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John of Gaunt, born in 1340, was the third of Edward III's five surviving sons and Philippa of Hainault. By marriage to Blanche of Lancaster in 1359, he became later Duke of Lancaster, which made him the most powerful and wealthy nobleman of the realm. When the king fell ill, Gaunt ruled the country in his stead. He was a shrewd, farsighted statesman, but his unorthodox methods and inability to compromise antagonized the Church and the Commons. Many suspected that he was aiming for the crown, but they were proved wrong when Gaunt stood faithfully to his young nephew King Richard II.

His second marriage to Constance of Castile entitled Gaunt to the crown of Castile, and he spent a greater part of the 1380's on the continent, pursuing his claim and protecting the English territories in France. During Richard's luckless reign Gaunt withdrew from English politics and lost part of his influence, yet Lancaster remained powerful. Gaunt died in January 1399, and when several months later king Richard was deposed, Gaunt's son, Henry Bolingbroke, was crowned Henry IV, the first of the Lancastrian kings.

(A recent study of Gaunt's career is Anthony Goodman. John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth-Century Europe. New York 1992.)


John of Gaunt
14th Century