John of Gaunt

Mary Stone | July 10, 2023


John of Ghent (Ghent, March 6, 1340 – Leicester, February 3, 1399), seneschal of England, was a member of the House of Plantagenet, the third of the four surviving sons of King Edward III of England and Philip of Hainault. He was called “John of Ghent” because he was born in Ghent, then translated into English as Gaunt. When he became unpopular later in life, rumors and satire circulated that he was actually the son of a butcher from Ghent, perhaps because Edward III was not present at the birth. This story always drove him to rage. As the younger brother of Edward, Prince of Wales (Edward the Black Prince), John wielded great influence over the English throne during the minority of Edward’s son, who became King Richard II, and in the periods of political conflict that followed. Due to some generous land grants, John was one of the wealthiest men of his time. He made an unsuccessful attempt to stake a claim to the Crown of Castile that came courtesy of his second wife Constance, who was an heiress to the Castilian Kingdom, and for a time called herself as such.

John’s legitimate heirs, the Lancastres, include kings Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI. His other legitimate descendants include his daughters, Queen Filipa of Portugal and Isabella, Duchess of Exeter (by his first wife, White of Lancastre), and Queen Catherine of Castile (by his second wife Constance of Castile). John had five children out of wedlock, one early in life with a lady-in-waiting of his mother, and four with Catherine Swynford, a longtime mistress of Ghent and third wife. Catherine Swynford’s children, surnamed “Beaufort,” were legitimized by royal and papal decrees after John and Catherine were married in 1396. The descendants of this marriage include Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland, grandmother of Kings Edward IV and Richard III; John Beaufort, first Earl of Somerset, great-grandfather of King Henry VII; and Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scots, from whom all subsequent sovereigns of Scotland from 1437 onward and all sovereigns of England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom from 1603 to the present day are descended. The three houses of English sovereigns that succeeded Richard II’s rule in 1399 – the houses of Lancaster, York and Tudor were all descended from John’s children, Henry IV, Joan Beaufort and John Beaufort, respectively. In addition, John’s daughter Catherine of Lancastre was married to King Henry III of Castile, making him the grandfather of King John II of Castile and the ancestor of all subsequent monarchs of the Crown.

His first wife, White of Lancastre, was also his third cousin; both were great-great-grandchildren of King Henry III. They were married in 1359 at Reading Abbey as part of Edward III’s efforts to arrange marriage for his children with wealthy heiresses. After the death of his father-in-law, the 1st Duke of Lancaster, in 1361, John received half of his lands, the title “Earl of Lancastre,” and distinction as the largest landowner in northern England as heir to the Palatinate of Lancastre. He also became the 14th Baron of Halton and 11th Lord of Bowland. John inherited the rest of the Lancastre estate when White’s sister, Maud, Countess of Leicester (married to William V, Earl of Hainaut), died childless on April 10, 1362. John received the title “Duke of Lancaster” from his father on November 13, 1362. Already well established, he owned at least thirty castles and estates in England and France and maintained a family comparable in scale and organization to that of a monarch. He owned lands in almost every county in England, an estate that generated a net income of between £8,000 and £10,000 per year. After the death in 1376 of his elder brother Edward of Woodstock (also known as the “Black Prince”), John planned to protect the religious reformer John Wycliffe, possibly to neutralize the growing secular power of the church. However, crisis ensued almost immediately in his absence, and in 1387 the misrule of r

Sometime after the death of White of Lancastre in 1368 and the birth of her first child, John Beaufort, in 1373, John and Catherine Swynford, the daughter of a common knight, began an extramarital love affair that would produce four children for the couple. All of them were born out of wedlock, but were legitimized in the eventual marriage of their parents. The adulterous relationship lasted until 1381, when it was broken off out of political necessity. On January 13, 1396, two years after the death of Constance of Castile, Catherine and John were married in Lincoln Cathedral. The children bore the surname “Beaufort” in honor of a former French possession of the duke. The Beaufort children, three sons and a daughter, were legitimized by royal and papal decrees after the marriage of John and Catherine. A later condition that they were specifically barred from inheriting the throne, the phrase excepta regali dignitate (“except royal status”), was inserted with dubious authority by Henry IV. John died of natural causes on February 3, 1399 at Leicester Castle, with his third wife Catherine at his side. John was a patron and close friend of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, best known for his work The Canterbury Tales. Near the end of their lives, Lancastre and Chaucer became brothers-in-law. Chaucer married Filipa (Pan) de Roet in 1366, and Lancastre took his mistress for nearly 30 years, Catherine Swynford, who was Filipa Chaucer’s sister, as his third wife in 1396. Although Philippa died, the men were bound as brothers and Lancastre’s children by Catherine – John, Henry, Thomas and Joan Beaufort were Chaucer’s nephews and niece.

