Category Archives: 14th Century

Katherine by Anya Seton

Classic storytelling  

Katherine by Anya Seton
Medieval hist-fic
Originally published early fifies
Source is a personal copy/not for review purposes
Burton Book Review Rating:Four and a Half Stars

Synopsis:

This classic romance novel tells the true story of the love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already married Katherine. Their well-documented affair and love persist through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. This epic novel of conflict, cruelty, and untamable love has become a classic since its first publication in 1954.

Katherine is a book that many of my fellow historical fiction readers have read and recommended to me, and it took the 2013 TBR Challenge and an online group read to get-er-done. I was totally loving the classic prose of Anya Seton, and winged through the first half of the book as Katherine became the loving mistress to John of Gaunt, and thus the famous ancestor of many of the royal line. Katherine Swynford was a commoner, and portrayed as a bewitchingly ethereal beauty. Some of her ‘magnificence’ became a little tedious as things were getting tense in the real world around her but she would presently “forget” all about such and such and move along her merry way. The character seemed to be a bit bland as we got to know her better but the classic writing style of Seton really won me over in the end.

I would recommend this classic novel to anybody who is interested in the story between John of Gaunt and his eventual wife, Katherine. While I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would as it seemed to drag a bit here and there, I still enjoyed it very much; especially because of the myriad of characters who helped portray an evocative part in history. John of Gaunt was a very intriguing figure, and I have to wonder about this characterization of him.. he was portrayed as being adored by the people and a strong leader, which I wonder if his one flaw was falling in love with the Swynford woman. The beginnings of their relationship were very dramatic, and again I have to wonder what is reality. Definitely a fantastic era for a movie..the setting of the era was a character in itself, a testament to Seton’s writing talent.

The edition that I read is shown in the picture above which was a reissue with several typos. I have an older edition that I didn’t want to mess up, but I kinda wish I had read that one instead.

This novel was one of my picks for the Roof Beam Reader’s 2013 TBR Challenge. Click the button to see my progress thus far:

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Filed under 14th Century, 2013 Review, Anya Seton

The Plantagenet Series by Juliet Dymoke

The Synopses of The Plantagenet Series by Juliet Dymoke

©BurtonBookReview
I was very lucky to be put in touch with someone selling some of their out of print historicals, and this lot of Juliet Dymoke titles is exactly what made me want to buy the whole box of books, even though there were some duplicates within. I had these Juliet Dymoke books on my wish list forever but I was only able to find the USA version of Lady of the Garter once in my local used bookstore. The ones shown above are the UK editions, from ‘New England Library’ (London based) which are now happily part of my personal library. Some of the novels may be found via Amazon, I linked their titles above directly to their Amazon pages in case you want to buy them for yourself.
I hadn’t been able to find much information online about them regarding their plot points etc., so I wanted to share the descriptions from back covers with you, keeping in mind I kept those words which are UK spellings:
A Pride of Kings
The first king whom William Marshal met had nearly hanged him. That was Stephen of Blois. Years later William Marshal, the landless, penniless younger son who earned his living with his sword on the tourney fields of Europe, and rose to the highest office in the land under the crown, served five kings of the great Plantagenet line. One died in his arms, one accused him without cause, one raised him to high honours, another turned against him.
Throughout it all, William Marshal never swerved in his loyalty to the quarrelsome, unpredictable, charming and autocratic brood of Henry II, founder of the Plantagenet dynasty.
A Pride of Kings is the first of a series of novels which tell the story of the Plantagenet monarchs through the eyes of the men and women who served them, loved them or betrayed them.
The Royal Griffin
The love story of Princess Eleanor, proud daughter of the Plantagenet dynasty, and Simon de Montfort who though not a commoner was no more than the younger son of a Norman baron, is one of the great romances of the thirteenth century.
His own qualities as much as his kinship to the royal house raised Simon to a position of importance in England, but his friendship with the vain weathercock king soon changed to bitter enmity. Simon became the champion of all those, from barons to peasants, who wanted a curb put on the king’s power. Inevitably, he grew too powerful himself, and came to blows with both Henry III and his son the Lord Edward.
Throughout a lifetime of conflict and divided loyalties, Eleanor never lost sight of her royal heritage as the king’s sister, but until the final disaster she remained Simon’s devoted wife.
The Royal Griffin continues the fascinating story of the Plantagenet family, which began in A Pride of Kings.
The Lion of Mortimer
All the ability, strength and charm of the Plantagenets reached their peak in the person of Edward I, and Simon de Montacute was proud that his own son William should in his turn serve the old King’s heir.
Though the second Edward was weak and frivolous, and his passion for Piers Gaveston roused his barons against him, he retained and repaid William’s loyalty, and William shared the King’s growing hatred for Roger Mortimer as that grasping baron rose to power and too great an influence over Edward’s slighted Queen. It was left to young Will de Montecute, friend and close companion of Prince Edward, to play a part in  Mortimer’s downfall and the resurgence of the royal Plantagenet line.
Following A Pride of Kings and The Royal Griffin, The Lion of Mortimer continues the turbulent story of the Plantagenet dynasty, their faithful friends and their bitter enemies.
Lady of The Garter
Overshadowed by her brilliant husband and then by her wayward and ill-fated son, the Princess Joan might have been remembered only as the Black Prince’s wife, Richard II’s widowed mother.
But Joan’s life had its fill of drama and romance. Despite a secret betrothal in girlhood, she was married to another man. The King took her as his mistress; the common folk loved her for her kindliness and beauty.
For of all the Plantagenet women, Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, was perhaps the most beautiful. Her passionate love story was lived against the background of such great events as the victories of Crecy and Poitiers, at the brilliant court of Edward III and among his sons and daughters who had their full share of Plantagenet pride and ambition.
Lady of the Garter is the fourth is this series of novels retelling the magnificent story of the Plantagenets.
{The US edition is the same, except for “at the brilliant court of Edward III, and among his proud and ambitious sons and daughters…. a series of historical novels which tell the story of the Plantagenet monarchs through the eyes of the men and women who served them, loved them, or betrayed them, and in so doing, helped shape the events of English history.}
The Lord of Greenwich
Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, wrested the throne from his cousin Richard II and sowed the seeds of conflict between York and Lancaster. Now Henry V must keep what his father had won.
So Henry turned to his brothers for support and Humfrey of Gloucester gave in unstintingly, though he later tried to wield power during the minority of his nephew, Henry VI. And there was another side to Humfrey’s character. A genuine scholar, he loved books in an age when learning was for cloisterman, not courtiers.
But Humfrey inherited not only the Plantagenet charm and energy, but also their talent for stirring up trouble. He quarrelled bitterly with the staider members of the family over his marriages and love affairs, for Humfrey’s wild passions could always attract women,
Soldier, scholar and lover, Duke Humfrey embodied the best and the worst qualities of the Plantagenet dynasty, whose earlier story is told in {the names of the aforementioned books}.
The Sun in Splendour
The throne of England, seized by Henry IV, is disputed by the heirs of York and Lancaster. Edward IV, brilliant and handsome in the Plantagenet mould, rules a land split by rival factions, and his secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville has alienated many of his supporters.
Experiencing the excitement of court life, anxious months in hiding while the Lancastrian party control England, Edward’s final victory and her own personal griefs, Bess Bourchier {Elizabeth Tilney} shares tragedy and triumph with her friend the Queen, and with the King whom she idolizes. Later as she tries to make the best of a loveless second marriage, Bess sees the inevitable decline of Plantagenet greatness which will revive only briefly under Richard III, last of the dynasty.
The Sun in Splendour is the sixth and final novel in a series which traces the fortunes of the Plantagenet monarch through nearly four hundred years.

