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4.6 out of 5 stars
Katherine
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510 of 520 people found the following review helpful
Written over half a century ago, this well-researched historical fiction is as vibrant and as stirring today, as it, undoubtedly, was when it was first written. A best seller in its day, the book regales the reader with the story of Katherine De Roet and John of Gaunt.

Born commoners to a herald who was knighted before he died, Katherine and her older sister Philippa, who went on to marry Geoffrey Chaucer, were left poor as church mice. While Philippa managed to obtain a post in the household of the Queen, wife to King Edward III of England, Katherine was sent to a convent.

When she had grown into her early teens and become a raving beauty, Katherine left the convent to join her sister at Court. Upon doing so, her youthful beauty captivated a boorish knight, Sir Hugh Swynford, who lusted after her. He, eventually, married Katherine, when it became clear that it would be the only way by which he could satisfy his desire.

At the same time that she met her husband to be, she also caught the eye of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, son of King Edward III and brother to the heir to the throne, Edward, the Black Prince. John was, at the time, happily married to a beautiful woman named Blanche, who would befriend Katherine.

After reluctantly becoming Lady Swynford, Katherine retired to her husband's estates. She would meet John of Gaunt again, igniting a passion that upon the death of Blanche and that of Sir Hugh Swynford would be consummated. For John of Gaunt, Katherine would remain the love of his life and his mistress, even though, for reasons of state, he could not marry her, at the time. He, instead, married the heiress to the throne of Castile.

Still, Katherine remained with him, bearing him many children. Their illicit union was to cause much unrest and scandal throughout England, until they finally parted, only to reunite in their later years. John of Gaunt would then do something unprecedented. This act would bring them much happiness in their final years.

This is a richly drawn portrait of a scintillating love affair in a time that was rife with political intrigue. Set in a medieval landscape with all the pageantry, strife, and turbulence that constituted fourteenth century England, this beautifully written narrative is peppered with those characters and individuals that made the period memorable. It is a novel to be savored and one with which the most discerning reader would be well satisfied. Bravo!
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132 of 133 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 1999
I first read this book I was fourteen. Since then I've acquired both hardback and paperback. I read it about three or four times a year, my favorite parts being the Christmas scene and the pilgrimage. As did some of the other reviewers, this book whetted my appetite for medieval history. Katherine Swynford is remarkably free of the histrionics that unfortunately seem to characterize so many historical romance heroines. John's and Katherine's daily lives are realistically portrayed, such as John keeping Katherine as a mistress while he marries for power. Ms. Seton doesn't shrink from depicting the filth and disease rampant in that time period either. Nor does she shirk from depicting the terrible position women occupied in that time period, as when she writes of how Katherine was forced to marry Hugh Swynford. He's also portrayed fairly--a ruffian certainly, but a man who falls love deeply, having nothing in his experience to prepare him. He doesn't metamorphose into a wonderful person as a result of this love. Undoubtedly Katherine would really have been as resentful of him as she is portrayed. Love doesn't exactly triumph in this novel, rather it wins by sheer dogged persistence, as when John and Katherine are finally together when they are middle-aged and free of their other social and personal restrictions. I also enjoyed the religious aspect of the book, in which Katherine goes on a vision quest, or spirit journey, gaining hardwon inner peace. Lady Julian's quotes made me cry, while Julian's prescriptions for Katherine's anemia made me laugh out loud. Katherine's hungering for and finding peace and true oneness with Spirit is a nice contrast to all the bloodbath over doctrinal trivialities. It makes a nice comparison between piousness and spiritual fulfillment. Ms. Seton also points out, using Katherine's treatment by the people of Lincoln, and in the hardship of running her estate, how that inner peace gets buffeted by the world. It's not portrayed as being easy, as indeed it isn't. She includes a similar quest in Avalon and Green Darkness, but it's best portrayed in Katherine. Ms. Seton writes about spirit journeys without making them sentimental or hackneyed. I'm glad it's still in print and that women are passing it on to their daughters. It's the way historical romances should be done.
