Most visitors to Kettlethorpe are interested in its associations with Katherine Swynford, and there is a special display in the church devoted to her life.

It is one of the greatest love stories of medieval England. And there is a new exhibition in the church devoted to her life, summarised in a booklet on sale for £2, as well as books about Katherine and the history of Kettlethorpe.

Katherine was the third wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward III, and from their children – called Beaufort after a castle of his in France – the royal houses of Tudor, Stuart and Hanover trace their descent from the Plantagenet Kings of England.  Their great-grand-daughter, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was the mother of Henry VII.  King Charles III is directly descended from Katherine and John of Gaunt.

There is no portrait of Katherine from life, but the illustration of St Catherine (below) in the Beaufort Book of Hours commissioned by her son John Beaufort is thought to represent her.  She was by all accounts, even those of her enemies, both beautiful and and an excellent businesswoman.

The depiction of St Catherine in the Beaufort Book of Hours, commissioned by her son John, and thought to be a likeness of his mother

Katherine came to Kettlethorpe as the wife of Sir Hugh Swynford, who succeeded to the manor in 1361.

She was the daughter of Payne Roelt, a herald in the service of Philippa of Hainault, the wife of Edward III.  She and her sister Philippa became the Queen’s wards.  Philippa married Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales and The Boke of the Duchess – probably the most important literary figure of the Middle English period.

Katherine had three or possibly four children by Sir Hugh Swynford, who died in 1371 and his widow became the mistress of John of Gaunt.

There are documents which show that whether she was living at Kettlethorpe or not she was engaged in improving the property by the purchase of land.  And in 1383 Richard II gave her a licence to enclose and mark a park of 300 acres of land and woods at Kettlethorpe. Even when she acquired much grander titles, she still styled herself “Lady of Kettlethorpe”.

Eventually, after some twenty years as his mistress, she married John of Gaunt, who had reached the age of 55, at Lincoln on the 13th January 1396. He only lived another three years, however, dying a few months before his son, Henry Bolingbroke, returned from exile, landing at Spurn Point to claim his rights and then the throne.

Katherine survived John for only four years during which King Henry iV – her step-son – confirmed the grant of 1,000 marks a year which his father had made to her out of the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster.  On 9th November 1399 he made her a further grant of four tuns of wine a year from the prises of the King’s wines at Kingston upon Hull.

On the 10th May 1403 Katherine died, after having been Lady of Kettlethorpe for just over thirty years. She was buried in the Cathedral at Lincoln on the south side of the Angel Choir, her son Henry Beaufort being at the time Bishop of Lincoln. Her epitaph read as follows: Ici gist Dame Katherine, duchesse de Lancastre, jadys feme de le tres noble et tres gracious prince John duc de Lancastre, fitz a tres noble Roy Edward le tierce. Laquelle Katherine morust le x jour de May l’an de grace mil cccc tiers. De quelle alme Dieu yet et pitee. Amen.
The tomb has been much damaged.

The connection of the Swynford family with Kettlethorpe lasted for another 95 years, when her great-great grandson Thomas Swynford died unmarried in 1498.

Only the 14th century gateway (pictured left) and portions of the moat remain to show us that the manor house of the Swynford family occupied the site of the present house, although the southern front of Kettlethorpe Hall contains some stonework that may have come from the earlier house.

Visitors, however, may be interested to see that amongst the names of the Rectors listed in the Church are those of Robert de Northwood who was presented with the living by Hugh Swynford; John Huntman who was presented “by the lady Katherine Swynford, Lady of Kettlethorpe” on 4th December 1395 – some six months before her marriage to John of Gaunt; and William Wylingham who was presented on the 16th July 1399 just after she became a widow.

The material of the Gate House is almost certainly of the 14th Century but experts state that the structural details show it has been re-erected “the lower parts fairly accurately, but the upper parts with some freedom”.

The Hall family came to Kettlethorpe in the early seventeenth century and were supporters of the Cromwellian side in the Civil War.  In 1645 a skirmish took place in the village between Roundheads and Royalists – leaving six dead – one of many such that took place as both sides sought to gain control of the Trent.  It is thought that the re-erection of the gatehouse probably took place during the Halls’ tenure, in the seventeenth or early eighteenth century, after the re-building of the garden wall in which it stands.  The Hall family’s crest (“a talbot’s head erased”), together with the initials “CH” (for Charles Hall) are to be seen on the western gatepost of the Gatehouse.

In the Chancel of the Church there is an interesting memorial table bearing the following inscription:
Charles Hall Esquire only son of Thomas Hall of Kettlethorpe Esquire, by Amy, eldest daughter of co-heiress of Henry Mildmay of Graces in the County of Essex and relict of Vincent Amcotts of Harrington Esquire. He died 21st August 1743 aged 53 years.

A flattering epitaph follows.

On his death the property passed into the hands of the Amcotts family whose Arms are to be seen on the great carved stone escutcheon on the front of the present house, which was reconstructed during the 19th Century out of a larger mansion.

Drawings of this house and the former church, which were made by Claude Nattes in 1793, are to be found in the Banks Collection in the County Archives at Lincoln.

These notes are in part prepared from the monograph written in 1911 by the late R.E.G.Cole, Prebendary of Lincoln, and published in Volume 36 of the Transactions of the Lincolnshire Archaeological Society.