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Katherine is a work of Historical Fiction by Anya Seton. It tells the story of major events in Fourteenth Century England from the perspective of Katherine de Roet, a yeoman's daughter, who becomes the mistress and eventual wife of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster.

Katherine was relatively well-researched and tries to be historically accurate wherever historical facts are attested. It is commonly found on lists of the best works of Historical Fiction.

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This novel provides examples of the following:

  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Geoffrey Chaucer calls his wife "Pica" (as does Queen Philippa) to save them confusion in a royal household filled with women named after the queen.
    • John uses the French pronunciation of Katherine (Katrine) with Katherine as well as calling her "lovedy."
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: John of Gaunt is first drawn to Katherine because she reminds of him of a beloved childhood nurse. He is also haunted by her son's (his childhood playmate) accusation that he is a foundling.
    • Teenage Blanchette has a lot of Freudian Excuse that come to a head when an older boy she has a crush on clearly prefers Katherine... and then she overhears a friar accuse her mother of murdering her father. Katherine and Duke John didn't know till that moment that Hugh, her husband was murdered by a Poisonous Friend of the Duke's.
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • Katherine and Hugh Swynford, de facto if not de jure
    • Plenty of others (this is the European nobility after all) including some of Katherine and John's daughters
    • Averted with Blanchette, who avoided her unwanted arranged marriage by catching scarlett fever and then running away deliriously and joining a convent.
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    • While both Pica and Chaucer willingly accepted their arranged match, their relationship was never better than tepid and they eventually settled into an amicable separation as each pursued his/her career in different royal retinues.
  • Artistic License – History: Anya Seton tried to keep as close to the facts as she knew them, but new research has come out since that proves several aspects of the book wrong.
  • Asshole Victim: Hugh Swynford's death sounds painful, but it's hard to mourn him.
  • Awful Wedded Life: The marriages of Edmund of Langley and Thomas of Woodstock to Isabel of Castile and Eleanor de Bohun are anything but happy.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Nirac murders Hugh Swynford (who he always hated) when he learned that his patron, the Duke of Lancaster, was frustrated that Swynford wasn't dying of his war wounds.
  • Bastard Bastard: The Beauforts' 'tainted' birth makes their future problematic despite their royal blood. John fixes everything by marrying their mother.
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  • Berserk Button: The rebels press John's when they publicly accuse him of being a changeling child. He goes on a Roaring Rampageof Revenge until his sister-in-law summons Katherine to calm him down.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Nirac de Bayonne
  • Big Brother Worship: Edmund of Langley to his three older brothers.
  • Big Damn Heroes: John prevents Hugh Swynford from molesting Katherine the first time they meet and has him punished accordingly, though Hugh still marries Katherine later.
    • And again when the Duke shows up just in time when Katherine, abandoned by her servants, gives birth to Blanchette and a crazed Lady Nichola tries to run off with her, only for John to show up and stop her at just the right moment.
  • Big Fancy House: Subverted with Hugh Swynford's rundown estate, Kettlethorpe.
  • The Black Death: It kills Isolda Neumann, Philippa and Katherine's grandparents, Blanche of Lancaster, and Anne of Bohemia.
  • Blood-Spattered Innocents: Blanchette ends up covered in Brother William's blood when he's murdered by Wat Tyler and his men.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: John and Katherine.
    • Ditto for Edward the Black Prince and Joan of Kent. Joan is savvy to this trope and convinces Katherine to go and comfort John when he's threatening to execute Pieter Neumann.
  • Byronic Hero: John of Gaunt. He's sensitive , moody, arrogant, and hungry for glory and adoration.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Michael de la Pole calls John out on his apathy about Constanza and Catalina after the Peasants' Rebellion.
  • Character Witness: Katherine saves a serf, Cob, from the stockades when she returns to Hugh's manor. When the Savoy Palace is set on fire by rebels, Cob rescues a near-unconscious Katherine from the building and takes her to the nearby village. Katherine later returns the favor by saving Cob from being Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered by Richard II and Thomas of Woodstock after the rebellion is suppressed and frees him from serfdom.
  • Clueless Chick Magnet: Katherine has a lot of men enchanted by her beauty, but she only has eyes for the Duke.
  • Cool Big Sis: Duchess Blanche behaves like one towards Katherine, inspiring the girl's devotion to her.
  • Corrupt Church: Most of the higher-ranking clergy are greedy and self-serving. Special mention goes to William of Wykeham and William Courtenay.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: The mentally fragile Lady Nichola lives in isolation at Kettlethorpe with only a kitten for company.
  • Control Freak: Katherine's sister, Phillipa.
  • Daddy's Girl: Constanza is one in a decidedly creepy way, literally worshiping the memory of her father, the aptly nicknamed Pedro the Cruel. John is understandably squicked.
    • Elizabeth is one as well, and John is noted to be fonder of her than he is of Philippa, his oldest.
    • Blanchette has fond memories of her father Hugh, unlike her mother.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: The English royal court. It only gets more deadly and decadent after Richard II comes of age.
