Katherine Swynford

Katherine Swynford bigraphy, stories - Belgian noble

Katherine Swynford : biography

25 November 1350 – 10 May 1403

Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster (also spelled CatherineChurchill, Winston S. ‘The Houses of York and Lancaster’, The Birth of Britain, p 435. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1956. Print. and Synford), née (de) Roet (also spelled (de) Rouet, (de) Roët, or (de) Roelt) (probably 25 November 1350 – 10 May 1403), was the daughter of Sir Payne (or Paen/Pain/Paon) (de) Roet (also spelled (de) Rouet, (de) Roët or (de) Roelt), originally a Flemish herald from County of Hainaut, later knighted.

Katherine became the third wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, a son of King Edward III. Their descendants were members of the Beaufort family, which played a major role in the Wars of the Roses. Henry VII, who became King of England in 1485, derived his claim to the throne from his mother Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was a great-granddaughter of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.


Katherine’s birth date in 1350 is assumed to be 25 November, as that is the feast day of her patron, St. Catherine of Alexandria. The family returned to England in 1351, and it is likely that Katherine stayed there during her father’s continued travels.

In about 1366, at St Clement Danes Church, Westminster, Katherine married "Hugh" Ottes Swynford, a knight from the manor of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire, the son of Thomas Swynford by his marriage to Nicole Druel. She had the following children by him: Blanche (born 1 May 1367), Thomas (21 September 1368 – 1432), and possibly Margaret Swynford (born about 1369), later recorded as a nun of the prestigious Barking Abbey nominated by command of King Richard II.

Katherine became attached to the household of John of Gaunt as governess to his daughters Philippa of Lancaster and Elizabeth of Lancaster. The ailing duchess Blanche had Katherine’s daughter Blanche (her namesake) placed within her own daughters’ chambers and afforded the same luxuries as her daughters; additionally, John of Gaunt stood as godfather to the child. Katherine’s sister Philippa, a lady of Queen Philippa’s household, married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, whose poem The Book of the Duchess commemorated Blanche’s death by plague in 1369. Speght (1598) said of Philippa’s marriage: ‘He [Chaucer] matched in marriage with a Knight’s daughter of Henault, called Paon de Ruet, king of Armes, as by this draught appeareth, taken out of the office of the Heraldes.’ M Speght’s authority Stow (1592) recorded: ‘He [Chaucer] had to wife the daughter of Paine Roete alias Gwine [ed. 1631, Guian] king at armes, by whom he had issue Tho. Chaucer.’

Some time after Blanche’s death in 1369 but before the Duke’s second marriage, Katherine and John of Gaunt entered into a love affair which would entail four children being born out of wedlock to the couple and would endure as a lifelong relationship. On 13 January 1396, two years after the death of the Duke’s second wife, Infanta Constance of Castile, Katherine and John of Gaunt married in Lincoln Cathedral. Records of their marriage kept in the Tower and elsewhere list: ‘John of Ghaunt, Duke of Lancaster, married Katharine daughter of Guyon King of Armes in the time of K. Edward the 3, and Geffrey Chaucer her sister’.

On John of Gaunt’s death, Katherine became known as dowager Duchess of Lancaster. She outlived him by four years, dying on 10 May 1403.

References and further reading

  • Alison Weir, Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster (U.S. title).
  • Judy Perry, "Katherine Roet’s Swynfords: a re-examination of interfamily relationships and descent", Foundations (Foundation for Medieval Genealogy), Vol. 1, No. 1 & 2 2003–2004.
  • David H Kelley, Don C Stone & David C Dearborn, "Among the Royal Servants: Welby, Browne, Quarles and Related Families", Foundations (Foundation for Medieval Genealogy), Vol. 3, No. 4

Category:1350s births Category:1403 deaths Category:Belgian nobility Category:House of Lancaster Category:Mistresses of English royalty Category:People from Lincolnshire Category:Women of medieval England