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VINE VOICEon 4 September 2006
Katherine Swynford was one of the few women who made from a royal mistress to a 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 for a short period England's first lady. Does that sound familiar? CBP and the PoW do spring to mind, don't they? But this is 14th century England...

Like her modern version Katherine's reputation was not all too good and it was regarded as scandalous that a low born married an all powerful royal duke. And this reputation dominates place in history. 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.

Jeanette Lucraft's excellent book is a scholarly study of this extraordinary woman. As there are limited sources available she put things into perspective, analyses the sources and the "agenda" of the writers. All this helps to understands better life and times of Katherine Swynford. I enjoyed this book as it brought back to life this out-standing woman of medival England.
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VINE VOICEon 17 December 2007
This is a truly excellent book, which I read because I stumbled across it in a library catalogue whilst looking up the new bestseller by Alison Weir! It seems very strange that almost no-one outside history experts would ever have heard of Katherine if it weren't for Anya Seton's immortal novel, (written in the 1950's, which I must have read hundreds of times!)and now we have two scholarly books about her within 2 years!

Jeannette Lucraft's book is HIGHLY scholarly, there being probably more footnotes and bibliography than actual book, and it can be hard going at times, hence my headline comment! The big problem that all authors and researchers have with Katherine is that there is almost nothing documented about her, which seems odd, considering she is the ancestress of all our royal houses, beginning from her place among the Plantagenets through the Tudors and Stuarts to our own beloved Windsors. Also, such contemporary accounts as exist are highly prejudiced. Monkish chroniclers, who were just about the only people who wrote down history as it happened, violently dispapproved of her, and so are not exactly trustworthy. The political situation of the time was also somewhat volatile, and in the absence of a literate population with access to information, very little in the way of hard fact came anybody's way.

Rather in the way that astronomers find Black Holes by their effect on their surrounding space, so I think we should judge Katherine by what we DON'T hear rather then what we DO! To have so little written info suggests that she was highly discreet and dignified in her position of mistress, causing no scandal or attracting any accusations of venality. She must have been extremely attractive and intelligent in order to have held on to the affections of John of Gaunt, himself an intelligent and sophisticated man, for so long. The fact that he eventually married her, and undertook the extraordinary process of legitimizing the 4 children he had had with Katherine, proves how attached to her he was. The King, Richard II, was an uncertain friend, insecure, neurotic and vengeful, and yet Katherine managed to steer a secure course for herself and her family at his court.

All-in-all, I would definitely recommend this book, and if you are sufficiently interested in the truth about Katherine Swynford, such as it can be established, then you won't mind the hard work and concentration that it takes to read it. It is an impressive work of scholarship, which manages to paint a reasonably clear picture of the subject without jumping to any meagrely-supported conclusions, and without rubbishing the opposition - well, she only takes one fairly gentle swipe at Alison Wier!
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Not a bad book, but there's just so little really known about Katherine Swynford there's hardly enough to make a biography out of! I finished this feeling I had learned more about Margery Kempe than I had about Katherine Swynford. There were also several times when I found text repeated almost verbaitm from one section to another.
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on 20 June 2010
Fascinating book written surrounding available historical references to the life and times of Katherine Swynford. Katherine rose from her birth as the daughter of a knight to become the fortunate ward of the Queen of England. The book details information of Katherine's life as the mistress of prince John, known as John of Ghant, the Duke of Lancaster. Katherine bears her royal lover four children who are later legitimized when he breaks with tradition and makes her his third wife and the Duchess of Lancaster. Through their children, prince John and Katherine are the ancestors of many of the English royal family.
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on 24 September 2007
I eagerly awaited this book as I have wanted to find out more about Katherine ever since I read "that" book by Anya Seton. Ms Lucraft makes a good job of painting a picture of the lady with very little to go on except general information about women of the times. Although Katherine still comes across as a shadowy figure (we don't even know what she really looked like)I feel I know her a little better than I did. Congratulations on a very enjoyable book.
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on 13 November 2013
Far more insightful than most views of Katherine though it differs considerably from Anya Seton's much loved 'Katherine'! I found the majority of the book informative and interesting but also found later in the book that some material was repeated and I was less interested in the way other women saw themselves and their role in medieval life. Altogether a book to read for those wishing to find out more of the life of a woman who had a far-reaching and very important influence on English history despite there being little actual first-hand information about her.
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on 16 October 2012
Katherine Swynford has fascinated me for decades-ever since I read Anya Seton's book which is historical fiction. I was hoping this would be more history than fiction. It is but it's more about the times Katherine Swynford lived in than about Katherine Swynford herself. That's understandable as the author herself states (many times) that not much was written contemporaneously about women in this era and Katherine Swynford did not leave any papers, etc. However, knowing this, the author still called her book "Katherine Swynford, The History of a Medieval Mistress" . She should have called it "The Times of Katherine Swynford, a Medieval Mistress". That would have been a truer description of her book. She also repeated herself a lot, telling the same anecdotal accounts of certain events 2 or 3 times.
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on 12 October 2015
I have loved the story of Katherine since reading about her as a school girl in Anya Seton's book. This is very different though no flights of fancy rather very factual and so can be a bit dry at times but the most wonderfully researched book I have read on in a long time.
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on 27 September 2010
What can I say? I found it a bit of a slog to be honest. I expected a biography of Katherine Swynford and got 183 pages of he wrote this and they wrote that about her. A lot of trying to explain why she chose that symbol or why she, as well as others, chose to emulate a particular saint. Don't get me the author obviously knows her stuff and it is very well researched but it strays to much from the central character.
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on 15 February 2016
I look forward to reading this book.
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