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Katherine Swynford

The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess
Narrated by: Judith Boyd
Length: 16 hrs and 34 mins
Categories: History, European
3 out of 5 stars (55 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In this remarkable book, Alison Weir recounts one of the greatest and most remarkable love stories of medieval England. It is the extraordinary tale of an exceptional woman, Katherine Swynford, who became first the mistress, and later the wife, of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

But Katherine Swynford was much more than that. She was the mother of the Beauforts, and through them the ancestress of the Yorkist Kings, the Tudors, the Stuarts and every other sovereign since - a prodigious legacy which has shaped the history of Britain.

©2007 Alison Weir (P)2007 WF Howes Ltd

Critic Reviews

"Weir provides immense satisfaction. She writes in a pacy, vivid style, engaging the heart as it does the mind." ( The Independent)
"Alison Weir's hugely popular history books are as gripping as novels." ( The Times, London)
"Alison Weir is one of our greatest popular historians." ( The Daily Mail)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Enthralling

I cannot imagine how someone could find the story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt boring. While Weir's book does not have the intimacy of Katherine, by Anya Seton, it is more accurate historically. There have, after all, been another 50 years of scholarship. I found this book as compelling as I did Katherine many years ago. I listened every chance I got.

This book is for those people with an interest in history, who find in various points of view as absorbing a story as a romance.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Too long

Although the first few hours of the book were extremely interesting giving an excellent idea of life in the 14th century Europe. I found that it tended to ramble on after a bit with just a report of the movements of John og Gaunt and Katherine without much additional colour. I abandoned it about 3/4 way through. I do feel that it gave a good insight into the life and poetry Geoffrey Chaucer, I knew very little about him and only knew some of the Cantebury Tales.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Good non-fiction book

I've read several of Allison Weir's non-fiction biographies, and they're all meticulously researched, very detailed, and well written. This is no exception. It's a much a biography of John of Gaunt as of Katherine Swynford, probably because there is more detail about his life, and most of the information available on Katherine is through John. If you're interested in this period of English history, you'll probably find the detail interesting, but there was a lot more detail about the architecture than I wanted.
If you're looking for something along the lines of Anya Seton's novel, you'll be disappointed, as it is a detailed account of Katherine's life, but is presented as "just the facts." I found Weir's note about Seton and her novel that is at the end of the book quite interesting. The narrator was just right.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

What an extraordinary life

Alison Weir does it again - takes a woman with an extraordinary personality and at odds with her time in history and sets the record straight.

Katherine Swynford was no scandalous duchess but a paramour of longstanding of John of Gaunt. Her long suffering was eventually rewarded by John marrying her but their wedded bliss lasted only a few years until John died in 1399. It did however lead to their children being legalised and no longer being viewed as bastards. Their descendants can be traced to many european royal houses, and directly to the Tudor dynasty in England.

The one thing that continued to annoy throughout the book was the regular questioning of the listener as to whether or not they believed that Katherine undertook a particular action. The question was always prefaced by what usually happened in such a situation in the fourteenth century and the historical likelihood of it happening but with such scant real knowledge of Katherine's life and actions much of the action was conjecture. With Alison's deep research into the subject of her books I would rather have had less questioning and more "it was likely", we are after all talking about a time in history where very little personal history was recorded other than births, deaths, purchases and leases.

For all that, it was a very illuminating book - the history of that time fascinates me and learning more about Edward III's children and in particular John of Gaunt was particularly interesting - a shadowy brutish character in history but probably in reality a much more normal person with a lusty appetite and an enduring love for one woman for over 25 years. The fact that he married Katherine eventually does indeed show love conquers all!

A highly recommended book for those interested in the run up to the Wars of the Roses, the time of Chaucer and the high middle ages.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • RuthAnn
  • Knoxville, TN, United States
  • 07-29-08

Boring with a capital B

If I could give this a zero I would... simply dreadful

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Janice
  • Clermont, FL, USA
  • 03-17-10

Not worth my Credit

The first part of the book was just a history lesson that never ended. I loved her Elizabeth and Innocent Traitor books and was so disapointed to have wasted my time and my credit on this book.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

A Disappointment

I have read all of Weir's biographies as well as her novels. Her last novel, Lady Elizabeth, was a disappointment and so is this. She could find nothing about Swynford so it is filled with conjucture and facts about everyone except Kathryn. Not only is the content dull, the narration is poor. She is trying so hard to make nothing sound like something that it becomes annoying.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Anne
  • Montgomery Village, MD, United States
  • 01-02-09

Not worth the time

I have become more and more disappointed in Ms Weir's books over the last few years. Her biographies are NOT objective (she likes her subjects too much, I fear) and her novels have less plot than real life. Her biographies are at least better written.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

A boring read

This book is just a series of historical dates with absolutely no fiction. While it may be factual it makes for boring reading.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

BORING...MORE "ROYAL BABY MAMA DRAMA"

