by his side.

Military commander in France

Because of his rank John of Gaunt was one of England's principal military commanders in the 1370s and 1380s, though his enterprises were never rewarded with the kind of dazzling success that had made his elder brother the Black Prince such a charismatic war leader.

On the resumption of war with France in 1369, John was sent to Calais with the Earl of Hereford and a small English army with which he raided into northern France. On 23 August he was confronted by a much larger French army under Philip, Duke of Burgundy. Exercising his first command, Gaunt dared not attack such a superior force and the two armies faced each other across a marsh for several weeks until the English were reinforced by the Earl of Warwick, at which the French withdrew without offering battle. Gaunt and Warwick then decided to strike Harfleur, the base of the French fleet on the Seine. Further reinforced by German mercenaries, they marched on Harfleur but were delayed by French guerilla operations while the town prepared for a siege. John invested the town for four days in October, but he was losing so many men to dysentery and bubonic plague that he decided to abandon the siege and return to Calais. During this retreat the army had to fight its way across the Somme at the ford of Blanchetaque against a French army led by Hugh de Châtillon, who was captured and sold to Edward III. The survivors of the sickly army returned to Calais, where the Earl of Warwick died of plague, by the middle of November. Though it seemed an inglorious conclusion to the campaign, Gaunt had forced the French king, Charles V, to abandon his plans to invade England that autumn.[6]

In the summer of 1370 John was sent with a small army to Aquitaine to reinforce his ailing elder brother, the Black Prince and his younger brother Edmund of Langley, Earl of Cambridge. With them he participated in the siege and sack of Limoges (September 1370), taking charge of the siege operations and at one point engaging in hand-to-hand fighting in the undermining tunnels.[7] After this event the Black Prince surrendered his lordship of Aquitaine and sailed for England, leaving John in charge. Though he attempted to defend the duchy against French encroachment for nearly a year, lack of resources and money meant he could do little but husband what little territory the English still controlled, and he resigned the command in September 1371 and returned to England.[8] Just before leaving Aquitaine, on 21 September 1371 he married Infanta Constance of Castile at Roquefort, near Bordeaux, Guienne. The following year he took part with his father, Edward III, in an abortive attempt to invade France with a large army, which was frustrated by three months of unfavourable winds.

Probably John's most notable feat of arms occurred in August–December 1373, when he attempted to relieve Aquitaine by the landward route, leading an army of some 9,000 mounted men from Calais on a great chevauchée from north-eastern to south-western France on a 900 kilometre raid. This four-month ride through enemy territory, evading French armies on the way, was a bold stroke which impressed contemporaries but achieved virtually nothing. Beset on all sides by French ambushes and plagued by disease and starvation, John of Gaunt and his raiders battled their way through Champagne, east of Paris, into Burgundy, across the Massif Central, and finally down into Dordogne. Unable to attack any strongly fortified forts and cities, the raiders plundered the countryside, raiding towns and villages, weakening the French infrastructure, but the military value of the damage was only temporary. Marching in winter across the Limousin plateau, with stragglers being picked off by the French, huge numbers of the army, and even larger numbers of horses, died of cold, disease or starvation. The army reached English-occupied Bordeaux on 24 December 1373, severely weakened in numbers and capacity having lost at least one-third of their force in action and another third to disease, and many more later succumbed to the bubonic plague that was raging in the city. Sick, demoralised and mutinous, the army was in no shape to defend Aquitaine, and soldiers began to desert. Gaunt had no funds with which to pay them, and despite his entreaties none were sent from England, so in April 1374 he abandoned the enterprise and sailed for home.[9]

John's final campaign in France was in 1378; he planned a 'great expedition' of mounted men in a large armada of ships to land at Brest and take control of Brittany. Not enough ships could be found to transport the horses, and the expedition was tasked with the more limited objective of capturing St. Malo. The English destroyed the shipping in St. Malo harbour and began to assault the town by land on 14 August, but John was soon hampered by the size of his army, which was unable to forage because French armies under Olivier de Clisson and Bertrand du Guesclin occupied the surrounding countryside, harrying the edges of his force. In September the siege was simply abandoned and the army returned ingloriously to England. John of Gaunt received most of the blame for the debâcle.[10]

