Monday, December 7, 2015

Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster

Acclaimed author Alison Weir brings to life the extraordinary tale of Katherine Swynford, a royal mistress who became one of the most crucial figures in the history of Great Britain. Born in the mid-fourteenth century, Katherine de Ro√ęt was only twelve when she married Hugh Swynford, an impoverished knight. But her story had truly begun two years earlier, when she was appointed governess to the household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of King Edward III. Widowed at twenty-one, Katherine became John's mistress and then, after many twists of fortune, his bride in a scandalous marriage. Mistress of the Monarchy reveals a woman ahead of her time—making her own choices, flouting convention, and taking control of her own destiny. Indeed, without Katherine Swynford, the course of English history, perhaps even the world, would have been very different.

I found it very interesting to read this biography of Katherine Swynford just after having read the historical novel about the same woman written by Anya Seton.  Their interpretation of the life of Katherine was not exactly alike.  One of the very interesting things in Alison Weir's biography is the examination of some of Geoffrey Chaucer's works for possible references that would add to the understanding of how Katherine might have looked or her life in general.  Geoffrey Chaucer was brother-in-law to Katherine.  I particularly have enjoyed Alison Weir's explanation of how she looked at various clues and why she interpreted each clue in the way that she did.  Her historical detective work is fascinating.  I read this book via

Monday, November 9, 2015

Katherine by Anya Seton


“A glorious example of romance in its most classic literary sense: exhilarating, exuberant, and rich with the jeweled tones of England in the 1300s.” —Austin Chronicle
Katherine is an epic novel of a love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant fourteenth century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who rule despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already-married Katherine. Their affair persists through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. Anya Seton's vivid rendering of the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Lancaster makes Katherine an unmistakable classic.

VERY entertaining!  I found myself pulling out my knitting so that I have an excuse to listen to a bit more. I liked the introduction that audible gave explaining that historical fiction was very popular in the early to mid 1900s but lost favor in the second half of the 20th C.  I think that I will dig some more of these historical fiction works up to read.  It is certainly an easy way to get a feeling for the times surrounding our ancestors in England.  I think it particularly interesting that this couple ended up being the ancestors of most of the British Royal family:

the Tudor dynasty was directly descended from John and Katherine's eldest child, John Beaufort, great-grandfather of Henry VII, who based his claim to the throne on his mother's descent from John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III. John Beaufort also had a daughter named Joan Beaufort, who married James I of Scotlandand thus was an ancestress of the House of Stuart.[7] John and Katherine's daughter, Joan Beaufort, was grandmother of the English kings Edward IV and Richard III, the latter of whom Henry Tudor (thus becoming by conquest Henry VII) defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field; Henry's claim was strengthened by marrying Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV. It was also through Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmoreland that the sixth queen of Henry VIIICatherine Parr, descended.[8] John of Gaunt's son — Katherine's stepson Henry of Bolingbroke — became Henry IV after deposing Richard II (who was imprisoned and died in Pontefract Castle, where Katherine's son, Thomas Swynford, was constable and is said to have starved Richard to death for his step-brother). John of Gaunt's daughter by his first marriage to Blanche of LancasterPhilippa of Lancaster, was great-great-grandmother to Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII and mother of Mary I of England. John of Gaunt's child by his second wife ConstanceCatherine(or Catalina), was great-grandmother of Catherine of Aragon as well.

 Katherine's sister Philippa, a lady of Queen Philippa's household, married the poet Geoffrey Chaucer.

I read this book via

Friday, October 23, 2015

Still Alice

I found my self unable to keep from talking with others about this book.  The author did such an excellent job of moving through Alice's thoughts as her terrible disease took it's toll on Alices brain and on her life.  Alice was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease at the age of 50.  The disease moved very quickly.

Others told me that the movie was excellent.  I will probably watch it at some time.  However, there is no way that the movie could depict that thoughts that were in Alice's head as she dealt with Alzheimer's every day of her life after her diagnosis.  

I don't want to ruin the story, so if you haven't yet read the book, you might want to quit reading right now.  I just want to comment for my own later reading that the end was very satisfying.  The family made such good decisions on how to resolve the problems that they faced and how to deal with Alice as her disease made her more and more out of touch with the world around her and the family that loved her.

Excellent book!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Orphan Train

I really liked this book!  I liked the characters a lot.  Probably I liked the characters even more than I liked the plot.  Here is a review taken from the internet:

Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?
As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.
Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.
Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.
I read Cokey Muth's copy in paperback.  I'll pass it along to one of the knitting group today.  I think that Mom might like this book.  I might buy it for her to read on her iPad mini.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Desparate Fortune

One of the most fun parts of this book is the fact that the main character who is living in our time period has Aspergers Syndrome.  It is very interesting to get inside her head and understand how she feels about situations.

