Apr 4 2011 5:00pm

The “I’ve Come For You, Katrine” Scene in Anya Seton’s Katherine

Katherine by Anya SetonJohn 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.

John of GauntRaised 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,

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SillyJaime @ Jaime 2.0
1. SillyJaime @ Jaime 2.0
I fell instantly in love with this book when I read it.
SillyJaime @ Jaime 2.0
2. Darlene Marshall
When I was a teen I read this book so many times my copy fell apart. I remember being startled at the end of the book that people that old--heck, she had to be in her late 40s!--still wanted to have sex!

Clearly, I was very young at the time.

It's a grand romance, both the reality and the story. Thanks for reminding me of how much I enjoyed Seton's classic.
SillyJaime @ Jaime 2.0
3. SandyH
This is such a wonderful story. I loved it when I read it as a teenager almost 50 years ago. I recommend it to anyone looking for a great read. Anya Seton wrote many interesting novels.
A.J. Wilson
4. AJWilson
Oh my, ladies ... I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not discover Seton until much later on in my reading career. But once I did, I've found very few tales to compare not only in scope but emotion.

And no problem with the reminder, Darlene ... I too shall read it again and again :-)
SillyJaime @ Jaime 2.0
5. Lucinda Brant
Thank you for your wonderful post about my all-time favourite book! I read it as a teenager and loved it so much that I saved up my pennies for two months to buy the hardback (which had to be specially ordered and sent from England). After University I made the pilgrimage to the ruins of Kenilworth Castle. I had a laugh @Darlene's comment regarding people that old still wanting sex - That was my reaction too at the time. And here I am now writing a book with a heroine who is in her late 40s!
Thanks again, AJ, for evoking such wonderful memories of Anya Seton's telling of the story of Katherine and John of Gaunt.
SillyJaime @ Jaime 2.0
6. JoannaV
This book is one of the few I read as a teenager that I still remember vividly, and I love the scene you quote above when they meet again after years apart. And yes I have a hardback copy sitting on my shelves. Hopefully more readers will discover this author.
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