Partly as a result of these failures, and those of other English commanders at this period, John was one of the first important figures in England to conclude that the war with France was unwinnable because of France's greater resources of wealth and manpower. He began to advocate peace negotiations—indeed as early as 1373, during his great raid through France, he made contact with Guillaume Roger, brother and political adviser of Pope Gregory XI, to let the Pope know he would be interested in a diplomatic conference under papal auspices. This approach led indirectly to the Anglo-French Congress of Bruges in 1374–77, which resulted in a short-lived truce between the two sides.[11] John was himself a delegate to the various conferences that eventually resulted in the Truce of Leulinghem in 1389. The fact that he became identified with the attempts to make peace added to his unpopularity at a period when the majority of Englishmen believed victory would be in their grasp if the French could be roundly defeated as they had been in the 1350s. Another motive was John's conviction that it was only by making peace with France that it would be possible to release sufficient manpower to enforce his claim to the throne of Castile.

Head of government

On his return from France in 1374, John took a more decisive and persistent role in the direction of English foreign policy, and from then until 1377 because his father and elder brother were both ill and unable to exercise their authority, he was effectively the head of the English government. Through his vast estates he was the richest man in England, and his great wealth, ostentatious display of it, autocratic manner and attitudes, enormous London mansion (the Savoy Palace on the Strand) and association with the failed peace process at Bruges combined to make him the most visible target of social resentments. His time at the head of government was marked by the so-called Good Parliament of 1376 and the Bad Parliament of 1377. The first, called to grant massive war taxation to the Crown, turned into a parliamentary revolution, with the Commons (supported to some extent by the Lords) venting their grievances at decades of crippling taxation, misgovernment and suspected endemic corruption among the ruling classes. John was left isolated (even the Black Prince supported the need for reform) and the Commons refused to grant money for the war unless most of the great officers of state were dismissed, and the King's mistress Alice Perrers, another focus of popular resentment, was barred from any further association with him. Even after the government acceded to virtually all their demands, the Commons then refused to authorise any finance for the war, losing the sympathy of the Lords as a result.

The death of the Black Prince on 8 June 1376 and the onset of Edward III's last illness at the closing of Parliament on 10 July left Gaunt with all the reins of power. He immediately had the ailing King grant pardons to all the officials impeached by the Parliament; Alice Perrers too was reinstated at the heart of the King's household. John impeached William of Wykeham and other leaders of the reform movement, and secured their conviction on old or trumped-up charges. The parliament of 1377 was John's counter-coup: crucially, the Lords no longer supported the Commons and John was able to have most of the acts of 1376 annulled. He also succeeded in forcing the Commons to agree to the imposition of the first Poll Tax in English history—a viciously regressive measure that bore hardest on the poorest members of society.[12] There was organised opposition to his measures, and rioting in London: John of Gaunt's arms were reversed or defaced wherever they were displayed, and protestors pasted up lampoons on his supposedly dubious birth. At one point he was forced to take refuge across the river Thames, while his Savoy Palace only just escaped looting.[13] It was rumoured (and believed by many people in England and France) that he intended to seize the throne for himself and supplant the rightful heir, his nephew Richard, the Black Prince's son, but there seems to have been no truth in this and on the death of Edward III and the accession of the child Richard II Gaunt sought no position of regency for himself and withdrew to his estates.[14]

His personal unpopularity persisted, however, and the failure of his expedition to Saint-Malo in 1378 did nothing for his reputation. By this time, too, some of his possessions were taken from him by the Crown. His ship, the Dieulagarde, for example, was seized and bundled with other royal ships to be sold to pay off the debts of Sir Robert de Crull who had advanced monies to pay for King Edward III's ships during the latter part of his reign wherein Crull had been the Clerk of the King's Ships.[15] During the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 John of Gaunt was far from the centre of events, on the march of Scotland, but he was among those named by the rebels as a traitor to be beheaded as soon as he could be found. The Savoy Palace was systematically destroyed by the mob, and burned to the ground. Nominally friendly lords and even his own fortresses closed their gates to him, and John was forced to flee into Scotland with a handful of retainers and throw himself on the charity of the Scottish King Robert II until the crisis was over.[16]

'King of Castile'

