Blanche of Lancaster

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Blanche of Lancaster
Duchess of Lancaster
Spouse John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster
Issue Philippa, Queen of Portugal
John of Lancaster
Elizabeth of Lancaster, Duchess of Exeter
Edward of Lancaster
John of Lancaster
Henry IV Bolingbroke, King of England
Isabella of Lancaster
House House of Lancaster (by birth)
House of Plantagenet (by marriage)
Father Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster
Mother Isabel de Beaumont
Born 25 March 1345[1]
Bolingbroke Castle, Lindsey
Died 12 September 1368 (aged 23)
Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire
Burial St Paul's Cathedral, City of London

Blanche of Lancaster, Duchess of Lancaster (25 March 1345 – 12 September 1368) was an English noblewoman and heiress, daughter of England's wealthiest and most powerful peer, Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster. She was the first wife of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and the mother of King Henry IV of England.[2]

Lineage[edit]

Blanche was born on 25 March 1345,[1] although the year 1347 has also been suggested.[3] She was the younger daughter of Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and his wife Isabel de Beaumont. She and her elder sister Maud, Countess of Leicester, were born at Bolingbroke Castle in Lindsey.

Blanche's paternal grandparents were Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, and Maud de Chaworth. Her maternal grandparents were the 1st Earl of Buchan and Alice Comyn.[2] Her sister Maud first married Ralph de Stafford and then William I, Duke of Bavaria;[2] however, Maud did not bear children from either husband.

Marriage[edit]

The Marriage of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster in Reading Abbey on 19 May 1359 by Horace Wright (1914), The Museum of Reading.[4]

On 19 May 1359, at Reading Abbey, Reading, Berkshire, Blanche married her third cousin, John of Gaunt, third son of King Edward III of England and his Queen consort, Philippa of Hainault. The whole royal family was present at the wedding, and the king gave Blanche expensive gifts of jewellery.[5]

The title Duke of Lancaster became extinct upon her father's death without male heirs in 1361. However, through his marriage to Blanche, John of Gaunt became Earl of Lancaster, Earl of Derby, Earl of Lincoln and Earl of Leicester (although Gaunt did not receive all of these titles until the death of Blanche's older sister, Maud, in 1362). The Duchy of Lancaster (second creation) was later bestowed on Gaunt. The influence associated with the titles would lead him to become Lord High Steward of England.

Jean Froissart described Blanche (following her death) as "jone et jolie" ("young and pretty").[6] Geoffrey Chaucer described "White" (the central figure in his Book of the Duchess, believed to have been inspired by Blanche: see below) in such terms as "rody, fresh, and lyvely hewed", her neck as "whyt, smothe, streght, and flat", and her throat as "a round tour of yvoire": she was "bothe fair and bright", and Nature's "cheef patron [pattern] of beautee".[7]

Gaunt and Blanche's marriage is widely believed to have been happy, although there is in fact little solid evidence for this. The assumption seems to be based on the fact that Gaunt chose to be buried with Blanche, despite his two subsequent marriages, and on the themes of love, devotion and grief expressed in Chaucer's poem (see below) – a rather circular argument, as it is partly on the basis of these themes that the couple's relationship is identified as the inspiration for the poem.

Blanche and Gaunt had seven children, three of whom survived infancy.

The tomb of Blanche and John of Gaunt in St. Paul's Cathedral, as represented in an etching of 1658 by Wenceslaus Hollar. The etching includes a number of inaccuracies, for example in not showing the couple with joined hands.

The death and commemoration of Blanche[edit]

Blanche of Lancaster died at Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire, on 12 September 1368 while her husband was overseas.[8] She was 23 years of age at the time of her death,[1] although Froissart reported that she died aged about 22.[9] It is believed that Blanche may have died after contracting the Black Death which was rife in Europe at that time. Her funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral in London was preceded by a magnificent cortege attended by most of the upper nobility and clergy. John of Gaunt held annual commemorations of her death for the rest of his life and established a joint chantry foundation on his own death.

