Synopses & Reviews
“A glorious example of romance in its most classic literary sense: exhilarating, exuberant, and rich with the jeweled tones of England in the 1300s.” —Austin Chronicle
Katherine is an epic novel of a love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant fourteenth century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who rule despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already-married Katherine. Their affair persists through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. Anya Seton's vivid rendering of the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Lancaster makes Katherine an unmistakable classic.
Acclaimed author Alison Weir brings to life the extraordinary tale of Katherine Swynford, a royal mistress who became one of the most crucial figures in the history of Great Britain. Born in the mid-fourteenth century, Katherine de Roët was only twelve when she married Hugh Swynford, an impoverished knight. But her story had truly begun two years earlier, when she was appointed governess to the household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of King Edward III. Widowed at twenty-one, Katherine became John's mistress and then, after many twists of fortune, his bride in a scandalous marriage. Mistress of the Monarchy reveals a woman ahead of her time—making her own choices, flouting convention, and taking control of her own destiny. Indeed, without Katherine Swynford, the course of English history, perhaps even the world, would have been very different.
Acclaimed author Weir brings to life the extraordinary tale of Katherine Swynford, a 15th-century royal mistress who became one of the most crucial figures in the history of Great Britain.
“An inspiration and the benchmark by which I judge historical novels.” - Alison Weir Katherine is an epic novel of the love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family.
About the Author
Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including Mistress of the Monarchy, 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.
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?