On his marriage to Infanta Constance of Castile in 1371, John assumed (officially from 29 January 1372) the title of King of Castile and León in right of his wife, and insisted his fellow English nobles henceforth address him as 'my lord of Spain.'[17] He impaled his arms with those of the Spanish kingdom. From 1372 John gathered around himself a small court of refugee Castilian knights and ladies and set up a Castilian chancery which prepared documents in his name according to the style of Peter of Castile, dated by the Castilian era and signed by himself with the Spanish formula 'Yo El Rey' (I, the King).[18] He hatched several schemes to make good his claim with an army, but for many years these were still-born due to lack of finance or the conflicting claims of war in France or with Scotland. It was only in 1386, after Portugal under its new king John of Avis had entered into full alliance with England, that he was actually able to land with an army in Spain and mount an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the throne of Castile. John sailed from England on 9 July 1386 with a huge Anglo-Portuguese fleet, carrying an army of about 5,000 men plus an extensive 'royal' household and his wife and daughters. Pausing on the journey to use his army to drive off the French forces who were then besieging Brest, he landed at Corunna in northern Spain on 29 July.

The Castilian king, John of Trastámara, had expected Gaunt would land in Portugal and had concentrated his forces on the Portuguese border; he was wrong-footed by Gaunt's decision to invade Galicia, the most distant and disaffected of Castile's provinces. From August to October, John of Gaunt set up a rudimentary court and chancery at Ourense and received the submission of most of the towns of Galicia, though they made their homage to him conditional on his being recognised as king by the rest of Castile. While John of Gaunt had gambled on an early decisive battle, the Castilians were in no hurry to join battle, and he began to experience difficulties keeping his army together and paying it. In November he met Joao I of Portugal at Ponte do Mouro on the south side of the Minho River and concluded an agreement with him to make a joint Anglo-Portuguese invasion of central Castile early in 1387. The treaty was sealed by the marriage of John's eldest daughter Philippa to the Portuguese King. A large part of John's army had succumbed to sickness, however, and when the invasion was mounted they were far outnumbered by their Portuguese allies. The campaign (April–June 1387) was an ignominious failure. The Castilians refused to offer battle and the Anglo-Portuguese troops, apart from time-wasting sieges of fortified towns, were reduced to foraging for food in the arid Spanish landscape. They were harried mainly by French mercenaries of the Castilian King. Many hundreds of English, including close friends and retainers of John of Gaunt, died of disease or exhaustion. Many deserted or abandoned the army to ride north under French safe-conducts. Shortly after the army returned to Portugal, John of Gaunt concluded a secret treaty with John of Trastámara under which he and his wife renounced all claim to the Castilian throne in return for a large annual payment and the marriage of their daughter Catherine to John of Trastámara's son Henry.

Duke of Aquitaine

John left Portugal for Aquitaine, and he remained in that province until he returned to England in November 1389. This effectively kept him off the scene while England endured the major political crisis of the conflict between Richard II and the Lords Appellant, who were led by John of Gaunt's younger brother Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. Only four months after his return to England, in March 1390, Richard II formally invested Gaunt with the Duchy of Aquitaine, thus providing him with the overseas territory he had long desired. However he did not immediately return to the province, but remained in England and mainly ruled through seneschals as an absentee Duke. His administration of the province was a disappointment, and his appointment as Duke was much resented by the Gascons, since Aquitaine had previously always been held directly by the King of England or his heir; it was not felt to be a fief that a King could bestow on a subordinate. In 1394–95, he was forced to spend nearly a year in Gascony to shore up his position in the face of threats of secession by the Gascon nobles. He was one of England's principal negotiators in the diplomatic exchanges with France that led to the Truce of Leulingham in 1396, and he initially agreed to join the French-led Crusade that ended in the disastrous Battle of Nicopolis, but withdrew due to ill-health and the political problems in Gascony and England.[19] For the remainder of his life John of Gaunt occupied the role of valued counsellor of the King and loyal supporter of the Crown. He did not even protest, it seems, when his younger brother Thomas was murdered at Richard's behest. It may be that he felt he had to maintain this posture of loyalty to protect his son Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV), who had also been one of the Lords Appellant, from Richard's wrath; but in 1398 Richard had Bolingbroke exiled, and on John of Gaunt's death the next year he disinherited Bolingbroke completely, seizing Gaunt's vast estates for the Crown.

Relationship to Chaucer

John of Gaunt was a patron and close friend of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, most famously known for his work The Canterbury Tales. Near the end of their lives Lancaster and Chaucer became brothers-in-law. Chaucer married Philippa (Pan) de Roet in 1366, and Lancaster took his mistress of nearly 30 years, Katherine Swynford (de Roet), who was Philippa Chaucer's sister, as his third wife in 1396. Although Philippa died c.1387, the men were bound as brothers and Lancaster's children by Katherine—John, Henry, Thomas and Joan Beaufort—were Chaucer's nephews and niece.

