This novel follows the life of Katherine de Valois who, realistically is a mistreated, unloved French princess largely forgotten by her family until she becomes of use as a political pawn in the England-France peace agreements through marriage. So she is married off to Henry V of England, a man driven by war, with little interest in a wife except for producing an heir, she is left as a young widow who is also mother to the heir to the throne of both England and France in a court inundated with controlling men.
In Katherine we see a growth in her character – from a child to an individual with her own mind. She becomes more capable. She is a likeable, strong individual and an important historical figure.
In Hotel Saint-Pol she lives in squalor and abandonment left to starve like a street urchin. A shocking childhood, especially since they are meant to be royal children. She is miserable in a love-deprived environment.
There is a strong focus on romance and Katherine’s yearning for true affection after receiving little in her childhood. Her father was Charles VI, the Mad King, whose madness could have been inherited. Her mother was Isabeau, the adulterous queen, power-hungry and infamous. She is desperate for Henry V’s seal of approval and falls in love with him instantly and perhaps, immaturely. But she doesn’t receive the attention she needs from his. Henry V is seen as a cold-hearted, task-orientated, ambitious man who had no time for his young, needy wife. She becomes a widow at 21. Soon after she falls for Beaufort, again all too easily. Katherine fails to see through him – everyone warns her, but it doesn’t matter as she is not allowed to marry him. The council rule that she must remain unmarried until her son, the king, comes of age and can approve it.
She swears off mean for about two days then she meets Owen Tudor. She goes from barely noticing him to been insanely in love/lust with him in minutes. However, Katherine and Owen appear to be an equal couple. Owen does make some comments about women that grated a little but it is true to the time period I suppose. After her relationship with Owen she comes into her own – she grows up, matures, begins to recognise her own intelligence and power and how to wield it.
The portrayal of Katherine in history has been as a beautiful but little-known queen but not a smart one – more eye candy than anything else. In The Forbidden Queen she struggles with reading but says no one cared if she could read or not as a child. However her character develops and grows and she grows more confident. We see that she is smart and has her own mind.
The ending is quite emotional with Katherine taking herself off to a convent fearing that she has the same afflictions as her father and not wanting to put her children through it.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to fans of historical fiction an historical romance. If you like Philippa Gregory, you will enjoy this.