Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster [NOOK Book]

Overview

"Born in the mid-fourteenth century, Katherine de Roet was only twelve when she married Hugh Swynford, an impoverished knight. But her story had already begun when, at just ten years old, she was appointed to the household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of King Edward III, to help look after the Duke's children. Widowed at twenty-one, Katherine, gifted with beauty and undeniable charms, was to become John of Gaunt's mistress." "Their years together played out against a backdrop of court life at the height of the Age of
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Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster

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Overview

"Born in the mid-fourteenth century, Katherine de Roet was only twelve when she married Hugh Swynford, an impoverished knight. But her story had already begun when, at just ten years old, she was appointed to the household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of King Edward III, to help look after the Duke's children. Widowed at twenty-one, Katherine, gifted with beauty and undeniable charms, was to become John of Gaunt's mistress." "Their years together played out against a backdrop of court life at the height of the Age of Chivalry. Katherine experienced the Hundred Years' War, the Black Death, and the Peasants' Revolt. She survived heartbreak and adversity, and crossed paths with many eminent figures of the day, among them her brother-in-law, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Yet as intriguing as she was to many of her contemporaries, there were those who regarded her as scandalous and dangerous." "Throughout the years of their illicit union, John and Katherine were clearly devoted to each other, and in middle age, after many twists of fortune, they wed. The marriage caused far more scandal than the affair had, for it was unheard of for a royal prince to wed his mistress. Yet Katherine triumphed, and her children by John, the Beauforts, would become the direct forebears of the Royal Houses of York, Tudor, and Stuart, and of every British sovereign since 1461 (as well as four U.S. presidents)." Drawing on rare documentation, Alison Weir paints a vivid portrait of a passionate spirit who lived one of medieval England's greatest love stories. Mistress of the Monarchy reveals a woman ahead of her time-making her own choices, flouting convention, and taking control of herdestiny. Indeed, without Katherine Swynford the course of English history, perhaps even the world, would have been very different.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In the past, the subjects of Alison Weir's biographies have been well known: Mary, Queen of Scots; Henry VIII and his family; Eleanor of Aquitaine. This book, however, grapples with a personality much less known but equally captivating. Though a cipher to New Millennials, Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster (1350-1403) moved in the highest circles of British aristocracy. The heirs of her husband, John of Gaunt, included three English monarchs (Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI) and her sister, a member of a royal household, married Geoffrey Chaucer. Weir's Mistress of the Monarchy takes us into the court of kings and kingmakers, and introduces us a fascinating figure in medieval history.
Publishers Weekly

Veteran royal biographer Weir (Eleanor of Aquitaine) resurrects the life and times of the remarkable woman who was mistress and eventually the wife of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, third son of the charismatic and accomplished king of England, Edward III. Through John and Katherine Swynford (1350-1403) descended centuries of British sovereigns, including Queen Elizabeth II. Weir makes use of meager contemporary sources to build a convincing case for an intelligent, poised and talented woman who flouted convention and took control of her destiny in a male-dominated age. After the death of her first husband, one of John's knights, Katherine embarked on an illicit and notorious liaison with John, married to the queen of Castile; the connection survived separations and calamities, and she bore him four children. Repentant in the wake of the Peasants Revolt, John broke off the liaison, but after his wife's death, he risked censure to marry her, making her stepmother to the future Henry IV. Weir's well-researched, engrossing and perceptive biography gives a gutsy beauty her due while vividly describing the age of chivalry and its many players, including Katherine's renowned brother-in-law, Geoffrey Chaucer. 16 pages of color photos. (Jan. 27)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Few royal mistresses have emerged from the historical pages of obscurity, and even fewer have made the transition from royal mistress to royal wife. Katherine Swynford (1350-1403), whose relationship with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-99), spanned over 25 years, was the exception. In this meticulously researched and highly engaging biography, prolific historian and novelist Weir (Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England) shows that Katherine was a cultivated, intelligent woman who was able to hold the love and esteem of one of the most powerful men in England and eventually marry him. Their marriage was of immense dynastic importance: all subsequent English monarchs were descended from them. Because Katherine left no written records or correspondence, Weir relies on informed judgment to fill in some of the historical gaps. Few books have been written about Katherine, apart from Jeannette Lucraft's academic study, Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress and of course Anya Seton's famous historical novel, Katherine, which Weir admits inspired her to write this biography. Genealogical tables at the end of the book are a valuable point of interest. Recommended for both public and academic libraries. (Illustrations not seen.)
—Carrie Benbow