The current Queen Elizabeth II and her predecessors since Henry IV are descendants of John of Ghent.

John of Ghent, was the fourth son of Edward III and Philip of Hainault, was born at St. Bavon Abbey in Ghent on March 6, 1340. He was raised in the household of Edward the Black Prince and “was soon initiated into the arduous military traditions of the Plantagenet family. “Ghent was on his father’s ship during the Anglo-Castellian sea battle at Winchelsea in August 1350 and was knighted at the beginning of the Norman campaign in July 1355. He also served with his father in Scotland in 1356. At the age of twenty-two, John of Ghent was the wealthiest nobleman in England, a status he maintained throughout his life. The dukedom of Lancastre yielded about £12,000 a year, an income at least double the amount enjoyed by any contemporary English magnate.

In 1350, at the age of ten, John was present at the naval battle of Winchelsea, where, it is said, his life was saved by Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster, who attacked the huge Spanish ship that attacked the ship that John and his older brother Edward, The Prince of Wales was sailing. Described as tall and well built by his contemporaries.

Branca de Lencastre

John of Ghent’s first marriage, at age 19, was intended to give him prestige, property, and income and was arranged as part of his father’s plans to provide for the future of several of his children. John and 14-year-old White of Lencastre, the youngest daughter of Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lencastre, were married on May 19, 1359 at the Queen’s Chapel in Reading. It is very likely that John had already had a child, a daughter, Branca, by Mary of St Hilaire before their marriage. Branca was born sometime before 1360 and would marry Sir Thomas Morieux before his death in 1388 or 1389. White of Lancastre was described as “Jone et jolie” – young and beautiful – by the chronicler Froisssart, and also “beautiful and brilliant” and “patroness of beauty” by Geoffrey Chaucer. She brought John of Ghent the county of Lancaster after his father died of the plague in 1361, and those of Leicester and Lincoln when his older sister, Maud, died of the same disease in 1362, making him the largest landowner in the country after the king. The marriage was very successful, with 7 children born in just 8 years, 3 of whom survived infancy; daughters Philip and Elizabeth and a son, Henry of Bolingbroke future King Henry IV of England.

It has always been believed that White died in 1369, while John of Ghent was in France, having moved her young family to Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire to escape a new outbreak of the Black Death, but that she succumbed to the plague while there. However, recent research has found that White died at Tutbury on September 12, 1368, more likely due to complications from childbirth than the plague, after the birth of her daughter, Elizabeth, who died young. Her husband was at her side when she died and said prayers for the Duchess’s soul. She was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. John of Ghent arranged a splendid alabaster tomb and annual commemorations for the rest of her life.

Catherine Swynford

Before 1365, White had taken into her home a lady named Catherine Swynford, wife of one of her husband’s Lincolnshire knights. John was godfather to the Swynfords’ daughter, White. Catherine later became governess to White’s two daughters, Philip and Elizabeth, and young White Swynford was housed in the same chambers as the Duchess’s daughters, and granted the same luxuries as the princesses. Catherine was the daughter of a Hainaut knight, Sir Paon de Roet de Guyenne, who came to England in Queen Philip’s entourage. She had grown up at court with her sister, Philip, who would later marry Geoffrey Chaucer. After White’s death, Catherine stayed in the Duke’s household, taking charge of his daughters. However, it was only shortly after her husband’s death in 1371 that rumors of a connection between Catherine and the Duke began, although it is possible that the affair began before her husband’s death, this is far from certain.

John and Catherine had four children three sons and a daughter in the years between 1371 and 1379. They were supposedly born in John’s castle in France in Champagne, and were named after the castle as their surname, Beaufort. However, it seems equally likely that they were named after the lordship of Beaufort, which formerly belonged to Ghent and to which he still laid claim.

