Thursday, August 14, 2008


And then I read "Katherine".  Since then, I am on a kick to see how the whole Lancaster thing started, reading John Gardner's 1977 work on Chaucer, and taking shots at what before now was an inaccessible Shakespeare play - "Richard II".   It is a sort of a rush - before the last few weeks, I have never read Chaucer, previously knew little about the Peasant's Revolt, or even thought about that complex king, Richard II (pictured here addressing the rebels in Froissart).

Anya Seton, through what must have been a sustained period of thoroughly hard, painstaking work, created a masterpiece in "Katherine".  Never have I seen a great man's mistress so nobly and sympathetically described.  One roots for her from page one.  And so much happens in her 53 years, events in a life made to fit into a span replete with thematic and dramatic content, a love affair of four decades with its own epic conclusions.  Historical fiction at its classic best.

Old John of Gaunt, what a lady killer.  Katherine, lithe and pleasing.  I think it was good to read Weir's biography of Katherine before the novel because it gave me background in a period I knew naught of, and underscored that this novel, though of a real historical remarkable lady, had its wellspring in recorded fact.  The encounters described, one thinks, may very well have happened that way, and did so as all literature exists to me from some kernel of truth embossed in beautiful soul moving language.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Remarkable Lady

I would like to gather a few thoughts on Katherine Swynford after reading Alison Weir's biography of her relationship with John of Gaunt (pictured).  I plan to read the Anya Seton novel at some point, but now I am so into Plaidy's historical fictive style it may be awhile.

Hers is a very impressive story - upwardly mobile - to come from such humble ancestry to the attention of a maternally sympathetic Queen Philippa (to Edward III) to a hardscrabble first marriage to a knight to a lush affair with several children to that most prominent Duke.   Next came calumny and furtive living as a byproduct of the Peasant's Revolt.  The cap on her life was marriage to that prominent Duke and legitimization of her children.  It is a story that spans decades of faithfulness to a scandalous relationship, turning mores upside down.  

She is the ancestress of Margaret Beaufort, and thus the Tudor kings.  She is also ancestress of the House of Stuart through her granddaughter Joan.  So the Tudors are descended from two misalliances involving initially illegitimate children (better check my facts here).