Chaucer's Book of the Duchess, also known as the Deeth of Blaunche the Duchesse,[20] was written in commemoration of Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt's first wife. The poem refers to John and Blanche in allegory as the narrator relates the tale of "A long castel with walles white/Be Seynt Johan, on a ryche hil" (1318–1319) who is mourning grievously after the death of his love, "And goode faire White she het/That was my lady name ryght" (948–949). The phrase "long castel" is a reference to Lancaster (also called "Loncastel" and "Longcastell"), "walles white" is thought to likely be an oblique reference to Blanche, "Seynt Johan" was John of Gaunt's name-saint, and "ryche hil" is a reference to Richmond; these thinly veiled references reveal the identity of the grieving black knight of the poem as John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and Earl of Richmond. "White" is the English translation of the French word "blanche", implying that the white lady was Blanche of Lancaster.[21]

Believed to have been written in the 1390s, Chaucer's short poem Fortune, is also inferred to directly reference Lancaster.[22][23] "Chaucer as narrator" openly defies Fortune, proclaiming he has learned who his enemies are through her tyranny and deceit, and declares "my suffisaunce" (15) and that "over himself hath the maystrye" (14). Fortune, in turn, does not understand Chaucer's harsh words to her for she believes she has been kind to him, claims that he does not know what she has in store for him in the future, but most importantly, "And eek thou hast thy beste frend alyve" (32, 40, 48). Chaucer retorts that "My frend maystow nat reven, blind goddesse" (50) and orders her to take away those who merely pretend to be his friends. Fortune turns her attention to three princes whom she implores to relieve Chaucer of his pain and "Preyeth his beste frend of his noblesse/That to som beter estat he may atteyne" (78–79). The three princes are believed to represent the dukes of Lancaster, York, and Gloucester, and a portion of line 76, "as three of you or tweyne," to refer to the ordinance of 1390 which specified that no royal gift could be authorised without the consent of at least two of the three dukes.[22] Most conspicuous in this short poem is the number of references to Chaucer's "beste frend". Fortune states three times in her response to the plaintiff, "And also, you still have your best friend alive" (32, 40, 48); she also references his "beste frend" in the envoy when appealing to his "noblesse" to help Chaucer to a higher estate. A fifth reference is made by "Chaucer as narrator" who rails at Fortune that she shall not take his friend from him. While the envoy playfully hints to Lancaster that Chaucer would certainly appreciate a boost to his status or income, the poem Fortune distinctively shows his deep appreciation and affection for John of Gaunt.



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Coat of arms of John of Gaunt asserting his kingship over Castile and León, combining the Castilian castle and lion with lilies of France, the lions of England and his heraldic difference

  • John's first child was an illegitimate daughter, Blanche (1359–1388/89). Blanche was the daughter of John's mistress, Marie de St. Hilaire of Hainaut (1340-after 1399), who was a lady-in-waiting to his mother, Queen Philippa. The affair apparently took place before John's first marriage, which was to his cousin Blanche of Lancaster. John's daughter, Blanche, married Sir Thomas Morieux in 1381. Morieux held several important posts, including Constable of the Tower the year he was married, and Master of Horse to King Richard II two years later. He died in 1387 after six years of marriage.
  • On 19 May 1359 at Reading Abbey, John married his third cousin, Blanche of Lancaster, daughter of Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster. The wealth she brought to the marriage was the foundation of John's fortune. Blanche died of bubonic plague on 12 September 1369 at Bolingbroke Castle, while her husband was away at sea. Their son Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV of England, after the duchy of Lancaster was taken by Richard II upon John's death while Henry was in exile. Their daughter Philippa became Queen of Portugal by marrying King John I of Portugal in 1387. All subsequent kings of Portugal were thus descended from John of Gaunt.
  • In 1371, John married Infanta Constance of Castile, daughter of King Peter of Castile, thus giving him a claim to the Crown of , which he would pursue. Though John was never able to make good his claim, his daughter by Constance, Catherine of Lancaster, became Queen of Castile by marrying Henry III of Castile.
  • During his marriage to Constance, John of Gaunt had fathered four children by a mistress, the widow Katherine Swynford (whose sister Philippa de Roet was married to Chaucer). Prior to her widowhood, Katherine had borne at least two, possibly three, children to Lancastrian knight Sir Hugh Swynford. The known names of these children are Blanche and Thomas. (There may have been a second Swynford daughter.) John of Gaunt was Blanche Swynford's godfather.[24]

Constance died in 1394. John married Katherine in 1396, and their children, the Beauforts, were legitimised by King Richard II and the Church, but barred from inheriting the throne. From the eldest son, John, descended a granddaughter, Margaret Beaufort, whose son, later King Henry VII of England, would nevertheless claim the throne.

