This is Hickson’s follow-up to The Agincourt Bride which focuses on the life of Catherine of Valois, wife to Henry V, mother to Henry VI and founder of the Tudor dynasty. This novel picks up where The Agincourt Bride left off and charts Catherine’s life from her arrival in England in 1420 to her death in 1437.
Catherine’s marriage to Henry V is short-lived when he dies unexpectedly leaving Catherine a widow at the age of 21 with a baby who is also the king of England and France. Her brother-in-law, Gloucester, the villain of the novel, pushes her further and further out of her son’s life and refuses to let her marry until the king is of age. Lonely Catherine finds love with Owen Tudor, a man far beneath her in station, and marries him in secret.
This book was more enjoyable than Hickson’s first. There is a lot more going on, more of a story. The first novel depicting the first half of Catherine’s life was full of neglect, rape and abuse but this novel is very different focusing much more on court life, politics and marital life. There is much more of a human quality to the characters in this novel as they fight for love, for advancement, for their children and in Catherine’s case for the freedom to be happy.
I didn’t like the character of Mette as much in this novel. She seemed really whiny at times. There are relationship problems that develop between her and Catherine as Catherine becomes more and more influenced by other nobles like Jacqueline of Hainault, instead of Mette. As in the first novel, I questioned Mette’s choices – she always chooses Catherine over her own children and I couldn’t quite get my head around that.
Catherine finds out that an insult, whether unintended or not, may never be forgotten and can come back to bite you. When selecting her ladies-in-waiting she rejects Eleanor Cobham, as a possible companion early on in the novel. Eleanor’s ambition is not subdued and she rises to the top regardless, becoming Gloucester’s mistress and eventually his second wife. She comes back to haunt Catherine later in life bringing about her downfall and possible even her death. Cobham was one of the more interesting characters in the novel. Like Shakespeare’s version of her, in this novel she dabbles in witchcraft and plots to kill the child kings and put herself and her husband on the throne. She is accused and found guilty of sorcery and sentenced to life imprisonment. I am fascinated by the witchcraft trials of the past so I really enjoyed this aspect of the plot.
One thing that did seem strange to me is that although the novel mentions all of Catherine and Owen’s children’s births and we know they are all there living with them in their household the focus seems to be only on Jasper and Edmund. Obviously these two are the ones we know about from the history books but there are four children in the household and after their births, the author seems to forget about them.
Other than that, it is a good read. I read it really quickly despite it’s many pages. I would definitely read more from this author.