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Black Death and Illicit Romance

White Tower, Tower of London, England. Photo: Jonathan Woytek

Anya Seton (1904 – 1990) wrote several historical fiction novels about real-life and fictional protagonists. My high school library, my college library, and my Grandma Gaffron’s library all carried her books. Philippa Gregory wrote forwards to new editions of several Seton novels.

I read Anya Seton’s novel Katherine because I saw it on a list of the “best historical fiction that aspiring writers should read.”

Katherine fictionalized Katherine (Roet) Swynford’s life in the 1300’s.

Katherine’s mother died in childbirth or something (I don’t remember and I don’t have the book in front of me).

The English king “knighted (Katherine’s father) on the battlefield.” Then, “Sir Katherine’s father” died on said battlefield.

The Black Death (the Plague) killed the rest of Katherine’s family, except for her older sister, Philippa.

Philippa worked as a lady-in-waiting to England’s queen. Little sister Katherine grew up in a convent.

Philippa Roet married Sir Geoffrey Chaucer. (You know, the guy who wrote “Canterbury Tales.“)

Katherine Roet married Sir Hugh Swynford. At some point, she became a lady-in-waiting for Blanche of Lancaster, the first wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Blanche gave birth to her son, Henry of Lancaster. Blanche died of the Plague. (Yes, the Plague hit several times during this era.) Sir Hugh also died at some point.

Katherine became the Duke of Lancaster’s mistress. Then, the Duke married his second wife. Decades later, the Duke’s second wife died. Katherine became the Duke’s third wife.

Still later, the Duke’s son from his first marriage, Henry, overthrew his cousin Richard (King Richard II) from the English throne. Henry became Henry IV of England. After this novel ended, the War of the Roses started. But, this book doesn’t really say anything about the War of the Roses. Katherine died before this war started.

The Plague traumatized Katherine and pretty much all of the other characters. Katherine didn’t hoard toilet paper, though. Nobody hoarded toilet paper in this book.

If you want to read about a bunch of people stunned by the Plague while trying to gain power (or hold onto their existing power), then you might enjoy Katherine.

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