Jenifer Sutherland

John of Gaunt





Brief History of John of Gaunt (Ghent)

Jen Garbin (ENG300Y)

John of Gaunt (Ghent), 1340-399
John, by the grace of God, King of Castille and Leon, Duke of Lancaster and Aquitaine, Earl of Derby, Lincoln and Leicester, Lord of Beaufort and Nogent, of Bergerac and Roche-sur-Yon, Seneschal of England and Constable of Chester.

"He was a tall spare man, reserved and proud. He was courageous in battle, and easily roused, but he was loyal to a degree and chivalrous in every sense of the word. He loved the tournament, and specialized in absolutely fair play, a quality rare in his day. He was a great patron, of poets, scholars, clergy, monks, and indeed of the poor. . . . he was nevertheless the ideal Englishman, and like all of his type he did not see where his own virtues lay: a soldier who was far and away at his best at a peace conference, a hot tempered fighting man who restrained the tempers of others."
-- John Fines
Who's Who in the Middle Ages

John of Gaunt was born the fourth son of Edward III of England, and was one of the most influential political figures in England during Chaucer’s time. In 1359, John of Gaunt married Blanche, Heiress of, and later Duchess of Lancaster. After Blanche’s father’s death, John became Earl and Duke of Lancaster, making him one of the wealthiest and most powerful nobles in all of England. He was a soldier and served under his brother, Edward the Black Prince, in the Hundred Years War and against Peter the Cruel of Castille. After his first wife, Blanche, died in 1369, John made a political marriage (1371) with Constance of Castille, heir of Peter of Castille, thus giving him a claim to the Castillian throne. <to top>

Upon his return to England in 1375, he allied himself with the corrupt court party led by Alice Perrers, mistress of Edward III and for all intents and purposes, ruled England for a short time until being ousted from power by the Good Parliament of 1376. John rebounded and put together a handpicked parliament in 1377, about the same time his nephew, Richard II, ascended the throne. It was thought by many that John would make a claim to the crown for himself, since young Richard’s ability to reign was in doubt. However, John was a strong advocate for legitimate inheritance and held strong devotion to his brother and family. In addition, his focus was on his own claims in Castille. Upon his return to England in 1389, he was named Duke of Aquitane as a reward, and helped restore peace between Richard II and the hostile barons led by the Duke of Gloucester, and which included his son, Henry of Bolingbroke (ironically, later to usurp the throne of England as Henry IV). In 1396, John of Gaunt married Catherine Swynford, the governess to his children by Blanche, as well as his long time mistress.

So, how did he come to be the chief patron of Chaucer? The connection developed as Chaucer served in a number of positions in the royal court at the time. In 1357, Chaucer became page in the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Ulster. Later, both John of Gaunt and Chaucer served in the retinue of Prince Lionel (1359) in the war in France, in which Chaucer was captured (and then ransomed in March 1360 for 16 pounds). They were the same age. In 1365-1366, Chaucer married Philippa Roet who was a chamber lady to Queen Philippa, and later to Gaunt’s second wife, Constance. Chaucer’s wife was also the sister of Katherine Swynford, long time mistress and third wife of John of Gaunt. <to top>

In 1367, Chaucer became a valet in the household of Edward III. When Lionel died in 1368, Chaucer transferred his services to John of Gaunt. He was well known as part of the literati of the court at the time, and hence John of Gaunt would have been well acquainted with his work.
It is popularly believed that Chaucer wrote The Book of the Duchess upon the request of John of Gaunt as a eulogy for his late wife, Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster.

List of Works Cited