Title: The Scandalous Duchess
Author: Anne O’Brien
Genre: Historical Romance
Opening lines: ‘…The water that had swamped the courtyard overnight, thanks to a sudden storm, soaked my shoes…’
Blurb: It is 1372 and the recently widowed Lady Katherine Swynford presents herself for a role in the household of merciless royal prince John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, hoping to end her destitution. But the Duke’s scandalous proposition leaves her life of pious integrity reeling. Seduced by the glare of royal adoration, Katherine becomes John’s mistress. She will leave behind everything she has stood for to play second fiddle to his young wife and ruthless ambition. She will live in the shadows of the most powerful man in England in the hope of a love greater than propriety. But soon the court whispers – whore, harlot, vile temptress – reach the ears of not just John’s bride but his most dangerous political enemies. As the Plantagenet prince is accused of bringing England to its knees, who better to blame than shameless she-devil Katherine Swynford? Dragged from the shadows, Katherine must answer for her sins.
My thoughts: Royal scandals are not confined to the current history of bare-bottomed princes and topless brides; they have been with us since royalty began; and the love affair between Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt was the hugest scandal of Plantagenet era. In a world where sin was blamed for every little thing that went wrong, Katherine and John were sitting ducks to be attributed the blame of all the kingdom’s ills. There were a lot of ills too – the Black Death, The Peasants Revolt and the failure to capture Castile to name but a few. There is not a lot of historical evidence on the details of Kathrine’s life, so working within the few historical facts that are known, author Anne O’Brien was able to let her imagination run free against a background of mediaeval politics and bring to life a wonderful love affair in a time when love matches were not the norm and political alliances were a necessity to survival.
Katherine Swynford had been brought up with the royal children under the care of good Queen Philippa; as a result she leads a life of integrity and dignity. She also served as a lady-in-waiting to Blanche – the first Duchess of Lancaster. With this experience behind her she petitions John Plantagenet for a position in his household serving his new Queen as she is now a widow and her stately manor is falling apart around her ears. He agrees, but only on the proviso that she becomes his mistress he assures her that he loves and adores her and will always respect and support her. She succumbs as she has always had feelings for him. Together they defy everyone, they break all the conventional rules, they have four children together, and, despite all the condemnation of their relationship (especially that of his wife) the two stay true to each other until he is in a position to marry him and make their children legitimate.
Anne O’Brien has brought a very believable Katherine to life on the pages, despite the danger she follows her heart and is torn between her love for John and her love for God, a constant battle between her conscience about committing adultery and her desire for John. She is not afraid to love him and neither is she afraid to speak her mind and berate him when needed. She is also incredibly brave and resilient as she is blamed for being a temptress, whore and for the political unrest that is plaguing England so death threats are made. I was enthralled by the story and swept along with the political machinations that were occurring outside of the relationship. For some twenty-five years their relationship continued, although occasionally battered by events and separated a couple of times for the good of England, their love never wavered for each other. The story gives believable reasons as to why a pious and moral, widow, with a strong sense of duty to her children would put her reputation and more importantly her immortal soul at risk to love a man who belonged to another. And, of course, it is through John and Katherine’s descendants that the Tudors become the ruling house of England.
Rating: B – Great. I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.
For more about the author – Click Here
With thanks to Harlequin Australia – Mira for my copy to read and review.