The main character who is living in the era around 1732 is also interesting.  She is somewhat stuck in her situation, but learns to make the most of what is happening around her.  It is interesting to be spoon fed some of the facts surrounding the exiled King during the time of the Jacobites.

The story is a bit of a romance novel.....not my favorite genre.  However, it is very entertaining reading.  I did like the characters and the information that the author was trying to convey.  It is an entertaining read.

I read the book via audible.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Borders: A History of the Borders from Earliest Times

I am reading this book on Kindle.  The information is not something that I know much about, so I find it hard to follow some of the time.  But I pick up many good thoughts.  The one that I want to comment on tonight takes place after AD 410.  This is my interpretation of what I read.  You may want to read it for yourself.

 In AD 410 the Anglo-Saxon raiders were more than a thorn in the side of the cities of the area which had been founded by the Romans.  "The only organized elements of Roman government left were the cities. But in AD 410 their resources were thinning and they wrote to the legitimate emperor [of the Roman Empire], Honorius, to request help from Rome.  Beleaguered in Italy, he could do nothing, and he replied with the advice that the British cities had to look to their own defenses.  Honorius's letter is seen as the moment the Roman province of Britannia died....."

"In AD 870 the last of the British Kingdoms of the North fell.  The Damnonians of the Clyde Valley, first reported by Tacitus in AD 79, had evolved into the kingdom of  Aleut, the Rock of the Clyde.  Better known to us as Dumbarton, it was the seat of kings for at least 800 years, and probably longer."  In the spring of AD 870 the dragon-ships of the Vikings sailed from Dublin into the harbor.  They besieged the castle for four months.  They took the riches and also a great host of the people who were taken to Dublin to be sold in the slave markets.  "Slaving was perhaps the Vikings' most lucrative business..."  "The flower of Strathclyde's nobility was auctioned in Dublin..."

OK here comes the very interesting part for my Moore research group:

"The Welsh Chronicle of the Princes, the Brut Y Tywysogion, notes that in 890:  'The men of Strathclyde, those that refused to unite with the English, had to depart from their country, and go to Gwynedd.'
  The Strathclyde exiles were given land in the Vale of Clwyd in north-east Wales on condition that they expelled the English living there.  ....The stories were slowly absorbed into Welsh traditions, and after a time the Old North was thought by some to mean the North Wales, and the Gwyr Y Goggled, the Men of the North, became the men of Gwynedd.  But the genealogies and the stories did endure because they found a place in Welsh History...."

I interpret these pages to explain that there is a close DNA relationship between men found along the Clyde River and men found in Gwynedd in Wales.  When our Moore research group was chatting, it was mentioned that there was Moore family in Renfrew.  But we are unclear for a certainty if our James Moore (the immigrant to Philadelphia) was from Scotland or Wales.  You can finagle the below map in order to view Renfrew and Dumbarton and Glasgow.

It is January 2016 and I am still reading this book via kindle.  I am all the way up to 1603 when King James VI of Scotland  became King James I of England after Elizabeth I died with no heir.  Neither he nor Elizabeth I had had much success in controlling the border areas of their respective countries.  Border Reiving had been rampant in the late 1500s.  This book indicates that when James was in control of the entire lands, he made a huge campaign to wipe out the main Reiver leaders ....hanging....killing.....etc...and that many of them "escaped" to Northern Ireland in this time frame to escape being put to death.  These names would have been Armstrong, Maxwell, Elliott, .....among other family names.  Unlike names in Wales and Highland Scotland,  the border areas had surnames that were not given names prefixed with Mc or Ap  .....which is interesting.

He talks about the Cheviot Mountains and I want to add a map here to explain the land...also the information about the Galloway horses was particularly interesting....Can I find maps to show where various family lines moved in Ireland?  Were there indeed plantations?  Did James move some of them rather than extinguishing the lines via death....and I want to talk about Berwick.

While looking for information about the Galloway horses, I found the following site:


but I was unable to find any site that explained the Galloway as well as the author, Allistair Moffet did in this book.  The horse is now almost extinct.  It was bred with other breeds until there were very few pure Galloway's left.  The author says that there are some in Canada.  Since I am listening to the book rather than reading, I can not easily go back to double check.  But I think he said Newfoundland.

Berwick is explained quite well at this site:

and for a map, I borrowed the following from:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland

I turned this on on my way back from Jacksonville yesterday and decided it was too hard to listen to history .....turned it back on this morning and WOW....became swept up in the story.  The only problem with listening to historical fiction on a long car trip is that one can not stop to google background information!