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275 of 286 people found the following review helpful
I am so glad this book is now more readily available. It is my FAVORITE READ OF ALL TIME. It is a love story of epic proportions unlike anything I've ever read or experienced. This is truly a real-life fairytale.
Set in the mid 14th C. Katherine de Roet is a convent-raised young woman who, with her sister, comes under the care of Queen Philippa (wife of Edward III), and despite being without dowry marries the rather difficult Sir Hugh Swynford. Eventually she becomes the mistress of Philippa and Edward III's son John of Gaunt, and after bearing him four children, becoming his wife. The children's births are eventually legitimized and John and Katherine eventually are the forebears of both the Tudor and Stuart dynasties.
But this story is of the relationship between Katherine and John and the many twists and turns it takes before these lovers can be together. When Katherine turns 15 the Queen summons her from the convent to Windsor and she soon gathers much attention for her beauty. When Sir Hugh Swynford attempts to ravish her, the King's third son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster comes to her rescue. Hugh gets out of the situation by saying he wishes to marry the fair young maiden. Sir Hugh is a rather disagreeable and homely man, but it is seen as a step up for young Katherine, without dowry, to marry him. She does but very reluctantly. Meanwhile she is befriended by the Duke's wife, Blanche, and returns her friendship for which young Katherine is eventually richly rewarded.
Katherine and Hugh go to live at his mismanaged estate, Kettlethorpe, near Lincoln which is not too far from the Duke and Duchess of Lancaster's favorite home of Bolingbroke Castle. Katherine is not exactly happy but accepts her life. But when she befriends Blanche again and then sits with her as she lays dying from the black death, her whole life changes.
To give more details than this is to rob the first-time reader of the discoveries they will read. It is a story to particularly savor as when the Duke tells Katherine "She is my heart's blood. My life. I want nothing but her." Talk about a Cinderella story! Those better versed in English history of the mid to late 14th C than I am will realize just what is happening in some of the dramatic historical scenes than I did.
But even after Katherine and the Duke are finally together, all does not go well. Seton details the history of this time beautifully and, sometimes, painfully.
Seton includes quotes from Chaucer (who was married to Katherine's sister Philippa). It is also surmised Chaucer may have had Katherine in mind for some of his passages, particularly in "Troilus and Criseyde."
This book made slow reading for me as every few pages I was either picking up a historical reference to read more or searching on the internet. I do have to warn readers though, keep the hankies handy. I could have used an entire box and even woke my husband up with my sobbing. Most of these tears were tears of joy though.
Readers who enjoy their books both historically accurate and very romantic are sure to enjoy this beautiful story.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 10, 2004
If you talk to someone who enjoys historical fiction, it is more than likely that they have read at least one book by Anya Seton. It seems to be a tossup as to whether "Katherine" or "Green Darkness" is mentioned as their favorite of her works. It is difficult to believe that "Katherine" is the only one of her works currently in print. This wonderful new edition, reissed by Chicago Review Press in 2004, is hopefully part of an effort to reissue some of the author's other works.
What sets "Katherine" above other historical novels and especially above historical romances? Like the best historical novels, "Katherine" is specific to its time period, in this case 14th century England. It is the story of real people, John of Gaunt and his mistress, and, later, third wife Katherine Swynford. The charcters are congruent with their time period: Katherine is not a 20th-century politically correct feminist decked out in a 14th century gown. While we will never know if she experienced the thoughts and emotions ascribed to her by Ms Seton, they were correct for the time period and give the novel that feeling of reality.
