Back to Norfolk KGs Menu



Illustration by P Page after the privy seal


Arms: Quarterly, 1st and 4th Azure semee-de-lis Or (France Ancient); 2nd and 3rd Gules three Lions passant guardant Or (England); A Label of three points Ermine for difference.

Crest: Upon a Chapeau Gules turned up Ermine a Lion statant guardant crowned Or with a Label of three points Ermine about his neck.








Apparently he also used a shield of arms in connection with the duchy of Lancaster, showing France and England quartered with a blue label charged with nine gold fleurs-de-lys. This label had originally been used by Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, Blanche of Lancaster's great grandfather. John of Gaunt used the device of 3 ermine ostrich feathers with gold quills and scrolls on a black background. Other devices of his were an eagle or falcon with a padlock in its beak and an eagle standing on a fetterlock. His will discloses he had bed hangings embroidered with eagles and roses and vestments embroidered with falcons.


Time honoured Lancaster is included as a Norfolk Knight of the Garter because, as Duke of Lancaster, he held his court in the Guildhall at Aylsham. It is said that he was the founder of the church there. The fifteenth century font displays his lion among the encircling roses on the base. He certainly owned the manor of Aylsham as it was granted to him by Edward III in 1372. He gathered some of his retainers from Norfolk, including Sir Thomas Erpingham. Norfolk was therefore very important to him.


John of Gaunt was born at Ghent (which accounts for his being known as Gaunt) in 1340. 1n 1342 at two years old he was created Earl of Richmond. On April 23rd 1361 he was made a Knight of the Garter. On May 19th 1369 he married his third cousin, Blanche, the daughter and co-heiress with her sister of Henry, Duke of Lancaster, the great grandson of Henry III. Blanche succeeded to one half of her father's estate, and when her sister died of plague, she succeeded to the entirety of her father's lands and wealth and Gaunt was created Duke of Lancaster. He was created Duke of Aquitaine on March 2nd 1390. 


After Blanche died in 1369, Gaunt married Constance of Castile in about June 1372. Constance was the eldest daughter and co-heir of Pedro, King of Castile & Leon. Gaunt coveted the throne of Castile in the right of Constance, but eventually had to abandon his claim in return for 600,000 gold francs.


During Edward III's reign Gaunt campaigned in France and Spain. He was with his eldest brother, the Black Prince, at the battle of Najera in Spain in 1367 (following which Pedro of Castile regained his throne) and the recapture of Limoges in France in 1370. When the Black Prince and his father were both dead, he became very powerful in England as the young Richard II's eldest surviving uncle.


He campaigned in Scotland and France, but these campaigns were not a success.


He was extremely wealthy, having vast estates, and delighted in pomp and ceremony, falconry and hunting. His autocratic temperament caused quarrels, for example with the Londoners in 1377, the Earl of Northumberland in 1381 and Richard II in 1385, but he was never deflected from his loyalty to the crown and was highly regarded abroad. However he was not popular in England, in spite of the fact that he applied himself thoroughly to his duties. Indeed, during the Peasants' Revolt his palace of the Savoy was attacked by  Wat Tyler's supporters. He wanted Richard to campaign in France in person and was angry when he did not get his way.


He supported Wycliffe.


He left England in pursuit of the Spanish dream in 1386, but returned and married his mistress Catherine Swynford in January 1397, Constance having died in June 1394. Their children, the Beauforts, were legitimised by Richard II. Catherine survived him dying on 10th May 1403. From Catherine not only was Henry VII descended, but also many European royal families. Gaunt died in 1399 and was buried in St. Paul's in a tomb which was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666. His son, Henry Bolingbroke, was to become Henry IV. Two of his daughters became Queens of Castile and Portugal. Much was owed to Gaunt in respect of the maintenance of law and order in England during his lifetime.


Henry Yevele worked on Gaunt's palace of the Savoy, the tomb of Duchess Blanche and on Hertford Castle.                        


Elizabeth C. Armstrong