  • Death by Childbirth: Mary de Bohun, Henry Bolingbroke's first wife, dies this way.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse:
    • Hugh Swynford
    • The Infanta Constanza, John of Gaunt's second wife, daughter of the deposed King of Castile, but not until after John has spent nearly twenty years 'making her as happy as it was her nature to be'.
  • The Ditz: Edmund of Langley and his first wife, Isabel of Castile.
  • Domestic Abuse: Hugh Swynford's late father physically abused his second wife, Nichola.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Lady Nichola eventually drowns herself during a storm.
    • Katherine tries to kill herself after believing that Blanchette died and hearing that John denounced her as a Wicked Witch he no longer loved. However, she's stopped by the kindly Good Shepherd, Father Clement.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: The brothers John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley marry the sisters Constanza and Isabel of Castile.
  • Emo Teen: Blanchette, though she has good reason. Constanza of Castile is older than a teenager but still very emo.
  • Evil Uncle: Most of England thinks that John of Gaunt is one to Richard. They're wrong.
    • Thomas of Woodstock, however, is a straight example.
  • The Fair Folk: Lady Nichola claims that they talk to her and tell her of the future. Most of the other characters write her off as a Talkative Loon, though.
  • Gem-Encrusted: Several items throughout the novel. Most especially:
  • Gold Digger: Alice Perrers, who actually steals rings off the King's fingers just after he dies.
  • Good Shepherd:
    • Brother William, a friar who genuinely cares about the poor and suffering and the souls of those under his care. He evens performs a Heroic Sacrifice to save Katherine and Blanchette from Wat Tyler's army.
    • Father Clement, a hunchbacked priest who stops Katherine from committing suicide.
  • Good Stepmother: Philippa, Elizabeth, and Henry of Lancaster regard Katherine as one.
  • Grey Eyes: Katherine's grey eyes are often commented upon, and Blanchette is the only one of her children who inherits them.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Blanche of Lancaster is a blonde and a generous, kind person.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: There are multiple mentions of the infamous Plantagenet temper, particularly John's.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Subverted. Describing Nirac, Seton writes: "He was gay." She meant he had a playful demeanor, of course. But Nirac probably was a homosexual.
  • Heel Realization: Face to face with his tearful young wife after the horrors of the Peasants' Rebellion John of Gaunt abruptly realizes what a total heel he's been towards her, and worse to their child. He gets better.
  • Hell Hound: The pooka of Kettlethorpe is often referred to, but never actually appears.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: The Duke of Lancaster, Hugh Swynford, and Roger de Cheyne (all of them skilled warriors) have a thing for the redheaded Katherine. On the other hand, Geoffrey Chaucer the poet isn't really interested, as he is in love with the blonde Blanche and married to the brunette Philippa.
  • The High Queen: Although old and dying of edema, Philippa of Hainault is still a kind and generous person who is much beloved.
  • Hot-Blooded: Hotspur. He insists on challenging the much-older John of Gaunt to a duel.
  • Identical Grandson:
    • Henry of Lancaster is said to greatly resemble his maternal grandfather, Henry de Grosmont.
    • Joan Beaufort greatly resembles her dark-haired grandmother, Philippa of Hainault.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Early on in the novel, Katherine bemoans her reddish-blonde hair and small breasts. The men she meets don't seem to share the same view.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Blanche, the Duchess of Lancaster, John of Gaunt's first wife.
  • The Ingenue: Katherine, at first, as she grew up in a Coventry and knew nothing of the court.
  • Jerkass: Hugh Swynford and Thomas of Woodstock.
    • John of Gaunt behaves like a jerkass occasionally too, especially towards his unwanted second wife and their child. After Katherine gives him the brush off he recognizes what a cad he's been and spends the next twenty years making it up to them both.
    • Philippa Chaucer's court-inspired pragmatism mixed with her sharp tongue can make her come off this way when her sister or her husband aren't behaving the way Philippa thinks they should.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: When Katherine first arrives at the castle her sisters and the ladies-in-waiting see her as a mere country bumpkin. The much-hated Alice Perrers however points out that Katherine is gorgeous and the men will see this if they can't.
  • Lady Macbeth: William Latimer's greedy and arrogant wife is a near-perfect examples.
  • Laughing Mad: Katherine bursts into hysterical laughter at the sight of Brother William's gory death.
  • Lonely Doll Girl: Katherine's teenage daughter Blanchette who spends most of her time in her chamber playing with puppets.
  • Loved I Not Honor More: Katherine's sleeping conscience comes roaring to life after she discovers her husband was murdered to clear the way for her and John. That and the loss of Blanchette leads to her decision to give up the relationship. John does not take it well.
  • Love Triangle: Katherine, John of Gaunt, and Hugh Swynford.
    • And one with Geoffrey Chaucer, Philippa de Roet, and Duchess Blanche. Nothing ever comes of it, but it's clear Geoffrey isn't particularly in love with his wife.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: John of Gaunt has a bad case of it.
  • The Mistress:
    • Alice Perrers, to King Edward, and a shameless one at that.
    • Katherine, to John of Gaunt, during his second marriage.
  • Morality Pet:
    • Blanchette to Hugh.
