I’ve not read any historical fiction before and my knowledge of English history (other than the Tudors and the Industrial Revolution) is pretty lacking so there are two other reasons that I was keen to give Katherine a whirl.
My mum was pretty doubtful that I’d enjoy it and when I started following her round the house at Christmas reading excerpts from Long Will Finch’s flowery speeches she also doubted that she’d enjoy me reading it.
Luckily for her I didn’t start it seriously until I was back in London.
Luckily for me the twee flirting of Long Will only lasted a chapter or two.
The story features as its protagonist Katherine de Roet who at the beginning of the novel is on her way to the court of King Edward III to stay with her sister Philippa and hopefully find herself a wealthy husband. She does indeed find herself a reasonably well-off knight to marry, Sir Hugh Swynford, but she also meets, and falls in love with, John of Gaunt the 1st Duke of Lancaster and the King’s son.
The ensuing story of Katherine’s life is wrapped up in her loathing of her husband, her star-struck love for the Duke and her attempts to be content with her lot.
On the face of it it’s not a story that would usually take my fancy (I despise Jane Austen in whose books the female characters sit around sighing over lost loves and dreaming of the perfect husband) but Katherine really appealed to me. She loathes her husband, which, if it was due to their first encounter when he tried to rape her I could understand, but it actually seems to have more to do with his appearance. However she does do her best to be a good wife and throws herself into managing his estate and rearing his children and as long as Hugh is away she manages to cope quite well.
Even when Blanche, the Duchess of Lancaster dies and John reveals his true feelings towards Katherine, she rejects him, preferring to stay true to her husband and it is not until Hugh is also dead that they can both admit their true feelings.
I think I’ve made it sound a little twee there but given that we’re talking about the 14th-15th century here that’s to be expected.
Although I have no knowledge of the time myself, Katherine has been praised in terms of its historic accuracy although, due to a lack of documentation about Katherine herself, some conjecture had to be used to embroider her story. I’ve always enjoyed history but I find it very hard to sit down with a non-fiction book and try to learn some facts so reading a novel that is also educational is perfect for me and it’s good to know that what I read is pretty accurate (despite being written by an American which was a bit galling).
So all in all I’ve enjoyed my foray into historical fiction and I think I may have found a way to take my knowledge of history back beyond 1750. Although maybe I should wait and see how much information I can retain over the next month and then judge…