Katherine Swynford


Katherine Swynford : biography

25 November 1350 – 10 May 1403


The children of Paganus Ruet (argued by modern-day genealogist Lindsay Brook and followed by biographer Alison Weir as "probably christened as Gilles") included Katherine, her sister Philippa, a son, Walter, and the eldest sister, Isabel (also called Elizabeth) de Roet (Canoness of the convent of St. Waudru’s, Mons, c. 1366). Katherine is generally held to have been his youngest child. Weir argues that Philippa was the junior and that both were children of a second marriage.

Paon de Ruet is found early, in a legal document, in the form Paganus de Rodio — referring to Rodium, the mediaeval Latin form corresponding to the Roeulx, or Le Rœulx, the name of a town of 3000 inhabitants, 8 miles north-east of Mons, on the highway leading from Mons to Nivelle located in the Belgian province of Hainaut. Paon de Ruet may have been impelled to seek his fortune in England by the recital of the exploits of Fastre de Ruet, who accompanied John of Beaumont in 1326, when, with three hundred followers, he went to assist the English against the Scots. Fastre was the younger brother of the last lord of Roeulx descended from the Counts of Hainault. He and his brother Eustace fell into pecuniary straits, and were obliged to alienate their landed possessions. Fastre died in 1331, and was buried in the abbey church of Roeulx, while his brother Eustace survived till 1336. Paon was, like Fastre, a younger brother — possibly of a collateral line.

As the king was in the North, a number of the Flemings returned home without proceeding further than London, but Paon de Ruet was one of those who remained in England in the retinue of Philippa of Hainaut, accompanying the young queen in her departure from Valenciennes to join her youthful husband Edward III in England at the close of 1327. His name does not appear in the list of knights who accompanied the queen from Hainault, however, described by Froissart to be among additional knights referred to as ‘pluissier jone esquier’. Speght (1598) prefixed to his history a genealogical tree which began: ‘Paganus de Rouet Hannoniensis, aliter dictus Guien Rex Armorum’ describing de Ruet as Guienne King of Arms. Upon the coronation of Henry the Fifth (1413), Sir William Bruges held the same title in the fifth year of the King’s reign (Edmondson 1. 104) and the same monarch was accompanied to France before Agincourt by a herald bearing that name (Wylie, Reign of Henry the Fifth 1. 493).

In 1347, Ruet was sent to the Siege of Calais, and was one of two knights deputed by Queen Philippa to conduct out of town the citizens whom she had saved.

[Froissart, 5.215 : "Et au matin elle fist donner a casqun sys nobles [say, $150], et Ies fist conduire hors de l’oost par messire Sanse d’Aubrecicourt et messire Paon de Ruet, si avent que il vorrent, et que il fu avis as deus chevaliers que il estoient hors dou peril, et au departir il les commanderent a Dieu, et retournerent li chevalier en l’oost."] He had returned to the lands of Hainault, probably by 1349, and Katherine was born the following year.

Family tombs

Katherine’s tomb and that of her daughter, Joan Beaufort, are under a carved-stone canopy in the sanctuary of Lincoln Cathedral. Joan’s is the smaller of the two tombs; both were decorated with brass plates — full-length representations of them on the tops, and small shields bearing coats of arms around the sides and on the top — but those were damaged or destroyed in 1644 during the English Civil War. A hurried drawing by Dugdale records their appearance.

The former inscription regarding Paganus Roet (styled as ‘Guinne’, ‘Guyenne’, or ‘Gwinne’ the king at arms or master of arms, often shortened simply to the frank reference to ‘armes’ as ‘Guiles’ or ‘Giles’) was as follows:

" Hic Jacet Paganus Roet Miles Guyenne Rex
Armorum Pater Catherine Ducisse Lancastrie."Here lies Sir Payne Roet, Guyenne King of Arms, father of Katherine Duchess of Lancaster

By 1658, viewed without its brass plate and effigies, this tomb was described by Dugdale as: "In australi ala, navi Ecclesue opposita (prope tumulum D. Johannis de Bellocampo), sub lapide marmoreo, jacet Paganus Roet, Rex Armorum tempore Regis Edwardi tertii".