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Was she kind, gentle, warm, blessed with a good sense of humour? This we do not know, beyond the conjecture that her personality must have been of merit to hold Gaunt's attention and love for so long.
A fairly short book, with a bit of a sense of PhD thesis pushed into book form, looking at the life and historical treatment of Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt's lover and later his wife in the late 14th century. The core facts are interesting enough - her father appears to have been a Flemish mercenary, but she moved comfortably in royal circles and her sister married Geoffrey Chaucer, and her love affair with Gaunt was publicly acknowledged while his second wife was still living. Lucraft dwells on the scandalised treatment of the Gaunt household arrangements by later monastic chroniclers, but carefully dissects them to demonstrate that there may really have been general acceptance of the situation, with the most negative comments written some time afterwards, politically motivated and inaccurate on the facts. Indeed I wish she had gone a bit further and explicitly looked at the John of Gaunt / Katherine Swynford / Isabella of Castile relationship as a stable triad, terminated only by Isabella's death; there are plenty of historical, literary and contemporary examples to draw from. (One favourite of mine is Peter Dickinson's alternate twentieth-century British Royals in King and Joker.)

Lucraft then offers an interpretation of Katherine's personal worldview as having been inspired by St Catherine of Alexandria. Here she makes a very good case for the fact of Katherine's devotion based on the surviving iconography, but falls down a bit in interpreting what this might have meant to her subject: Catherine of Alexandria was, famously, a virgin, and Katherine Swynford, also fairly famously, was not (Swynford was the surname of her first husband, by whom she had had three children before the four she had with John of Gaunt). I think that there must be something in St Catherine's facility in helping her devotees to overcome suffering, and also possibly her personal devotion to learning, but Lucraft disappointingly strays off the specifics into a general discussion of godly women (though I did find the parallels with Margery Kempe interesting).

Anyway, I'm going slow on my own historical project at present, but this was an interesting example of what you can learn about a person, and about history, when they were moderately important in their won right but can only be reconstructed from physical artefacts and from what other people said about them.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
viomisehunt
Jul. 27th, 2013 05:05 pm (UTC)
One of my favorite books in high school was Katherine, by historical fiction author, Anya Seton. I wonder if the author was a fan of the book. Seton's book was meticulously researched. I think you will enjoy it.
nwhyte
Jul. 28th, 2013 08:54 am (UTC)
Yes, she references Anya Seton's book as inspiration for looking at Katherine's life in the first place - but also takes her to task slightly for perpetuating stereotypes!
viomisehunt
Jul. 28th, 2013 05:48 pm (UTC)
Her Katherine is a bit of a saint who just fell into becoming a Lord's mistress.... :-)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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