This first in a series is the story of Catherine de Valois, daughter of Charles, King of France. Brought up with her younger brother Charles at the French court, dominated by the temperamental Queen Isabeau, Catherine’s childhood is one of deprivation rather than luxury. Her only friend is the poet and advisor of kings, Christine de Pizan. Catherine longs to escape the intrigues of the French court and does this through her marriage to Henry V of England. Although this is a political marriage, Catherine appears to fall in love with her kingly husband. It is only after his death that all the skills she learnt, from dealing with the insanity of her own father, Charles, and her trouble-making mother, are used in trying to protect Harry, her son, from the political aspirations of Duke Humphrey and the war-hardened Warwick. Henry’s death also provides the opportunity for Catherine to renew her youthful friendship with Owain Tudor, a dispossessed young Welshman. Owain’s understanding and loyalty to both Harry and Catherine enable her to find the peace and love that has always eluded her.
This novel is a skilful blend of fact and fiction. Weaving together all the historically important figures of the time such as Christine de Pizan, Jehanne, who is burnt for heresy, and Cardinal Beaufort, it provides the reader with a glimpse of the hardships of life, even in courtly circles, during a period of war between England and France. Personally, this period is not historically one of my favourites, but Vanora Bennett’s novel has made me think again. Her characters, story, and fluid writing style sweep you along in a pageant of medieval life. This is quite simply an excellent read!