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

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  3,083 Ratings  ·  311 Reviews
In her remarkable new book, Alison Weir recounts one of the greatest love stories of medieval England. It is the extraordinary tale of an exceptional woman, Katherine Swynford, who became first the mistress and later the wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

Katherine Swynford’s charismatic lover was one of the most powerful princes of the 14th century, the effective ru
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Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 28th 2008 by McClelland & Stewart
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Debra The Anya Seton book is how I encountered Katherine Swynford. Enjoyed it immensely. I have not read the Weir book, but it is non-fiction, so a…moreThe Anya Seton book is how I encountered Katherine Swynford. Enjoyed it immensely. I have not read the Weir book, but it is non-fiction, so a different sort of read.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Temaris
I picked up a book thinking huh, Christmas present for my mother, and then somehow it was gone 1 in the morning and I'm still. reading.it.

I read the Anya Seton book, and I knew it probably wasn't quite like that, so when I saw a book on Katherine Swinford I may have pounced on it. I have mixed feelings about it.

Alison Weir takes a very small amount of cloth and cuts an exceedingly large coat from it. The cultural and political stuff is fascinating -- I remember enough from socio-economic history
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Rachel
Jun 10, 2009 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mary, Clharrop, Meghan
I am a huge fan of Alison Weir. Her writing style is engaging and friendly, and it is obvious she knows her way around the contemporary historical texts concerning her subjects. However, this biography of Katherine Swynford, née de Roët, Duchess of Lancaster, shows without a doubt Weir's talents as a historical researcher, assiduously checking and cross-checking everything available to her in order to get as close to the truth as possible.

Much about Katherine's life must be construed from a tiny
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Teresa
Jan 14, 2015 Teresa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been reading Alison Weir's history books since 1992, as her topics encompass the historical periods I've been interested in for a long time now. I'm always impressed with her insights (usually each book has a fresh, persuasive reinterpretation of some long-held belief) and her clarity (I thought The Wars of the Roses would bore me in its details, but I couldn't have been more wrong). Here, I have to say there were times when I was bored, but that was no fault of the author's writing or of h ...more
Jane
Jun 08, 2011 Jane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I think everyone who has read this, me included, was drawn to Katherine's story after reading Anya Seton's novel. While this book contains a few interesting illuminations into this fascinating 14th-century woman, so little is known--and that fact is reflected in the construction of the book. If you take out all the repetitions, I think it would be a third of its current length (how many times were we told that her petitions for a private altar showed her piety and that the petitions were granted ...more
Pete daPixie
Jan 26, 2009 Pete daPixie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
So who was Katherine Swynford? Most have never heard the name before. She was the daughter of a page from Hainault who arrived in England under the service of Queen Philippa of Hainault, wife of Edward III. She was brought up in the royal household of Edward & Philippa, married a knight, one Hugh Swynford.
She became the mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt (Ghent). Here is 14th century scandal. However at the courts of Edward III & later Richard II, she was highly thought of. Geoffre
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Dana Stabenow
Jan 26, 2010 Dana Stabenow rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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Jamie Collins
This is very readable, and it's a nice overview of the life and times of Katherine Swynford. Her story is fascinating, but I must say that Anya Seton's popular novel Katherine is a more satisfying read, for all its inaccuracies.

Apparently very little is actually known about Katherine, and this biography seems to be mostly derived from the surviving records of gifts that were granted to her and her family by various people, primarily John of Gaunt. The book is a constant stream of guesswork: Kath
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Kathy Davie
Aug 17, 2014 Kathy Davie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
A nonfictional, biographical account of Katherine Swynford, mistress and finally wife to the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt. The time period covered begins in the mid-1300s.

I recommend this to anyone interested in writing about the time period between the 1330s to the early 1400s and/or if you have an interest in the Tudors, Stuarts, Yorks, the War of the Roses, the 100 Years War, or the medieval time period.

My Take
It’s a fascinating love story of an orthodox yet unconventional man who ignored
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Steven Peterson
Dec 26, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is overall a very satisfying book. The author, Alison Weir, takes what scraps of information we have about Katherine Swynford and creates what is at least a plausible tale of her life and times. In addition, we get a detailed portrait of her lover and, later, husband--John of Gaunt, son of a king and father of kings. Indeed their liaison produced several lines of rulers--York, Lancaster, Tudor, and Stuart/Stewart. Indeed, the last paragraph of the book notes the even more remarkable descend ...more
Jennifer
Mar 10, 2009 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is biography done the old-fashioned way--tracking down every trace of a record and pursuing every obscure sideline. Weir tells the story of Katherine Swynford (c 1350-1403) who had a long affair with John of Gaunt, a younger son of King Edward III, and ultimately married him when they were both well into middle-age (no pun intended). This was a brazen love match in a century when marriage was strictly for political and financial gain and no one expected it to have anything to do with affect ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
I read this hoping to get a clearer picture of Katherine Swynford (of 'Katherine' by Anysa Seton fame).

