Cover image for Mistress of the monarchy : the life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster
Mistress of the monarchy : the life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster
Weir, Alison.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Katherine Swynford
Ballantine Books trade paperback edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books Trade Paperbacks, 2010.

Physical Description:
xxii, 406 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 21 cm
General Note:
Originally published as: Katherine Swynford : the story of John of Gaunt and his scandalous duchess. London : Jonathan Cape, 2007.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DA247.K38 W45 2007 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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Acclaimed author Alison Weir brings to life the extraordinary tale of Katherine Swynford, a royal mistress who became one of the most crucial figures in the history of Great Britain. Born in the mid-fourteenth century, Katherine de Roët was only twelve when she married Hugh Swynford, an impoverished knight. But her story had truly begun two years earlier, when she was appointed governess to the household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of King Edward III. Widowed at twenty-one, Katherine became John's mistress and then, after many twists of fortune, his bride in a scandalous marriage. Mistress of the Monarchy reveals a woman ahead of her time--making her own choices, flouting convention, and taking control of her own destiny. Indeed, without Katherine Swynford, the course of English history, perhaps even the world, would have been very different.

Author Notes

Alison Weir was born in London, England on July 8, 1951. She received training to be a teacher with a concentration in history from the North Western Polytechnic. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a civil servant and ran her own school for children with learning difficulties from 1991 to 1997. Her first book, Britain's Royal Families, was published in 1989. Her other books include The Six Wives of Henry VIII; Children of England; Eleanor of Aquitaine; Henry VIII: King and Court; Mary, Queen of Scots; and Isabella.

Her first novel, Innocent Traitor, was published in 2006. Her other novels include The Lady Elizabeth, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, The Captive Queen, A Dangerous Inheritance, and Katherine of Aragon, the True Queen.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

