The Agincourt Bride is the first novel by Joanna Hickson and tells the story of Catherine of Valois from her childhood through to the start of her marriage to King Henry V.
The story is told from the point of view of Mette, a fictional character who is employed as a young girl to be Catherine’s wet nurse. Over time she grows to love the princess and becomes a permanent fixture in her life.
Catherine of Valois’ story is far more complicated than I had believed. I found Hickson’s account of the childhood of Catherine and her siblings quite shocking. In the novel they suffer terrible neglect despite their royal status. It gives the story a bit of a rags to riches feel. However I did read that it is now debated whether they were actually neglected or not or if this was just a rumour put about to discredit their mother, Queen Isabua, so this part of the story may not be fully accurate.
The novel takes place during the Hundred Years War – supposedly an age of chivalry. However there is little evidence of chivalry in this story. The treatment of women in this novel is difficult to read at times but I think it is true to the time period and isn’t out of place. There are two rape scenes in the novel as well as scenes of sexual assault but unfortunately this was something that happened often in this era and it is still relevant today. I read a review of this novel that said the rape scenes were unnecessary but it was a fact of the times and it still happens now. I admired the fact that the two women in the story carry on and find a way to survive in a man’s world. The history books always tell us of men going to war and battle but women were just as much a part of that. They had to stay at home yes, but they were at home waiting for the outcome. That didn’t just include waiting to hear if loved ones had survived but getting ready to protect their homes, families and themselves against the aftermath of battles – the looting, pillaging and raping. Women were seen as the spoils of war and this, in my opinion, is what makes the idea of “an age of chivalry” a joke. So although the scenes are unpleasant they are they are extremely accurate.
You feel very sorry for Catherine at some points of the novel. Her mother, Queen Isabua, barely acknowledges her existence unless it is for her own gains. Her father, King Charles, is mad. She is a pawn in a political games who is surrounded by an evil queen, a mad king and wicked courtiers. She has no way out.
The narrator, Mette, can be a bit annoying at times but she did succeed in making you care about Catherine which is her purpose in the novel. I found it difficult to believe that she would leave her own children for someone that she is employed to look after and her opinion of Catherine can be very rose-tinted at times.
I would say that this novel engaged me more than a Philippa Gregory novel which is the kind of book I was expecting it to be like. I read it really quickly. There are 600+ pages but it doesn’t feel like it. The only thing I would say is that the first part of Catherine’s life is a bit drawn out but I am still looking forward to reading the second part.