- " […] the Gaunts, a very ancient wizarding family noted for a vein of instability and violence that flourished through the generations due to their habit of marrying their own cousins."
- —Albus Dumbledore[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. They lived just outside of Little Hangleton. 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 at their indulgences meant the family gold was left in ashes 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 [...] "
- —Albus Dumbledore[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 too their child, her niece Isolt Sayre, and imprisoned her for twelve years, hoping to raise her in the family pure-blood traditions, but she ultimately fled to the new world and helped found Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with her muggle husband James Steward.
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.
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 for several decades, ending with the death of Tom Marvolo Riddle. Neither of the two produced any children or had any other known siblings or cousins.
Gaunt family tree
(d. c. 1634)
(d. late 1920s)
(fl.1925 - fl.1943)
|Tom Marvolo Riddle|
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 Godric Gryffindor's Sword. It also contained the Resurrection Stone, one of the legendary Deathly Hallows.
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. (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.