John then went to Guienne to look after his interests as Duke of Aquitaine and remained in France from September 1394 until December 1395. When he returned to England, John wasted no time in reuniting with Catherine and they were married at Lincoln Cathedral in January 1396. John then made an appeal to the Pope and his children by Catherine were legitimized on September 1, 1396, and then by the Charter of Richard II on February 9, 1397. However, a later clause excluded Beaufort’s children from the succession. Catherine would survive John and die in Lincoln on May 10, 1403. She was buried, near the High Altar, in the cathedral in which she had married her prince only seven years earlier. Her daughter Joan, Countess of Westmoreland, was buried next to her after her death in 1440. Their graves, however, are empty and are buried under the cathedral floor.

Constance of Castile

Meanwhile, John was not yet finished with his dynastic ambitions and, despite his relationship with Catherine, he married Constance of Castile in September 1371. Constance was the daughter of Pedro I “the Cruel” and his wife, Maria de Padilla. Born in 1354 in Castrojeriz, Castile, she succeeded her father as Queen of Castile on March 13, 1369, but John was never able to take control of the kingdom from rival suitor Henry of Tastamara, reigning as Henry III, and would eventually reach an agreement in 1388, where Henry married John and Constance’s daughter, Catherine. Catherine was born in 1372

Catherine left court and settled in her late husband’s mansion in Kettlethorpe, before moving to a rented house in Lincoln. John visited her regularly during the 1380s, and Catherine was often at court. With four sons by John of Ghent, but still only officially a governess to his daughters, Catherine was made Lady of the Garter in 1388. Constance, however, died on March 24, 1394, at Leicester Castle and was buried at Newark Abbey in Leicester.

His various marriages caused problems for future generations, his son with White of Lancaster, Henry, forcing the abdication of Richard II and usurping the throne on September 30, 1399. His Beaufort descendants would be prominent adversaries on both sides of the War of the Roses. While his son John, Earl of Somerset was the grandfather of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, his daughter, Joan, was the grandmother of the York kings Edward IV and Richard III.

Edward III was in poor health and his son John of Ghent became an important figure at the royal court. He was also sent on several diplomatic missions. In April 1367, his command of the English vanguard at Nájera increased his reputation as a military general. The Scottish Parliament even discussed the possibility of John of Ghent succeeding the sonless David II as king of Scotland. On September 21, 1371, John of Ghent married Constance of Castile, daughter of Peter of Castile, the King of Castile, who died in 1369. Ghent used the marriage to claim the crown of Castile. However, Henry of Castile, the illegitimate son of Alfonso XI, became the king of Castile. The duke was formally authorized to use the Castilian royal titles by Edward III on January 30, 1372. A plan to send an invasion force was cancelled in October 1372.

John’s older brother, Edward the Black Prince, had been the commander of the English army during the Hundred Years’ War, but suffering repeated attacks of what was probably dysentery, he was forced to return to England. John of Ghent, was now asked to replace him in France, and in April 1373 his army of 6,000 men set out from Dover. “Strong French resistance kept the English forces away from the Paris basin, however, and forced the Duke to march east to Reims and Troyes, and then south through Auvergne to Aquitaine, which the Duke and his army reached in December.” John returned to England in April 1374. In desperate need of money to finance the war, a parliament was held in April 1376. John of Ghent was the representative of the royal family, as his father and older brother were very ill (his brother Edward died on June 8). Members of the House of Commons complained about the heavy incidence of taxation and the consistent lack of military success. His support for John Wycliffe suggested that he was a religious reformer and this caused problems with church leaders.

February, 1377, Wycliffe was told to appear before Archbishop Simon Sudbury and charged with seditious preaching. Anne Hudson argued that: “Wycliffe’s teaching on this point seems to have offended on three counts: that the pope’s excommunication was invalid, and that any priest, if he had power, could pronounce deliverance as well as the pope; that kings and lords cannot grant anything in perpetuity to the church, since lay powers can deprive errant clerics of their temporalities; that temporal lords in need could legitimately remove wealth from possessors.”

John campaigned with his older brother Edward of Woodstock, known as the Black Prince and participated in many of the battles of the Hundred Years’ War and in aid of his ally Peter the Cruel of Castile. After the death of Edward the Black Prince, John of Ghent gave protection to the religious reformer John Wycliffe, possibly to neutralize the growing power of the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1377, the government introduced a tax where four cents was to be taken from every man and woman over the age of fourteen. “This was a huge shock: taxation had never been universal before, and four cents was the equivalent of three days’ work for simple farmers at the rates set in the Statute of Laborers.” Edward III died soon after, and John of Ghent took the blame for the new tax. The leading magnates feared that John of Ghent would claim the throne. They consequently promoted the idea, that their ten year old grandson, should assume the throne. Richard II was crowned July 1377. Thomas Walsingham described it as “a day of joy and gladness…. the long-awaited day of the renewal of the peace and laws of the land, long exiled by the weakness of an aging king and the greed of his courtiers and servants.” In 1379, Richard II convened a parliament to raise money to pay for the war against the French. After much debate it was decided to impose another poll tax. This time it was to be a graduated tax, which meant that the richer you were, the more taxes you paid. For example, the Duke of Lancaster and the Archbishop of Canterbury had to pay £6.13s.4d. the Bishop of London 80 shillings, wealthy merchants 20 shillings, but peasants were only charged 4d.

