Until the devastation imposed on it by Henry VIII at the dissolution of the monasteries, Reading Abbey in Berkshire witnessed a good many historical events as diverse as being the place where the earliest recorded musical manuscript of the 13th Century musical ‘round’ – Sumer Is Icumen In – was found, to the place Edward IV chose to make public his clandestine marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. One of the most significant events however took place on the 19th May 1359. John of Gaunt married his third cousin Blanche of Lancaster, both being Great great grandchildren of Henry III.
John was the fourth son of Edward the III, and Blanche was the younger of two daughters of Henry of Grosmont the Duke of Lancaster, one of the most powerful magnates in England. Many notable people of the day attended the ceremony including Edward III himself and three of his other sons – Edward, the Black prince, Lionel and Edmund. The ceremony was performed by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury, Robert Wyville.
Following what would have probably have been a lavish ceremony, there were celebrations lasting for three days in the form of a lavish jousting tournament. The tournament is believed to have taken place an area adjoining the abbey precincts, next to the River Thames, now known as King’s Meadow. (The name comes from the days after the dissolution, when the land was in the possession of the King.) After three days of celebration in Reading, the celebrations moved to London, where a staged scenario saw the nobility, including the King and his four sons impersonating the civic leaders of the City of London, against all comers.
Following the marriage, John became heir, by right of his wife, to half of the lands of the Lancaster estate. Henry of Grosmont died in 1361, and then in the following year Blanche’s elder sister died without issue, ensuring that the entire Lancaster estate passed to John, who received the title of Duke of Lancaster from his father in November 1362. Of their seven children, three survived to adulthood. The eldest, Philippa married King John I of Portugal, The somewhat wayward Elizabeth marrying firstly John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, secondly John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter and finally Sir John Cornwall. Their son, Henry of Bolingbroke becoming King Henry IV. After 10 years of marriage, Blanche died following an outbreak of the plague. Blanche was buried at the Old St Paul’s Cathedral, where John was later to be interred also.
For more on John of Gaunt, please see this post: http://www.historynaked.com/john-of-gaunt/