Margaret is the oldest daughter of Edward Atheling.  Margaret lived with the terrible guilt that she had influenced her father to eat the sweets that she believed had contained poison leading to his death soon after the families arrival in England.  It is her brother Edgar who then succeeds Edward the Confessor as King for a VERY SHORT time if at all before William the Conqueror takes over as King.  Edgar is very young at this time.  

King Harold II Last Anglo-Saxon king of England, January to October 1066. He was defeated and killed by William of Normandy (William the Conqueror) at the Battle of Hastings.

Name: King Harold II
Born: c.1020
Ascended to the throne: January 5, 1066
Crowned: January 6, 1066 at Westminster Abbey, aged c.43
Died: October 14, 1066 at Senlac Abbey, Sussex, of wounds following the Battle of Hastings
Reigned for: 9 months, and 8 days
Succeeded by: Edgar the Aethling, and then Edward the Confessor's 2nd cousin William of Normandy

(if you are not interested in the history, skip down to the next picture)
1066 is probably the most famous date in English history, yet it may come as a surprise to laymen and historians alike that, but for the 'murder most foul' of an exiled Anglo-Saxon prince, the Norman conquest might not have taken place at all.
In the 1050s, the ageing and childless Edward the Confessor saw the succession issue divide the kingdom of Wessex. Earl Godwin's son, Harold, and William of Normandy, the King's kinsman, were the contenders for the throne. While Harold had the full backing of the influential Saxon faction, William had a formidable counter-claim, which cast a giant shadow over England.
The linchpin of the Confessor's compromise plan, intended to deny the crown to both and thus avert civil war and a Norman invasion, was Edward Aetheling. He was the son of the King's half-brother, the legendary Edmund Ironside, murdered at the instigation of Canute the Dane in 1016, after the Danish takeover. Edward and his elder brother Edmund were removed from England soon after their father's murder, and the rightful heirs to the Anglo-Saxon throne were eventually presumed dead and forgotten.
But in the 1050s, the Confessor learnt with joy that his nephew was alive and well in distant Hungary. Being of royal blood by direct male descent, yet untainted by the factional interests of the two main political forces in the realm, he was in the King's view the ideal compromise candidate for the throne who could avert a Norman intervention feared by the country.
But for his sudden death immediately upon his return to England after forty years of exile, the Norman conquest could in all probability have been averted, inviting speculation about one of the most crucial might-have-beens in British history.
In spite of their importance for British history – and, due to Edward's marriage in exile, for the roots of the present royal family – virtually nothing is known about Edmund's and Edward's Continental tribulations or how they escaped with their lives in 1017. Yet the drama of saving the lives of the two tiny royal princes – Edmund was about one or two, Edward an infant – after their father was murdered, greatly exercised the imagination of chroniclers who rated it among the most momentous events of the eleventh century. It was left to this present investigation to uncover their trail and piece together their amazing career in exile.

 Margaret is very pious wishing for a life as a nun.  She is also intelligent and well educated.

Here is the review on Amazon:

Refugee. Queen. Saint. In eleventh-century Scotland, a young woman strives to fulfill her destiny despite the risks . . .

Shipwrecked on the Scottish coast, a young Saxon princess and her family—including the outlawed Edgar of England—ask sanctuary of the warrior-king Malcolm Canmore, who shrewdly sees the political advantage. He promises to aid Edgar and the Saxon cause in return for the hand of Edgar’s sister, Margaret, in marriage.

A foreign queen in a strange land, Margaret adapts to life among the barbarian Scots, bears princes, and shapes the fierce warrior Malcolm into a sophisticated ruler. Yet even as the king and queen build a passionate and tempestuous partnership, the Scots distrust her. When her husband brings Eva, a Celtic bard, to court as a hostage for the good behavior of the formidable Lady Macbeth, Margaret expects trouble. Instead, an unlikely friendship grows between the queen and her bard, though one has a wild Celtic nature and the other follows the demanding path of obligation. 
Torn between old and new loyalties, Eva is bound by a vow to betray the king and his Saxon queen. Soon imprisoned and charged with witchcraft and treason, Eva learns that Queen Margaret—counseled by the furious king and his powerful priests—will decide her fate and that of her kinswoman Lady Macbeth. But can the proud queen forgive such deep treachery?

Impeccably researched, a dramatic page-turner, Queen Hereafter is an unforgettable story of shifting alliances and the tension between fear and trust as a young woman finds her way in a dangerous world.

