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.
"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)
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.
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
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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.Read more ›
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