In 1380 John of Ghent and his army were sent north to deal with problems on the frontier. The trouble began when pirates operating from Hull and Newcastle. had captured a Scottish ship. The Scots reacted to the loss by breaching the border, terrorizing the northern counties and pillaging Penrith. According to Dan Jones “protecting the northern frontier was certainly a particular interest for him; but he was also a champion of the rights of the Crown – a trait that often saw him unfairly characterized as having personal ambitions for the throne.”

While he was away, Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, suggested a new poll tax of three groats (one shilling) per head over fifteen years of age. “There was a maximum payment of twenty shillings from men whose families and households numbered more than twenty, thus ensuring that the rich paid less than the poor. One shilling was a considerable sum for a working man, almost a week’s wages. A household might include elderly people who had passed from work and other dependents, and the head of the household became responsible for a shilling on each of his “surveys.” This was basically a tax on the working classes.” The peasants felt it was unfair that they paid the same as the rich. They also did not feel that the tax offered them any benefit. For example, the English government seemed unable to protect the people living on the south coast from French invaders. Most peasants at this time only had an income of about one groat a week. This was especially a problem for large families. For many, the only way to pay the tax was to sell their goods. John Wycliffe gave a sermon where he argued, “The lords harm poor men with unreasonable taxes…and they perish from hunger, thirst and cold, and their children too. And so the lords eat and drink the flesh and blood of poor men.”

John Ball toured Kent giving sermons attacking the poll tax. When the Archbishop of Canterbury heard about this, he gave orders that Ball should not be allowed to preach in church. Ball responded by giving lectures on the village greens. The Archbishop now gave instructions that all people found listening to Ball’s sermons were to be punished. When this did not work, Ball was arrested and in April 1381 he was sent to Maidstone prison. At his trial it was alleged that Ball told the court that he would be “set free by twenty thousand armed men.”

In May 1381, Thomas Bampton, the Tax Commissioner for the Essex area, informed the king that the people of Fobbing were refusing to pay their poll tax. It was decided to send a Chief Justice and some soldiers to the village. It was thought that if some of the leaders were executed, the rest of the village would be afraid to pay the tax. However, when Chief Justice Sir Robert Belknap arrived, he was attacked by the villagers. Belknap was forced to sign a document promising not to take any further part in collecting the poll tax. According to the Anonimalle Chronicle of St Mary’s, “The House of Commons rose up against him and came before him to tell him…that he was maliciously proposing to undo them…. So they made him swear on the Bible that he would never again hold such sittings nor act as Justice in such inquiries…. And Sir Robert traveled home as quickly as possible.”

After freeing the Chief Justice, some of the villagers looted and set fire to the house of John Sewale, the Sheriff of Essex. Tax collectors were executed and their heads were placed on poles and paraded around the surrounding villages. The officials sent messages to the villages of Essex and Kent asking for support in the fight against the tax. Many peasants decided it was time to support the ideas proposed by John Ball and his followers. It did not take long for Wat Tyler, a former soldier in the Hundred Years’ War, to emerge as the leader of the peasants. Tyler’s first decision was to march to Maidstone to free John Ball from prison. “John Ball had been released and was safe among the Kent commons, and he was about to pour out the impassioned words that had been bottled up for three months, words that were exactly what his audience wanted to hear.”

Charles Poulsen, author of The English Rebels (1984) pointed out that it was very important for the peasants to be led by a religious figure: “For about twenty years he had roamed the country as a kind of Christian agitator, denouncing the rich and their exploitation of the poor, calling for social justice and Freeman and a society based on brotherhood and equality of all people.” John Ball was needed as their leader because alone of the rebels, he had access to the word of God. “John Ball quickly took his place as the theorist of the rising and its spiritual father. Whatever the masses thought of the temporal Church, everyone considered themselves good Catholics.”

