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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Joan of England & the Black Death

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Joan of England came into the world at some point between December 1333 and February 1334, the second daughter and third child of Edward III and his wife, Philippa of Hainaut. By the time of her birth, the succession had been secured via her elder brother, Prince Edward, and an elder sister, Isabel, while the minority government held by her grandmother, Isabelle of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, had been cast aside by her father a few years previously.

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The First Princess of Wales

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If there ever was a case study for a Medieval woman’s life taking the shape of a romance novel plot, it would be Joan of Kent, England’s first Princess of Wales. Born “royal adjacent,” she grew up close to the throne, married three times (though not all of them were legal), delivered seven children and constantly found herself going up against the power brokers of court and the Vatican.

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The Willful Isabella of England, Countess of Bedford

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Edward III and his wife, Philippa of Hainaut are best-remembered for their plethora of sons, but between them they also produced five daughters, the eldest of whom was Isabella of England. Believed to be her father’s favorite, Isabella was born at Woodstock Castle on June 16, 1332 and named for her paternal grandmother, Isabelle of France.

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The Mother of Too Many Sons: Philippa of Hainaut

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Philippa of Hainaut had the opposite problem of Henry VIII’s wives. Over the course of her 41-year marriage to Edward III she gave birth to 13 children, eight of them sons. Of those eight sons, five lived until adulthood. That might not seem extraordinary today, particularly in light of the fertility of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in the 18th century or Queen Victoria in the 19th century, but for the 14th century’s infant mortality rate it was remarkable. Usually, in instances where the monarch had multiple sons they would slowly be picked off through warfare or illness, but the issue remained that several adult princes was both expensive and a liability, for all that it shored up the succession.

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