John of Gaunt

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John of Gaunt

The English soldier-statesman John of Gaunt (1340-1399), 5th Duke of Lancaster, played an active part in military and political affairs.

Born in March 1340, John of Gaunt was the fourth son of Edward III and received his name from his birthplace, Ghent. He was created Earl of Richmond in September 1342. Trained in military skills, at the age of 19 he took part in an expedition to France, and on May 19, 1359, he married Blanche, younger daughter and coheiress of Henry of Lancaster. Through this marriage he was created Earl of Derby in April 1362 and in November Duke of Lancaster.

For the next years Lancaster was active in various military campaigns, serving under his brother Edward the Black Prince in Spain in 1367, as captain of Calais 2 years later, and in 1371 as lieutenant of Aquitaine. After the death of his first wife in September 1369, he married Constance of Castile in 1372, surrendered his title of Earl of Richmond, and assumed the title of king of Castile.

Upon his return to England Lancaster took an active part in politics as head of the court party that was opposed by the "Good Parliament" of 1376. At the same time he supported John Wyclif and protected him from the Londoners at the Council of London the following year. With the accession of Richard II in 1377, Lancaster had great influence at court, advising on the French war, serving on the Scottish border and making a truce there in 1380, and serving on several commissions the following year to deal with the rebellion of 1381 and the reform of the royal household.

Lancaster continued to serve Richard II in other roles: negotiating peace with France and dealing with the Scottish border. But in 1385 he fought with the King and, though reconciled, continued to serve as a mediator between the King and his opponents. In 1388 he was made lieutenant of Guienne and in 1390 Duke of Aquitaine, but he failed to have the latter claim recognized. After he married his daughter Catherine to Henry of Castile, he gave up the claims to the kingship of that country, and after effecting a reconciliation between the Duke of Gloucester and Richard, Lancaster retired from active politics. With the death of his second wife, in 1396 he married Catherine Swynford. He died in early February, 1399.

After Lancaster's death Richard seized his estates, which caused Lancaster's son, Henry of Bolingbroke, to claim the throne as Henry IV. The children of his last marriage, known as the Beauforts by patent in 1397, were the line through which Henry Tudor (Henry VII) claimed the throne.

Further Reading

The standard biography of John of Gaunt is Sydney Armitage-Smith, John of Gaunt (1905; repr. 1964). Information on the period can be found in Sir James H. Ramsay, Genesis of Lancaster (1913), and May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century (1959). □

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John of Gaunt, 1st duke of Lancaster (1340–99). The third surviving son of Edward III, born in Ghent, and England's greatest territorial magnate following the death of his father-in-law Henry of Grosmont. As earl of Richmond (1342–72), he was engaged in the French war from 1355, eventually leading major operations, the most notable the chevauchée from Calais to Bordeaux in 1373. He also had commands on the Scottish border. His wealth enabled him to form the largest baronial retinue of knights and esquires; their badge was his collar of linked SS. Gaunt's contingent was a quarter of the army raised by contract for Richard II's Scottish campaign in 1385. From 1372 he assumed the title of king of Castile in right of his second wife, which he renounced—profitably—after campaigning there in 1386–7. In Edward's dotage, Gaunt was virtually regent, incurring widespread odium for military failures and government corruption and for opposing criticism in the Good Parliament. His patronage of Wyclif and hostility to the bishop of London roused riots; his Savoy palace was sacked in 1381. Lords feared his wisdom as well as his might; they resented his ‘poaching’ their retainers. In response to Northumberland's opposition in the north, he advanced his Neville followers; Ralph Neville was made earl of Westmorland and married Gaunt's daughter Anne Beaufort, who with her brothers was legitimized in 1397. Despite allegations of treason by hostile courtiers, Gaunt's backing was invaluable to Richard; while Richard was childless, it is doubtful if this loyalty was disinterested. His son seized the throne in 1399 and reigned as Henry IV.

R. L. Storey

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John of Gaunt (1340–99) English noble, Duke of Lancaster (1362–99), fourth son of Edward III and father of Henry IV. In 1359 he acquired the Lancastrian estates through marriage to Blanche. John fought under his brother, Edward the Black Prince, in the Hundred Years' War. His second marriage to Constance, daughter of Peter of Castile, gained him a claim to the throne of Castile. John was effective ruler of England during the senility of his father and the minority of Richard II. He supported the religious reforms of John Wycliffe