Queen Elizabeth II and her predecessors since Henry IV are descended from John of Gaunt.


1640 drawing of tombs of Katherine Swynford and daughter Joan Beaufort

  • By Blanche of Lancaster:
    • Philippa (1360–1415) married King John I of Portugal (1357–1433).
    • John (1362–1365) was the first-born son of John and Blanche of Lancaster and lived possibly at least until after the birth of his brother Edward of Lancaster in 1365 and died before his second brother another short lived boy called John in 1366.[25] He was buried at the Church of St Mary de Castro, Leicester.
    • Elizabeth (1364–1426), married (1) in 1380 John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke (1372–1389), annulled 1383; married (2) in 1386 John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter (1350–1400); (3) Sir John Cornwall, 1st Baron Fanhope and Milbroke (d. 1443)
    • Edward (1365) died within a year of his birth and was buried at the Church of St Mary de Castro, Leicester.
    • John (1366–1367) most likely died after the birth of his younger brother Henry, the future Henry IV of England; he was buried at the Church of St Mary de Castro, Leicester
    • Henry IV of England (1367–1413) married (1) Mary de Bohun (1369–1394); (2) Joanna of Navarre (1368–1437)
    • Isabel (1368–1368)[26][27]
  • By Constance of Castile:
    • Catherine (1372–1418), married King Henry III of Castile (1379–1406)
    • John (1374–1375)[27][28]
  • By Katherine Swynford (née de Roet/Roelt), mistress and later wife (children legitimised 1397):
    • John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (1373–1410)—married Margaret Holland.
    • Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester and Cardinal (1375–1447)
    • Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (1377–1427), married Margaret Neville, daughter of Sir Thomas de Neville and Joan Furnivall.
    • Joan Beaufort (1379–1440)—married first Robert Ferrers, 5th Baron Boteler of Wem and second Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmoreland.
  • By Marie de St. Hilaire of Hainaut, mistress:
    • Blanche (1359–1388/89), married Sir Thomas Morieux (1355–1387) in 1381, without issue


The tomb of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster in St. Paul's Cathedral, as represented in an etching of 1658 by Wenceslaus Hollar. The etching includes a number of inaccuracies, for example in not showing the couple with joined hands.

John of Gaunt was buried beside his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, in the choir of St Paul's Cathedral. Their magnificent tomb had been designed and executed between 1374 and 1380 by Henry Yevele with the assistance of Thomas Wrek, at a total cost of £592. The two alabaster effigies were notable for having their right hands joined. An adjacent chantry chapel was added between 1399 and 1403.[29]

Titles, styles, arms and honours


Coat of Arms of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster

As a son of the sovereign, John bore the royal arms of the kingdom (Quarterly, France Ancient and England), differenced by a label argent of three points ermine.[30]

As claimant to the throne of Castile and León from 1372, he impaled the arms of that kingdom (Gules, a castle or, quartering Argent, a lion rampant purpure) with his own. The arms of Castile and León appeared on the dexter side of the shield (the left hand side as viewed), and the differenced English royal arms on the sinister; but in 1388, when he surrendered his claim, he reversed this marshalling, placing his own arms on the dexter, and those of Castile and León on the sinister.[31] He thus continued to signal his alliance with the Castilian royal house, while abandoning any claim to the throne. There is, however, evidence that he may occasionally have used this second marshalling at earlier dates.[32]

In addition to his royal arms, Gaunt also bore an alternative coat of Sable, three ostrich feathers ermine. This was the counterpart to his brother, the Black Prince's, "shield for peace" (on which the ostrich feathers were white), and may have been used in jousting. The ostrich feather arms appeared in stained glass above Gaunt's chantry chapel in St Paul's Cathedral.[33]

In popular culture

Lancaster city centre has a public house called the John O'Gaunt. An administrative ward on the city council also bears the name.

