Spreading propaganda works both ways, as John of Gaunt discovered….

As we all know, the Tudors were masters of propaganda. The lies about Richard III poured forth throughout their usurpation, and still persist to this day. If they could say something unpleasant and derogatory about him, they did. Perhaps it was in their blood, of course, because they were descended (one way or another) from the Lancastrian line of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340–1399). Gaunt was the father of the first Lancastrian usurper, Henry IV, who deposed his cousin Richard II and then, um, got rid of him entirely. Having stolen Richard’s crown, Henry never again had a good word to say about him. Of course Henry badmouthed his hapless cousin, he had to justify having purloined the crown.

If this sounds familiar, yes, of course, because if you fast-forward a century, you have Henry VII, the first Tudor, justifying his similar action. Challenge for the throne, murder the incumbent and then spend the rest of your life striving to legitimise your actions. Like Henry IV before him, Henry VII did just that, becoming a man in the grip of constant suspicion and dread of being overthrown.

Anyway, this article now concerns John of Gaunt, whose political intentions were always suspect throughout the reign of his nephew, Richard II. Gaunt’s eyes were on the throne, and nothing will ever convince me otherwise. I know he has his defenders, but I look at him and see a man who wanted his own line wearing the crown.

Like all such men, he too had many enemies, and had to endure many scandalous rumours. He weathered them all. Yes, his private life was less than proper; yes, he bungled negotiations with the French, and yes, he was hypocrite, regarding the throne of England as solely the right through male lines, where he himself claimed the throne of Castile through his wife! Double standards for Monseigneur d’Espagne, which is how he demanded to be addressed!

One persistent rumour throughout Richard II’s reign was that his mother, Joan of Kent (known to us as the Fair Maid of Kent), wasn’t legally married to his father, Edward of Woodstock (known as the Black Prince). This was because of her early marital history, when she was only twelve and secretly married Sir Thomas Holand. Briefly, she was then married to the Earl of Salisbury….while Holand was still alive. There was a huge scandal, and the Pope eventually declared for Holand. The trouble was that Salisbury was still alive when Holand died, and she proceeded to marry Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, heir to the throne.

This gave rise to many whispers that the very-much-alive Salisbury was her true husband and therefore her son by the Prince of Wales, Richard of Bordeaux (to become Richard II), was illegitimate. This barred him from the throne. Lancaster regarded himself as next heir, deliberately overlooking another senior claim (the Mortimer Earls of March) which descended through a female line. Oh, no, no, wagging of Lancaster’s finger, no female lines for England! That would be as bad as bastardy!

So he worked on his aging father, Edward III, to omit the Mortimers from the succession. Edward, it seemed, complied, which makes him a hypocrite too, because he claimed the throne of France through his French mother! Oh, such goalpost-shuffling.

But as the heading of this article suggests, propaganda and lies can turn upon their originator, and Gaunt himself was whispered to be less than legitimate. It was said that his mother, the late Philippa of Hainault, on giving birth in Ghent had somehow “overlain” her baby girl.

According to this article “….There were rumours that he [Gaunt] was not the true son of the king but the offspring of a Flemish butcher, smuggled into the birthing room to replace a stillborn girl….” It seems a suitable baby boy was all that could be found, and John of Gaunt (Ghent) came into being.

Oh dear, what goes around comes around. What Joan of Kent suffered, so too did her ambitious brother-in-law,, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. He didn’t succeed in removing Richard II from the throne, that was left to his equally ambitious son, the ruthless Henry of Bolingbroke, Henry IV.

Now John of Gaunt has a new biography, in which the ‘butcher’s boy’ scandal is discussed. You’ll find it here .

As an interesting postscript, a friend has mentioned the following:-

“….I was surprised to discover, some years ago, that the tale Gaunt was a changeling was still alive early in his son’s reign. (Bizarre theory coming up.) Did Henry IV believe it himself? It would explain why he claimed primarily through his mother and *never* said outright that he was Richard II’s heir male. As many peerages were by this time limited to the heir male, it would have been a fair argument to put forward. Henry was in many ways a strange man, but I have never understood this….”

So, maybe not a bizarre theory at all. Maybe Henry did believe, or at least worry about it to the point of pacing the royal bedchamber of a night. I do hope so, because he had no more moral right to the throne than Henry Tudor.


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