Kirkus Reviews
Accomplished royal biographer Weir (Queen Isabella, 2005, etc.) delves into a touching medieval love story. The romance between John of Gaunt, middle son of England's Edward III, and the lesser-born Katherine Swynford endured nearly 30 years over the last half of the roiling 14th century. The daughter of a Flemish knight who served Queen Philippa, Katherine de Roet was brought up with her sisters in Edward and Philippa's lavish, chivalrous court. She was well-educated and cultured, and was married off early to one of John of Gaunt's knights, Hugh Swynford. (Her sister Philippa married Geoffrey Chaucer, ensuring a close relationship that runs as a fascinating parallel to the main protagonists' lives.) Assigned as governess to John's children when he was married to the exquisite Blanche of Lancaster, Katherine earned the protection of the royal family. After Blanche's death, John married a Castilian princess in 1371; he and the newly widowed Katherine probably became lovers the next year. She bore him four children, given the surname Beaufort, and was his increasingly visible consort, to the detriment of both her contemporary and historical reputations. John, for his part, was blamed for England's failure to beat the French during the middle period of the Hundred Years War and for a truce his countrymen deemed craven. He became a scapegoat for all the realm's difficulties, she was his "she-devil and enchantress" and they were direct targets of the 1381 Peasants Revolt. Swearing to reform his profligate life, John broke with Katherine for a time, but two years after his second wife died in 1394 he actually married his mistress, an unheard-of act for a member of the royal family. The Popelegitimized their children, and Katherine was his legal widow when John died in 1399. Bowled over by this tale of true love, Weir recaptures its glow in a fluid, artfully assembled narrative. Quite beguiling-but not for the genealogically challenged.
From the Publisher
 
"Weir brings alive the brilliant beauty whose descendants would sit on the British throne."—USA Today

"For those interested in the rarified realms of medieval British royalty, its trappings, intrigues, excesses, cruelties, and sex scandals, Alison Weir's latest excursion will be gratifying."—Star-Ledger

"One of history's greatest love stories . . . Swynford's colorful life played out against a backdrop of court life at the height of the age of chivalry."—Wisconsin State Journal

"Weir has accomplished a seemingly impossible task [in writing a] biography about a woman who left behind not a single image and not a single written word. . . Weir's meticulous and scholarly research has unearthed details that help bring Katherine to life."—Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
 
"Quite beguiling . . . Bowled over by this tale of true love, Weir recaptures its glow in a fluid, artfully assembled narrative."—Kirkus Reviews
 
"The historical research is meticulous and seamlessly integrated into the narrative. The result is a story of a real woman with virtues, flaws, and an altogether fascinating life." —Historical Novels Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345512918
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/27/2009
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 68,654
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Alison Weir
Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth, and several historical biographies, including Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband and two children.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Panetto's Daughter

Katherine Swynford, that famous adulteress,1 was set on the path to notoriety, fame, and a great love at the tender age of two or thereabouts, when she was placed in the household of Philippa of Hainault, wife to Edward III of England. This would have been around 1352, and Katherine's disposition with the popular and maternal Philippa was almost certainly due to her father, Sir Paon de Roët, having rendered years of faithful service to the Queen and the royal family of Hainault.

Like her benefactress, Katherine was a Hainaulter. She was born Katherine de Roët, her surname variously given as Rouet, Roëlt, or Ruet, and pronounced Roay. The Roëts were a prominent family in Hainault, then an independent principality located in the western reaches of the Holy Roman Empire, bordering on the kingdom of France and occupying much of what is now Belgium. This fertile and prosperous county stretched from Liège and Brussels in the north to Lille and Valenciennes in the south, and contained other thriving cloth cities: Mons, Charleroi, and Tournai; all of which provided a market for England's raw wool, her chief export. Formed at the time of the division of Charlemagne's empire in the ninth century, Hainault had been an imperial fief since 1071, and in the early fourteenth century it was ruled by the House of Avesnes, which had come to power in 1244.

Katherine possibly had noble or even royal connections through her mother, but claims that she was closely related through her father to the aristocratic lords of Roeulx cannot be substantiated. The Roeulx were a great and powerful Hainaulter family that could trace its descent from the ancient counts of Flanders and Hainault, who were themselves descended from the Emperor Charlemagne, and from England's famous King Alfred. William the Conqueror had married a princess of that house, Matilda of Flanders, and by her was the founder of the ruling dynasties of England, the Norman and Plantagenet kings. Since the twelfth century the lords of Roeulx had prospered mightily.2 Their landholdings centered mainly on the town of Le Roeulx, which lies eight miles northeast of Mons, but their name is also associated with Roux, forty miles east of Mons, and Fauroeulx, twenty miles to the south.

That Katherine shared a close kinship with the lords of Roeulx is doubtful on heraldic evidence alone—or the lack of it.3 Her family was relatively humble. The chronicler Jean Froissart, a native of Hainault, who appears to have been quite well informed on Katherine Swynford's background, states that Jean de Roët, who died in 1305 and was the son of one Huon de Roët, was her grandfather. Neither bore a title. Yet it is possible that there was some blood tie with the Roeulx. Paon de Roët, the father of Katherine Swynford, whose name appears in English sources as Payn or Payne,4 and is pronounced Pan,was almost certainly baptized Gilles, a name borne by several members of the senior line of the Roeulx, which is one reason some historians have linked him to this branch of the family.5 Of course, the similarity in surnames suggests a connection in that period, the spellings of Roeulx and Roët could be, and were, interchangeable as does the fact that both families are known to have had connections with the area around
Mons and Le Roeulx. But discrepancies in arms would appear to indicate that Paon was at best a member of a junior branch of the House of Roeulx; all the same, it is possible that the royal blood of Charlemagne and Alfred the Great did indeed run in Katherine's veins.

The arms of the town of Le Roeulx were a silver lion on a green field holding a wheel in its paw;6 this is a play on words, for wheel in French is roue, which is similar to, and symbolic of, Roeulx. It was a theme adopted by Paon's own family: His arms were three plain silver wheels on a field of red; they were not the spiked- gold Katherine wheels later used by his daughter.7 On the evidence of heraldic emblems on the vestments given by her to Lincoln Cathedral, Katherine Swynford used not only her familiar device of Katherine wheels, which she adopted after 1396, but also her father's device of three plain silver wheels.8

If Jean de Roët was his father, as seems likely, then Gilles alias Paon was born by 1305–06 at the very latest. Thus he did not marry and father children until comparatively late in life. The references in the Cartulaire des Comtes de Hainaut to Gilles de Roët called Paon or Paonnet imply that the name Paon was almost certainly a nickname, although it was the name by which Gilles became customarily known, and it even appeared on his tomb memorial. In French, paon means peacock,which suggests that Paon was a vain man who liked dressing in brightly colored, fashionable clothes, possibly in order to impress the ladies. However, in the form pion, it means usher,9 a term that may be descriptive of Paon's duties at court.10

John of Gaunt's epitaph states that Katherine came from a knightly family,and Paon's knighthood is attested to by several sources,11 although we do not know when he received the accolade. In 1349 he is even referred to as a lord, and his daughter Elizabeth as noble,12 which reflects his landed status and probably his links to aristocratic blood. This is also evident in his ability to place his children with royalty,13 which suggestsin the case of his daughters, at leastthat there was the prospect of some inheritance that would ensure they made good marriages.14 We know Paon held land in Hainault, because in 1411 his grandson, Sir Thomas Swynford, Katherine's son, was to pursue his claim to lands he had inherited there from his mother.15 Paon is unlikely, however, to have owned a large estate and was probably not a wealthy man16 since he was to rely heavily on royal patronage to provide for his children's future.

Paon had first come to England in December 1327 in the train of Philippa of Hainault, who married the young King Edward III on January 24, 1328, in York Minster. Paon perhaps served as Philippa's usher, and may have been present in that capacity at the royal wedding, which took place in the as yet unroofed minster in the midst of a snowstorm.

After Philippa's nuptial celebrations had ended, nearly all her Hainaulter servants were sent home. Apart from a handful of ladies, only Paon de Roët and Walter de Mauney, her carving squire, are known to have been allowed to remain in her retinue,17 a mark of signal royal favor, which suggests that Paon was highly regarded by both the young king and queen, and was perhaps a kinsman of Philippa, possibly through their shared ancestry.

That kinship may also have been established, or reinforced, through marriage. No one has as yet successfully identified Katherine's mother, for the name of Paon's wife is not recorded in contemporary documents. The slender evidence we have suggests he perhaps married more than once, that his first marriage took place before ca. 1335, and that his four known children,
who were born over a period of about fifteen years or more, may have been two sets of half siblings; in which case Katherine was the child of a second wife, whom he possibly married in the mid late 1340s. We know he maintained links with Hainault, probably through the good offices of Queen Philippa and other members of her house, so it may be that at least one of his wives was a Hainaulter.18

It is also possible that Katherine's mother herself was related to the ruling family of Hainault,19 and while this theory cannot be proved, it is credible in many respects. If Paon was linked by marriage, as well as by blood, to Queen Philippa, that would further explain his continuing links with the House of Avesnes and the trust in which he and his family were held by the ruling families of England and Hainault. It would explain too why all his children received royal patronage and why Queen Philippa took such an interest in them; and it was possibly one reason why John of Gaunt may have felt it was appropriate to ultimately marry one of them.

But there is unlikely to have been a close blood tie.20 If Paon' s wife was related to the House of Avesnes, it must have been through a junior branch or connection. Had the kinship been closer, we would expect Paon to have enjoyed more prominence in the courts of England and Hainault. There have, of course, been other unsubstantiated theories as to who Katherine's mother could have been,21 but this is the most convincing.

Whether Paon was related by marriage to Queen Philippa or not, he was evidently held in high regard by her, and he played his part in the early conflicts of the Hundred Years War, which broke out in 1340 after Edward III claimed the throne of France. For a time Paon served Queen Philippa as Master of the House,22 and in 1332 there is a record of her giving money to Panetto de Roët de Hanonia";23 this is the earliest surviving reference to him. His lost epitaph in Old St. Paul's Cathedral describes him as Guienne King of Arms,24 and it may have been through Philippa's influence that he was appointed to this office in ca. 1334,25 Guienne being part of the Duchy of Aquitaine and a fief of the English Crown.

By the mid- 1340s, Paon was back in Queen Philippa's service as one of the chevaliers of the noble and good Queen.26 In 1346 he fought at Crécy under Edward III. That same year, Sir Panetto de Roët" was present at the siege of Calais, and in August 1347 he was Marshal of the
Queen's Household, and one of two of her knights—the other was Sir Walter de Mauney assigned to conduct to her chamber the six burghers who had given themselves up as hostages after Calais fell to Edward III, and whose lives had been spared thanks to the Queen's intercession.27

Philippa, however, never courted criticism by indiscriminately promoting her compatriots, which may explain why Paon, although well thought of and loved by the Queen because he was her countryman,28 never came to greater prominence at the English court29 and why he eventually sought preferment elsewhere.

By 1349, the year the Black Death was decimating the population of England and much of Europe, Paon had apparently returned to Hainault. From that year on, there are several references to him in the contemporary Cartulaire des Comtes de Hainaut, the official record of service of the counts of Hainault.30 The first reference concerns a noble adolescent, Elizabeth de Roët, daughter of my lord Gilles, called Paonnet, de Roët,who, sometime after July 27, 1349, was nominated as a prebendary, or honorary canoness (chanoinness),31 of the chapter of the Abbey of St. Waudru in Mons by Queen Philippa's elder sister, Margaret, sovereign Countess of Hainault and Empress of Germany. The choice of a convent in Mons, so close to the former Roeulx estates, reinforces the theory that Paon was connected to that family and that his lands were located in this area.

Girls were not normally accepted into the novitiate before the age of thirteen, so Elizabeth de Roët, who was described as being adolescent at the time of her placement, was probably born around 1335-36 at the latest. St. Waudru was a prestigious and influential abbey, and it was an honor for a girl to be so placed by Countess Margaret; it further demonstrates the close ties between the Roëts and the ruling family of Hainault, and suggests yet again a familial link between them. It was unusual for the eldest girl of a gentle family to enter the cloister, but given the fact that Paon's daughters were both to offer their own daughters as nuns, we might conclude that giving a female child to God was a Roët family custom.

Paon also had a son, Walter de Roët, possibly named after Sir Walter de Mauney,32 who in 1355-56 was in the service, in turn, of Countess Margaret and her son, Duke Albert, and Edward III's eldest son and heir, Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, popularly known to history as the Black Prince.As Walter was a Yeoman of the Chamber to the Prince in 1355, and probably fought under his command at Poitiers in 1356, he is likely to have been born no later than 1338-40.

Between 1350 and 1352 there are seven references to Paon in the Cartulaire des Comtes de Hainaut. For example, on May 11, 1350, he is recorded as preparing to accompany Countess Margaret's sons Duke Albert, Duke William, and Duke Otto on a pilgrimage to the church of St. Martin at Sebourg near Valenciennes to make their devotions at the shrine of the twelfth- century hermit, St. Druon. It was probably in that year that Paon's famous daughter was born.

C.L. Kingsford, in his article on Katherine Swynford in the Dictionary of National Biography, suggested that she was born in 1350. There is no contemporary record of her date of birth, but since the minimum canonical age at which a girl could be married and have marital intercourse was twelve, and Katherine probably married around 1362-63 and had her first child ca. 1363-64, a date of 1350 is feasible, although she could have been born a little earlier. November 25 is the feast day of St. Katherine, so it is possible that Paon's second daughter was named for the patron saint on whose anniversary she was born, and for whom she was to express great devotion and reverence.

In the Middle Ages, St. Katherine of Alexandria was one of the most popular of female saints. Edward III and Philippa of Hainault had a special devotion to her; their accounts show that Katherine wheels, the symbol of her martydom, adorned counterpanes on the royal beds, jousting apparel, and other garments. Like other English medieval queens, Philippa was patroness of the royal hospital of St. Katherine- by- the- Tower in London, which had recently been rebuilt under her auspices, and with which Katherine Swynford herself would one day be associated.33

St. Katherine probably never even existed. There is no record of her in antiquity, and her cult did not emerge until the ninth century. She was said to have been of patrician or even royal birth, beautiful, rich, respected, and learned. Her studies led her to convert to Christianity at a time when Christians were being persecuted in the Roman Empire, and she dared to publicly protest to the Emperor Maxentius (reigned AD 306-312) against the worship of pagan idols and the persecution itself. Maxentius was greatly impressed by her beauty and her courage in adhering to her convictions, and sent fifty of his sages and philosophers to reason with her. When they failed to demolish her arguments, he was so infuriated that he had them all burned alive. He then demanded that Katherine abjure her Christian faith and marry him, but she refused on the grounds that she was a bride of Christ. At this, the emperor's patience with her gave out, and she was beaten, imprisoned, and sentenced to be broken on a spiked wheel that had its two halves rotating in different directions. But just as her agony was about to begin, an angel appeared and smote the wheel with a sword, breaking it into pieces.

This miraculous intervention is said to have inspired the mass conversion of two thousand Roman soldiers, whereupon an even more enraged Maxentius had Katherine beheaded. Afterward, other angels appeared and miraculously carried her remains to Mount Sinai, where a Greek Orthodox monastery was built to house her shrine. It should be noted that there are many variations on this fantastical tale.

Throughout the Middle Ages the cult of St. Katherine gained momentum. She was revered for her staunch faith, her courage, and her blessed virginity, and was believed to have under her special protection young maidens, churchmen, philosophers, students, craftsmen, nurses, and the dying. Numerous churches and bells were dedicated to her, and miracle plays were written about her. Her story, and her symbol of a wheel, appeared widely in art, mural paintings, manuscripts, ivory panels, stained glass, embroideries, vestments, and heraldry.34 And many little girls were named in her honor, in the hope that they would emulate her manifold virtues.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Foreword

1. What are the challenges facing an author who undertakes a biography of a medieval woman such as Katherine Swynford?

2. Having read the book, what impressions have you been able to form of Katherine as a person? Has the author succeeded in bringing her to life? 

3. Did Katherine deserve her bad reputation? Why did her contemporaries censure her? Did they all censure her for the same reasons?  How is it that we can take a kinder view of her today? Do you think that Anya Seton’s sympathetic portrayal in her bestselling novel Katherine has something to do with this? 

4. Why is Katherine now finding favor with feminist scholars? How far did she take control of her own destiny and make her own choices? 

5. “This is a love story.” What evidence is there in this book to support that claim? Do you think that the author has been influenced in any way by Anya Seton’s romantic portrayal? 

6. The story of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford has often been compared to the relationship between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker- Bowles. What parallels can be drawn? 

7. Has the author made a convincing case for John’s affair with Katherine beginning in the spring of 1372? Some writers have concluded that his renunciation of her in 1381, after the Peasants’ Revolt, was purely a smokescreen. Would you agree with the author’s assertion that their parting was genuine, and that they only resumed their affair after John’s return to England in 1389? 

8. Is the evidence for John of Gauntsuffering from a venereal disease in his closing years convincing? Could any other construction be put upon this evidence? 

9. In the 1950s, Hollywood was going to film Katherine with Charlton Heston as John of Gaunt and Susan Hayward as Katherine Swynford. If Katherine’s story were to be filmed today, which actors would you like to see in the leading roles? 

10. Why is Katherine Swynford considered a controversial character?  Why is it that no one thought to write a biography of her until recently? 

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Reading Group Guide

1. What are the challenges facing an author who undertakes a biography of a medieval woman such as Katherine Swynford?

2. Having read the book, what impressions have you been able to form of Katherine as a person? Has the author succeeded in bringing her to life? 

3. Did Katherine deserve her bad reputation? Why did her contemporaries censure her? Did they all censure her for the same reasons?  How is it that we can take a kinder view of her today? Do you think that Anya Seton’s sympathetic portrayal in her bestselling novel Katherine has something to do with this? 

4. Why is Katherine now finding favor with feminist scholars? How far did she take control of her own destiny and make her own choices? 

5. “This is a love story.” What evidence is there in this book to support that claim? Do you think that the author has been influenced in any way by Anya Seton’s romantic portrayal? 

6. The story of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford has often been compared to the relationship between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker- Bowles. What parallels can be drawn? 

7. Has the author made a convincing case for John’s affair with Katherine beginning in the spring of 1372? Some writers have concluded that his renunciation of her in 1381, after the Peasants’ Revolt, was purely a smokescreen. Would you agree with the author’s assertion that their parting was genuine, and that they only resumed their affair after John’s return to England in 1389? 

8. Is the evidence for John of Gaunt suffering from a venereal disease in his closing years convincing? Could any other construction be put upon this evidence? 

9. In the 1950s, Hollywood was going to film Katherine with Charlton Heston as John of Gaunt and Susan Hayward as Katherine Swynford. If Katherine’s story were to be filmed today, which actors would you like to see in the leading roles? 

10. Why is Katherine Swynford considered a controversial character?  Why is it that no one thought to write a biography of her until recently? 

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2009

    Not Seton's Katherine

    As Weir mentioned, I would sigh when I'd run across my ancient, dog-eared copy of Seton's Katherine - a much loved book that I've kept with me through six or seven moves over the years. When I saw this book - besides being a fan of Weir's (I think I've read most of her other bios of the same period), I couldn't wait to order it. Not a huge book, but it is well written, enjoyable, however, the one striking thing is that if the reader isn't somewhat versed in medieval history, it can be a little rough, just keeping the names and people straight.
    I had studied history at one point in college, and always kept on on late medieval/Tudor history (little weird - pleasure reading for me), and I could see how it could be a little difficult to remember who everyone was, how they were connected.
    Overall, I enjoyed it immensely; Weir gave Katherine Swynford a living, breathing form, a woman who seemed to almost live on her own terms in a time when women didn't. Of course, there isn't much information on Katherine, but Weir really did her research, which given some of the sources she needed to look at and delve into, was difficult. Overall, an enjoyable, stimulating book that I will have next to Seton's Katherine on my bookshelf.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2010

    Interesting reading, but this book is actually the story of John of Gaunt, and not Katherine.

    As the author stated somewhere in the introduction or thereabouts, she has always wanted to write about John of Gaunt, but someone suggested she write about Katherine, and this book, although the title leads you to believe she is writing the book about Katherine, is truly about John. Yes Katherine figures into the story, but little more than other people who surrounded John throughout his life. Also, much of what was written about Katherine was speculation and assumptions.

    Although the book is interesting reading,I was disappointed that the author misled people into reading the book by indicating that Katherine was the main subject, when in reality the book is the story of John of Gaunt.

    I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn't at all what I expected.

    That said, if you would like to find out a great deal about John of Gaunt, and a little about Katherine, this would be a good book to do so.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Recommend - lots of research, interesting story!

    Great book, lots of historical research done! It is much more historical research than a novel.
    Story of Katherine is very unique, i really enjoyed getting to know it.
    I also loved that the book wasn't focaused on Katherine alone, it also gave lots of perspective on the history of England of the time.
    Very educational and at the same time exciting book, highly recommend!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Very readable as always.

    I have read every biography by AW. This one is just as well researched and written as all the others. It reads more like a biography of John of Gaunt than of Katherine Swynford. He was a fascinating historically significant man, but my original interest was with Swynford. Contemporary evidence of Katherine Swynford's life just doesn't seem to exist.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2009

    Katherine Swynford....

    What a great woman she must have been. I loved Alison Weir's extensive research. She brought Katherine and John of Gaunt to life for me. It's basically a history book, but written in such a way that anyone would find interesting. I highly recommend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    If you are interested in life in England during the Middle Ages, this is a must read.

    Katherine Swynford, her second husband John of Gaunt, and their children are some of the most interesting people to live in the mid- to late 1300's, into the early 1400's. Her connection with Geoffrey Chaucer and the Plantagenet and Lancastrian kings makes her all the more interesting. The book was obviously well researched, with gaps in the surviving records well thought through, with various pathways presented to bridge those gaps.
    Ms. Weir's homage to Anya Seton's "Katherine" is refreshing, given the remarkable accuracy of that novel, and the following it has enjoyed over the years.
    The love story that obviously exists between Katherine and John has come through very well in this book. The impact Katherine had on England during her lifetime, and to this day through her descendents, cannot be understated. Ms. Weir provides her normal excellent portrayal of this important historical figure.
    This is a must-read for all history buffs.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Only for History Lovers

    I found it interesting. I love Alison Weir's intergrity as an historian. Always giving multipul explinations for why Katherine's presence was not noted. (Weir does not say I KNOW SHE WAS THERE, Weir says should could have been there or there or was here, but not noted. I like Weir's honesty on her doubt.)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Amazing research, attempts to separate fiction from history

    Alison Weir continues to have the magic touch, creating a silk purse from the sow's ear of the written historical record. While Weir acknowledges that Anya Seton's novel brought Katherine Swynford out of the woodwork of history, Weir tries to remove the romantic film from Katherine's life; her time period in history was violent and unpredictable and Katherine was reviled in her lifetime because of her status as a royal mistress. Through births, marriages, and political upheaval in England, Katherine Swynford helped found three royal houses and influenced a fourth; she also was granted the management of her own lands during her lifetime, an amazing feat. As with Weir's other books about great ladies, particularly that of Eleanor of Acquitaine, she works primarily by establishing first what is concretely known then building outward using household registers, grants, and knowledge of the movements of other more well-documented players. The reader gets not only a biography about Katherine Swynford but also one on John of Gaunt and a good working knowledge of the political climate in England in the late 14th-century, sort of like a three-for-one deal.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    too much detail, not enough story

    While this is a very well researched book, it gets bogged down in too many details which distracts from the flow of the story. While dates, relationships, theories might be important to scholars, for the average history buff it can be cumbersome

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2013

    Well written and well researched

    Like so many others, I became obsessed with Katherine and John of Gaunt after reading Anya Seton's "Katherine.". This book is history, not a novel. While it gives as full a picture of Katherine as possible, given the lack of official sources, it doesn't really flesh out the human being, and is therefore a little disappointing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2012

    Disappointed

    Not what I expected the book to be. I found some parts to be tedious bbut better than taking a sleeping pill to put you to sleep.

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  • Posted April 24, 2010

    Miss Swynford

    Growing up in the UK I was aware of Katherine as my favorite historical personage has always been John of Groats, The Duke of Lancaster I can't tell you why, a teenage personal reaction? But when I started getting into the character of Katherine Swynford even he came more to life than before. My favourite book of all time is Katherine by Anya Seaton and this book is not a continuation of that but gives an enlighting portrait into the why's, wherefores and the how of her life and why she chose to stay with this man. She was a very powerful influence on a very powerful man. This is a good read and a wonderful book for discussion

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

    A Scholarly Book

    There is no doubt that Ms Weir did an exhaustive amount of research to produce this book. Anyone interested in English history would profit from reading this detailed record of what is known of the life of this amazing woman whose descendants shaped English history and some of American history as well. This is definitely a book to keep on the shelf as a reference work. However, the casual reader might find that the book is too detailed. The minute descriptions of the architecture of the buildings of the time and of the homes where Katherine lived might be a little tedious for some readers.

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  • Posted March 10, 2010

    Loved It

    I am sure alot of people would find this dry, dry, dry reading, but I found it fascinating and really appreciated all the facts.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating but leaves you wanting more

    This factual account of the lives of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt was well researched, interesting and enlightening. Not sensational or thrilling or even fast-paced, but, of course, it isn't really a biography. It suffers from the problem facing any book that tries to detail the life of a woman from the 1300's -- there is so little accurate contemporary information available. I also got bogged down occasionally in descriptions of the places, castles, etc., where Katherine and John lived... or may have lived at various times. The characters are so interesting that I wished - as I've often wished before - that there were sources available to tell us more about who Katherine and John really were... their personalities, feelings, ambitions, and even how they really looked. In sum, this book added a little to what I already knew but left me wanting a great deal more. Naturally, that is not the fault of the author because she obviously did a great deal of research for this book.
    I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in medieval history - and especially in a medieval woman who was obviously quite remarkable in many ways.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    My view on "Mistress of the Monarchy".

    I really enjoy Alison Weir's novels, and this was the case with this novel, too. She presents the persons of the past as real and human. Her research into history is detailed and interesting. I do sometimes skim over some the details regarding items, castles, etc, but can later go back if I wish to have that information. The pictures in the middle are helpful in relating the characters to the story. I have read many of her fictional and nonfiction novels. I have always been pleased with her work.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

    Not up to par

    This book was not on par with her earlier writings. Read too much like a school history book. Lack the fluidity of her other novels.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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