Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mistress of the Monarchy, by Alison Weir, 12/81

mistress of the monarchy

In my quest to read everything I can about historical C/Katherines, over a year ago I read Katherine by Anya Seton. It was really dramatic, and the ultimate historical novel/romance, and I liked it for the most part. But I was only too pleased to find that Alison Weir recently released a biography of Katherine Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt (son of Edward III of England), and whose descendants range from most of European's monarchy and six American presidents.

I can't imagine it was easy to write this book. Fourteenth century England was not known for its accurate recordkeeping, rarely even noting birthdates, and fewer people read or wrote. Royal portraiture was even a rarity at this point. So a biography of even a well known person such as Katherine Swynford requires a combination of research, detective work, and a lot of guessing. It took me a while to get past the proliferation of probablies, perhaps, must haves, and possablies that lived in every paragraph.

Besides the occasional tedium of descriptions of every residence and means of income belonging to both Katherine, John of Gaunt, their relatives and descendants, it was quite intriguing to get a look into this world beyond the novel format where you know most of the dialogue is made up or embellished. It was an especially turbulent point in English history, affected by plague and war, and culminating in what was to become the Wars of the Roses. Also worthy of note is the reaction of various people of that time to the scandalous yet loving relationship between Katherine and John over many years, and their ups and downs. I think I actually preferred this to Seton's novel.

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