Katherine Swynford : biography
Katherine Swynford is the subject of Anya Seton’s novel Katherine (published in 1954) and of Alison Weir’s 2008 biography Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess (ISBN 0-224-06321-9). Swynford is also the subject of Jeannette Lucraft’s historical biography Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. This book seeks to establish Swynford as a powerful figure in the politics of fourteenth-century England and an example of a woman’s ability to manipulate contemporary social mores for her own interests.
Children and descendants
Katherine’s children by Hugh Swynford were
- Margaret Swynford (born c. 1363), became a nun at the prestigious Barking Abbey in 1377 with help from her future stepfather John of Gaunt, where she lived the religious life with her cousin Elizabeth Chaucer, daughter of the famous Geoffrey Chaucer and Katherine’s sister Philippa de Roet.
- Sir Thomas Swynford (1367–1432), born in Lincoln while his father Sir Hugh Swynford was away on a campaign with John of Gaunt in Castile fighting for Peter of Castile.
- Blanche Swynford, named after the Duchess of Lancaster and a godchild of John of Gaunt. (If, as suggested, she was born after 1375, this date is too late for her to have been fathered by Hugh Swynford, who died in 1371/2).
In 1846 Thomas Stapleton suggested that there was a further daughter named Dorothy Swynford, born c. 1366, who married Thomas Thimelby of Poolham near Horncastle, Lincolnshire, Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1380, but there is no current evidence to support this claim.Alison Weir, Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess (Random House Limited, Jonathan Cape, 2007), pp. 68–69
Katherine’s children by John of Gaunt were:
- John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (1373–1410)
- Henry Beaufort, Cardinal (1375–1447)
- Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (1377–1426)
- Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland (1379–1440)
The descendants of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt are significant in English and Scottish history. Their four children had been given the surname "Beaufort" and with the approval of King Richard and the Pope were legitimated as adults by their parents’ marriage in 1393. Despite this, the Beauforts were barred from inheriting the throne of England by a clause in the legitimation act inserted by their half-brother, King Henry IV, although modern scholarship disputes the authority of a monarch to alter an existing parliamentary statute on his own authority, without the further approval of Parliament. This provision was later revoked by King Edward VI, placing Katherine’s descendants (including himself) back within the legitimate line of inheritance; the Tudor dynasty was directly descended from John and Katherine’s eldest child, John Beaufort, great-grandfather of Henry VII, who based his claim to the throne on his mother’s descent from John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III. John Beaufort also had a daughter named Joan Beaufort, who married King James I of Scotland and thus was an ancestress of the House of Stuart. John and Katherine’s daughter, Joan Beaufort, was grandmother of the English kings Edward IV and Richard III, whom Henry VII defeated at the Battle of Bosworth; Henry’s claim was strengthened by marrying Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV. It was also through Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmoreland that the sixth queen of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr, descended.James, Susan. ‘Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love.’ 2009. pg 15. John of Gaunt’s son — Katherine’s stepson — became Henry IV after deposing Richard II (who was imprisoned and died in Pontefract Castle, where Katherine’s son, Thomas Swynford, was constable and is said to have starved Richard to death for his stepbrother). John of Gaunt’s daughter by his first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, Philippa of Lancaster, was great-great-grandmother to Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII and mother of Mary I of England. John of Gaunt’s child by his second wife Constance, Catherine (or Catalina), was great-grandmother of Catherine of Aragon as well.