Swynford, Catherine (DNB00)

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SWYNFORD, CATHERINE, Duchess of Lancaster (1350?–1403), mistress and third wife of John of Gaunt [see John], was younger daughter of Sir Payne Roelt, a knight of Hainault, who came to England in the service of Philippa, the queen of Edward III, and was Guienne king-of-arms. Her elder sister, Philippa, is somewhat doubtfully said to have been the wife of Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet, and by him mother of Thomas Chaucer [q. v.]

Catherine was born about 1350, and in or shortly before 1367 married Sir Hugh Swynford (1340–1372) of Coleby and Ketelthorp, Lincolnshire. Hugh Swynford was in the retinue of John of Gaunt in Gascony in February 1366, and died abroad in 1372, having by his wife one son Thomas (see below). Catherine seems to have received charge of John of Gaunt's daughters, and, not long after her first husband's death, to have become the duke's mistress. A century later it was actually declared that her eldest son by the duke was ‘in double advoutrow goten’ (Ellis, Original Letters, 2nd ser., i. 164), and her son by her first husband had some trouble to prove his legitimacy; it is not, however, necessary to suppose that John Beaufort was born as early as 1372. On 4 March 1377 a grant which John of Gaunt had made to Catherine of the manors of Gryngelley and Whetely was confirmed by the king (Fœdera, vii. 140), and on 27 Dec. 1379 the duke gave her the wardship of the heir of Bertram de Samnely for her good service as mistress to his daughters Philippa and Elizabeth; in September 1381 he added an annuity of two hundred marks out of his honour of Tickhill. The St. Albans chronicler asserts that the open manner in which the duke consorted with his mistress caused much scandal in the early part of Richard II's reign, but that in 1381 John repented of his conduct and withdrew from her company (Chron. Angliæ, 1328–88, pp. 196, 328; see also Knighton, ii. 147). Catherine and her daughter Joan were afterwards in the household of Mary de Bohun, the wife of Henry of Lancaster (Wylie, Henry IV, iii. 258).

John's second wife, Constance, died in 1394, and on 13 Jan. 1396 he married Catherine Swynford at Lincoln, where she was then living (Annales Ricardi, ii. 188). The marriage at first caused great offence to the ladies of the court, but Catherine nevertheless took her place as Duchess of Lancaster, and was one of the ladies who escorted Isabella of France to Calais in October 1396 (ib. p. 193). In the following year her issue by the duke were declared legitimate in parliament (Rot. Parl. iii. 343). The original patent contained no reservation, but when the grant was exemplified by Henry IV in 1407, the words ‘excepta dignitate regali’ were interpolated. Henry IV, after his accession to the throne, confirmed in October 1399 a grant of one thousand marks per annum which his father had made to Catherine out of the revenues of the duchy of Lancaster (Annales Henrici IV, p. 314). Catherine died at Lincoln on 10 May 1403, and was buried in the angel choir of the cathedral. Her tomb bore the arms of England with those of Roelt, gules, three catherine wheels or. She gave the cathedral a number of chasubles and other vestments figured with silver wheels in allusion to her arms (Archæologia, liii. 23, 49). By John of Gaunt Catherine was mother of John Beaufort, earl of Somerset (d. 1409); Henry Beaufort [q. v.], cardinal and bishop of Winchester; Thomas Beaufort, duke of Exeter [q. v.]; and Joan, who married Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland. Her children took the name of Beaufort from the castle of that name in Anjou where they were born. Through her son John, Catherine Swynford was great-great-grandmother of Henry VII.

Sir Thomas Swynford (1368?–1433), the only legitimate child of Catherine, by her first husband, was born about 1368, but only in 1394 made proof of his age. He had been in the retinue of Henry, earl of Derby (afterwards Henry IV), as early as 1382; was with him at Calais in 1390, and accompanied him on his expedition to Prussia. Thomas Swynford was left one hundred marks by John of Gaunt in his will. He supported Henry IV on his accession to the throne, and was one of the guardians of Richard II, whom he was believed to have murdered at Pontefract (Adam of Usk, p. 41). In 1402 he was sheriff of Lincoln, in 1404 captain of Calais for his half-brother, John Beaufort, and during 1404 and the two following years was engaged with Nicholas Rishton [q. v.] in negotiations with France and Flanders (Fœdera, viii. 368, 391, 444). Thomas Swynford had inherited lands in Hainault from his mother, and, being unable to establish this claim through the doubts cast on his birth, obtained a declaration of legitimacy from Henry IV in October 1411 (Excerpta Historica, pp. 158–9). He died in 1433, leaving two sons, Thomas (1406–1465) and William. Thomas Swynford married Margaret D'Arcy, widow of John, lord D'Arcy; but she cannot have been the mother of his children, since her first husband did not die until 1411.

[Chron. Angliæ, 1328–88; Annales Ricardi II et Henrici IV ap. Trokelowe (Rolls Ser.); Froissart, iii. 524 (Panthéon Littéraire); Bentley's Excerpta Historica, pp. 152–9; Archæologia, xxxvi. 267–9, liii. 23, 49; Wylie's History of Henry IV, i. 111, ii. 92, 283, iii. 258–61, with the authorities cited in the notes thereto.]

C. L. K.