|"We must've been through hundreds of books already and we can't find him anywhere —"|
- "Marvolo, his son, Morfin, and his daughter, Merope, were the last of the Gaunts, a very ancient Wizarding family noted for a vein of insta-bility and violence that flourished through the generations due to their habit of marrying their own cousins."
- —Description of the Gaunts[src]
The House of Gaunt was a pure-blood family descended from Cadmus Peverell and Salazar Slytherin, and one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight. They had a tendency of marrying their cousins to keep their blood pure and to retain the traits of their ancestor, most notably the ability to speak Parseltongue.
The Gaunts lived just outside of Little Hangleton, a small village in northern England. They were very wealthy and prominent once, having descended from many powerful witches and wizards. But their liking for grandeur in tandem with little sensibility when it came to indulgences meant the family gold was squandered long before the last of the lineage was born.
- "Lack of sense coupled with a great liking for grandeur meant that the family gold was squandered... left in squalor and poverty..."
- —Mindset of the Gaunt family[src]
The House of Gaunt was once a prominent, wealthy family in the wizarding world, and originated from many powerfully magical wizards and witches.
In the 1600s, Gormlaith Gaunt slew her sister Rionach and her husband William Sayre, for betraying the family's belief in Pure-blood supremacy and lending aid to neighbouring muggles. Gormlaith took their child, her niece Isolt Sayre. She imprisoned Isolt for twelve years, hoping to raise her in the family pure-blood traditions. Isolt ultimately fled to the new world and helped found Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with her muggle husband James Steward.
Around 1634, Gormlaith found out a headteacher at a new school of magic in the New World was nicknamed "Morrigan". She remembered her niece was named this by her father because of their lineage to Morrigan herself. When she also heard the school was named Ilvermorny, she knew it was Isolt because it was the name of the same cottage Isolt was born in and Gormlaith set fire to. She was also upset to hear Isolt had married a Muggle and opened the school up to anyone with magic and not a select few of pure-bloods. She concocted a plan and set out to the New World in order to exact revenge on her niece. Her plans were going well. She had manged to back the Steward family into room and was preparing to murder James and the couples daughters, when Isolt screamed the name William. A friend of Isolt's a pukwudgie (by the name of William) appeared behind Gormlaith and shoot her through the heart with an arrow, killing her.
The Gaunts, being direct descendants of Salazar Slytherin also knew about the Chamber of Secrets, and Corvinus Gaunt was instrumental in keeping the entrance to the Chamber a secret. In the 1700s, there was a proposal to install an elaborate plumbing system at Hogwarts Castle. This of course, threatened the secrecy around the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets which, at the time, still had its original appearance — a concealed trapdoor and a series of magical tunnels — and which was located on the site where a girls' bathroom would be set up.
Corvinus Gaunt was, at the time a student at Hogwarts and knew where the entrance to the Chamber was and how to open it. Corvinus was responsible for secretly protecting the entrance, having concealed it behind plumbing fixtures and a sink (which today are part of Moaning Myrtle's Bathroom), so that those who knew how could still access the Chamber.
Up until the 20th century, every single member of the Gaunt family was Pure-blood. They were also the last known descendants of Salazar Slytherin, as well as descendants of the Peverells, famed ancestors in whom they took great pride.
As stated above, the Gaunts inherited their ancestor's ability to speak Parseltongue. Like other Pure-blood families of the time, they were supreme advocates of blood purity and were often inbred in order to maintain "purity." However, by the twentieth century, mentally unstable members of the family had squandered the family's fortune and cost it much of its prestige among elite Pure-blood circles. Despite this, their habit of keeping themselves pure allowed them to become one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight.
By the early twentieth century, the Gaunts had been reduced to poverty, possessing only a few old heirlooms and living in a small, run-down shack. Additionally, generations of inbreeding had made them violent and unstable. Marvolo Gaunt was abusive toward his daughter Merope, whose emotional trauma made it difficult for her to use magic, making others believe she was a Squib. Her brother Morfin spoke in Parseltongue more than English and frequently terrorised Muggles, eventually leading to his imprisonment in Azkaban.
Merope went against her family's beliefs and married the muggle Tom Riddle Snr via coercion. She gave birth to their only child, who would become the notorious Dark Wizard, Lord Voldemort. Marvolo, returning from a six-months term in Azkaban, died due to either shock at Merope's betrayal or never learning to feed himself. Morfin then succeeded as the patriarch of the family.
