John and Katherine
Joan Beaufort was the daughter of the liaison between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. The tale of these two lovers has often caught the attention of historical fiction writers, including Anya Seton in her work Katherine. The affair was a long one, continuing throughout most of Gaunt’s marriage to Constance of Castile. Although illegitimate, the four children of Gaunt and Swynford were obviously cared for by their father. The only daughter of the union, Joan had three brothers: John, Henry and Thomas.
Joan was married to Sir Robert Ferrers in 1390/1391 and had two daughters, Elizabeth (who married John Greystoke) and Mary (who married Ralph Neville). Her husband died soon afterward, sometime between 1395 and 1396.
The timing of his death meant that she was a young widow right at the time her parents married at Lincoln Cathedral. Katherine Swynford was now the Duchess of Lancaster, and the couple sought a dispensation to make the Beauforts legitimate. A papal bull issued in September of 1396 was later confirmed in Parliament.
Within a year, Joan was again married, this time to Ralph Neville, the sixth Baron Neville of Raby. Due to his political loyalty to Richard II he was created the earl of Westmorland. The loyalty did not last, as he eventually backed Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV). Joan and Westmorland had nine sons and five daughters, one of whom, Cecily, married Richard, Duke of York.
After her husband’s death, Joan worked tirelessly to ensure that her children inherited the bulk of their father’s estate. Anthony Tuck, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, says that Joan resisted any efforts by her husband’s heir and grandson to ‘undo the series of transactions that had effectively disinherited the senior branch of the Neville (Nevill) family’.
Joan’s final wishes had her buried beside her mother in Lincoln Cathedral, rather than beside her husband at Staindrop.The tomb was once sumptuously decorated, but suffered in the years following her death. It is also possible to see her effigy, which lies beside that of her husband and his first wife in the parish church at Staindrop.
Sources: Jones, Michael K and Malcolm G Underwood, The King’s Mother (Cambridge University Press, 1992).
Tuck, Anthony. ‘Joan Beaufort’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/53026?docPos=1 (accessed 9 January 2015).