|Duchess of Lancaster|
|Katherine's tomb, the larger tomb, next to the tomb of her daughter, Joan Beaufort|
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster
John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset
Henry Beaufort, Cardinal
Thomas Beaufort, 1st Duke of Exeter
Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland
|House||House of Lancaster (by marriage)|
|Father||Payne de Roet|
|Born||25 November 1350|
|Died||10 May 1403(aged 52)|
Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster (also spelled Catherine and Synford), née (de) Roet (also spelled (de) Rouet, (de) Roët, or (de) Roelt) (probably 25 November 1350 – 10 May 1403), was the daughter of Sir Payne (or Paen/Pain/Paon) (de) Roet (also spelled (de) Rouet, (de) Roët or (de) Roelt), originally a Flemish herald from County of Hainaut, later knighted.
Katherine became the third wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, a son of King Edward III. Their descendants were members of the Beaufort family, which played a major role in the Wars of the Roses. Henry VII, who became King of England in 1485, derived his claim to the throne from his mother Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was a great-granddaughter of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.
The children of Paganus Ruet (argued by modern-day genealogist Lindsay Brook and followed by biographer Alison Weir as "probably christened as Gilles") included Katherine, her sister Philippa, a son, Walter, and the eldest sister, Isabel (also called Elizabeth) de Roet (Canoness of the convent of St. Waudru's, Mons, c. 1366). Katherine is generally held to have been his youngest child. Weir argues that Philippa was the junior and that both were children of a second marriage.
Paon de Ruet is found early, in a legal document, in the form Paganus de Rodio — referring to Rodium, the mediaeval Latin form corresponding to the Roeulx, or Le Rœulx, the name of a town of 3000 inhabitants, 8 miles north-east of Mons, on the highway leading from Mons to Nivelle located in the Belgian province of Hainaut. Paon de Ruet may have been impelled to seek his fortune in England by the recital of the exploits of Fastre de Ruet, who accompanied John of Beaumont in 1326, when, with three hundred followers, he went to assist the English against the Scots. Fastre was the younger brother of the last lord of Roeulx descended from the Counts of Hainault. He and his brother Eustace fell into pecuniary straits, and were obliged to alienate their landed possessions. Fastre died in 1331, and was buried in the abbey church of Roeulx, while his brother Eustace survived till 1336. Paon was, like Fastre, a younger brother — possibly of a collateral line.
As the king was in the North, a number of the Flemings returned home without proceeding further than London, but Paon de Ruet was one of those who remained in England in the retinue of Philippa of Hainaut, accompanying the young queen in her departure from Valenciennes to join her youthful husband Edward III in England at the close of 1327. His name does not appear in the list of knights who accompanied the queen from Hainault, however, described by Froissart to be among additional knights referred to as 'pluissier jone esquier'. Speght (1598) prefixed to his history a genealogical tree which began: 'Paganus de Rouet Hannoniensis, aliter dictus Guien Rex Armorum' describing de Ruet as Guienne King of Arms. Upon the coronation of Henry the Fifth (1413), Sir William Bruges held the same title in the fifth year of the King's reign (Edmondson 1. 104) and the same monarch was accompanied to France before Agincourt by a herald bearing that name (Wylie, Reign of Henry the Fifth 1. 493).
In 1347, Ruet was sent to the Siege of Calais, and was one of two knights deputed by Queen Philippa to conduct out of town the citizens whom she had saved.
[Froissart, 5.215 : "Et au matin elle fist donner a casqun sys nobles [say, $150], et Ies fist conduire hors de l'oost par messire Sanse d'Aubrecicourt et messire Paon de Ruet, si avent que il vorrent, et que il fu avis as deus chevaliers que il estoient hors dou peril, et au departir il les commanderent a Dieu, et retournerent li chevalier en l'oost."] He had returned to the lands of Hainault, probably by 1349, and Katherine was born the following year.
Katherine's birth date in 1350 is assumed to be 25 November, as that is the feast day of her patron, St. Catherine of Alexandria. The family returned to England in 1351, and it is likely that Katherine stayed there during her father's continued travels.
