John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III and his Queen, Philippa of Hainault, was nineteen years old when he married the fourteen year old Blanche of Lancaster, in 1359, in what historian Silva-Vigier described as a great event. Blanche was one of two daughters born to Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster, one of the most powerful noblemen in England, by his wife, Isabella of Beaumont. The bride was considered one of the most beautiful women in England, which Geoffrey Chaucer praised and added remarks as to her good character and kindness.
Blanche became pregnant shortly afterwards, when John had to leave on one of his father’s campaigns in France. She gave birth to the first of three surviving children (in a total of seven), Philippa, named after her paternal grandmother. Upon John’s return and to celebrate their first child’s birth, Edward offered the young couple the castle of Hertford. The death of Henry of Grosmont and his wife in 1361, and her sister’s the following year, turned Blanche and John into the proprietors of one of greatest estates in England.
By all accounts, the two enjoyed a close and harmonious marriage, despite his frequent absences. Her husband was in France when Blanche died from plague at the age of 23. John of Gaunt’s deep mourning is strongly believed to have prompted Geoffrey Chaucer into writing The Book of the Duchess, in which the character of the black knight mourns “good, fair White”, John and Blanche, respectively. Despite having married twice after the death of Blanche, he requested to be entombed by her side in the tomb he commissioned in St Paul’s Cathedral.