I'm a big fan of Alison Weir's work and purchased this book on faith. It is a disappointment on all levels. Audible.com calls this "one of the greatest and most remarkable love stories of medieval England. Katherine Swynford, who became first the mistress, and later the wife, of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. But Katherine Swynford was much more than that. She was the mother of the Beauforts, and through them the ancestress of the Yorkist Kings, the Tudors, the Stuarts and every other sovereign since - a prodigious legacy which has shaped the history of Britain." By being the "Number 1 Baby Mama"? Weir tried hard to make something interesting out of a very boring subject. Where is the LOVE? Weir had to make a story out of conjecture and suppositions. Everything is "Katherine MIGHT have attended" or "Katherine LIKELY wore an outfit of...." We never learned anything about the woman herself. Was she beautiful? Sexy? How did she feel about her "baby daddy" using her years? Weir tries to give us the impression that Katherine was smart but who hangs around for DECADES for a man to marry her and then only after his wife dies and he is close to death?! She was in her late 40's before she finally became a Duchess through marriage. Her legacy of "shaping the history of Britain" resulted in Prince Charles doing the same thing to Camilla Parker-Bowles. What a bunch of low self-esteem people! Must be the inbreeding.

1 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Emma
  • 04-21-09

Disappointing

This is a fabulous book, and I was really looking forward to having the audio version of it. What a disappointing narration! I can best describe it a plonky, a bit like someone reading to little children, not really fitting for a book about such a fascinating woman. I didn't even make it past the first hour, a waste of a credit, but never mind...

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Richard
  • 03-16-10

History made dreary.

I really wanted to like this audiobook, having heard about the book on BBC Radio's Woman's Hour and finding the discussion of the subject fascinating. Sadly it turns out to be one of those books that doesn't do well when read aloud. All the dates, asides and, I presume, footnotes which one can either choose to skip, scan or study by choice when reading a book become turgid in the extreme when being read out in the same, measured tones. I persevered longer than the one hour mentioned in another review - but really, really wish I hadn't. Definite waste of a credit, but at least I had not paid the actual cash for it. For a much better aural experience I heartily recommend Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. That really is a treat for the ears.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Dorothea Gerhards
  • 08-21-19

Very interesting but title should focus on John of

I enjoyed the book for most parts but feel that the title is misleading as it focusses on John of Gaunt rather than Katherine Swynford - understandably so as there remains so little evidence of her actual life. However, I feel this should be reflected in the book's title.
The speaker should not attempt different accents as it annoys abd distracts and I also found the spelling of names and equations to today's money values very distracting.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Helen
  • 04-13-13

As good as the 1st time

I first read this book over 40ys ago and decided to have the luxury of having it read to me this time. I missed so much 1st time round, this time I realised that this wasn't just the story of a great love but a social history of its time. It has fired my imagination and interest and I now want to revisit this whole period of history. I just love a book that leads you to more.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Miss N. Farooqui
  • 04-13-13

Katherine Swynford

Although not much is known about Katherine Swynford, Alison Weir manages to give the reader a detailed account of her life before and after she became duchess of Lancaster. The narration was good. A must read.

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Arcticangel.
  • 03-03-13

Nothing of her character

This was a little disappointing. No doubt the facts were all quite correct and in the right order, but I know nothing more of the fascinating Katherine Swynford than I did before. I knew all the dates, I wanted more insight into her as a living being. I got none. It read like a history lecture, not all that well delivered.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • janine
  • 12-25-12

The Amazing Katherine Swynford

What a fabulous story. The history of our monarchy which all spawned from this amazing woman. I loved listening to this book. I confess I had found "reading" the book too tedious. All those dates and tooing and froing, pretty hard to grasp, but listening to the story .... well I now have it all in my head ( and my heart).

Well read by Judith Boyd and well done Audible.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Hortenzia
  • 04-16-11

Biography

This is not fiction, but pure biography and history, drawing probable conclusions based on known facts and existing documents. Therefore, full of dates and names as it is, it's not really adequate for listening, but rather for reading on paper. I did like it, however, and I indend to read more of the kind, but I'm going to choose the timing carefully, making sure that the circumstances are propitious and that I'm ready to give it the level of attention required.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Heather
  • 05-16-10

Rich and satisfying

Not your average silly historical romp, but a serious work of scholarship, packed with facts and well supported argument. Not as gripping as her earlier 'Isabella', but a thorough study of the life of an influential woman in the reign of Richard II.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Carole
  • 12-25-09

A waste of a credit...

This is not a novel, but an audible list of historical opinions/facts/records researched by the author. Consequently not of interest to me; lacking flow and continuity. A waste of a credit in my opinion.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-11-19

Based on fact

This book is fabulous and I consider Judith Boyd has done justice to its feel, facts and empathy with Katherine Swynford. With young women of 2019 Katherine proves a great strong woman of history. She proved she was financially astute, a keen and capable manager of her work place and world. Great read!