John and Katherine's story has been outlined in other reviews on this page, so I do not feel it is necessary to rehash the plot. However, one of Ms Seton's gifts as a writer is her ability to create believable characters, and this work has them in abundance: Katherine's sister Philippa, married to Geoffrey Chaucer, is a busybody who is human enough to feel pangs of envy when she looks at her beautiful sister; Chaucer and John of Gaunt both find Katherine's earthy beauty disturbing when they compare her to John's remote and lovely first wife, Blanche, whom Chaucer worships from afar; and the most tragic figure of the story, Hugh Swynford, Katherine's first husband, who loves her from the first time he sees her, and who can barely gain her attention, even after they are married. Katherine's eventual guilt over Hugh's death, & her treatment of him when he was alive, is heart wrenching.
When you open this book you leave the 21st century and its problems behind, and enter the world of 14th century: it is a world full of superstition,"magic," sudden death by the Black Plague, and constant danger. It will literally come alive for you, and you may have a hard time coming back to the reality of an equally dangerous modern world. It is worth the trip!
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 1999
I first read this book as a teenager, it changed my life! I'm now 40 and I must have re-read it at least a dozen times. Anya Seton transported me back to the fourteenth century and I live and breath those characters each time I re-read it. I have looked up all the places on the map, visited Old Bolingbroke, Kettlethorpe and Lincoln Cathedral. The Cathedral bookshop publishes an interesting booklet about Katherine and Joan's tomb. The book has inspired me to study medieval history at university, read about medieval mysticism and The Great Pestilence and study the lives of the mighty Plantagenets. One can learn so much from this book, matching the facts to the necessary fiction and the truly great thing about it is that it compels the reader to want to find out more and more about this fascinating period in English history. Oh how I wish the Savoy was still standing! English history lovers will also enjoy the excellent Green Darkness (tudor)and Devil Water (Stuart).
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2000
I am astounded by the number of readers deeply affected by this book. I, too, read it when I was in my teens, and it fascinated me so much that I pursued a degree in English history. This book should not be confused with the current historical romance genre which has only a passing relevance to actual history. It contains solid historical material and incredibly detailed characterization. I was delighted to find it again, even at a steep price tag.
I would encourage publishers to re-examine all of Ms. Seton's work and reissue most if not all of it in a more affordable format. While I can't think of a book I would rather spend the money for, there are decades of readers maturing since the 1960's who would enjoy discovering these books. I would love to be able to get Winthrop Woman, which is apparently unavailable even in library bindings. Readers of Anya Seton, unite!
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2002
"Katherine" is Anya Seton's finest book, which is high praise considering her talent. She is a very fine writer with excellent attention to detail and historical accuracy, as well the ability to make the characters come vividly alive.
This is of course a very fine and entertaining story. There is our heroine Katherine, with all of her trials and tribulations, and who finds herself unexpectedly thrust into a turbulent life with a turbulent royal family! It is interesting to note that through the children she had with John of Gaunt, she is a direct ancestress of all of ruling Kings and Queens of England from that time on (and a great many members of European royal families as well)! Katherine made her mark on history in many, many ways.
This is an utterly charming and beautiful book. I was about 12 when I first picked it up and was immediately enchanted by the writing, the adventure and the history, and return to it time and time again. The book is peppered with other interesting historical characters - for example Geoffrey Chaucer was married to Katherine's sister, and appears from time to time full of wit and stories.
So read it for yourself, and introduce it to a young lady in your life. You could not bestow a finer gift.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed GREEN DARKNESS so much I decided to make my next read Anya Seton's KATHERINE. It has now become my FAVORITE READ OF ALL TIME. It is a love story of epic proportions unlike anything I've ever read or experienced. This is truly a real-life fairytale.
As historically detailed as GREEN DARKNESS, I was amazed to find I loved this book even better. Set in the mid 14th C. Katherine de Roet is a convent-raised young woman who, with her sister, comes under the care of Queen Philippa (wife of Edward III), and despite being without dowry marries the rather difficult Sir Hugh Swynford. Eventually she becomes the mistress of Philippa and Edward III's son John of Gaunt, and after bearing him four children, becoming his wife. The children's births are eventually legitimized and John and Katherine eventually are the forebears of both the Tudor and Stuart dynasties.
