Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster
Katherine was born about November 25, 1350 in Hainaut, which is now Belguim to Paon de Roet, a herald, and later a knight who may have originally been named Gilles. Yes, I know my family loves name changes. The family came to England with the court of Philippa of Hainaut when she married Edward III. Among the friends of her youth was Geoffrey Chaucer who married her sister Phillipa. Her other sister, Isabel later became Canoness of the convent of St. Waudru’s, Mons. So what does young Katherine do? She becomes a governess to John of Gaunt and his first wife Blanche. She had it pretty nice and was thought of so well that her own child, Blanche named after the Duchess and the godchild of the Duke, was able to share a room the Dukes daughters, granddaughters of Edward III. John was abroad when Blanche died, possible of the Black Death and it tell upon Katherine to care for and to send for the priest for final absolution.
Some time after Blanche died John and Katherine began an affair that lasted for at least eight years and four children. When the affair ended in 1381 for political reasons, which the Peasants Revolt may have had a hand in, Katherine’s reputation was ruined. Her first husband, Hugh, was poisoned while in France and Katherine returned to their home to take over his duties.
John married again, this time to Infanta Constance of Castile. However, she died in 1394. Two years later Katherine and John began their affair again. The two were finally married January 13, 1396. She outlived him by four years becoming the Dowager Countess of Lancaster. She died May 10, 1403 and is buried alongside their daughter Joan Beaufort at Lincoln Cathedral.