So far, this is my Juliet Dymoke collection. I have since ordered two more of her novels, and will probably buy the rest as I find them.

Juliet Dymoke is a pen name for Juliet Dymoke de Schanschieff (1919-2001). Her work should appeal to readers of Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick. There is a list of other novels by the author located here.

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Filed under #histnov, 13th Century, 14th Century, 15th Century, Historical Romance, Juliet Dymoke, Medieval Era, Plantagenets, William Marshal

Review: A Parliament of Spies: A Mystery by Cassandra Clark

A Parliament of Spies: A Mystery by Cassandra Clark
Minotaur Books, January 31, 2012
320p hb $25.99
ISBN 0312595743
Review copy provided by the publisher via HNR, thank you!
Review originally written for Historical Novels Review Magazine
Burton Book Review Rating:Three stars

Description:

All the danger and intrigue of 14th-century England spring to life in this “compelling” (Publishers Weekly) series about the brave, incorruptible Abbess of Meaux.

Abbess Hildegard may consider herself  “just a nun with no useful skills or connections,” yet her loyalty and intelligence have brought her to the attention of King Richard II himself—not the safest place to be, when the king has enemies on all sides. As Hildegard wrestles with her role as a spy in the parliament that is hastily gathering at Westminster, Cassandra Clark shows us the human side of history, giving readers new reason to follow Publishers Weekly’s rallying cry: “Medievalists rejoice!”

This fourth installment featuring Abbess Hildegard is a historical mystery set against the tumultuous times during the reign of Richard II in the 14th century. The Abbess of Meaux series focuses on Hildegard and some of her loyal friends as they try to uncover various treasonous and murderous plots. The mistrust between the barons and the King are emphasized as Hildegard investigates the mysterious deaths that occur around Archbishop Neville’s retinue. The Archbishop trusts Hildegard with secrets and relics as she progresses through England looking over her shoulder for her husband who was once declared dead.

While there certainly could be interesting history to Hildegard’s character, newcomers to the series are left wondering who exactly she is. While one would believe the term “abbess” as referring to a devout person, the actions of Hildegard do not represent the trait although her thoughts portray her doubts of faith. The dramatic times of unrest in which Henry Bolingbroke made a name for himself were downplayed enough to make the entire story appear dull and lackluster, as the connections of the commoners and the nobles very slowly unraveled. The tone of the book suggests well researched material, but the lack of empathy for the characters makes it a tedious read and the generalization of the politics and characters did not live up to the story’s full potential. The novel is best suited for those readers who have introduced themselves to Hildegard with one of the previous works by Cassandra Clark, with a prerequisite of knowledge of the political machinations among the factions surrounding Richard II’s courtiers.

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Filed under 14th Century, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Medieval Era, Richard II