The Final Resting Place of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster
Lincoln Cathedral is one of the most gloriously romantic spectacles in England. It is an architectural marvel, with an exuberance of details, both exterior and interior.
The west front of the cathedral (its main entry) combines early Romanesque heavy rounded arches with a later 13th century screen. The rounded arches date from the original structure, designed soon after the Norman conquest and consecrated in 1092.
Damaged by an earthquake in 1185, the cathedral was rebuilt in the newer Gothic style by then Bishop (later Saint) Hugh. The Gothic style introduced pointed arches, as well as new construction techniques that made it possible to have larger windows and roof spans.
After the central tower collapsed in 1237 or 1239, a new tower was built and the cathedral enlarged. In the early 14th century, the cathedral gained its cloisters. And, added continually, were arches, moldings, carvings both geometric and natural, windows, columns, sculptures and statuary, adding laying upon layer of artistry and meaning until the whole is almost overwhelming in its brilliance.
Lincoln Cathedral is also the final home of a famous duchess, and part of an English queen. Both royal ladies starred in their own love stories.
To the right of Lincoln Cathedral’s high altar, in the sanctuary, is the simple table tomb of Katherine Swynford. Her love story with the royal John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, scandalized her contemporaries but, as retold by Anya Seton, has inspired in thousands an interest in English royal history.
Katherine spent a number of years as John of Gaunt’s mistress, bearing him four illegitimate children. After John’s second wife died, he did the unheard of! He married Katherine and had their children legitimized under the surname “Beaufort.”
Through these children, Katherine became the ancestress of the Yorkist kings Edward IV and Richard III, all the Tudor monarchs, all the Stuart monarchs of Scotland and, through them, King James I of England, whose line stretches down to Queen Elizabeth II.
Our “partial queen” can be found in the ambulatory behind the sanctuary. Edwards I’s wife Eleanor of Castile died near Lincoln. Eleanor and Edward were paired as teenagers in an arranged, diplomatic marriage. The two bonded and formed an unusually close union. When Edward embarked on crusade, Eleanor was not to be left behind! She placed their children in secure English castles and travelled eastwards with her princely husband. She joined Edward on his other campaigns, as well.
She died in Lincoln while travelling towards England’s northern border, Edward being engaged in a (fruitless) campaign against the Scots. Edward was devastated.
Eleanor was embalmed. Her “innards” received their own tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. The rest of Eleanor was taken, in slow stages, to London for burial in Westminster Abbey.
At each stop made by the cortege, Edward erected a beautiful stone “Eleanor cross” to commemorate his lost love. Eleanor’s Westminster tomb is topped by a beautiful gilt bronze effigy of the queen. A replica of that effigy rests atop her “innard tomb” at Lincoln.
And, if historical romance is not enough, plan a romantic evening of your own!
Book a room at the Lincoln Hotel, which fronts the cathedral close, and specify “Cathedral View.” Plan on spending several amazing late-afternoon hours (perhaps with a bottle of wine beside you?) simply watching the cathedral, first in sunlight, then at twilight when the illumination begins, and, finally, at night. Rest assured, the lights will be turned off at a civilized hour, allowing you a good night’s sleep.
If any criticism can be made of Lincoln Cathedral, it is that the cathedral close is very tight, making it impossible to photograph the entire west front.
It is, however, possible to gain a less vertical view of the cathedral facade by walking over to nearby Lincoln Castle. The castle is not particularly enthralling (at least, not in comparison to the cathedral), although it does house an original copy of the Magna Carta. It also offers, from its ramparts, a spectacular view of Lincoln Cathedral.