This month’s edition of spotlight is all about Katherine Swynford. This amazing woman founded a Tudor dynasty and lived a unique life for a woman in the middle ages.
If you’re looking for a good book about Katherine Swynford I thorough recommend Katherine by Anya Seton. This fictional novel tells the tale of Katherine in a beautiful and real way. It’s definitely one to add to your summer reading list.
Katherine was born in 1350 during the Plantagenet period of English history. Edward III was the King of England at this time. Katherine was the daughter of a Flemish knight and was educated at a convent. When she was fifteen she left to join her sister, Philippa, at the English Court to be a lady in waiting to Edward’s wife Philippa of Hainault.
At court she caught the attention of a knight and seasoned soldier Hugh of Swynford. Despite her objections the two were married and Katherine moved to his manor of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire.
One interesting fact is that Katherine’s sister, Philippa, was married to Geoffrey Chaucer.
After moving to Kettlethorpe Katherine bore three children to Hugh Blanche, Thomas and Margaret Swynford.
Hugh was often away during their marriage fighting in wars such as the Hundred Years War. As the wife of such a valiant knight Katherine called upon to serve Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster in 1369. Blanche contracted the Black Death plague and Katherine nursed her through her illness. Blanche died of the disease.
Katherine was invited to attend the funeral of Blanche and it is thought that here her affair with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward III, began.
After Blanche died, she was given her own blazon, an embelm, of three Catherine wheels. She was also given a pension of all issue and profits from the towns of Waddington and Wellingere on an annual basis.
In 1371 Hugh Swynford was sent to France and died there. He may have been poisoned by a servant of John of Gaunt.
After Hugh died Katherine was called on to be the governess to Blanche’s children. Here her relationship with John flourished and together they had four illegitimate children.
Unfortunately, in 1381 their affair came to an end. In Peasants Revolt of that year, the people blamed John of Gaunt for their troubles as the young King Richard II was only 14. Katherine was also portrayed as a witch and enchantress by the chroniclers at St Albans and St Marys Abbey in York.
Katherine returned home to Kettlethorpe where she lived as an independent woman with her children.
Here she stayed until 1394. John’s second wife, Constance of Castille, died and John asked Katherine to marry him and make their children, now adults, legitimate.
They lived together for three years until John’s death. Katherine returned to Kettlethorpe and lived again as an independent woman until her death in 1403.
What is remarkable about Katherine Swynford is that during the Middle Ages, a period when women had no freedom or choice, she lived a vibrant life. She loved a man who was royalty and ultimately gained a place at his side. But she lived her life to her wants and wishes and best she could. This is unheard of during such a time. She is truly one of the most interesting mistresses of the Middle Ages.
Through Katherine the Tudor line developed. Her great grand-daughter Margaret Beauford, is the mother of Henry VII. She is the ancestor of Henry VIII and Elizabaeth I. Without her the English monarchy would have looked very different.
Katherine was an amazing woman and if you want to know more please check of Katherine by Anya Seton!
Get the book here! Katherine by Anya Seton