John looked down at the head on his breast . . . “I’ve come for you, Katrine.”
So begins a love affair so grand, so infinitely beautiful it has become legend . . . Crafted by the breathtaking prose of Anya Seton, set in 14th Century England, Katherine tells the very real life and love of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and Katherine Swynford.
With unmatched prose, Seton tells the tale of the convent-bred daughter of a minor Flemish herald from Hainault and the third surviving son of King Edward III of England.
Raised far from the intrigues of Court life, Katherine, a woman of unparalleled grace, humility, and beauty, is forced into marriage with a knight who only covets her beauty. John, duke of Lancaster, who is married and far above her station, is tortured by the unsettling feelings that overcome him whenever Katherine is near. For John, Katherine is his heart's blood, and he wants nothing but her.
And for a man who prides himself on control and ambition, their road to love, like many a romantic tale, is far from smooth.
Plague takes the duke's wife, leaving him alone and wanting Katherine even more. She feels as strongly towards him, but she will not surrender to her feelings; not whilst her husband lives. So when her husband succumbs to wounds sustained in the duke’s service, Katherine is free to love as she never could before.
The stage is set for a passionate love affair that will survive the pious and rigid medieval society and John’s marriage(s). But alas, time and circumstance separate the two. When Katherine loses her daughter during the Peasant's Revolt and sees this as a sign that her sins with John have now been punished by God. Through a letter delivered by her brother-in-law—prolific writer and poet, Geoffery Chaucer—Katherine bids the duke farewell.
But this was not the end of Katherine and John. There are simply so many lines that it becomes difficult too choose which passage to pen. Seton seduces the reader with the passionate portrayal of these two characters, their story, and the love that endures until death. Not even years could dim their affection. After a long separation, the two are reunited; a surprise Katherine does not foresee coming.
In Katherine’s head there was a rumble like far-off thunder when she felt a peculiar coolness as though the snow outside were melting through her veins. He reached out his finger to touch the white streaks at her temples. 'Age on you has but added swan’s wings to your fairness.'
In that instant, John forgot that he was Duke of Lancaster, while his last doubt vanished. From the deepest springs of his being, words bubbled to his lips, so that he stammered like a page-boy. 'Katrine—Katrine—you make this so hard—my God, is there nothing left for me at all? We can’t be forever . . . We’re getting old, 'tis true, but we’re still alive—and if you feel nothing more for me—if too much has passed since we were together . . .'
He stopped, trembling, his close-shaven cheeks had turned a dull brick-red, he was breathing fast, painfully.
Katherine swallowed, saw his flushed pleading face through a fog and spoke . . . 'I thought you hated me,' she said. 'Your love was over long ago.'
'You yourself decreed our parting. I hated it . . . but you’ve never been far from my deepest thoughts. I swore once that I’d love you till I die, its seems that I’m so made...that I must keep my vow—Katrine.'
Whew . . .who could resist such a man? I won't spoil what lies any further, other than too say such a tale as this ought to be well read with an ample supply of something sweet and perhaps a good amount tissue. As any good student of history would know, their love, in some ways, lives on, for John and Katherine are the ancestors of every English monarch, including the future king of England, Prince William, and his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. Seton takes nothing away from the time period nor the history of these two determined, passionate characters. Such a tale breeds hope that sometimes fairy tales really do come true...
A.J. Wilson, Shark By Day, Lover Of All Things Plaid By Night, ajwilsononline.net