I’m going to take a break from more modern books and share one of my favorite novels with you. Because sometimes you want to read something old, but good. I know I do.
This is probably my favorite book in the universe, and you can pry it from my cold dead hands.
First published in 1954, Katherine by Anya Seyton tells a romanticized version of the very real love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family and indeed most of Europe. Set in the time of the Black Death, the 100 years war, and of course Chaucer – who just happens to be Katherine Swynford’s brother-in-law – this book is filled with colorful historical domain characters. Katherine is the daughter of a poor knight. Raised in a convent, she never set out to change history. Indeed, she didn’t set out to be anything other than a good wife and a good mother. While married to a poor knight, she falls in love with one of the highest princes in the land – and he falls in love with her. Their love persists through the years and is one of the most awe-inspiring.
My high school English teacher lent me her copy in my senior year and I read it three times before graduating. At the time, the book was out of print so I didn’t have any way to buy it. Trust me, I tried. I scoured used bookshops with no luck. The internet wasn’t a thing yet – it existed but good luck finding anything; we were still using Netscape and CERN’s list to navigate. When I went to college, my university library got the book for me so often via inter-library loan that they used to joke that I should just forget to turn it in so I could own it. It was a tempting thought, and don’t think for a second I didn’t consider it. Katherine Swineford’s story is incredible. The daughter of a knight. Sister-in-law of Chaucer – yes, that Chaucer. Mistress to a Duke. And Foundress of a dynasty. Heck, multiple dynasties – Tudor, Stuart, Hanover, even today’s Windsors are descended from her.
The way Anya Seyton weaves all of the history into this takes my breath away. Katherine is the prototype for the historical romance genre. It’s the story that inspired generations of romance authors who in turn inspired others. While now found to be historically inaccurate, it wasn’t at the time it was written. And the inaccuracies in no way detract from the story. The story has everything: love, betrayal, dastardly dukes, and even a happy ending. The fact that the history was real? That makes it even better. I will always love this.
You can get it here – but do yourself the favor of buying the physical copy. You’ll thank me for it later.
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