On June 5 there was a revolt in Dartford and two days later Rochester Castle was taken. The peasants arrived in Canterbury on June 10. They took over the archbishop’s palace, destroyed legal documents, and released the prisoners from the city jail. More and more peasants decided to take action. Manor houses were broken into and documents were destroyed. These records included the names of the villeins, the rent they paid, and the services they performed. What had originally started as a protest against the poll tax now became an attempt to destroy the feudal system. The peasants decided to go to London to see Richard II. Since the king was only fourteen years old, they blamed his advisors for the poll tax. The peasants hoped that once the king knew of their problems, he would do something to solve them. The rebels reached the outskirts of the city on June 12. An estimated 30,000 peasants marched into London. At Blackheath, John Ball gave one of his famous sermons on the need for “liberty and equality.”

Wat Tyler also spoke to the rebels. He told them, “Remember, we did not come as thieves and robbers. We come seeking social justice.” Henry Knighton records, “The rebels returned to the New Temple which belonged to the prior of Clerkenwell, and tore with their axes all the church books, letters and records discovered in the chests and burned them…. One of the criminals picked out a piece of silver and hid it in his lap; when his companions saw him carrying it, they threw it, together with its prize, into the fire, saying that they were lovers of truth and justice, not thieves and robbers.” Charles Poulsen praises Wat Tyler as learning the “lessons of organization and discipline” when in the army and in showing the “same pride in the customs and manners of his own class as the noblest baron would do for his own.” Medieval historians were less complimentary, and Thomas Walsingham described him as a “shrewd man, endowed with much good sense if he had applied his intelligence to good purposes.”

John of Ghent was still in Scotland with the English army when these events occurred. King Richard II sent a message to bring his soldiers, about 20,000 men, back to London. However, the message did not arrive in time for him to take effective action. Dan Jones, author of Summer of Blood: ThePeasant’ Revolt (2009), pointed out, “Some four hundred miles into the worst crisis of order the country has ever known, the most experienced and powerful nobleman in the land was left exiled and powerless.” Richard II gave orders for the peasants to be locked out of London. However, some Londoners who sympathized with the peasants managed to get the city gates left open. Jean Froissart claims that some 40,000 to 50,000 citizens, about half of the city’s inhabitants, were ready to welcome the True Commons. When the rebels entered the city, the king and his advisors retreated to the Tower of London. Many poor people living in London decided to join the rebellion. Together, they began to destroy the property of the king’s high officials. They also released the prisoners from Marshalsea Prison. Part of the English army was at sea bound for Portugal, while the rest was with John of Ghent in Scotland. Thomas Walsingham says that the king was being protected in the Tower by “six hundred men warriors instructed in arms, brave and most experienced men, and six hundred archers.” Walsingham adds that they “had all lost heart so that you would have thought them more like dead men than alive; the memory of their former vigor and glory was extinguished.” Walsingham points out that they did not want to fight and suggests that they may have been on the side of the peasants.

John Ball sent a message to Richard II stating that the revolt was not against his authority, as the people only wanted to rid him and his kingdom of traitors. Ball also asked the king to meet him at Blackheath. Archbishop Simon Sudbury and Robert Hales, the treasurer, both objects of the people’s hatred, warned against meeting with the “barefoot ruffians,” while others, such as William de Montagu, the Earl of Salisbury, urged that the king played for time, pretending that he desired a negotiated settlement.

Richard II biographer Anthony Tuck pointed out, “Richard’s own role in the discussions is almost impossible to determine, although some historians have suggested that he took the initiative in trying to negotiate with the rebels, despite the fact that he was only fourteen when the rebellion occurred. Even before the Kent rebels entered London, Richard had apparently suggested negotiations with their leaders in Greenwich, but the talks had broken down almost as soon as they began.” Richard II agreed to meet the rebels outside the city walls at Mile End on June 14, 1381. Most of his soldiers remained behind. Charles Oman, the author of The Great Revolt of 1381 (1906), pointed out the “Riding to Mile End was dangerous: at any moment the mob could have broken loose, and the King and his entire party could have perished…yet, though surrounded by all the noisy and boisterous crowds, Richard and his party finally reached Mile End.”

