The Scandalous Duchess

Praise for the author



‘An absolutely gripping tale that is both superbly written and meticulously researched’

—The Sun

‘The characters are larger than life…and the author a compulsive storyteller. A little fictional embroidery has been worked into history, but the bones of the book are true.’

—Sunday Express

‘This book has everything–royalty, scandal, fascinating historical politics and, ultimately, the shaping of the woman who founded the Tudors.’


‘O’Brien has excellent control over the historical material and a rich sense of characterisation, making for a fascinating and surprisingly female-focused look at one of the most turbulent periods of English history.’

—Publishers Weekly

‘Better than Philippa Gregory’

—The Bookseller

‘Another excellent read from the ever-reliable Anne O’Brien. Strong characters and a great setting make this highly recommended.’

—The Bookbag

‘Anne O’Brien is fast becoming one of Britain’s most popular and talented writers of medieval novels. ’

—Lancashire Evening Post

‘A must-read for any historical fiction fan’

—The Examiner

‘Brings the origins of the most famous royal dynasty to vibrant life’


‘I was keen to see if this book…lived up to the hype— which it did.’



Anne O’Brien

To George, who for a whole year tolerated having to play second fiddle to John of Lancaster, but knows that he always remains my hero.


All my thanks to my agent, Jane Judd, whose love of history is as strong as my own. Her support and encouragement for me and the courageous women of the Middle Ages continues to be invaluable.

To Sally Williamson at MIRA whose empathy with what I wish to say about my characters is beyond price. To her and to all the staff at MIRA, without whose advice and professional commitment the real Katherine Swynford would never have emerged from the mists of the past.

To Helen Bowden and all at Orphans Press, without whom my website would not exist and who create professional masterpieces out of the rough drafts of genealogy and maps I push in their direction.

‘…he [John, Duke of Lancaster] was blinded by desire, fearing neither God nor shame amongst men.’

Knighton’s Chronicle


‘…a she-devil and enchantress…’

The Anonimalle Chronicle 1333-1381

‘…an unspeakable concubine…’

Thomas Walsingham’s

Chronicon Angliae

Table of Contents



Title Page





Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two



Read all about it…





January 1372: The Manor of Kettlethorpe, Lincolnshire

The water that had swamped the courtyard overnight, thanks to a sudden storm, soaked into my shoes. And then my stockings. I hitched my skirts, scowling at the floating debris around me. Even the chickens, isolated on a pile of wood in the corner, looked morose.

‘Who left that harness out?’ I demanded, seeing the coils of leather black and dripping on the hook beside the stable door. My servants, few as they were, had gone to ground, and since nothing could be done until the rain actually stopped, I squelched under cover again.

Kettlethorpe. My young son’s inheritance, and a poor one at that. The burden of it, since my husband’s recent death and the administration of the estate not yet settled, fell on my shoulders. I flexed them, my sodden, mud-daubed cloak lying unpleasantly around my throat. The shadow of a lively rodent caught my eye as it vanished behind the buttery screen.

‘What do I do?’ I asked aloud, then winced at the crack of despair in my voice.

There was no one to give me advice.

I imagined what Queen Philippa might have said to me. Raised by her, educated by her at the English court, the wife of King Edward the Third had been my model of perfect womanhood: a woman without physical comeliness, but with a beauty of soul that outmatched any I knew.

‘Duty, Katherine!’ she would have said. ‘It is for you to carry the burdens. You are twenty-two years old and Lady of Kettlethorpe. When you wed Sir Hugh Swynford you took on the responsibility of your position. You will not abandon it when your feet are wet and rats scurry around your ankles. That is not how I raised you. You have the tenacity to make something of Kettlethorpe, and you will.’

I sighed, the tenacity at a low ebb, even though I admitted the truth of her knowledge of me. No, of course I would not abandon it. That was not my way, for the Queen’s principles had been lodged firmly in my heart. What I did not have was the financial resource to improve my lot.

Despondent, I stepped to the centre of my hall where a fire burned with smouldering reluctance, and turned slowly round, pushing my hood back to my shoulders. The walls were running wet in places. The haze of smoke that never cleared tainted everything with acrid stench, for which there was no remedy that I could afford. I could not even think of installing a wall chimney.

‘God will give you his grace, and the Virgin her compassion. Go to your prie-dieu, Katherine.’ Queen Philippa again, framing my face with her hands as she imparted to me her own rigorous strength.

Certainly I would go to my knees before this day was out—was not the Blessed Virgin my solace in all adversity? But on this occasion I needed coin as much as the Virgin’s blessings. I rubbed my hands together, regretting the abrasions, the ugly burn on my wrist where one of the torches, flaring, had caught me unawares. Once my hands had been soft, my nails perfectly pared. Once my gown pleased me with the soft rustle of silk damask rather than the roughness of this coarse wool, the only cloth fit for the tasks that fell to me. Silk skirts did not sit well with wringing the neck of a scrawny fowl for dinner.

I sighed a little.

Once I had been honoured, chosen as a damsel in Duchess Blanche of Lancaster’s household. I covered my face with my hands, shutting out the images of that pampered life of luxury at The Savoy Palace, for here, around me, was the reality of my present existence. At The Savoy I never had to sweep up the evidence left by a pair of doves roosting in the rafters overnight and now shuffling into wakefulness. Now I clapped my hands, frightening them into flight and further fouling of the floor.

There was one remedy, of course, to all this destitution. Duchess Blanche was dead these past three years, but the Duke had a new wife. Would there not be a place for me there, where I might earn enough to put all to rights? Where I might, in ducal employ once again, acquire sufficient money to ensure a better home for my son to inherit?

Why not? Why should I not return to the world I knew and loved? Surely, given my previous experience, there was some role that I could fulfil. Queen Philippa would have sanctioned it as an eminently practical decision for me to make in the circumstances.

I flapped my hands to disperse the smoke and a few downy feathers that still hung in the air and marched across to the stairs, to climb to my private chamber where I cast aside the heavy cloak. Lifting the lid of my coffer, I sifted through the layers of court dress, the fragile cloth sadly marked with moth and mildew however careful my attention with lavender and sage leaves, and lifted out a much treasured mirror. Opening the ivory case, dull with disuse, I wiped the moisture from the glass on my bodice and looked.

I purse ...

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