Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mistress Of The Monarchy: The Life Of Katherine Swynford, Duchess Of Lancaster

Katherine de Roet was born in the middle of the fourteenth century in Hainault. She traveled to England with Phillipa, who married Edward II of England. Katherine was brought up in the royal household, and was married to a knight--Hugh Swynford. She worked in John of Gaunt's household caring for his children. After she was widowed at twenty-one, she became John of Gaunt's mistress. During the Peasant's Revolt, John ended their personal relationship to repair his reputation with the public and with god. He continued to support her and their children even though the evidence indicates she was no longer his mistress at that time. Years later their relationship picks up again, and after John's second wife Constance dies, John and Katherine petition the Pope for permission to marry. They receive it and their children are legitimized. Their marriage caused great scandal, and ultimately, their children the Beauforts gain a foothold into all the noble families in England. During the War of the Roses the Beauforts come to power through the Tudor line.

The research for this book was incredible. Weir had to work very hard to put together information about Katherine's life. There is little documentation, and later generations tried to hide their connection to her as there were questions about the legitimacy of her children. She also had a bad reputation because she was John's mistress for a long time. It was interesting to discover how later generations tried to separate themselves from her, but during her life her family adored her, even John's children with his first two wives. The royal family welcomed her and ensured that she was taken care of after John's death.

Much of the book presents a history about what was happening during Katherine's life. There is also a lot of focus on John of Gaunt. I enjoyed the background information. It was interesting to learn about the politics of the time, and where the major sources of information we have from that time period come from. I wish there had been more certain information about Katherine, but I appreciate that Weir is clear about what information we have, and what we simply cannot know.

I was excited to read this book, as I knew very little about Katherine Swynford. I found it intriguing to learn how some major historical people and events can be traced back to Katherine. It is a very readable biography, and it held my interest to the very end. I liked the new understanding of historical events this book gave me.

I highly recommend reading this book.

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