Richard Barber

Devil or Demure?

Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess

By

Jonathan Cape 384pp £20 order from our bookshop

Katherine Swynford’s fame is largely due to Anya Seton’s Katherine, one of the best historical novels of the twentieth century, published just over fifty years ago. Alison Weir acknowledges that this book ‘made a tremendous impact on me as an adolescent’, and in a sense her biography is a homage to Seton’s novel, an attempt to portray the Katherine of history rather than of historical fiction. But the material available is extraordinarily thin, as is so often the case with medieval lives. Even the Black Prince, for all his fame, is an enigma; we have only one letter in his hand, and very little reliable report of his personal characteristics.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,
    • 'Bythell glowers past his till at a world in slow free fall.' on the travails of a second-hand book… ,
    • 'It is a scent of animal wrath, of instinctive need, of brutal life which affects the cultured nostrils of our civi… ,
    • 'The day produced countless stories of chance, of people taking one route or another without realising that the dec… ,