In 1373, Jean Froissart wrote a long poem, Le Joli Buisson de Jonece, commemorating both Blanche and Philippa of Hainault (Gaunt's mother, who had died in 1369).

It may have been for one of the anniversary commemorations of Blanche's death that Geoffrey Chaucer, then a young squire and mostly unknown writer of court poetry, was commissioned to write what became The Book of the Duchess in her honour. Though Chaucer's intentions can never be defined with absolute certainty, many believe that at least one of the aims of the poem was to make John of Gaunt see that his grief for his late wife had become excessive, and to prompt him to try to overcome it.

In 1374, six years after her death, John of Gaunt commissioned a double tomb for himself and Blanche from the mason Henry Yevele. The magnificent monument in the choir of St Paul's was completed by Yevele in 1380, with the assistance of Thomas Wrek, having cost a total of £592. Gaunt himself died in 1399, and was laid to rest beside Blanche. The two effigies were notable for having their right hands joined. An adjacent chantry chapel was added between 1399 and 1403.[10]

Issue[edit]

Blanche and John of Gaunt together had seven children:[11]

Blanche's daughter, Philippa, married John of Portugal which made Blanche the ancestress of the successive kings of Portugal. This line led to Isabella I of Castile, and through Isabella, Blanche is an ancestress of various European monarchs. Blanche's son, Henry, became King of England after he overthrew his cousin, Richard II of England, the eldest son of John's brother, Edward the Black Prince. Henry's reign marked the beginning of a cadet (younger) branch of the Plantaganet line, making Blanche's family, the House of Lancaster, the new ruling house in England.

Blanche's grandchildren by her daughter, Philippa:

Blanche's grandchildren by her son, Henry:

Blanche's youngest surviving daughter, Elizabeth, married twice and had children by both husbands. Blanche's grandchildren by Elizabeth:

With John Cornwall, she had two children:

The Dreame of Chaucer Book of the Duchess.jpg

The Book of the Duchess[edit]

Geoffrey Chaucer was commissioned by Gaunt to write a poem after Blanche's death which was titled The Book of the Duchess. The poem tells the story of the poet's dream. Wandering a wood, the poet discovers a knight clothed in black, and inquires of the knight's sorrow. The knight, meant to represent John of Gaunt, is mourning a terrible tragedy, which mirrors Gaunt's own extended mourning for Blanche.

Ancestry[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c . Cawley, Charles. Medieval Lands, England, Kings (1066–1603)
  2. ^ a b c The Complete Peerage
  3. ^ L.A. Loschiavo, 'The birth of "Blanche the Duchesse": 1340 versus 1347', Chaucer Review, vol. 13 (1978), pp. 128–32.
  4. ^ BBC, Your Paintings: The Marriage of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster at Reading Abbey, 19 May 1359 by Horace Wright, 1914. BBC
  5. ^ Mortimer, Ian (2008). The Perfect King The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation. Vintage. p. 335. 
  6. ^ Jean Froissart, Le Joli Buisson de Jonece, ed. A. Fourrier (Geneva, 1975), p. 55 (lines 246–47).
  7. ^ Geoffrey Chaucer, The Book of the Duchess, lines 905, 910, 942, 946, 950
  8. ^ J.J.N. Palmer, 'The historical context of the Book of the Duchess: a revision', Chaucer Review, vol. 8 (1974), pp. 253–61. Blanche was traditionally supposed to have died in 1369, but Palmer's evidence that she died the year before is now widely accepted by all scholars.
  9. ^ Froissart. Joli Buisson, p. 55 (lines 246–47).
  10. ^ O.D. Harris, '"Une tresriche sepulture": the tomb and chantry of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster in Old St Paul's Cathedral, London', Church Monuments, vol. 25 (2010), pp. 7–35.
  11. ^ Charles Cawley, Medieval Lands, Kings of England 1066–1603. Retrieved 6 March 2011