This is a historical novel about the romance of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster whose descendants became are represented in most of Europe's royal families, fulfilling Merlin's ancient prophecy "thou shalt get kings though thou be none!" Queen Elizabeth II is one of those descendants.
The novel begins with Katherine about 15 and coming to court in hopes of finding a husband. She basically falls in love at first sight with the Duke of Lancaster, who is married to the lovely (and rich!) Blanche. She ends up married far beyond expectation to the knight Hugh Swynford. She bears him two children and then he dies. Almost immediately she and John begin an affair, even on the eve of his betrothal to the Infanta Constance of Castile. She ends up bearing him four children, causing a myriad of problems. Eventually her guilt and the scorn of her firstborn cause her to renounce John. However once his wife dies, he returns to her and proposes marriage, which ends with the legitimation of their children and happiness.
- For whatever reason I kept picturing Richard Armitage as John of Gaunt despite the many references to his blond hair. I'm not sure why but I didn't really mind.
- Geoffery Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, was actually Katherine's brother-in-law. He married her older sister Pica and they mostly lived apart allowing him the opportunity to write.
- Seton wrote some very vivid descriptions-in many ways it was like I was there (except that it didn't smell!)
- A problem, for me, was the longstanding adulterous relationship of the couple. The way it is presented seems to make it okay because it's true love and it does eventually end in marriage but I was still somewhat uncomfortable.
- I had some difficulties with the various titles, the fact that many people shared a name, the locations of places in England, Catholic practices, and some outdated words but they did not affect my ability to read the book.
- His proposal is awful! He essentially says "I've had other mistresses and other bastards but the only one I want to marry is you!" [Wikipedia says he only had one other bastard.] But what a terrible proposal-I don't think it would induce me to marry him. Of course it's not historically accurate because I really doubt either of them wrote down what was said so there's no way of knowing.
- The beginning of the affair is fast. First John is mourning his first wife Blanche and then he's carrying Katherine to a bed where she refuses because she's still married. But once Hugh is dead, they're together. The falling in love is mostly overlooked-I would have preferred more but there are later scenes that are quite touching. In fact my favorite part was probably when they were together before the 1381 riots.
- Katherine is very strong. She is a loving mother, an outwardly devoted wife even when she is loathing Hugh and desiring John on the outside, a strong steward of the estate, and brave in the face of the riots.
- I also liked the supporting female characters as in her sister Pica and her longtime devoted maid Hawise. I did not like her first daughter Blanche, whose meanness to her mother hurt me.