Who Was Catherine Swynford?

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

To understand how important the role of Catherine would become, we must first understand the importance of the man she married - as his third wife. That man was John of Gaunt, probably the most powerful man in England never to have been King. He was Duke of Lancaster during portions of both the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses which followed it. He was born in 1340, the fourth son of King Edward III. His first wife, Blanche, would produce King Henry IV.

His second wife, Constance of Castille, would bear no future kings, but along the way, John had taken Catherine Swynford as his mistress. Constance died in 1394 and John married Catherine two years later.

But prior to that marriage, Catherine had produced four children by John!

She was born in 1350, the daughter of Payne de Roet, a Flemish knight. At age 17 she married Sir Hugh Swynford. Her son Thomas would become a companion of Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt. When Catherine's husband died in 1372, John took an interest in her. Officially, she was taken into the household as governess to John's two daughters.

Their four children between them consisted of:

John, Duke of Somerset.
Henry Beaufort would become a Cardinal.
Thomas, Duke of Exeter
Joan, Countess of Westmoreland. In her line would come Edward IV and Richard III.

The titles, however, came later. In 1397, the King's Council declared (on the basis of the power of John of Gaunt) these four children of mistress Catherine to be Legitimate, and they took the name Beaufort, which was the name of one of John's castles in Anjou, France. However, the English King, Henry IV, declared that these four having once been illegitimate, none of them could produce an heir to the English throne.

But Catherine's line would produce ALL remaining English monarchs, represented by the Houses of Tudor, Stuart, Hanover, and Saxe-Coburg (renamed Windsor in 1917 during WW I).

This was so because John, Duke of Somerset, would have a daughter, Margaret Beaufort, who would be mother of Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, the origin of the House of Tudor, consisting of Henry VII, VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth. Since Elizabeth ("the Virgin Queen") was childless, the throne would pass to a cousin, James, of Scotland, who would begin the House of Stuart: James I, Charles I and II, James II, William III, and Anne. Anne had many children but all died before the age of eleven, and the throne would pass to the closest cousin, who was German. George the 1st came from Hanover, and the House of Hanover would consist of George I, II, III, IV, William IV, and Victoria.

Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg (German) produced Edward VII, the beginning of the House of Saxe-Coburg, which would continue with George V, VI, and the current Elizabeth II.

As a parenthetical we should point out that when World War I broke out with Germany, the German name Saxe-Coburg was inconvenient, and the royal family borrowed the name of the castle they lived in - Windsor - as their last name. Also, we have left one king out of this descent: George V had a son, Edward VIII who took the throne briefly in 1936 on the death of his father, but abdicated in order to marry the American commoner, Wallis Simpson. (A new title, Duke of Windsor, was created for him.)

So there we have it: a woman completely unknown by most of the Western world, Catherine Swynford, would begin a line of British royalty which would consist of 15 Kings, and 5 Queens, and there is no other woman in history who could claim such a prodigious legacy.

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