Remains in King's Somborne, Hampshire, are called John O'Gaunt Hunting Lodge.

Hungerford in Berkshire also has ancient links to the Duchy, the manor becoming part of John of Gaunt's estate in 1362 before James I passed ownership to two local men in 1612 (which subsequently became Town & Manor of Hungerford Charity). The links are visible today in the Town & Manor-owned John O'Gaunt Inn on Bridge Street,[34] the John O'Gaunt School on Priory Road,[35] as well as various street names. It is also customary for the Loyal Toast to be given by residents as "The Queen, the Duke of Lancaster".

There is also The John of Gaunt School on Wingfield Road in Trowbridge, Wiltshire,[36] built upon land that he once owned.

John held large tracts of land in Lincolnshire and the City of Lincoln. At the appropriately named site of Gaunt Street, he maintained a palace, remains of which were found in the late 1960s. A finial window, complete, was found between two walls in the then "West's Garage". This was moved and now adorns the entrance through the East bail of Lincoln castle.

Opposite the Palace site, stands St Mary's Guildhall, locally known as John O'Gaunt's stables. This large medieval building once formed the entrance to the John O'Gaunts football ground, home to Lincoln City until they moved to their present Sincil Bank ground.

The remnants of the castle at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, once owned by John, sit on John o' Gaunt's Street.

The John of Gaunt Stakes is a British race for Thoroughbred horses run annually in June.

Fakenham in Norfolk has the full name of Fakenham Lancaster as a tribute to him as Duke of Lancaster.

In William Shakespeare's play Richard II, the famous "scepter'd isle" speech about England is spoken by the character of John of Gaunt shortly before he dies.

Anya Seton's best-selling 1954 novel Katherine depicts John's long-term affair with and eventual marriage to Katherine Swynford.

He is a major character in Georgette Heyer's last novel My Lord John.

John of Gaunt is a major character in Garry O'Connor's Chaucer's Triumph: Including the Case of Cecilia Chaumpaigne, the Seduction of Katherine Swynford, the Murder of Her Husband, the Interment of John of Gaunt and Other Offices of the Flesh in the Year 1399 (2007).

John O'Gaunt is a piece of music written for brass band by Gilbert Vinter in 1965. It documents John O'Gaunt's life in a musical tone poem.

The romance novel Almost Innocent by Jane Feather tells the story of a possibly fictitious illegitimate daughter of John of Gaunt, and contains much history and vivid description of John and of royal life.

A suit of armour alleged to have been John of Gaunt's is on display in the Tower of London, and is of exceptional size (6'9"), but its ownership is now disputed. The armour is believed by experts to have been made c.1540 in Germany, and did not enter the Tower's collection until the early 17th century. By 1660 it was described in an inventory as "‘a large white armour cap-a-pe, said to be John of Gaunt’s", and this erroneous description has remained with the armour.[37]


