The Life and Times of John of Gaunt

Chapter 1 Excerpt

Chapter One

The wind whistled around him, but he did not hear it. Nor did he feel the icy flakes of white that battered against the tender flesh of his face, bringing tears to his eyes, and stinging his skin. His retainers might be feeling the force of the driving mixture of snow and sleet, and thinking it was madness to be riding hell-bent for leather in such violent weather, but Henry Bolingbroke did not see his retainers’ distress – he was not even aware of their presence.

If someone had demanded of him whether it was sleet that drizzled down his cheekbones and trailed down his chin, or whether that suspicious moisture was tears, he would not have been able to answer them, for he was not even aware of either. His emotions were in such a state that he could not have distinguished between nature’s wrath, and the wrath of his soul. Suspicions, unwanted suspicions, were creating such a torrent of raging emotions within his body that he was aware of one need and one need only, an immense desire to reach his father, the duke of Lancaster, as soon as humanly possible.

Henry quieted his mounting fears by whipping his well bred and expensively trained charger to ever increasing speed – heedless of the dangers of stormy winter roads made slick by ice. The perilous winter conditions were made even worse by the fact that the black ice patches were often hidden and disguised with a light dusting of snow pellets. These pellets were so hard they danced as they landed on the uneven surface of the ground and were whipped away by gusts of wind almost as soon as they landed. The wind and ice pellets were doing an excellent job of further polishing the treacherously icy surface, but the young earl of Derby did not slow down, nor did he match his speed to the hazardous road conditions.

The intensity of his emotion could be contained and controlled only by extreme physical action and he whipped his horse harder, in order to go at an even more perilous breakneck speed.

Henry Bolingbroke was thirteen years old, and if someone had accused him of crying anytime in the last few years, they would have paid for their insult with wounded flesh. He was the grandson of a king! The men of his family created history! Some of the world’s greatest warriors such as William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionhearted, Edward III, and the Black Prince were his family members – respectively they were his father, grandfather, the loped off limb on his family tree (the limb that bore no royal fruit), and the progenitor of his ancient and royal line of heritage. An ability to shape his destiny and cope with major tragedies was coded deep within his blood. Henry Bolingbroke might be young, but he was not someone known to cry or waste emotion. But this situation with his father, John of Gaunt, was different!

The rumours had first reached young Henry months ago, in fact the early rumours had begun to circulate about two months after the devastation and destruction of the Peasants Revolt, but he had paid such vicious rumours no heed. He knew how deeply his father loved Katharine; loved the children she had born him.

Katharine Swynford was the rock around which their entire family revolved; of course his father had not deserted the woman – he adored her!

This particular rumour concerning Lady Katharine Swynford was only one of a score of rumours about John of Gaunt, and like all the other rumours circulating wildly about the duke of Lancaster since the death and devastation of the Peasants Revolt, not worth Henry’s time or attention.

In fact, Henry Bolingbroke’s attention, like that of the whole country, had been focused on the imminent prospect of civil war; a very real and immediate problem which made rumours about a riff between lovers irrelevant.

Civil war seemed inevitable unless this quarrel between Henry’s father, John of Gaunt (the powerful duke of Lancaster) and the mighty northern lord, Henry Percy, could be resolved.

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