torsdag 28. oktober 2010

Blanche of Lancaster

(photo from a tapestry)

The woman to whom "The Book of the Duchess" by Geoffrey Chaucer is dedicated to, Blanche of Lancaster,  was the first and beloved wife of John of Gaunt (yes, he who later married his mistress Katherine Swynford from whom the Tudors claimed the throne). Even though she was deeply loved by her husband, and the mother of the future Henry IV, Blanche is not the woman we hear about the most when it comes to John of Gaunt, as his mistress (and later wife) tends to overshadow her (as the mighty Tudors descended from Katherine and John’s issue).

Blanche was born at Bolingbroke Castle on the 25th of March in 1345. Her parents were Henry of Grostmont, the 1st Duke of Lancaster, and Isabel de Beaumont. She is described as to have been beautiful, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and she was a calm and peaceful person.

She was married to her third cousin, John of Gaunt on the 19th of May 1359, when she was fourteen years old. He was the third son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainhault. It was a very happy and loving marriage, and Blanche quickly became pregnant and gave birth to the couple’s first child, Philippa, only five days after Blanche herself had turned fifteen. She gave birth to five more children, but out of the six, only half survived infancy.

In 1361, Blanche’s father died without male issue, and the title of Duke of Lancaster became extinct. Together with her sister Maud, Blanche was the co-heiress to the Duchy of Lancaster. A year later her sister died, and the title of Duke of Lancaster was later bestowed on Blanche’s husband.

When the bubonic plague struck in 1369, Blanche was one of its victims, and she died at the age of only 24, the 12th of September at the same castle as she was born.
Her funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral in London was preceded with a magnificent cortege attended by most of the nobility and clergy. Her husband had Geoffrey Chaucer, then a young squire and mostly unknown writer of court poetry, commissioned to write The Book of the Duchess, in her honour. In short, the poem tells the story of the poet’s dream. Wandering through a wood, the poet discovers a knight clothed in black (John of Gaunt), and inquires of the knight’s sorrow. Throughout the poem, pieces of the knight’s story become more and more apparent, until the cause of the mourning (the death of Blanche) is plainly stated and the dream abruptly ends. It is a very long poem, consisting of nearly 9000 words! Blanche was honoured indeed.
What is interesting while studying the poem is that it seems that at least one of its aims was to make John see that his grief for his late wife had become excessive, and so Chaucer tried to make him overcome it.
When John of Gaunt died 25 years after his first wife, he was buried next to her, and the two of them are buried in an unknown place somewhere in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

6 kommentarer:

  1. Hello Malena,
    Thanks for leaving the comment on my post about The King's Daughter. I agree with you - I prefer to read about lesser known women too. To tell you the truth, I'm tired of the Tudors. It's been overdone.

    I'm almost finished writing a novel about Queen Mechthilde of 10th century Germany. After that, I'll write about other women of medieval times.

    I love your blog and have a shortcut to it on my desktop. Beautiful blog to visit.


  2. I agree the blog is beautiful. As for Blanche of Lancaster...ouch! Giving birth at 14! The horror medieval women had to go through!

  3. Yes Margaret Beaufort was married off at I think 11 her husband I think was around 20 and had her son Henry when she was 12 or 13 by then she was already widowed. No wonder she worried so much when her grandaughter Pss Margaret was dispatched to Scotland at the same age to marry the Scottish king who was 10 years older.

  4. Interestingly, John of Gaunt's mistress, Katherine Swynford, became his second wife after a long affair (after Blanche's untimely death). Another connection, Katherine's sister was Chaucer's wife!

  5. great post - glad to find your blog :)

  6. Your page is very attractive, am glad I found it! Anya Seton wrote a very good book about Katherine Swynford, her tomb is in Lincoln Cathedral.