  1. Jonathan Sumption, Divided Houses: The Hundred Years War III (London: Faber & Faber, 2009), p. 274.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Chris Given-Wilson (general editor); Paul Brand, Seymour Phillips, Mark Ormrod, Geoffrey Martin, Anne Curry, Rosemary Horrox (editors). "Richard II: September 1397". Parliament Rolls of Medieval England. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 8 June 2013. 
  3. Olivia Fleming (15 October 2012). "Meet the 14th Century African king who was richest man in the world of all time (adjusted for inflation!)". Daily Mail. 
  4. Sumption (2009), p. 3.
  5. *
  6. Sumption (2009), pp. 38–69.
  7. Sumption (2009), p. 82.
  8. Sumption (2009), pp. 69–108.
  9. Sumption (2009), pp. 187–202.
  10. Sumption (2009), pp. 325–327.
  11. Sumption (2009), pp. 212–213.
  12. Sumption (2009), p. 271.
  13. Sumption (2009), p. 274.
  14. Sumption (2009), pp. 213, 283–4.
  15. James Sherborne. War, Politics and Culture in 14th Century England. London: The Hambledon Press, 1994. 32 ISBN 1-85285-086-8. The former title for Clerk of the King's Ships had been Keeper and Governor of the King's Ships and Warden of the Sea and Maritime Parts. De Crull (or Crull) had served Edward III in this capacity from 6 October 1359 to 22 September 1378: N.A.M. Rodger. The Safeguard of the Sea: A Naval History of Britain, 660–1649. London: Harper Collins, 1997. 99 ISBN 0 002551284
  16. Sumption (2009), p. 425-426.
  17. Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Pleas; National Archives; CP 40/541 ; year 1396; ; several entries, as Duke of Aquitaine & Lancaster; and as King of Castille & Duke of Lancaster
  18. Sumption (2009), pp. 122–3.
  19. Sumption (2009), p. 829.
  20. Chaucer, Geoffrey, ed. Larry D. Benson and F. N. Robinson (1984). "The Legend of Good Women". The Riverside Chaucer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 600. ISBN 0-395-29031-7. 
  21. Wilcockson, Colin, ed. Larry D. Benson and F. N. Robinson (1987). "Explanatory Notes on 'The Book of the Duchess'". The Riverside Chaucer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 966–976. ISBN 0-395-29031-7. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Gross, Zaila, ed. Larry D. Benson and F. N. Robinson (1987). "Introduction to the Short Poems". The Riverside Chaucer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 635. ISBN 0-395-29031-7. 
  23. Williams, George (1965). A New View of Chaucer. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 55. 
  24. Dame Blanche Morieux in John of Gaunt: King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Aquitaine and Lancaster by Sydney Armitage-Smith, pp. 460–461. (1904, 1905). Accessed 11 March 2008.
  25. Weir, Alison., Katherine Swynford the story of John of Gaunt and his scandalous duchess (London, 2008) pg. 43
  26. Leese, Thelma Anna, Blood royal: issue of the kings and queens of medieval England, 1066–1399, (Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 219.
  27. 27.0 27.1 G.E. Cokayne; with Vicary Gibbs, H.A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden, editors, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 volumes in 14 (1910–1959; reprint in 6 volumes, Gloucester, U.K. Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000), vol. XII/2, p. 908.
  28. Leese, Thelma Anna, Blood royal: issue of the kings and queens of medieval England, 1066–1399, (Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 222.
  29. Harris, Oliver D. (2010). "'Une tresriche sepulture': the tomb and chantry of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster in Old St Paul's Cathedral, London". pp. 7–35. 
  30. Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family
  31. Armitage-Smith, John of Gaunt, pp. 456–57.
  32. P.A. Fox, 'Fourteenth-century ordinaries of Arms. Part 2: William Jenyns' Ordinary', Coat of Arms, 3rd ser. vol. 5 (2009), pp. 55–64 (pp. 59, 61, pl. 2).
  33. Harris, '"Tresriche sepulture"', pp. 22–3
  34. "John O'Gaunt Inn, Hungerford". 
  35. "John O'Gaunt School, Hungerford". 
  36. "John O'Gaunt School, Trowbridge". 
  37. "Field Armour, the 'Giant' Armour". Royal Armouries. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 


  • Armitage-Smith, Sydney (1904). John of Gaunt, King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Aquitaine and Lancaster, Earl of Derby, Lincoln, and Leicester, Seneschal of England. London: Constable. 
  • Cantor, Norman F. (2004). The Last Knight: the Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0743226887. 
  • Goodman, Anthony (1992). John of Gaunt: the Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth-Century Europe. Harlow: Longman. ISBN 0582098130. 
  • Green, V.H.H. (1955). The Later Plantagenets: a Survey of English History 1307–1485. London: Edward Arnold. 
  • Nicolle, David (2011). The Great Chevauchée: John of Gaunt's Raid on France 1373. Osprey Raid. 20. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 978-1-84908-247-1. 
  • Walker, Simon (1990). The Lancastrian Affinity, 1361–1399. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0198201745. 

External links

John of Gaunt
Born: 6 March 1340 Died: 3 February 1399
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Richard II
Duke of Aquitaine
Succeeded by
Henry Bolingbroke
Preceded by
John I of Castile
de facto King of Galicia
Succeeded by
John I of Castile
Peerage of England
New creation Duke of Lancaster
2nd creation
Succeeded by
Henry Bolingbroke
Preceded by
Henry of Grosmont
Earl of Leicester
Earl of Lancaster
Earl of Derby

Preceded by
New creation
last held by
The Duke of Brittany
Earl of Richmond
Succeeded by
title regranted to
The Duke of Brittany
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry of Grosmont
Lord High Steward
Succeeded by
Henry Bolingbroke

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