The Most Successful Mistress: Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster

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It’s about time we got to Katherine Swynford given the number of times I’ve referenced her and the Beauforts in other posts. I deem her the most successful royal mistress for three reasons: 1) the longevity of her relationship with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, 2) the fact that said relationship ended in marriage and 3) all monarchs since Henry VII have been descended from her. That’s a pretty good career for a woman who was certainly never queen and, quite frankly, had little business being a duchess in the opinion of many.

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Elizabeth of Lancaster & Her Three Marriages

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Elizabeth of Lancaster, granddaughter of Edward III and sister of Henry IV, was a bit of a royal rebel back in her day. Married three times, she has garnered herself a reputation for being a headstrong and difficult young woman whose character was reportedly the complete opposite of her elder sister, Philippa. But as one must ask themselves when a historical female figure is brandished “problematic,” is this unfair?

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Blanche: The Woman Behind the House of Lancaster

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In the usurpation of Richard II’s throne in 1399 and the establishment of the House of Lancaster, much credit is given to Henry IV (obviously) and his father, John of Gaunt. But it’s worth recognizing that without the wealth and inheritance of Blanche of Lancaster, neither would have been as well-positioned to challenge their Plantagenet cousins.

Blanche was born in March 1347 to Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster and Isabel de Beaumont. She was the youngest of two daughters, her elder sister, Maud, having been born in 1339. Given the gap between the two girls’ birth and the lack of subsequent children, including a male heir, it’s clear that the couple suffered from fertility issues, a situation that led to their daughters growing up to be extremely desirable heiresses on the English marriage market.

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