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Katherine Swynford

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Katherine (or Katharine or Catherine) (c. 1350 – 1403) was the daughter of Payne (or Paen) de Roet (or Rouet or Roelt) a Flemish herald from Hainault who was knighted just before dying in the wars, leaving Katherine and her older sister Philippa, as well as a brother, Walter, and eldest sister, Isabel (Elizabeth) de Roet, (who died chanoinness of the convent of St. Waudru's, Mons, c. 1366). In about 1366, at the age of 16, Katherine married Hugh Swynford or Synford, an English knight from the manor of Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire, and bore him at least two children (Blanch, Thomas, and likely the Margaret Swynford who was nominated a nun at the prestigious Barking Abbey by the command of Richard II in 1377) before he, too, died in the European wars. She then became attached to the household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, ostensibly as governess to his two daughters (the sisters of the future Henry IV of England) by his first wife Blanche, but eventually she became his official mistress. Katherine's sister Philippa married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, whose poem The Book of the Duchess commemorated Blanche's death in 1369.

After the death of his second wife Constance of Castile, John and Katherine married on 13 January 1396 in Lincoln Cathedral, three years before he died. The four children Katherine had borne John of Gaunt had been given the surname "Beaufort" and were already adults when they were legitimized in 1397 (but retroactively barred from inheriting the throne by a clause inserted in that charter by their half-brother Henry IV well into his reign years later):

Katherine's son John Beaufort was the great-grandfather of Henry VII of England and the grandfather of James II of Scotland; her daughter Joan Beaufort was the grandmother of Edward IV of England and Richard III of England, whom Henry VII defeated to take the throne. (Henry then married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, and their son became Henry VIII of England). Her step-son became Henry IV of England by deposing Richard II of England (who was imprisoned and died shortly thereafter, in Pontefract Castle, where Katherine's son Thomas Swynford was constable, and he was said to have starved Richard to death for his step-brother); her step-daughter, John and Constance's daughter Catherine (or Catalina), was the great-grandmother of Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII of England and mother of Mary I of England.

Katherine survived John by only four years, dying on May 10, 1403. (As she was then dowager Duchess of Lancaster, there was a record of the exact day, as there was not for her birth, when she was of less rank.) Her tomb and that of her daughter Joan Beaufort are under a carved-stone canopy in the sanctuary of Lincoln Cathedral, but their remains are no longer in them, because the tombs were despoiled in 1644, during the English Civil War, by the Roundheads.

Katherine Swynford is the subject of Anya Seton's novel Katherine (first published in 1954).