Book Discovery: Katherine by Anya Seton Print
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 04 January 2007 16:55
If you are into historical fiction as I am, this is one of the enduring classics.

Anya Seton's Katherine is the true story of Katherine Sywnford, the life-long love, long-time mistress, and finally wife of the fabulously wealthy Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, younger brother of the King of England. Katherine was also the sister-in-law of Geoffrey Chaucer and a witness to many of the dramatic events of the last half of the 14th century.

Seton's books are famous for the meticulous research behind them and very well-written. What has surprised me this time (for I haven't read the book in years) was the powerful description of Katherine's repentence, healing, and conversion under the influence of Julian of Norwich after living as John of Gaunt's mistress for 10 years.

She never ceases to love Gaunt but breaks off the relationship, and returns to live in obscurity on her own small manor, accepting the isolation and humiliation that comes with her all too public past, and raises their four children while the Duke is left to make the most of his own less than satisfactory marriage. Katherine's prayer life and growth in inner serenity and faith despite her "long loneliness" is beautifully portrayed. I don't know if there is any historical evidence for this dramatic conversion but it is handled in a realistic and moving way.

15 years later, the widowed Duke did do the unthinkable - he married his former mistress and made her the first lady in England. Their children are legitimized and become the ancestors of several kings of England.

A great read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction set in the middle ages and a surprisingly moving portrayal of one kind of lay discipleship in the face of loss and suffering.