When the king met the rebels he asked them what they wanted. Wat Tyler explained the demands of the rebels. These included an end to all feudal services, the freedom to buy and sell all property, and a free pardon for all crimes committed during the rebellion. Tyler also called for a rent limit of 4d per acre and an end to feudal fines in the manor courts. Finally, he asked that no “man should be forced to work except for employment under a regularly reviewed contract. “The king immediately granted these demands. Wat Tyler also claimed that the king’s officials in charge of the poll tax were guilty of corruption and should be executed. The king replied that all persons found guilty of corruption would be punished by law. The king agreed to these proposals and 30 officials were instructed to write letters giving the peasants their freedom. After receiving their letters the vast majority of the peasants went home.

G. R. Kesteven, author of The Peasants’ Revolt (1965), pointed out that the king and his officials had no intention of keeping the promises made at this meeting, they “were merely using these promises to disperse the rebels.” However, Wat Tyler and John Ball were not swayed by the word given by the king and, along with 30,000 of the rebels stayed in London. While the king was at Mile End discussing a settlement with the king, another group of peasants marched to the Tower of London. There were about 600 soldiers defending the Tower, but they decided not to fight the rebel army. Simon Sudbury (Archbishop of Canterbury), Robert Hales (King’s Treasurer) and John Legge (Tax Commissioner), were taken from the Tower and executed. Their heads were then placed on poles and paraded through the streets of London.

Rodney Hilton argues that the rebels wanted revenge on everyone involved in tax collection or the administration of the legal system. Roger Leggett, one of the government’s most important lawyers was also killed. “They attacked not only the lawyers themselves, court officials, but others closely associated with the judicial processes. Hostility to lawyers and legal records was, of course, not peculiar to Londoners. The widespread destruction of manorial court records is well known” during the rebellion. The rebels also attacked foreign workers living in London. “The commons proclaimed that anyone who could lay hands on Flemings or any other foreigners of other nations might cut off their heads.” It was alleged that “some 150 or 160 unfortunate foreigners were murdered in various places thirty and five Flemings were dragged out of St. Martin’s church in the Vintry, and beheaded in the same block. The Lombards also suffered, and their houses yielded much valuable booty.”

Death of Wat Tyler and John Ball

It was agreed that another meeting should take place between Richard II and the rebel leaders at Smithfield on June 15, 1381. William Walworth rode “to the rebels and summoned Wat Tyler to meet the king, and mounted on a small pony, accompanied by only one assistant with the rebel flag, he obeyed. When he joined the king, he presented another list of demands that included: the removal of the lordship system, the distribution of church wealth to the poor, a reduction in the number of bishops, and a guarantee that in the future there would be no more villeins. Richard II said he would do what he could. Wat Tyler was not satisfied by this answer. He called for a drink of water to rinse out of his mouth. This was seen as extremely rude behavior, especially since Tyler had not removed his hood when speaking to the king. One of Richard’s group members shouted that Tyler was “the greatest thief and robber in Kent.” The author of the Anonimalle Chronicle of St Mary’s states, “By these words Wat wanted to attack the servant with his dagger, and would have killed him in the king’s presence; but because he tried to do so, the mayor of London, William de Walworth arrested him Wat stabbed the mayor with his dagger in the body in great anger. But because it pleased God, the mayor was wearing armor and did no harm. He attacked Wat, giving him a deep cut in the neck, and then a big blow to the head. And during the fight a servant of the king’s household drew his sword, and ran Wat two or three times through the body. Wat was taken by a group of commons to the hospital for the poor near St. Bartholomew’s, and put to bed. The mayor went there and found him, and he had taken him to the middle of Smithfield, in the presence of his companions, and he had beheaded him.” The peasants raised their weapons, and for a moment it looked as if there would be a fight between the king’s soldiers and the peasants. However, Richard went up to them and said, “Will you shoot your king? He then talked with them for some time and eventually they agreed to go back to their villages.

Chroniclers such as Henry Knighton and Thomas Walsingham have suggested that these events were unplanned and unexpected. However, modern historians have doubts about this version of events. Anthony Tuck has argued, “The rapid arrival of the militia suggests some element of advance planning, and those around the king, even perhaps the king himself, may have intended to create an opportunity to kill or capture Tyler and separate him from the main body of his followers. If this is so, it was a risky strategy, as the Mile End meeting had been, and again Richard’s personal courage is not in doubt.”