Upon the death of Morfin Gaunt, heir to the House of Gaunt, the male line of the Gaunt family ended. The female line, along with the Slytherin family and Riddle family, continued under Tom Marvolo Riddle, who would later be known as Voldemort. Although to the wizarding world at large that these three families ended with the death of Voldemort, in truth they continue with his secret daughter, Delphini, whom he sired with Bellatrix Lestrange. Delphini has been entombed in Azkaban for her crimes of murder and attempted to illegally alter timelines.
Once a very wealthy family, the Gaunt family had squandered much of their gold early due to the Gaunt family's love for grandeur and mental instability, leaving them with very little inheritances for the later generations.
Gormlaith Gaunt possessed Salazar Slytherin's wand and used it to torture muggles and entrap her niece Isolt Sayre. Isolt stole the wand when she fled to the New World in 1620. It was inactivated by a spell from Gormlaith when she hunted down her niece around 1634 and was eventually buried at Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where it grew into an unique snakewood tree whose leaves had magical properties.
Marvolo Gaunt was in possession of a signet ring passed on from his Peverell ancestors. This ring was eventually turned into a Horcrux by Voldemort and destroyed by Dumbledore with the Sword of Gryffindor. It also contained the Resurrection Stone, one of the legendary Deathly Hallows, something Voldemort had no knowledge of.
The Gaunts also held onto Salazar Slytherin's locket for many generations. However, Merope later sold it to Borgin and Burkes in order to support herself while she was pregnant. It later came into the possession of Hepzibah Smith, who a teenage Tom Marvolo Riddle killed and stole the locket from (or in Riddle's opinion, retrieving what was rightfully his). He also turned this heirloom of his mother's family into a Horcrux. Much later, it was stolen from its hiding place by Regulus Black, and later destroyed by Ron Weasley with the Sword of Gryffindor.
The word gaunt is defined as "haggard, drawn and emaciated" and "bleak, desolate." John of Gaunt was a fourteenth-century English noble. Gaunt in his case was a phonetic corruption of his birthplace, the city that would become Ghent, Belgium. A son of King Edward III of England, but as he was only the third son, he and his descendants were not expected to ascend to the throne, which they ultimately did: first through his legitimate male descendants the Lancasters, and then through his debatably illegitimate descendants, by his long time mistress and then third wife Katherine Swynford, the Beauforts. Henry Tudor (later Henry VII)'s mother was a Beaufort, and his claim to the throne derived from her. Therefore, John of Gaunt is an ancestor of the House of Tudor). Gaunt's heir deposed a king and usurped the throne, possibly alluding to the Gaunts' descendant Voldemort's attempts to overthrow wizarding Britain's government and rule it himself. Also, Gaunt's great-grandson, Henry VI, was notorious for his mental instability, which was earlier pointed out as a characteristic of the House of Gaunt, but in Henry VI's case it probably derived from his grandfather, Charles VI of France.
Behind the scenes
- The Gaunt family was largely omitted from the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Dumbledore only makes reference to the Horcrux ring as having belonged to Voldemort's mother.
- According to Voldemort's diary, he and Harry Potter are the only two Parselmouths to enter Hogwarts since Salazar Slytherin himself. This implies that the Gaunt family members (all of whom were Parselmouths) never attended Hogwarts, despite obtaining wands and knowing how to cast spells. However, Corvinus Gaunt, Voldemort's maternal ancestor and a presumed Parselmouth attended Hogwarts and protected the concealed entrance to the Chamber of Secrets during the installation of a plumbing system. Gormlaith Gaunt, also a Parselmouth, attended Hogwarts, which is revealed by J.K Rowling on Pottermore. It is also possible that Tom Riddle was unaware of any of his maternal ancestors having attended Hogwarts, or believed that they did not inherit Parseltongue.
Notes and references
Alecto Carrow | Amycus Carrow | Antonin Dolohov | Augustus Rookwood | Avery (I) | Avery (II) |
Barty Crouch Jr. | Bellatrix Lestrange | Corban Yaxley | Crabbe | Evan Rosier | Gibbon | Goyle |
Jugson | Lestrange | Mulciber (I) | Mulciber (II) | Nott | Pyrites (possibly) | Rabastan Lestrange | Rodolphus Lestrange | Rosier | Selwyn | Thorfinn Rowle | Travers | Walden Macnair | Wilkes
|Death Eaters who Defected:|
|Death Eaters' allies:|
Albert Runcorn | Borgin | Delphini | Dolores Umbridge | Fenrir Greyback | Golgomath | Gregory Goyle | John Dawlish | Mafalda Hopkirk | Narcissa Malfoy (defected) | Pansy Parkinson | Quirinus Quirrell | Scabior | Vincent Crabbe
Dementors | Draco Malfoy's gang | Giants (Golgomath's control) | Muggle-Born Registration Commission | Snatchers | Werewolves