Book Corner: The House of Beaufort by Nathen Amin

The Wars of the Roses were a tumultuous period in English history, with family fighting family over the greatest prize in the kingdom – the throne of England. But what gave the eventual victor of these brutal and complex wars, Henry Tudor, the right to claim the crown? What made his Beaufort mother the great heiress of medieval England, and how exactly did an illegitimate line come to challenge the English monarchy?

While the Houses of York and Lancaster fought brutally for the crown, other noble families of the kingdom also played integral roles in the wars; grand and prestigious names like the Howards, Mowbrays, Nevilles and Percys were intimately involved in the conflict, but none symbolised the volatile nature of the period quite like the House of Beaufort. Their rise, fall, and rise again is the story of England during the fifteenth century, a dramatic century of war, intrigue and scandal both at home and abroad. Many books have been written about individual members of the dynasty, but never has the whole family been explored as one.

This book uncovers the rise of the Beauforts from bastard stock of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, to esteemed companions of their cousin Henry V, celebrated victor of Agincourt, and tracks their chastening fall with the House of Lancaster during the 1460s and 1470s. The hopes and fortunes of the family gradually came to rest upon the shoulders of a teenage widow named Margaret Beaufort and her young son Henry. From Margaret would rise the House of Tudor, the most famous of all England’s royal houses and a dynasty that owed its crown to the blood of its forebears, the House of Beaufort. From bastards to princes, the Beauforts are medieval England’s most captivating family.

The House of Beaufort: the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown is a masterpiece of historical writing. Nathen Amin has written the story of a family from its very beginning, highlighting the heights of their success, and the depths of their failures. Covering almost exactly 100 years, the book provides a fascinating insight into a family who lived close to the crown, but looked like they would constantly be denied it.

John of Gaunt, father of the Beauforts

From the love story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, through the successes and failures of the Hundred Years War, and the devastation of the Wars of the Roses, Nathen Amin retells the fascinating story of the Beauforts in an insightful, balanced manner, which highlights their weaknesses as much as it does their strengths.

As the fourteenth century came to its dramatic close, the Beauforts were well placed to take advantage of their connection to the new regime. John Beaufort, earl of Somerset and the king’s chamberlain, was in his late twenties and evidently adept at dealing with a wide range of political and martial issues. Henry Beaufort was around twenty-five years old and learning the ropes as bishop of Lincoln, while Thomas Beaufort had recently reached adulthood and was ready to put his body on the line for his king. Their sole sister Joan, Meanwhile, had settled into married life as the countess of Westmorland, establishing a Beaufort-blooded Neville hegemony in the north.

As siblings to the king of England, a promising future beckoned for the foursome. Provided they retained the good grace of their half-brother, they had reasonable expectations of widespread patronage that included money, manors and titles…

The author clearly demonstrates his enthusiasm for one of the most famous medieval families; however, this is not a fan book. Their weaknesses and failings are highlighted just as much as their successes. Actions are analysed and dissected to provide insights into not only the family, but the history and politics of England itself.

The House of Beaufort: the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown is beautifully written and reads like a novel of a family saga. And of course, as with all of us, each character in the Beaufort story has human traits that means their actions are not always understood or easily explained. The author clearly comprehends and demonstrates the fickleness of human actions and brings to vivid life this complex family who had such an influence on English history.

The entire Beaufort family will find their stories told in this book, from the first and oldest, John Beaufort, through his brothers, nephews and nieces, sons and grandchildren. The story of Joan Beaufort  queen of Scotland, is told with sympathy and compassion, as is the original love story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. Characters who played a part in the lives and history of the family are also treated with fairness and compassion, such as their legitimate royal siblings and nephews, Joan of Arc and Richard, duke of York.

Arms of Thomas Beaufort, 1st Duke of Exeter

Any reader will have their favourite Beaufort, and one they love to hate. Thomas Beaufort comes across as the perfect and chivalrous soldier, whilst Henry is the devious but diligent churchmen. Thomas is my favourite, he’s the hero. However, I love that Henry is such an ambiguous character, he is probably the greatest recreation in the book. Nathen Amin has clearly thought through Henry Beaufort’s ambitions, motivations and his actions. He tells the story of a bishop who was not always in favour with the establishment, his personal ambitions putting him at odds with successive kings, despite the fact his abilities were impressive.