An army, led by Thomas of Woodstock, younger brother of John of Ghent, was sent to Essex to crush the rebels. A battle between the peasants and the king’s army took place near the village of Billericay on June 28. The king’s army was experienced and well armed and the peasants were easily defeated. It is believed that over 500 peasants were killed during the battle. The remaining rebels fled to Colchester, where they tried in vain to persuade the towns-people to support them. They then fled to Huntingdon, but the townspeople pursued them to Ramsey Abbey, where twenty-five were killed.

Richard II was not a very successful military commander. His biographer, Peter Earle, points out, “Richard, son of the Black Prince, inherited only his father’s outward appearance and none of his war skills. Not that he was the coward or weak on many occasions in his reign, he was to show exceptional courage but his courage was one of pride, not of military prowess.” This was reflected in a failed military expedition to Scotland in 1385.

Richard’s failure in Scotland encouraged the French to consider invading England. Charles VI assembled the largest force yet created by both sides during the Hundred Years’ War. This induced widespread panic and insecurity in England. Parliament met in October 1386 to consider the request of the chancellor, Michael de la Pole, for an unprecedented fourfold subsidy to cover the cost of defense against the threat of invasion. This was refused and the barons began to question the way Richard was running the country.

Parliament initially blamed Richard’s advisors, and his chancellor was impeached by the House of Commons on charges stemming from his conduct in office. De la Pole was found guilty and sentenced to prison, but Richard set aside the penalty and retained his freedom. “Parliament then established a commission which was to hold office for a year and which was to conduct a complete review of the royal finances. It was to have control of the public treasury and the large and private seals, and Richard was required to take an oath to carry out all the ordinances he made.”

Richard raised an army against Parliament. Led by Robert de Vere, Duke of Ireland, it was said to contain no more than 4,000 men. Rumors began to circulate that Richard had agreed to accept military support from France and that he would place England under French military occupation. Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, and several other nobles, including Henry of Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, mobilized an army of their vassals of 4,500 and marched on Vere’s army. The king’s army was defeated at the Battle of Radcot Bridge on December 19, 1387.

Richard was arrested and Woodstock threatened to execute him because of his dealings with France. They finally decided against it and instead forced him to call a session of Parliament. Henry Knighton described it as the Merciless Parliament, as it resulted in several of Richard’s key advisors, including Sir Nicholas Brembre, Simon de Burley and Robert Tresilian were executed. Alexander Neville, Archbishop of York, Robert de Vere and Michael de la Pole all managed to escape to France, where they died in exile.

John’s ascendancy to political power coincided with widespread resentment of his influence in England. English forces had suffered setbacks in the Hundred Years’ War, Edward III’s government was becoming unpopular due to high taxation and his affair with Alice Perrers, political opinion closely associated John with the failed government of the 1370s.

Edward III died of a stroke at Sheen, a shadow of his former self, in 1377 and was succeeded by his ten-year-old grandson, Richard II. John was the virtual ruler of England during the young king’s minority, but made reckless decisions on taxation that culminated in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, Ghent was blamed for introducing the unpopular poll tax, He was away from London at the time of the revolt and thus avoided the wrath of the rebels, however, his Palace of Savoy, considered the largest noble house in the medieval city of London, was destroyed during the rebellion. What the peasants could not smash or burn was thrown into the river.

John was a man of renown, culture and refinement. An amateur poet and friend of Chaucer, who had married Catherine’s sister Philippa, he was also a patron of Wycliffe and encouraged the translation of the Bible into English. The direct line of the House of Lancastre was terminated with the death of Henry VI and his son, Edward Prince of Wales, in 1471. John Beaufort’s granddaughter, Margaret Beaufort, had a son, Henry Tudor, who later claimed the throne of the House of York and was crowned as Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty.

John died on February 3, 1399, at Leicester Castle at the age of fifty-eight, he was buried next to his first wife, White of Lancaster, in the choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral. This has often been seen as his last act of love for his first wife, despite the troubles John went through to finally be able to marry his mistress, Catherine Swynford. Their two alabaster effigies were joined together. Two days after Ghent’s funeral, Richard made Bolingbroke’s banishment perpetual, disinheriting his cousin and taking Ghent’s vast estates for the Crown.

Upon the death of his father in 1399, Henry landed in Ravenspur claiming that he came to safeguard his inheritance, but in fact he came to take the throne from his cousin whom he now thoroughly detested. Richard met Henry’s representatives at Conway Castle and was told that if he restored Henry’s estates and handed over certain advisors for trial, he could remain in power. He agreed, but was betrayed and instead of being returned to power found himself the inhabitant of a dungeon in the Tower. A parliament was convened in late September, at which Henry Bolingbroke claimed the throne as Henry IV. Richard was declared tyrant and deposed. He was taken to Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire and there it is certain, he met his end around the second week of February 1400.

