A year ago almost to the day I wrote a review of Joanna Hickson’s The Agincourt Bride, the powerful and utterly compelling account of the childhood and youth of Catherine de Valois, a French princess, and her betrothal and marriage to Henry V, the victor of Agincourt and the scourge of France. I was delighted to feature The Agincourt Bride in a post celebrating my favourite reads of 2013. If The Tudor Bride, its sequel, doesn’t feature in the 2014 equivalent post, I will be very surprised indeed.
The Tudor Bride picks up Catherine’s story just where we left it. The young woman and bride arrives in England, carried ashore on the shoulders of her new courtiers, ready to take her place as queen of a foreign land beside the almost godlike figure of England’s lion, Henry V. But for Catherine the difficulty doesn’t come from learning a new language or getting to know new customs, or even a new husband, it comes from the gentleman and ladies of her court. Young women like Eleanor Cobham compete for position in her household and Catherine soon learns that a slight, however unintentional, may become a wound never to be forgotten. Likewise, trouble brews between Henry’s brothers. The Duke of Gloucester in particular is a man to be watched by this young woman, fulfilling her duty, trying so hard to produce heirs for a country that hates her home. All, though, might have been bearable if Henry V had lived. But he didn’t.
In this deeply evocative and consuming novel, Joanna Hickson presents a living, breathing portrait of Catherine during the best and worst of times. As a widow and mother to a small boy king, her position is precarious at best. Aside from the political and social difficulties Catherine faces, she is a very young woman, beautiful and kind, who has to fight against people who would willingly destroy her rather than allow her any future happiness. For others, her hand in marriage is a great temptation. Kept from her son, spied upon by his regents and tormented by those who once served her, Catherine’s lot is laid out before us in a novel that I couldn’t let out of my sight.
To bring us even closer, Catherine’s story is told, just as it was in the previous novel, in the first person by her wetnurse, companion and faithful loving servant, Mette. Mette has her own sacrifices to make as well as her own future to hope for and the relationship between Mette and her mistress is not always an easy one. Their upheavals only serve to make their story all the more real for the reader. Mette’s tale also permits us to see more than Catherine can. It takes us out of the claustrophobic court, into the streets of London or Paris, and also gives us a wider perspective on what Catherine is enduring. Here we have the origins of the Wars of the Roses (not to mention a glimpse of their end) but told in the most personal way.
But this is not a sad tale, even though there are moments when I cried my eyes out (even on the bus and in the office at lunchtime!). There are moments that are so full of happiness as both Catherine and Mette experience love. The drama of the sinister court goes hand in hand with the more domestic but equally deadly drama of childbirth. Catherine the haughty Queen is matched by Catherine the loving wife, mother and friend. I felt my emotions being pulled up and down like a yoyo and by the end I was drained!
This is historical fiction at its very finest and every bit as wonderful and mesmerising as its predecessor The Agincourt Bride. Characters both historic and fictional shine in this novel, each leaving their own mark, led by Catherine de Valois, Henry V’s queen and widow, and her faithful servant and companion Mette. I cannot praise this superb novel enough, I only wish I hadn’t finished it.
The Agincourt Bride