Nathen Amin’s passion for the Beauforts comes across in every page. His persuasive, perceptive arguments are all supported with ample evidence and explanation. These arguments and insight are balanced and reflective, even in the divided loyalties of the Wars of the Roses, there is no bias as the story is told.

Comprehensive and compelling, this is a book that should grace the shelves of any fan of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, of the royal Houses of Lancaster and York, and the Hundred Years War, or even for a simple lover of medieval history. This book will become a powerful research tool for anyone looking into the Beaufort family and their links to the crown of England and the momentous events of the Wars of the Roses

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About the author: Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Wales was released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort, was released in 2017 and became an Amazon #1 Bestseller for Wars of the Roses. He is currently working on his fourth book, Pretenders to the Tudor Crown, for release in 2019.

Nathen is also the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.

The House of Beaufort: the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown is available from Amazon UK and Amberley Publishing and will shortly be released on Amazon US on 1st November.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Scandal

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Arms of Katherine Swynford

Katherine Swynford is, arguably, the most famous – or infamous – of English ladies  to have risen so high as to become the first lady of the kingdom, without ever being queen.

Born Katherine de Roet in Hainault, now in modern-day Belgium, in around 1350, her father was Sir Paon de Roet of Guyenne. Unfortunately, as can be the way with Medieval women, I could find no mention of her mother’s identity.

Sir Paon was a Hainault knight who travelled to England with its new queen , Philippa of Hainault, as part of her retinue. As a consequence, Katherine was raised at the English court of Queen Philippa and her illustrious husband, King Edward III.

Katherine and her older sister, Philippa, were eventually given positions as ladies-in-waiting to members of the royal family. Philippa joined the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, wife of Lionel of Antwerp, where she met her future husband, the literary giant of the age, Geoffrey Chaucer.

By 1365 Katherine was serving in the household of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, and her husband John of Gaunt, 3rd surviving son of Edward III and Philippa of Lancaster. Sometime before 1367 Katherine married a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford of Coleby and Kettlethorpe, at St Clement Danes Church on the Strand, London. They had at least 2 children, Thomas and Blanche; John of Gaunt was Blanche’s godfather. Sir Hugh was a tenant of John of Gaunt’s and accompanied him to Europe in 1366 and 1370.

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John of Gaunt

In 1368 in order to avoid the plague, Blanche moved her family to Bolingbroke in the Lincolnshire countryside. She died in childbirth in September the same year. However, rather than leaving the household on Blanche’s death, Katherine was appointed governess to the 2 daughters of Gaunt and the late Duchess, Philippa and Elizabeth.

Katherine’s husband, Sir Hugh, died in 1371 and shortly afterwards rumours started arising of a relationship between John of Gaunt and the young widow. Whether the affair started before Sir Hugh’s death is uncertain and some sources suggest this was the case.

Although John married his 2nd wife, Constance of Castile, on 21st September 1371. John and Constance’s marriage was a dynastic one; John was hoping to gain a kingdom for himself, through his wife. From January 1372 John assumed the title King of Castile and Leon, by right of his wife, although he was never able to consolidate his position. John’s younger brother, Edmund, would marry Constance’s sister, Isabella.

Constance gave birth to a daughter, Catherine, in 1373 and a son, John in 1374 – he died the following year. Catherine would marry Henry III of Castile, becoming Queen Consort of Castile and Leon and thus fulfilling her father’s ambition of his descendants sitting on the throne of Castile.

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Delaroche’s painting of Cardinal Henry Beaufort (son of Katherine Swynford) interrogating Joan of Arc

By 1372 Katherine’s status within Gaunt’s household had risen, indicating their developing relationship. While continuing in her post of governess to Philippa and Elizabeth, Katherine bore 4 children between 1373 and 1379, acknowledged by John of Gaunt as his own; John, Henry, Thomas and Joan. They were given the surname of Beaufort, probably after their father’s lost French lordship in Anjou.

