Blanche of Lancaster was born the second daughter of Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and his wife Isabella de Beaumont, at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire in March 1345.
A rich heiress, she was a desirable wife and so King Edward III was quick to arrange a match between young Blanche and his son, John of Gaunt. The two wed when she was just fourteen on 19 May 1359 at Reading Abbey in Berkshire. Nineteen-year-old John of Gaunt was the third son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. By all accounts the marriage was a happy one, producing seven children between 1360 and 1368, three of whom (two daughters and a son) survived into adulthood.
When Blanche’s father and mother died of the plague in 1361 Blanche and John of Gaunt inherited the earldoms of Derby and Lancaster. They added to their vast landholdings again in 1362 when Blanche’s older sister (her only sibling) died, leaving her sister and brother-in-law the earldoms of Leicester and Lincoln. A magnet already, John secured his claim as the second most powerful man in England when he was invested as the Duke of Lancaster by his father, Edward III, in 1362.
On 12 September 1368, Blanche died at the age of twenty-three at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire. The cause of her death is not known but is believed to have been the bubonic plague, the same illness that claimed her parents and sister. Following her death, her husband commissioned a poem from Geoffrey Chaucer and so Blanche was immortalised in ‘The Book of the Duchess’.
Blanche was buried at old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and John held annual commemorations of her death for the rest of his life until his own passing in February 1399. Her tomb (which she shared with her husband) was sadly destroyed when old St. Paul’s Cathedral burnt down in 1666 during the Great Fire of London.
Blanche’s only surviving son – Henry of Bolingbroke – was crowned King Henry IV of England after usurping his cousin Richard II in 1399. He was the first monarch of the Lancastrian dynasty.