The Life and Times of John of Gaunt

What Really Happened?

If you ask Carol Sargeant how she found the historical information for her book on John of Gaunt and his beautiful enigmatic mistress, Katherine Swynford, she just smiles. Thirty years of research can not be explained by anything but dedicated persistence.

Throughout the many of years of research that Carol Sargeant put into the trilogy Love, Honour and Royal Blood she has always been amazingly fortunate in the caliber of the people who have generously given of their time to help her. In the early years Father J. E. Healey (former Dean of Loyola College), who had spent his life doing his own research on John of Gaunt, volunteered to teach her Latin and helped with the translation of documents. And scholars from places as diverse as Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin University appeared to help at exactly the time that she needed their help. Seminars in New York on Geoffrey Chaucer revealed exciting discoveries that turned out to be critical to her work even though she did not know that the new information had any relevance to her story. And strangely enough, one of the people who helped immensely; helped by not helping.

Although Carol Sargeant travelled from Canada to England to further her research and meet with various scholars she unfortunately arrived at Oxford on a day where Dr Jeremy Catto was pressed for time, so it was not from private conversation with him that she gleaned her knowledge. But Professor Catto was able to point her in the right direction, and in fact gave her an excerpt from his own research on the ‘History of Oxford’ that has proved invaluable. His research on the Lollard underground is the most extensive she has found.

In contrast to Dr. Catto at Oxford, Carol Sargeant was able to have a most informative and lengthy meeting with Dr Richard Rex, of Queen’s College, Cambridge, and the information she gleaned there was critical to her understanding of both John Wycliffe (and his revolutionary idea of ‘Back to the Bible’) and Wycliffe’s main adversary, the archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtenay.

Richard Rex helped her to understand the thinking behind William Courtenay. Without Richard Rex’s in depth knowledge of the man and his times, Carol Sargeant doubts if she could have found William Courtenay (the man) in the dry reading of historical documents.

The third person who had immense influence on Carol Sargeant’s book about John of Gaunt is Alan Fletcher of the University of Dublin, whom she met in New York at a conference on Geoffrey Chaucer. Alan Fletcher’s research on Chaucer’s scribe influenced and informed her work.

Carol Sargeant did not set out to do research. Research turned out to be the only way that she could find the answer to the question she had asked herself. The question she had asked was what was John of Gaunt really like? And what was it like to be Katherine Swynford, the woman he loved.