In about 1366, at St Clement Danes Church, Westminster, Katherine married "Hugh" Ottes Swynford, a knight from the manor of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire, the son of Thomas Swynford by his marriage to Nicole Druel. She had the following children by him: Blanche (born 1 May 1367), Thomas (21 September 1368 – 1432), and possibly Margaret Swynford (born about 1369), later recorded as a nun of the prestigious Barking Abbey nominated by command of King Richard II.
Katherine became attached to the household of John of Gaunt as governess to his daughters Philippa of Lancaster and Elizabeth of Lancaster. The ailing duchess Blanche had Katherine's daughter Blanche (her namesake) placed within her own daughters' chambers and afforded the same luxuries as her daughters; additionally, John of Gaunt stood as godfather to the child. Katherine's sister Philippa, a lady of Queen Philippa's household, married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, whose poem The Book of the Duchess commemorated Blanche's death by plague in 1369. Speght (1598) said of Philippa's marriage: 'He [Chaucer] matched in marriage with a Knight's daughter of Henault, called Paon de Ruet, king of Armes, as by this draught appeareth, taken out of the office of the Heraldes.' M Speght's authority Stow (1592) recorded: 'He [Chaucer] had to wife the daughter of Paine Roete alias Gwine [ed. 1631, Guian] king at armes, by whom he had issue Tho. Chaucer.'
Some time after Blanche's death in 1369 but before the Duke's second marriage, Katherine and John of Gaunt entered into a love affair which would entail four children being born out of wedlock to the couple and would endure as a lifelong relationship. On 13 January 1396, two years after the death of the Duke's second wife, Infanta Constance of Castile, Katherine and John of Gaunt married in Lincoln Cathedral. Records of their marriage kept in the Tower and elsewhere list: 'John of Ghaunt, Duke of Lancaster, married Katharine daughter of Guyon King of Armes in the time of K. Edward the 3, and Geffrey Chaucer her sister'.
On John of Gaunt's death, Katherine became known as dowager Duchess of Lancaster. She outlived him by four years, dying on 10 May 1403.
Family tombs 
Katherine's tomb and that of her daughter, Joan Beaufort, are under a carved-stone canopy in the sanctuary of Lincoln Cathedral. Joan's is the smaller of the two tombs; both were decorated with brass plates — full-length representations of them on the tops, and small shields bearing coats of arms around the sides and on the top — but those were damaged or destroyed in 1644 during the English Civil War. A hurried drawing by Dugdale records their appearance.
Also defaced in 1644, and removed of any precious or semi-precious metals, was the tomb of Katherine's father Paon de Ruet in Old St Paul's, near Sir John Beauchamp's tomb (commonly called Duke Humphrey's). It was recorded that "Once a fair marble stone inlaid all over with brass, nothing but the heads of a few brazen nails are at this day visible, previously engraven with the representation and coat of arms of the party defunct, thus much of a mangled funeral inscription was of late times perspicuous to be read". It, along with the tombs of many others, including John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster's, were completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London. The former inscription regarding Paganus Roet (styled as 'Guinne', 'Guyenne', or 'Gwinne' the king at arms or master of arms, often shortened simply to the frank reference to 'armes' as 'Guiles' or 'Giles') was as follows:
- " Hic Jacet Paganus Roet Miles Guyenne Rex
- Armorum Pater Catherine Ducisse Lancastrie."
By 1658, viewed without its brass plate and effigies, this tomb was described by Dugdale as: "In australi ala, navi Ecclesue opposita (prope tumulum D. Johannis de Bellocampo), sub lapide marmoreo, jacet Paganus Roet, Rex Armorum tempore Regis Edwardi tertii".
Children and descendants 
Katherine's children by Hugh Swynford were
- Margaret Swynford (born c. 1363), became a nun at the prestigious Barking Abbey in 1377 with help from her future stepfather John of Gaunt, where she lived the religious life with her cousin Elizabeth Chaucer, daughter of the famous Geoffrey Chaucer and Katherine's sister Philippa de Roet.
- Sir Thomas Swynford (1367–1432), born in Lincoln while his father Sir Hugh Swynford was away on a campaign with John of Gaunt in Castile fighting for Peter of Castile.