I ended up with a much clearer sense of John of Gaunt, Henry IV and Edward III. Which is fine, but not what was intended.

So, do I recommend it? If you have an interest in this particular period of history, this may either augment knowledge you already have or give a starting point. If you're looking for the definitive story of Katherine Swynford - I doubt that such a book can now be written. It
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Sue
Mar 10, 2014 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of her best. Having read Seyton's Katherine first and then Weir's well researched book really made Katherine Swynford come alive and take her place in the extraordinary history of the Plantagenets. Recommend anyone interested in the complex genealogy of the Wars of the Roses read this book.
Hannah
Nov 22, 2009 Hannah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historicals
Apart from her stubborn determination to convict Richard III of murdering his nephews, I love reading Alison Weir!

In her latest non-fictional biography of Katherine Swynford, Weir attempts to paint a picture (using very little available factual paint) of the woman who literally changed the course of the British monarchy, and in my opinion, she does a credible job of it. Throughout the 300+ pages, Weir explores the life and times of Katherine Swynford, the daughter of a lowly knight and John of G
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Louise Leetch
Mistress of The Monarchy is the actual title of this book.
Alison Weir's historical follow up to Anya Seton's 1954 book which introduced us to the mistress/wife of John of Gaunt. Weir is such a brilliant, thorough historian, I have no doubt this will bring to Katherine Swynford her historical due. She was raised at the court of Edward III and became mother of the Beauforts, the seed of generations of English Kings and Queens as well as seven American presidents (the Bush's included-but don't let
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Marsha
Jan 29, 2014 Marsha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I'm in awe of historians who can take snippets of data from the historical record and extrapolate to give the reader a complete life full of warmth and light. Allison Weir is one of the best of these historians and she did a superior job with the life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster. There is scant official information about women in history and when you're dealing with the fourteenth century, that information is even more rare.

Katherine Swynford was a daughter of a knight from the L
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Joy
Sep 21, 2010 Joy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alison Weir was thorough in her search for material on Katherine Swynford. Most of her facts come from financial rolls, since she dismisses contemporary accounts of Katherine, as written by John of Gaunt's many enemies. As Weir shows, this is a reasonable attitude, because of the many demonstrations of love towards Katherine from the royal children for whom she was governess. Clearly she was a woman who attracted good feelings from the people who genuinely knew her.

As Weir recounted the historie
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Alisa
I enjoyed this because I have read Katherine by Anya Seton many times and I loved getting more information about one of my favorite heroines and the ancestress of my beloved Tudors. However, for a casual reader the information was rather dry and the author seemed almost combative where her research differed from Seton's. Actually I'm not a big fan of Weir's work although I do end up picking up most of her titles. Her opinions differ from mine, especially regarding Richard 3 and the Princes in th ...more
Kate Quinn
Jun 25, 2009 Kate Quinn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Katherine Swynford: longtime mistress and third wife of John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III and probably the most powerful private citizen England has ever had. Katherine is the subject of a famous historical fiction book of the same name by Anya Seton, and here she's the subject of a scholarly biography. She's a thin subject for a biography, since nothing written by her has come to us through history, but Alison Weir turns it into a "Katherine and the England she lived in" kind of book, and ...more
Katerina
Nov 13, 2014 Katerina rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Being in love with Mrs. Seton’s famous novel I wanted to read the biography of the main heroine and learn more about her. And in some ways I did though not much about her is known. As others have noted it’s not a biography of Katherine cause it’s impossible to write one; nevertheless it is a valuable description of the time, the people and places around her. And it’s not the author’s fault – she’s done a meticulous research and tracked any reference to Katherine in the contemporary sources.
Ther
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Andrea
I found this a very challenging read (it took me nearly a month) as I don’t know a lot about the 1300s in England and I found myself having to research a lot of things mentioned in passing. From a “did I learn” standpoint, this book was excellent as I learned a ton about the English monarchy during this period, the ongoing conflicts with France, and how land ownership, lifetime trusts, and the legal process of inheritance worked in this time period. I feel like I learned less about Katherine Swy ...more
Kiersten
Sep 21, 2010 Kiersten rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was so frustrating. I felt like I learned hardly anything at all about Kathryn Swynford, even after reading a several-hundred-page book about her. I guess I should have known after the introduction, in which Weir was like, "yeah, there's pretty much no reliable information whatsoever about this woman, but I decided to write a biography of her anyway." I felt much the same way about this book as I did about Weir's biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Weir is so adamant about being 100% ac ...more
Carol Palmer
If you are also interested in "Katherine" by Anya Seton, read that book before reading this book so you won't be distracted by historical inaccuracies in Ms. Seton's novel.

