Published over fifty years ago, Katherine is one of Setonís most significant works: a retelling of the fourteenth-century love affair between a beautiful, convent-raised young woman, Katherine de Roet, and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, third son of King Edward. Katherine arrives at the English Court through the offices of the Queen and is soon married to Hugh, Duke of Swynford, a small-minded, brutal man who offers the dowry-less girl the cachet of title. She is fortunate in this pairing, although Katherine detests her rude husband from the moment she sets eyes on him.
Blanche, the Duke of Lancasterís wife, takes notice of the young bride and offers her protection from the jealous court, but the kindhearted Blanche perishes from the Black Plague in 1369, her handsome husband devastated by this loss. Katherine is undeniably infatuated with John, who is both attracted and repulsed by her earthy beauty in contrast to his golden-haired wife. After Hughís untimely death, John admits his growing obsession with Katherine, and the two become lovers, although her status and the demands of the throne make it impossible for them to marry.
ďThou shall get kings though thou be none.Ē Katherine bears John two sons, her Swynford-born children growing up in luxury far beyond their station in life. John is frequently distracted by his role as the powerful third son of the King, the years demanding more of his time for affairs of state. After the death of the Duke of Wales, whose young son is in line for the throne, the Duke of Lancaster pledges himself to protect the childís interests.
Katherine is left alone with her children, her lover beset by court intrigue and attacks on his royal lineage. At such times, Katherine allows herself to worry that John no longer loves her and has cast her aside. Although her fears are groundless, at least at that time, Katherineís self-obsession is a product of their insular love affair and an inability to own her chosen role. In a willful transgression of the morals she has been taught, the desperate woman clings helplessly to the fragments of her tattered conscience.
Setonís prose is perfectly tailored to the turbulent fourteenth century - war, plague and flood common, religious leaders assigning divine power to saintís relics, crops and children lost at the waning of the moon. Gossip and court intrigue spread from street to street, the poor ever-oppressed by the nobles, who demand tithes to wage their wars in defense of England.
John of Gaunt, allied to Spain through his second marriage, attends his royal duties but saves his heart for Katherine de Roet-Swynford. Sacrificing all for her love of John, Katherine eventually fulfills her destiny and her heartís desire, her heirs (the Beaufort children) connected by birth to the Tudor and Stuart lines. In an epic love affair that spans the years and captures the imagination, Katherine and John find peace, spiritual harmony restored to Katherineís wounded soul.