Given the scarcity of contemporary sources and records documenting the life of Katherine Swynford, later Duchess of Lancaster, I found it remarkable that Alison Weir managed to eke out a nearly 400 page book on that lady’s life and times. That she managed it is, I suppose, a tribute to Weir’s abilities as a historian and writer, but overall Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster is not my favorite of Weir’s books.
Like Weir, I first got interested in Katherine Swynford after reading Anya Seton’s Katherine , which is an excellent historical novel, if somewhat evidently written through a 1950s lense. Weir devotes a chapter to Seton’s book and discusses the historical merits and glosses thereof, which I found interesting.
Perhaps because she didn’t have a whole lot to work with in terms of sources, I found Weir’s book a little tiresome, and felt that it would have been stronger had she condensed her points to half the length and cut out a lot of the superflous verbiage. In many places I felt like Weir was talking around her point, rather than just stating the case and moving on. I started to wonder if she had written that way to plump up her word count since her other books have been much more engaging and to the point.
That said, if you’re a fan of British history you may find that the nuggets of interesting information in Mistress of the Monarchy make reading it worth your time. Readers who are not particularly taken with the sceptered isle may be better off spending their time on other books.
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