- Blanche Swynford, named after the Duchess of Lancaster and a godchild of John of Gaunt. (If, as suggested, she was born after 1375, this date is too late for her to have been fathered by Hugh Swynford, who died in 1371/2).
In 1846 Thomas Stapleton suggested that there was a further daughter named Dorothy Swynford, born c. 1366, who married Thomas Thimelby of Poolham near Horncastle, Lincolnshire, Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1380, but there is no current evidence to support this claim.
Katherine's children by John of Gaunt were:
- John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (1373–1410)
- Henry Beaufort, Cardinal (1375–1447)
- Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (1377–1426)
- Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland (1379–1440)
The descendants of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt are significant in English and Scottish history. Their four children had been given the surname "Beaufort" and with the approval of King Richard and the Pope were legitimated as adults by their parents' marriage in 1393. Despite this, the Beauforts were barred from inheriting the throne of England by a clause in the legitimation act inserted by their half-brother, King Henry IV, although modern scholarship disputes the authority of a monarch to alter an existing parliamentary statute on his own authority, without the further approval of Parliament. This provision was later revoked by King Edward VI, placing Katherine's descendants (including himself) back within the legitimate line of inheritance; the Tudor dynasty was directly descended from John and Katherine's eldest child, John Beaufort, great-grandfather of Henry VII, who based his claim to the throne on his mother's descent from John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III. John Beaufort also had a daughter named Joan Beaufort, who married King James I of Scotland and thus was an ancestress of the House of Stuart. John and Katherine's daughter, Joan Beaufort, was grandmother of the English kings Edward IV and Richard III, whom Henry VII defeated at the Battle of Bosworth; Henry's claim was strengthened by marrying Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV. It was also through Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmoreland that the sixth queen of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr, descended. John of Gaunt's son — Katherine's stepson — became Henry IV after deposing Richard II (who was imprisoned and died in Pontefract Castle, where Katherine's son, Thomas Swynford, was constable and is said to have starved Richard to death for his stepbrother). John of Gaunt's daughter by his first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, Philippa of Lancaster, was great-great-grandmother to Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII and mother of Mary I of England. John of Gaunt's child by his second wife Constance, Catherine (or Catalina), was great-grandmother of Catherine of Aragon as well.
In literature 
Katherine Swynford is the subject of Anya Seton's novel Katherine (published in 1954) and of Alison Weir's 2008 biography Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess (ISBN 0-224-06321-9). Swynford is also the subject of Jeannette Lucraft's historical biography Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. This book seeks to establish Swynford as a powerful figure in the politics of fourteenth-century England and an example of a woman's ability to manipulate contemporary social mores for her own interests.
References and further reading 
- 1640 drawing of the tombs of Katherine Swynford and her daughter Joan Beaufort in Lincoln Cathedral before the tombs were despoiled in 1644 by the Roundheads
- Churchill, Winston S. 'The Houses of York and Lancaster', The Birth of Britain, p 435. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1956. Print.
- Weir, Alison (2007). Katherine Swynford: The story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-06321-9.
- Speght, M (1598). The life of Chaucer.
- Stow (1592). Annales of England.
- Here lies Sir Payne Roet, Guyenne King of Arms, father of Katherine Duchess of Lancaster
- "About Katherine Swynford In Brief". Katherine Swynford Society. Retrieved 2010-05-24.
- James, Susan. 'Catherine Parr: Henry VIII's Last Love.' 2009. pg 15.
- Lucraft, Jeannette (2006). Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress. Sutton Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7509-3261-9.
- Alison Weir, Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster (U.S. title).
- Judy Perry, "Katherine Roet's Swynfords: a re-examination of interfamily relationships and descent", Foundations (Foundation for Medieval Genealogy), Vol. 1, No. 1 & 2 2003–2004.
- David H Kelley, Don C Stone & David C Dearborn, "Among the Royal Servants: Welby, Browne, Quarles and Related Families", Foundations (Foundation for Medieval Genealogy), Vol. 3, No. 4
- Sargeant, Carol (2009). Love, Honour and Royal Blood Book One: Katharine Swynford. Dog Ear Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60844-162-4.