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Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess [Paperback]

Alison Weir
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
RRP: 10.99
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Book Description

7 Aug 2008

Katherine Swynford was first the mistress, and later the wife, of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster. Her charismatic lover was one of the most powerful princes of the fourteenth century and Katherine was renowned for her beauty and regarded as enigmatic, intriguing and even dangerous by some of her contemporaries.

In this impressive book, Alison Weir has triumphantly rescued Katherine from the footnotes of history, highlighting her key dynastic position within the English monarchy. She was the mother of the Beaufort, then the ancestress of the Yorkist kings, the Tudors, the Stuarts and every other sovereign since - a prodigious legacy that has shaped the history of Britain.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (7 Aug 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712641971
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712641975
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 26,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alison Weir lives and works in Surrey. Her books include Britain's Royal Families, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Children of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry VIII: King and Court, Mary, Queen of Scots and Isabella: She-Wolf of France.

Product Description


"Fast-paced, lively and boldly coloured, Weir's book gives us a vivid portrait of courtly life" (Sunday Times)

"Weir combines high drama with high passion while involving us in the domestic life of a most remarkable woman in an equally remarkable book" (Scotland on Sunday)

"Gripping...immaculately researched" (Daily Telegraph)

"Highly enjoyable" (Literary Review)

"Weir's sound scholarship and storyteller's gift for rich, telling detail constantly engages and enthrals the reader" (The Times)


'meticulous research, discerning judgement ... Weir has produced a wonderful biography'

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
157 of 162 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The two Katherines 8 Feb 2008
By Deborah
I don't think I can be the only reader who, although very eager to read this book, felt a certain amount of trepidaton and yes, that is because one of my all-time favourite historical novels is Anya Seton's Katherine. Alison Weir has been very kind to me, I think: although her own research has clearly shown Seton's errors and conjecture and she has not swerved from presenting the facts as she has found them, at the same time she has not callously tried to destroy my rose-tinted images completely. So while I would rather believe, for instance, that John of Gaunt married Katherine entirely out of love, and that he had always been faithful to her, I can accept Weir's far more realistic point of view. Yes, many things about Katherine in this book are still speculation, due to the huge gaps in time when there is no record of her, but they are intelligent, considered speculation and offered to us as such. I enjoyed this portrait of Katherine Swynford immensely and was able to appreciate even more than before how extraordinary her life was. But I was still able to read Seton's novel with great pleasure, although I did have to suspend belief just a little more than I used to.
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175 of 183 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book. It's interesting and informative about the time and the courts of Edward III and Richard II. It's fairly well researched about the time and Weir writes in an engaging style.

However Katherine Swynford left nothing behind, we have nothing written by her and nothing about what she thought or said. We know so very little about her and it shows. Countless times throughout the book Weir has to use phrases such as 'Katherine might have been here or there', 'She may have done this or that' and 'We can only imagine what she felt' because we simply do not have enough evidence about what she was doing or where she was. It's because of this that Katherine's voice simply does not come through in the book. We do not really get much of an idea of what she was like, or what she felt or thought.

Also I noticed that Weir relies heavily (especially in the first few chapters) on the chronicler Jean Frossairt and yet on page 104, when she disagrees with something he's recorded, she tells us that "his sources can hardly have been reliable. He was, after all, writing long after these events." and yet she is happy to rely on him at other times in the book, I'm assuming because there is no other information available.

So although I've taken issue with a couple of things I did, nevertheless, enjoy reading the book and it's as thorough as it can be with so little evidence.
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars (3.5 stars): Insightful, but with a few problems 21 Nov 2008
Like Alison Weir, I was first introduced to the story of Katherine Swynford through Anya Seton's romanticized 1954 novel, Katherine. Weir's biography is a pretty comprehensive look at this enigmatic, lesser-known medieval woman.

I have a love-hate relationship with Weir's books: I loved The Six Wives of Henry VIII; liked Mary Queen of Scots: And the Murder of Lord Darnley, and Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England; but detested Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England and Innocent Traitor (Weir doesn't do fiction all that well). I put Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess in the "like somewhat" category.

Katherine Swynford was born Katherine de Roet in 1350, one of the daughters of Sir Paon de Roet. She then married Hugh Swynford, and spent time in the Lancastrian household as the governess to John of Gaunt's children. Katherine's affair with him probably began around the year 1372, and, after producing a number of illegitimate children, married John in 1396. Katherine is the ancestor of most of the royal houses of Europe, plus at least five American presidents. History has seen Katherine as bit of a homewrecker, but in this book, Weir attempts (and mostly succeeds) in portraying her in a more sympathetic light.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The late Queen Mother is supposed to have said that titled and powerful men do not marry their mistresses. Well, we know that she was very wrong on this as her brother-in-law and her grandson did. But she had point as such men usually did or do not as like the late Sir James Goldsmith said that this "leaves a job vacancy".

One of the few exceptions was Katherine Swynford: she made it from royal mistress to royal wife. She had been for more than 20 years the mistress of Prince John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster and titular King of Castile, before they were married and she became even for a very short period only - England's first lady. What caused scandal today was even more scandalous in the 14th century and this reputation sticked to Katherine. However, the reality of it all was quite different. Katherine was a well educated woman of her time, who managed her own destiny and estates, managed to hold the love and esteem of the royal duke, her children by him, the Beauforts, were not only legitimated but became well respected and highly intelligent members of England's ruling class and their off-springs became England's monarchs. On top she was held in high esteem by King Richard II and her step-son king Henry IV. This alone, is already quite an achievement.

Alison Weir follows the destiny of Katherine in a brilliant way. She simply has indeed a unique talent to tell a story. Her reputation as one of the foremost popular historians is well justified. As there are limited sources available she put things into perspective, analyses the sources and the "agenda" of the writers. She re-creates the life of Katherine in an understandable way and is academically correct without being scholarly. All this helps to understands better life and times of Katherine Swynford.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
thank you
Published 8 days ago by rosie2
4.0 out of 5 stars The book is well researched and interestingly written. I ...
The book is well researched and interestingly written. I cannot give it 5 stars as I haven't finished it yet.
Published 8 days ago by Wanda Plummer
5.0 out of 5 stars This book adds greatly to the story written by Anya ...
This book adds greatly to the story written by Anya Seton as it is mainly based on the evidence from original documents.
Published 10 days ago by A Historian
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Rather hard going - I prefer Norah Lofts.
Published 10 days ago by Lois
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for a Katherine fan
Good book for someone with an interest of Katherine. Written as a very factual work not something to dip into. Read more
Published 20 days ago by TE Fox
5.0 out of 5 stars Katherine Swinford
One of my heroines from history, I started with Anya Seton's famous fictional book and then wanted to know how much of it might be true. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Muriel Shaw
2.0 out of 5 stars Katherine Swinford the story of John of Gaunt by Alison Weir
How lovely to read a factual book about one of our greatest historical heroines. Alison bring the characters to life, you feel you are living their lives with them. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Elizabeth Head
5.0 out of 5 stars Katherine Swynford
A brilliant book. I first borrowed it from my local library and found it so fascinating that I decided to buy my own copy. Someone should make the film but not either Mr. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Carol Wallwork
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Historical Book
Alison Weir has done an excellent job on her research. Katherine Swynford has been omitted for to long from this countries history.
Our Queen is descended from her.
Published 4 months ago by Rosemary Westley
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Having listened to a Radio 4 interview with the author I was looking forward to reading this text. Sadly disappointing.
Published 4 months ago by Christianne Pask
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