Katherine de Roet (1350-1403)

Relation to me: 18th Great Grandmother

Katherine was the third wife of John of Gaunt. Prior to their marriage, she was his lover for many years and had children to him before they wed. The children were later legitimized during the reign of John’s nephew, Richard II. When John’s first son from his first marriage had overthrown Richard, he introduced a provision stating that neither they nor their descendants could ever claim the throne of England. The descendants of John and Katherine’s children 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 Margaret Beaufort, the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine de Roet. Henry’s legal claim to the throne however, was through his matrimonial and previously illegitimate line. His first action was to declare himself king “by right of conquest” retroactively from the 21st of August 1485. This was the day before his army would defeat King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth.

Katherine’s Family

Katherine was the daughter of Paon de Roet, a herald, who would later become a knight. He was “probably christened as Gilles” and went to England as a part of the retinue of Philippa of Hainaut when she had married Edward III. Katherine is generally thought to be Paon’s youngest child, but Alison Weir argues that her sister Philippa was the youngest and both were children of a second marriage. After Philippa of Hainaut and Edward had married, the majority of those that had traveled to England with her returned to Hainault but Paon stayed in England. This would indicate that he was probably highly regarded by both the king and queen. He would serve them as a Master of the Horse. Paon returned to Hainault in 1349, but by 1352 he disappears from sources, indicating that he had possibly died around that time.

Katherine also had two sisters, Philippa, who was mentioned before, was a lady in the royal household of Queen Philippa and she would later marry the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, most famous for “The Canterbury Tales”. Her other sister, Isabel, also known as Elizabeth de Roet, later became the Canniness of the convent of St. Waudru’s in 1366. The girls also had a brother, Walter, there’s not much that I know of him, therefore I will wait to write more about him in the future if I find out more.

The Life of Katherine

Born at Hainaut, possibly on the 25th of November in either 1349 or 1350, Katherine was educated at a convent in Romsey. The date of her birth is thought to be the 25th, as this is the feast day of her patron St. Catherine of Alexandria. She would leave the convent at the age of fifteen to join her sister at the English royal court.

In about 1366, at St. Clement Danes Church in Westminster, Katherine, then sixteen or seventeen years of age, contracted an advantageous marriage with “Hugh” Ottes Swynford. Hugh was a knight from the manor of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire. He had served John of Gaunt at the time and wanted to marry the young woman. The marriage was seen as a great match for Katherine, as Hugh was a distinguished knight and also owned a manor in Kettlethorpe. However, Katherine objected to the marriage, to her he was rough and uncouth, but Katherine had no other alternative but to leave the royal court to go to his manor, as during this time couple’s didn’t marry for love. The manor was very basic and it didn’t have many luxuries.

Together Katherine and Hugh would have at least two children, possibly three, depending on years of birth, as Hugh had been previously married. Their daughter Blanche was named after the Duchess of Lancaster, who was John of Gaunt’s first wife. John of Gaunt was made Blanche’s godfather. Their son, Thomas Swynford was born in Lincoln while his father was away on a campaign with the Duke of Lancaster in Castile. The couple’s third child, Margaret would later become a nun of the prestigious Barking Abbey in 1377, being nominated by the command of King Richard II, she lived the religious life with her cousin Elizabeth Chaucer, who was the daughter of Geoffrey Chaucer and her mother’s sister, Philippa de Roet.

In 1365, while Katherine was serving Blanche, the Duchess of Lancaster and John of Gaunt’s first wife, Katherine became attached to the household as she was the governess to his daughters Philippa of Lancaster and Elizabeth of Lancaster. The ailing duchess, Blanche, had Katherine’s daughter placed within her own daughter’s chambers and afforded her the same luxuries to her as her own children had.

Katherine’s first husband, Hugh Swynford, went with John to Europe in 1366 and again in 1370. In November of 1371, Hugh died while in France of either dysentery, or by poisoning, which would make his death suspicious. It was thought that he had been poisoned by Nirac de Bayanne, a faithful servant of John of Gaunt. During the Spring of 1372, Katherine’s presence was seen more at John’s of Gaunt’s household, which probably signals the start of their affair.

At some point after John’s first wife, Blanche, had died in 1368, probably due to the bubonic plague, and the birth of the couple’s first son in 1373, Katherine and John had entered into an affair that would produce four children for the couple. Katherine was called back to court to be the governess of John’s children and their relationship was happy and they were in love. Their four children were born out of wedlock, making them illegitimate, but they were later legitimized upon their parents’ eventual marriage. The adulterous relationship continued until 1381 when it was ended out of political necessity, Katherine’s reputation was ruined along with it. In September, she moved from the royal court to her late husband’s home in Kettlethorpe, then she moved from there to a town house in Lincoln that she would rent. Chroniclers at Saint Albans and Saint Mary’s Abbey in York, described Katherine as “a witch and a whore” and as a  “she-devil and enchantress”. John and Katherine’s parting of ways was not on friendly terms.

Throughout the 1380s there is record of her regularly, but discreetly, being in contact with John and even having frequented his court. Then on the 13th of January, two years after the death of John’s second wife, Infanta Constance of Castile, which occurred in March of 1394, Katherine and John suddenly and apparently without any notice to his royal relatives married in Lincoln Cathedral. Records of the marriage would be kept in the Tower of London and elsewhere, they list ‘John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, married Katharine daughter of Guyon King of Armes in the time of K. Edward the 3, and Geffrey Chaucer her sister’.

Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral

Upon John’s death in February of 1399, Katherine would return to Lincoln. She became known as the dowager Duchess of Lancaster and outlived John by four years. She would pass away on the 10th of May 1403 in Lincoln, in her early fifties.

Katherine’s Burial

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

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One thought on “Katherine de Roet (1350-1403)”

  1. These girls were so young, yet they became embroiled in the politics of the time, and bore children at such a young age too. I wonder if today’s young women could ever be so inured to their place in life? I doubt it.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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