I enjoyed reading this book again for a second time this year.
I loved the story and Anya Seton has described a beautiful love story
It is set during the times of Edward III in Plantagenet England,
where England was a very different place with more countrified and rural settings.
Wonderful descriptions are given of London with the Savoy Palace as a land
mark of the city with its pennants fluttering in the breeze, which could be
seen from the banks of the River Thames.
Katherine married at a young age to Sir Hugh Swynford. In those times
it was deemed a suitable match for Katherine, being an impoverished
knight’s daughter, who had followed her sister, Philippa, to court.
Katherine and Philippa de Roet were daughters of Paon de Roet, a knight
of Hainault. Unfortunately, he died not long after his knighthood in a battle and
the two sisters were taken to England where Philippa of Hainault, Queen
of Edward III took an interest in their welfare.
Katherine, at the time, even though reluctant to marry Sir Hugh Swynford,
eventually agreed to marry him.
The story is told over a life time and describes the beautiful Blanche
of Lancaster, the Duchess of John of Gaunt in glowing terms. Katherine
eventually became a governess of the Lancaster children.
If there ever was a fairy tale to tell, this would come very close,
as the story also has a magical ending.
The descriptions of England at the time take the reader into a
world of colourful pageantry and the court of Edward III.
Katherine Swynford lived for many years at a little place, Kettlethorpe,
which is out of Lincoln, and also spent time at Kenilworth Castle,
which is also renowned for the pageants which the Duke of Leicester,
staged when entertaining Elizabeth I.
In the times of Katherine and John of Gaunt, there was also a
mere, or a lake, which people could row across. It would be
nice to visit this fairy tale castle. There is still a magnificent
hall which was completed in John of Gaunt’s time.
Alison Weir, in her book, “Katherine Swynford, The Story of John of
Gaunt and his Scandalous Mistress” gives a detailed description of
Kenilworth Castle at this time on pages 133-134 of her book. It is
located in the County of Warwick, built of golden sandstone and dates
from the twelfth century. The great hall or
“New Chamber” which was built by John of Gaunt was decorated with
fine stone panels or carvings. There was also an Oriel window which
would have reflected light into the hall and also a fire-place, where
the Duke’s table was set. The rest of the house-hold would have dined
at trestle tables which were set up in the hall with two magnificent
fire-places of carved stone with traceried windows and stone seats in
the alcoves. The hammerbeam roof no longer exists or the wooden floor
of the hall. Alison Weir notes that the Great Hall is said to have
inspired the remodelling of Westminster Hall by Richard II in the 1390’s.
An undercroft can be seen where provisions and wine were
stored. There was also a tiltyard and a garden. The gardens at
Kenilworth have been recently restored to look as they would have
appeared during the times of Elizabeth I.
There are a couple of depictions from wikipedia of which the links are:
Painters have also painted Kenilworth Castle over the years as it is set
in a magical setting and some of these paintings are quite beautiful
depicted in a natural setting inspired by nature and light.
There was also a Strong Tower for the domestic quarters and bakehouse
and kitchens. Also a Saintlowe Tower, which was the Duke’s apartments
and overlooked the Mere. The family, knights and squires would have
lodged in this tower. There was also a throne bearing the arms of
Castile, as John of Gaunt had subsequently married Constance of Castile.
This aspect of the story was sad for Katherine at the time, as described
in Anya Seton’s novel of Katherine. Katherine and John of Gaunt spent time
in the Pyrenees of France, as during the fourteenth century there were English
provinces in France.
The “White Hall” on the first floor in the Saintlowe Tower was where John of
Gaunt gave important receptions and met visitors. There was also a
chapel and garderobes on the ground and first floors, so all in all,
it must have been quite a magnificent setting.
The scenery would also have been beautiful.
Kettlethorpe, by comparison, was a little different. The River Trent
would often overflow and sometimes it would be difficult for the crops
to grow. Apparently the land was stony and sandy, though over the years
Katherine made the best of these conditions and also in time there were repairs and maintenance for the upkeep of the buildings.
I enjoyed the story for the beauty of the romance and the wonderful settings.
It is an unusual story of the times and from the line of the Beaufort
children, who were the children of Katherine and John of Gaunt, (who were subsequently
came a future line of kings and queens, including the tudor dynasty.
There are also fascinating descriptions and accounts of people from the
time, including Wat Tiler, Geoffrey Chaucer, (married to Katherine’s sister)
a chronicler Froissart, who
was in the retinue of Queen Philippa of Hainault and the children of John
of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster.
There are also glimpses of the patterns of life of fourteenth century
England and the politics of the time, including the Good Parliament.
The book inspires with the ideals of chivalry. It was Edward III who
initiated the Order of the Garter. There were also poignant moments
described in the novel, describing scenes and moments of beauty, as for example,
watching the water of the River Thames flow by, while discussing matters
of import, and yet Katherine would say that it is as it is, it did not
matter, as at this time, John had not given her any lands
which concerned him.
There have also been other books and literature published about Katherine
and John of Gaunt. It is an unusual love story, poignant and beautiful.
My best wishes, Sandra