I could find no record of Constance’s – or Katherine’s – reactions to Gaunt’s living arrangements. It’s hard to imagine that either was completely happy with the situation, but Gaunt does appear to have fulfilled his obligations to both women.

There is some record that John of Gaunt formally renounced his relationship with Katherine and reconciled with his wife in June 1381, possible as a way to recover some popularity during the Peasant’s Revolt. The revolt blamed 13-year-old King Richard II’s counsellors as the cause of the country’s problems. John of Gaunt was one of the main targets for the rebels’ anger and his Savoy Palace on the Strand was burned to the ground, despite Gaunt’s absence from the centre of proceedings; he was on his way to Scotland at the time.

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Lincoln Cathedral today, viewed from the walls of Lincoln Castle

Katherine left court and settled at her late husband’s manor at Kettlethorpe, before moving to a rented townhouse in Lincoln. John of Gaunt visited her regularly throughout the 1380s, and Katherine was frequently at court.

With 4 children by John of Gaunt but still only, officially, governess to his daughters, Katherine was made a Lady of the Garter in 1388. However, her situation changed again following Constance’s death at the end of 1394.

At Lincoln Cathedral, in January 1396 and a quarter of a century after the start of their relationship, John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford were married. Styled Lady Katherine, Duchess of Lancaster, she was, briefly, the 1st Lady in England after the death of Queen Anne of Bohemia.

Once they were married John of Gaunt wasted no time in  legitimising his children by Katherine. They were legitimated by the Pope on 1st September 1396, and by Charter of Richard II on 9th February 1397. A further Charter in the reign of Henry IV also excluded the Beauforts from the succession.

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Tombs of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster, and her daughter Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. Lincoln Cathedral

Their final happiness was of short duration, however, as John of Gaunt died on the 3rd of February 1399; he was buried beside his 1st wife, Blanche of Lancaster, in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. His son and heir, Henry Bolingbroke, had recently been exiled to the Continent for 10 years. Richard II extended that exile to a life term and confiscated the Lancastrian lands.

Following Gaunt’s Katherine returned to her townhouse in Lincoln; close to the east end of the Cathedral. Her son, Henry Beaufort, had become Bishop of Lincoln shortly after being legitimised.

Katherine died at Lincoln on 10th May 1403. She was buried, close to the High Altar, in the cathedral in which she had married her prince just 7 years earlier. Her daughter Joan, Countess of Westmoreland, was laid to rest beside her, following her death in 1440, with a slightly smaller tomb. The tombs themselves are empty, with Katherine and Joan buried beneath the floor of the Cathedral.

Katherine appears to have had a good relationship with John of Gaunt’s children; she was very close to Philippa and Elizabeth. Henry IV, Katherine’s stepson, referred to her in her widowhood as ‘The King’s Mother’.

And together, through their children Katherine and John left a legacy that would change the  course of English and Scottish history.

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Katherine Swynford’s tomb, 1809

Henry Beaufort would rise to the position of Bishop of Winchester and Cardinal. Thomas would rise to become Duke of Exeter and serve on the council of his great-nephew, Henry VI.

Less impressively, their grandson Edmund (son of John, Earl of Somerset) was responsible for great losses of territory whilst Regent of France for young Henry VI.

Katherine and John’s daughter, Joan, was the mother of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, who would be the mother of 2 kings of England; Edward IV and Richard III. Their son John, Earl of Somerset, was grandfather of Margaret Beaufort and great-grandfather of the 1st Tudor King, Henry VII. John’s daughter, Joan Beaufort, married James I of Scotland in another of history’s great love stories.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Sharons book cover

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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Photographs of Lincoln and Katherine Swynford’s tomb are © Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015. All other pictures are courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources: katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; The mammoth Book of British kings & Queen by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Life and Times of Edward III by paul Johnson; The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; womenshistory.about.com/od/medrenqueens/a/Katherine-Swynford.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly