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.
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.
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.)
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.
"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