This morning I have just reached the part of the book that deals with Margaret's marriage to Malcolm.  One of the ideas that the author deals with in the preparations for the betrothal is that Malcolm has burned homes and taken prisoners and slaves in an already ravished area of England in Northumbria.  Margaret says to him that she is not able to think of marriage to such a brute.  Malcolm gives her a story that she can accept about the fact that he could have left these people to die on their lands as the English had salted the land to make it unfit for farming or that he could save the people by bringing them back to Scotland.  Margaret accepts his story and prepares to marry him.

The next character that is introduced into the story (although the story begins with her imprisonment) is Eva.  She speaks Gaelic as she is from the North.

I finished the book in July.  I find the Amazon review to be satisfactory as I finish the book.  The author truly depicts Margaret as a saint.  And she paints Malcolm, her husband, in a good light as well.  The book truly helped me understand the times in a way that reading history does not help me.  I liked the book a lot.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

I kept wondering as I have been reading this book if Elizabeth Keckley was a REAL person.  I was glad to find the below review to answer that question for me.  When I am listening to the book I am engaged, but I do not find myself thinking that I can't wait to turn it back on.  Well written and truly interesting.  There is no doubt that one develops a better understanding of the times and of the Civil War from reading this book.  I recommend it!  


New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini’s compelling historical novel unveils the private lives of Abraham and Mary Lincoln through the perspective of the First Lady’s most trusted confidante and friend, her dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley.

In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. A gifted seamstress, she earned her freedom by the skill of her needle, and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln by her devotion. A sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days.

Publishers Weekly Review

Nov 26, 2012 – Elizabeth “Lizzy” Keckley, a freed slave in Washington, D.C., right before the start of the Civil War, gains fame as a dressmaker for Northerners and Southerners alike, but when Lincoln is elected and the Southerners secede, she chooses to remain in Washington. She becomes the modiste for Mary Todd Lincoln and is privy to the innermost workings of the Lincoln White House, Mary Todd’s reckless spending, President Lincoln’s death, and his widow’s subsequent penury. When Lizzy writes a memoir about her experiences, she’s denigrated by the public (which derides it as “Kitchen and Bed-Chamber Literature”) for betraying the Lincoln confidences even though she casts Mary Todd in a favorable light. Chiaverini’s characterization of the relationship between Mary Todd and Lizzy, a real historical figure, is nuanced, revealing a friendship that is at times unstable and fraught with class distinctions but also warm and protective. Though not without its problems (characters are insulated from the worst of the war; Lizzy is curiously passive; the pacing can be slow), Chiaverini deviates from her usual focus on quilting (found in the Elm Creek Quilts series) to create a welcome historical.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Station Eleven

All I could think today when this book ended was what a surprise it was that it was the end.  I had just settled in to hear the next episode of the day to day adventures of the many characters in the book when suddenly amidst a great deal of hopeful thoughts being expressed by several of the characters the audible announcer said "we hope you have enjoyed this production".  WOW!  I am very disappointed to not hear what happened in year 20 and 30 and 40.

One review says:   “In Station Eleven , by Emily St. John Mandel, the Georgia Flu becomes airborne the night Arthur Leander dies during his performance as King Lear. Within months, all airplanes are grounded, cars run out of gas and electricity flickers out as most of the world’s population dies. The details of Arthur’s life before the flu and what happens afterward to his friends, wives and lovers create a surprisingly beautiful story of human relationships amid such devastation. Among the survivors are Kirsten, a child actor at the time of Arthur’s death who lives with no memory of what happened to her the first year after the flu . . . A gorgeous retelling of Lear unfolds through Arthur’s flashbacks and Kirsten’s attempt to stay alive.”
— Nancy Hightower, The Washington Post 

I read this book after a recommendation from my daughter, Mary.  And now I recommend the book to you.  It is highly entertaining and thought provoking.  I read it via audible.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Crossing to Safety

I read this book via audible as it was recommended by the End of Your Life Book Club.  It is a book about marriage and friendship.  I was never tempted to quit reading it.  However, when I finished the book, I was not sure that I had really liked it either.  Certainly we do not expect life to always be the exciting journey that we dream of when we are young.  However, it seems to me that the disappointments in this book were very hard.  Yet the characters did not seem unhappy.  It made me feel very lucky to have lived a life in which I was able to stay young until 60 years old.  I don't guess that anyone should wish for more than that.  I do believe that Wallace Stegner believes that life is good.

Even though I found myself thinking the above as I finished the book, the next morning I am finding myself rethinking much of what I read.  I particularly liked at the end when Larry reminds himself that Sally's handicap has actually enriched his and her life.  His thoughts fit in with my own view of life that everything is a two sided coin.  We just need to figure out the good that we receive from our "bad" luck.  There are always compensations.