Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster

Written by Alison Weir
Review by Heather Domin

The latest beneficiary of Alison’s Weir’s biographical attentions is the little-known but often reviled Katherine Swynford, the long-time mistress and eventual wife of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III and patriarch of the House of Lancaster. Katherine would be the woman from whom all future English monarchs would descend, but as with most independent females, history has been less than kind to her. With her usual deftness Weir cuts through centuries of legend and hearsay to paint a portrait of the woman behind the historical figure, a woman quite different from the brazen harlot labeled a witch by her contemporary chroniclers. As in many of Weir’s biographies, much is learned not only about the title figure but also those around her—Katherine’s family, friends, enemies, and contemporaries, including her brother-in-law Geoffrey Chaucer. The historical research is meticulous and seamlessly integrated into the narrative. The result is the story of a real woman with virtues, flaws, and an altogether fascinating life. Fans of the author will not be disappointed. Recommended.