John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, was the fourth son of King Edward III of England and is so called because he was born at Ghent in 1340. He became Duke of Lancaster by his first marriage to his cousin, Blanche (1359).
After Blanche's death in 1369, John married Constance of Castile, daughter of King Peter I of Castile, thus giving him a claim on the kingdom of Castile, which he would pursue unsuccessfully. After the death of his elder brother, Edward, the Black Prince, John of Gaunt became increasingly powerful. He was able to protect the religious reformer, John Wyclif, with whose aims he sympathised. When his father died and was succeeded by the youthful Richard II of England, Gaunt's position was strengthened still further, but some unwise decisions and actions caused Richard, and some of the common people, to distrust him, which is why his Savoy Palace was destroyed by rioters during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. In 1386, he was dispatched by Richard to the Continent as an ambassador. In the meantime, he had fathered four children by a mistress, Katherine Swynford (whose sister married the poet, Geoffrey Chaucer). Years after his wife died, he married Katherine, and their children, the Beauforts, were legitimised but barred from inheriting the throne. From the eldest son, John, came a granddaughter, Margaret Beaufort, whose son, later King Henry VII of England, would nevertheless claim the throne.
John of Gaunt's legitimate son from his first marriage, Henry Bolingbroke, was less of a diplomat than his father, and was banished from the kingdom by Richard II in 1398. When John of Gaunt died in 1399, his estates were declared forfeit to the crown. This caused Bolingbroke to return, and he deposed the unpopular Richard to reign as King Henry IV of England.
Children of John of Gaunt :