John of Gaunt

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Born in March 1340, John was the son of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. He became known as John of Gaunt because he was born at Ghent in the Low Countries.

In 1359 he married Blanche, daughter of Henry of Grosmont, the first Duke of Lancaster, and when both Henry and his elder daughter Maud (or Matilda) died without male heirs, John succeeded severally to the Earldoms of Lancaster, Derby, Lincoln and Leicester, which his father-in-law had accumulated.
Ten years later, during the Black Death, Blanche died (which led to the writing of a book in her honour, The Book of the Duchess, by a young squire, Geoffrey Chaucer.

In 1362 John was accorded the rank of Duke of Lancaster by Edward III and amde Lord High Steward of England -- by then he was as wealthy as many European monarchs of his day. His position was elevated even further by the death of his elder brother, Edward the Black Prince in 1376. Edward left a son, Richard, but when Edward III died, a year after his son, Richard was only 10 years old, and although crowned king, the rule in England was in John's hands. He therefore may be said to have been responsible for the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, which was eventually suppressed with the help of the young king, but which cost John his palace at the Savoy in London.

In 1371 John had remarried, to Constance, daughter of king Pedro of Castile and he thereby obtained a claim on the Castilian throne, her fatehr having been killed by his illegitimate brother. In 1386, John went to Castile to be recognised as monarch, but he was obliged to return to England shortly thereafter, in 1389, as Richard was under attack by his nobility, who were seeking to extend their power at the king's expense. During the 1390s John worked steadily to stabilise the realm, but this wore him out and in February 1399 he died at Leicester. His Castilian claim was never made good in his own person, but his daughter by Constance, Katherine, married Henry, the son of the then-king, John of Castile and Leon, and they ruled Castile as King and Queen.

Duchess Constance died in 1394 and two years later John remarried, to Constance Swynford, widow of Sir Hugh, and daughter of Sir Paine Roet, the Guienne King of Arms. Catherine had been in Duchess Blanche's household, as governess to two of their daughters, and subsequently, for many years, was John's mistress.

Among John's other children his daughter Philippa married the king of Portugal; a second daughter married, serially, the Earl of Pembroke, the Duke of Exeter and the 1st Baron Fanhope; his son Henry succeeded to the English throne; and his four legitimated children, by Katherine Swynford, the Beauforts, became, variously, Earl of Somerset, Duke of Exeter, Countess of Westmorland (from whom descended {King]]s Edward IV and Richard III), and a Catholic Cardinal,and Lord Chancellor of England.