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John of Gaunt was the richest man in Europe, apart from its monarchs, and he epitomized and surpassed the ideals of the late Middle Ages. From chivalry -- he was taught at a young age to fight on horseback like the knights of old -- to courtly love -- his three marriages included two romantic love-matches -- he was an ideal leader. He created lavish courts, sponsoring Chaucer and proto-Protestant religious thinkers, and he survived the dramatic Peasants' Revolt, during which his sumptuous London residence was burned to the ground. As the head of the Lancastrian Branch of the Plantagenet family, he was the unknowing father of the War of the Roses, for his son Henry Bolingbroke usurped the crown from Gaunt's nephew, Richard II, after Gaunt had died. He passed away just as one great era gave way to the next: His grandson Henry the Navigator launched the Age of Exploration. Gaunt's adventures represent the culture and mores of the Middle Ages as few others' do, and his death is portrayed by Cantor as the end of that fascinating period.
Shakespeare put into Gaunt's mouth the most patriotic speech in the English language: "this sceptre'd isle...This other Eden, demi-paradise." Yet Shakespeare's version of Gaunt is an old and doddering man whose son took center stage. In fact, in Cantor's capable hands, this great man and those fascinating times are ready for their own starring roles.
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Middle Ages History, Europe History 476-1492, Civilization, Medieval 14th century, John, of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, 1340-1399, Nobility Great Britain Biography