Sunday, June 17, 2018

Painless History Lesson

You may know that I post a music blog on Sundays, an attempt to familiarize my church friends with a broad range of hymns imported from other faiths. Mining YouTube for examples of these songs, performed in church services, concerts and tutorials, I frequently run across Britain’s royal family, standing in their Westminster Abbey places, singing hymns from their printed programs.

There’s always Queen Elizabeth, dressed in her matching dress, coat and hat, scanning the crowd before she peeks at the words again.

Who knew that her genealogy stretched back to an orphan girl plucked out of France? Aren’t the royals supposed to descend from the small club of cousins raised in the various capitals of Europe?

Well, maybe you did know about Katherine Swynford. But if you didn’t, Anya Seaton’s historical novel, Katherine, would be a painless way to catch up on your royal genealogy.

Katherine’s mother died after childbirth. Her father, a faithful soldier of the king, took an arrow to the heart. Katherine and her older sister, Philippa, shipped off to the grandparents. Things were fine until the Plague showed up, killing off grandma, grandpa, the servants, etc. 

The Queen of England, Flemish like Katherine’s kin, reached out to rescue these two girls. She took Philippa into her own court as a lady-in-waiting. She sent Katherine to an English convent, “delivered from a cart, along with a side of beef and a half a ton of wine.”

Seton starts the story just after Philippa summons her sister out of the convent. Katherine enters the palace on the night of a royal banquet. The waiting ladies strip off her traveling clothes, burn them, button her into somebody’s 3rd-best dress and usher her off to dinner where, wide-eyed, she takes her first look at the VIPs “in their golds and scarlets, their ermines and coronets, their gauzy veils and jewels.”

Oh Katherine, you have no idea what lies ahead.

The only thing that could have made the read more rewarding was stopping (quite often) to look up unfamiliar words. But I just wanted to keep reading, so I bumbled through, guessing as I flipped the e-pages. “Solar” is a bedroom, I think. “Cochineal paste” is some kind of cosmetic. “Flagons”?  “Coffers”? Oh, let’s just get on with it. I want to know if the monk dies.

Photo credit:  nancepants on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

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