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Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancasterby Alison Weir
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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