This is an interesting, but somewhat dry telling of the life and times of Katherine Swynford. Sometimes Ms. Weir goes on a tangent about an daughter-in-law or a manor which can be distracting. If I had been her editor, I would have put all the details about various dwellings and churches associated with Katherine Swynford in
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notRahimeanymore
Dec 24, 2011 notRahimeanymore rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More like 4.5. I really enjoyed this - I had never read Anya Seton's Katherine and had never heard of Katherine Swynford, so it was very interesting. The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars was that there were a lot of random asides about tangential figures that I found confusing (especially with chronology). Things like 'Later in 1396 So-and-so (someone just mentioned in connection with the main story of the book) would go on to do blah blah blah' that were interesting, but not connected to Ka ...more
Wealhtheow
We don't know when Katherine Swynford was born, how many siblings she had, what she looked like, what she wrote or spoke like, what her seal looked like, or why she died. In fact, she is a complete cypher to the 21st century. Weir does the best she can to piece together what few documents and sketches of long-gone monuments that are left to give us clues, but there is very little to work with. Katherine was the mistress, and then third wife, of John of Gaunt (son of King Edward III, uncle to Kin ...more
Joyce
Nov 04, 2009 Joyce rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I've read quite a few biographies by Alison Weir, but this one was very disappointing. Weir is clearly an exhaustive researcher, but what can one do with a personage whose life is largely speculation and gossip in the first place? In a sense, I give the author credit for producing a book in excess of 300 pages based on so few verifiable facts. After a while, I felt annoyed that Weir was only able to write things like: Katherine must have spent that Christmas with her children, or Perhaps Katheri ...more
Cheryl
Aug 19, 2013 Cheryl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle-edition
Alison Weir takes what little hard information exists on Katherine Swynford's life and turns it into a gigantic history of the 14th Century, Edward III, Richard II and John of Gaunt. There really isn't all that much here on Katherine; however, Ms. Weir's writing style does make this a great, albeit sometimes confusing, read and she does manage to tease out little details to help create a framework for what Katherine was possibly like. Ms. Weir largely takes most of her information from Froissart ...more
Bettie☯
Unabridged and read by Judith Boyd. The introduction pays homage to Anna Seaton's book, which was published in 1954.

More, luckily, is known about her husband John of Ghent (pronounced Gaunt and I wonder if this is where the adjective comes from as he was very tall (some have said 6'8" as there is armour of his still extant)and very thin)

The Black Prince and Geoffrey Chaucer




Deb
Mar 09, 2009 Deb rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
probably, perhaps, the evidence suggests, it is likely that, it is suggested that, the likelihood is, apparently, there is unlikely to have been, it is possible that, it is credible, this may explain why,
this suggests, given that fact that, we might conclude....

We might conclude, based on the text, that there is not, in fact, enough source material to justify a full-length biography of Katherine Swynford. However, because so many people have read Anya Seton's "Katherine" and would buy a book tha
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Milli
Feb 28, 2011 Milli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Another book by Alison Weir. I always feel like her books are so interesting while reading them, but then I walk away from it and the details just.. slip out. Of course, the eras she writes about are so convoluted with mistresses, marriages, intertwined family lines, and all that jazz, so its bound to get confusing. She goes as good of a job as she can. There isn't much left of Katherine Swynford in history, but this book truly made me realize what an important historical figure she is.
Caroline
I'm about half way through this book, its as dry as dust and I'm just about losing the will to live so I'm going to call it a day. Katherine just isn't coming to life for me at all, not surprisingly as there's really very little known about her so a lot of the book has to be speculation based on her well known other half John of Gaunt.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

Alison Weir (born 1951) is a British writer of history books for the general public, mostly in the form of biographies about British kings and queens. She currently lives in Surrey, England, with her two children.

Before becoming an author, Weir worked as a teacher of children with special needs. She received her
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More about Alison Weir...

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