Although the core Tudors (Henry VIII, his wives and Elizabeth I) continue to be popular topics for current historical fiction, the personalities on the periphery are suddenly becoming more well known as authors turn to their stories for “something new” in the Tudor market. A number of recent and upcoming books focus on the Grey sisters and Catherine of Valois makes not one appearance this year, but two.
Joanna Hickson’s debut, The Agincourt Bride, focuses on Catherine’s early life and ends as she sets sail with her husband, Henry V for England. A second book by Hickson, The Tudor Bride, will presumably cover the rest of her life. Catherine’s childhood/pre-marriage years do not meet the generalized ideals of the life of a princess. The youngest daughter of France’s Charles VI, her father’s bouts into madness and her mother’s overbearing selfishness leave little oversight into the upbringing of the royal children as those in charge make themselves rich at the expense of their young charges.
As factions within France battle for control and their long-time enemy across the channel create their own threat, a marriage between England’s king and the French princess is offered as a way towards peace. But despite the English victory at Agincourt (and the book’s title), it is nearly 5 years before the marriage actually takes place. Although Catherine begins to see the marriage as her way out of the hell her life has become, she doubts it will ever comes to pass and when it does, it isn’t quite what she had hoped for.
Given Catherine’s age and circumstances, Hickson wisely chooses someone other than Catherine as the first person narrator – her childhood nurse Mette. Mette is the one constant in Catherine’s life and the one person Catherine wants with her most of the time (even if it’s hovering in the shadows and remaining unseen as all servants should be), allowing her to be a witness to the events of Catherine’s life. As a lowly servant, Mette has the freedom to come and go as necessary, playing the role of the gatherer of information outside the castle walls. For the most part, it works and Hickson manages to avoid a lot of the “info-dumping” and other problems that tend to plague first person narratives. Mette’s experiences also provide a glimpse into the lives of the everyday citizens.
Catherine is an intelligent, sensible young woman with a good grasp of the political realities of her life and the threats posed to herself and her brothers Louis and later Charles and she often puts herself into the role of protecting them. Besides the threat posed by the English, the siblings must also deal with one far more menacing from within – the Duke of Burgundy who wants power for himself and has allied with the queen to get it. And it’s here that Hickson’s story loses some credibility as it resorts to the most overused and clichéd method of making a man out to be “bad” – he’s a sexual predator. How unoriginal and uninspiring.
Which is really too bad especially since there was a lot about this book that I liked (although I found the middle a bit boring as Catherine just moves around from place to place). I was further disappointed that there is no author’s note to indicate whether there is any factual basis for Burgundy’s behavior or if it’s just totally made up. Which if it is, that’s fine, but at least own up to it.
In case the FTC asks: bought it