    • Anne of Bohemia to Richard The Second. After her death from plague, he becomes much more paranoid and unstable.
  • Neat Freak: Again, Katherine's sister, Phillipa de Roet.
  • Mad Woman In The Attic: Lady Nichola Swynford, Hugh's abused and mentally unstable stepmother, who has lived in isolation at the rundown manor Kettlethorpe for years. Katherine fears that she will become like Lady Nichola herself if compelled to live alone at Kettlethorpe, and later has the same misgivings about her reclusive daughter Blanchette.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Katherine, upon realising how much she's neglected Blanchette after she collapses from scarlet fever.
  • My Greatest Failure: Katherine still searches for Blanchette years after she disappears. Blanchette had been in Coventry all along and does return at the novel's end, after finally forgiving her mother, when she had previously blamed her for Hugh's death.
  • Old Retainer: Gibbon, to the Swynfords.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: Katherine is angry and embarrassed at Blanchette's resistance to her Arranged Marriage, but much earlier in the novel she reacted similarly when courted by Hugh Swynford.
  • Patron Saint: Katherine is shown praying and making vows to St. Katherine her name saint and patroness. Later John dedicates a chapel to the Saint in thanks for Katherine's survival.
  • The Philosopher: Whenever Geoffrey Chaucer meets someone, or encounters some new situation, he internally philosophizes—sometimes in beautiful poetic verse—on that person's future and human life in general.
  • The Plague: Of course; this is 14th Century England. Specific cases:
    • Isolda Neumann, John of Gaunt's foster mother till age eight, died during The Black Death.
    • Blanche, the Duchess of Lancaster
    • Katherine, but she caught it as a child and survived.
  • Plain Jane: Philippa of Lancaster and Anne of Bohemia are Type 2.
  • Planet of Steves: Justified, for historical accuracy.
    • Quite a few female characters are named Phillipa. (Evidently many people named their daughters after the Queen.) Geoffrey Chaucer invoked the trope to explain why they instead call Katherine's sister Pica.
    • Averted with Katherine's daughter Blanche, who is named for the Duchess of Lancaster. The younger Blanche is called Blanchette throughout.
    • Katherine has two sons named Tom (one to Hugh, one to John of Gaunt), both born on the feast of St. Thomas. She calls the younger one Tamkin.
  • Personal Horror: John of Gaunt is mortified as a child when accused by Pieter Neumann of being a changeling.
  • Pretty Boy: Young Richard II. Scarcely an appearance by him goes by where his girlish prettiness is not remarked on.
  • Purple Eyes: Joan Beaufort, John and Katherine's only daughter, has dark purple eyes.
  • Redhead In Green: Katherine frequently wears green gowns.
  • Rich Bitch:
    • Princess Isabella de Coucy is vain, spoiled, and condescending.
    • Eleanor de Bohun, the wife of Thomas of Woodstock, is a wealthy heiress and as big of a Jerkass as her husband.
  • Royal Brat: Richard The Second, so very much. His aunt, Isabella, was one as well and never grew out of it.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: John of Gaunt especially, as well as some of his brothers. King Edward was said to have been this in his younger days, before the story.
  • Seeking Sanctuary:
    • Pieter Neumann sought refuge in a church after being discovered by John of Gaunt, thus saving his life, but not preventing him from being exiled.
    • Blanchette, after realizing Katherine's connection to her father Hugh Swynford's death.
  • Shipper on Deck: The captal de Buch, Hawise, and Joan of Kent ship John/Katherine.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Katherine's middle-class friend Hawise is only allowed to marry her boyfriend after she gets pregnant.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Katherine grows into this, eventually.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March, has a high opinion of his own importance because he is the husband of Edward III's granddaughter, Philippa, countess of Ulster. Much to his annoyance, however, everyone treats him like a Bratty Half-Pint instead.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Katherine is mentioned as being willowy and slender, though John is still One Head Taller.
  • Suddenly Suitable Suitor: Joan Beaufort is in love with Ralph Neville but can't marry him because she's a bastard. That changes after her parents marry and she's legitimized by the Pope.
  • Taking the Veil: Blanchette.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Jack Maudelyn, Hawise's husband, becomes an angry and violent man after going to war in France.
  • The Un-Favourite:
    • Catalina, John of Gaunt's daughter with his unloved second wife, Constanza. He is indifferent even when her life is endangered during the rebellion. But he winces when his tearful young wife mentions 'he often doesn't want to see Catalina' when they are reunited. He hadn't realized how obvious he was.
      • It's also noted John is often irritated by his oldest daughter, Philippa, but he dotes upon Elizabeth and his bastards.
    • Thomas of Woodstock to Edward III.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Poor Hugh Swynford, though he did try to rape Katherine when he first met her, so her disdain for him is understandable. And poor Constanza of Castile - though the latter at least gets a happy ending.
  • Warrior Prince: John of Gaunt and his older brothers, Lionel and Edward.
  • When She Smiles: Katherine thought Blanche was plain-looking when she first saw her at a royal dinner, but when Blanche smiled, she thought Blanche was the most beautiful person she'd ever seen.
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