From Branca de Lencastre:

From Constance of Castile

By Catherine Swynford:

Lancastre city center has a pub called The John O’Gaunt. An administrative wing in the city council also bears the name.

Hungerford in Berkshire also has ancient links to the Duchy, the manor becoming part of the estate of John of Ghent in 1362 before James I passed the estate to two local men in 1612 (which later became Hungerford Town & Manor). The links are visible today in the John O’Gaunt pub, the John O’Gaunt state secondary school, as well as several street names. It is also customary for the Loyal Toast to be given by residents as “The Queen, Duke of Lancaster.”

There is also a secondary school in Trowbridge, Wiltshire of the same name, which is built on land he once owned. The remains of the castle in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, once owned by John, sit on John o’ Gaunt Street. The John of Ghent Stakes is a British thoroughbred horse race that takes place annually in June.

In William Shakespeare’s play Richard II, England’s famous speech is attributed to John of Ghent while he was on his deathbed.

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptred island,

The Tragedy of King Richard II. The bestselling 1954 novel by Anya Seton, it depicts John’s long relationship and eventual marriage to Catherine Swynford.

The eponymous character from the US comic book series Grimjack is legally called John of Ghent. According to author John Ostrander, he took the name of the historical figure simply because it sounded impressive, without any specific historical reference.


As a son of the sovereign, John bore the royal arms of the kingdom (Quarterly, Ancient France and England), deferred by a three-point label of ermine.

As a pretender to the throne of Castile and Leon starting in 1372, he impaled the kingdom’s arms (Gules, a castle or, quartering Argent, a lion rampant purpose) with his own. The arms of Castile and Leon appeared on the right side of the shield (but in 1388, when he submitted his claim, he reversed this sorting, placing his own arms on the dexter, and those of Castile and Leon on the sinister. He thus continued to signal his alliance with the Castilian royal house, abandoning any claim to the throne. There is, however, evidence that he may occasionally have used this second sorting at earlier dates.

In addition to his royal arms, Ghent had an alternate coat of sable, three ostrich feathers. This was the counterpart to his brother, the Black Prince, “shield for peace” (in which the ostrich feathers were white), and may have been worn in jousts. Ostrich feather arms appeared in stained glass windows above the Ghent chapel in St. Paul’s Cathedral.


  1. João de Gante
  2. John of Gaunt
  3. Tinha herdado tal ofício de seu sogro (aliás tal como os seus títulos nobiliárquicos). – “John of Gaunt, duque de Lancaster, rei de Castela e Leão: a “praxis” de vida de um cavaleiro durante a Guerra dos Cem Anos”, por Manuela Santos Silva, in Actas das VI Jornadas Luso-Espanholas de Historia Medieval. A Guerra e a Sociedade na Idade Média, 2009, pp.162.
  4. ^ Harris 2010, p. 16.
  5. ^ Death of John of Gaunt, Richard Cavendish explains the life and death of Henry IV’s father, on February 3rd, 1399
  6. ^ John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father of Another, Kathryn Warner, Amberley Publishing, 2022
  7. ^ Sumption, J. (19 March 2009). The Hundred Years War 3: Divided Houses. London: Faber & Faber. p. 274. ISBN 978-0-571-13897-5.
  8. Simon Walker, « John, duke of Aquitaine and duke of Lancaster, styled king of Castile and León (1340–1399) », Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, édition en ligne, mai 2008.
  9. Jean Froissart, Le joli buisson de jonece, Librairie Droz, 1977.
  10. Georges Minois, La Guerre de Cent ans, Perrin 2008 p. 198.
  11. O Reino de Galiza Anselmo López Carreira, editeur : A Nosa Terra (ISBN 84-89976-43-0), page 55.
  12. 1,00 1,01 1,02 1,03 1,04 1,05 1,06 1,07 1,08 1,09 1,10 1,11 1,12 1,13 1,14 1,15 1,16 1,17 1,18 «Kindred Britain»
  13. 3,0 3,1 3,2 3,3 3,4 3,5 3,6 3,7 Darryl Roger Lundy: (Αγγλικά) The Peerage.
  14. Jonathan Sumption, Divided Houses: The Hundred Years War III (London: Faber & Faber, 2009), p. 274.
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