But this story is of the relationship between Katherine and John and the many twists and turns it takes before these lovers can be together. When Katherine turns 15 the Queen summons her from the convent to Windsor and she soon gathers much attention for her beauty. When Sir Hugh Swynford attempts to ravish her, the King's third son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster comes to her rescue. Hugh gets out of the situation by saying he wishes to marry the fair young maiden. Sir Hugh is a rather disagreeable and homely man, but it is seen as a step up for young Katherine, without dowry, to marry him. She does but very reluctantly. Meanwhile she is befriended by the Duke's wife, Blanche, and returns her friendship for which young Katherine is eventually richly rewarded.
Katherine and Hugh go to live at his mismanaged estate, Kettlethorpe, near Lincoln which is not too far from the Duke and Duchess of Lancaster's favorite home of Bolingbroke Castle. Katherine is not exactly happy but accepts her life. But when she befriends Blanche again and then sits with her as she lays dying from the black death, her whole life changes.
To give more details than this is to rob the first-time reader of the discoveries they will read. It is a story to particularly savor as when the Duke tells Katherine "She is my heart's blood. My life. I want nothing but her." Talk about a Cinderella story! Those better versed in English history of the mid to late 14th C than I am will realize just what is happening in some of the dramatic historical scenes than I did.
But even after Katherine and the Duke are finally together, all does not go well. Seton details the history of this time beautifully and, sometimes, painfully.
Seton includes quotes from Chaucer (who was married to Katherine's sister Philippa). It is also surmised Chaucer may have had Katherine in mind for some of his passages, particularly in "Troilus and Criseyde."
This book made slow reading for me as every few pages I was either picking up a historical reference to read more or searching on the internet. I do have to warn readers though, keep the hankies handy. I could have used an entire box and even woke my husband up with my sobbing. Most of these tears were tears of joy though.
And I have to add a "shame on you" to the eejit who gave this book only two stars and said it reads "much like any other "romance" novel put out by the thousands on a daily basis," which not only is a disservice to this book but to the historical romances as a whole which, it is obvious this person has very little experience with. First of all this is a romantic historical and does not fit the definitiion of a romance novel at all. Secondly, to say romance novels are "put out by thousands on a daily basis" is not only inaccurate but ignorant. This book has both huge differences and many similarities to romances, but isn't a romance novel by any stretch of the imagination. That said, readers who enjoy their books both historically accurate and very romantic are sure to enjoy this beautiful story.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2004
I am delighted that this remarkable book has been re-issued. I read Katherine as an eleven year old child and it was Katherine that threw open the door to medieval English history for me. To this day, decades later, John of Gaunt and Katherine de Roet live and breathe in my heart. I have virtually never been without a copy of Katherine in my library and even paid a queen's ransom for one years ago when it was out of print in the U.S. I came today to order another copy to give as a gift and was shocked and distressed -- though terribly honored too -- to find that someone recommended my book instead of Katherine. I wish to amend the record: Katherine in my estimation is one of the half dozen best books ever written in the English language. It is a classic, and if you read it, you will never forget it because Katherine will mark you as it did me. Anya Seton has few peers.
Sandra Worth: The Rose of York: Love & War.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 1997
My mother first read this book as a late teenager, and fell in love with it--the characters, the history, the
writing style, etc. She named me after Katherine, and presented the book to me when I was thirteen--I have
since read it five times. The novel transports you back to the late fourteenth century, into a time
immediately before the chronicling of history really began. It brings clarity to a fuzzy image of the period.
Not only is this book the least painful way to learn about this era, it also brings it alive with a vividness not
often seen. This time period, so often snubbed by historians as just another unimportant century in the
Middle Ages, has its share of important characters and events: Geoffrey Chaucer, the Peasant's Revolt, the
Black Prince, etc. Seton does well in portraying a time colored by intrigue and revolutionary change. It
paints a portrait of England directly before its transition into a world power. All told as a subtext of a great
Romance and historical drama. A wonderful portal to another time.
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