With a practiced hand, royal biographer Weir (Eleanor of Aquitaine, 2001; Queen Isabella, 2006) carefully reconstructs a passionate historical love story. Retracing the life of Katherine Swynford, she paints a portrait of a woman who, although constrained by her station and by society, was nevertheless able to catch the eye and the heart of a prince, becoming first the mistress and eventually the third wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Their relationship spanned nearly 30 years, outlasted several marriages, and thrived during the course of one of the most politically tumultuous periods in British history. The Hundred Years' War, the infamous Peasant's Revolt, and the regency of Richard II provide a colorful backdrop to this remarkable woman's story.--Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2009 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Veteran royal biographer Weir (Eleanor of Aquitaine) resurrects the life and times of the remarkable woman who was mistress and eventually the wife of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, third son of the charismatic and accomplished king of England, Edward III. Through John and Katherine Swynford (1350-1403) descended centuries of British sovereigns, including Queen Elizabeth II. Weir makes use of meager contemporary sources to build a convincing case for an intelligent, poised and talented woman who flouted convention and took control of her destiny in a male-dominated age. After the death of her first husband, one of John's knights, Katherine embarked on an illicit and notorious liaison with John, married to the queen of Castile; the connection survived separations and calamities, and she bore him four children. Repentant in the wake of the Peasants Revolt, John broke off the liaison, but after his wife's death, he risked censure to marry her, making her stepmother to the future Henry IV. Weir's well-researched, engrossing and perceptive biography gives a gutsy beauty her due while vividly describing the age of chivalry and its many players, including Katherine's renowned brother-in-law, Geoffrey Chaucer. 16 pages of color photos. (Jan. 27) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Few royal mistresses have emerged from the historical pages of obscurity, and even fewer have made the transition from royal mistress to royal wife. Katherine Swynford (1350-1403), whose relationship with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-99), spanned over 25 years, was the exception. In this meticulously researched and highly engaging biography, prolific historian and novelist Weir (Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England) shows that Katherine was a cultivated, intelligent woman who was able to hold the love and esteem of one of the most powerful men in England and eventually marry him. Their marriage was of immense dynastic importance: all subsequent English monarchs were descended from them. Because Katherine left no written records or correspondence, Weir relies on informed judgment to fill in some of the historical gaps. Few books have been written about Katherine, apart from Jeannette Lucraft's academic study, Katherine Swynford: The History of a Medieval Mistress and of course Anya Seton's famous historical novel, Katherine, which Weir admits inspired her to write this biography. Genealogical tables at the end of the book are a valuable point of interest. Recommended for both public and academic libraries. (Illustrations not seen.)-Carrie Benbow, Toronto P.L., Ontario (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Panetto's Daughter Katherine Swynford, that famous adulteress,1 was set on the path to notoriety, fame, and a great love at the tender age of two or thereabouts, when she was placed in the household of Philippa of Hainault, wife to Edward III of England. This would have been around 1352, and Katherine's disposition with the popular and maternal Philippa was almost certainly due to her father, Sir Paon de Roët, having rendered years of faithful service to the Queen and the royal family of Hainault. Like her benefactress, Katherine was a Hainaulter. She was born Katherine de Roët, her surname variously given as Rouet, Roëlt, or Ruet, and pronounced Roay. The Roëts were a prominent family in Hainault, then an independent principality located in the western reaches of the Holy Roman Empire, bordering on the kingdom of France and occupying much of what is now Belgium. This fertile and prosperous county stretched from Liège and Brussels in the north to Lille and Valenciennes in the south, and contained other thriving cloth cities: Mons, Charleroi, and Tournai; all of which provided a market for England's raw wool, her chief export. Formed at the time of the division of Charlemagne's empire in the ninth century, Hainault had been an imperial fief since 1071, and in the early fourteenth century it was ruled by the House of Avesnes, which had come to power in 1244. Katherine possibly had noble or even royal connections through her mother, but claims that she was closely related through her father to the aristocratic lords of Roeulx cannot be substantiated. The Roeulx were a great and powerful Hainaulter family that could trace its descent from the ancient counts of Flanders and Hainault, who were themselves descended from the Emperor Charlemagne, and from England's famous King Alfred. William the Conqueror had married a princess of that house, Matilda of Flanders, and by her was the founder of the ruling dynasties of England, the Norman and Plantagenet kings. Since the twelfth century the lords of Roeulx had prospered mightily.2 Their landholdings centered mainly on the town of Le Roeulx, which lies eight miles northeast of Mons, but their name is also associated with Roux, forty miles east of Mons, and Fauroeulx, twenty miles to the south. That Katherine shared a close kinship with the lords of Roeulx is doubtful on heraldic evidence alone--or the lack of it.3 Her family was relatively humble. The chronicler Jean Froissart, a native of Hainault, who appears to have been quite well informed on Katherine Swynford's background, states that Jean de Roët, who died in 1305 and was the son of one Huon de Roët, was her grandfather. Neither bore a title. Yet it is possible that there was some blood tie with the Roeulx. Paon de Roët, the father of Katherine Swynford, whose name appears in English sources as Payn or Payne,4 and is pronounced Pan,was almost certainly baptized Gilles, a name borne by several members of the senior line of the Roeulx, which is one reason some historians have linked him to this branch of the family.5 Of course, the similarity in surnames suggests a connection in that period, the spellings of Roeulx and Roët could be, and were, interchangeable as does the fact that both families are known to have had connections with the area around Mons and Le Roeulx. But discrepancies in arms would appear to indicate that Paon was at best a member of a junior branch of the House of Roeulx; all the same, it is possible that the royal blood of Charlemagne and Alfred the Great did indeed run in Katherine's veins. The arms of the town of Le Roeulx were a silver lion on a green field holding a wheel in its paw;6 this is a play on words, for wheel in French is roue, which is similar to, and symbolic of, Roeulx. It was a theme adopted by Paon's own family: His arms were three plain silver wheels on a field of red; they w Excerpted from Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster by Alison Weir All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.