The Forbidden Queen
This superb novel tells the story of Katherine de Valois, whom history has by and far neglected.
Katherine, the daughter of Charles VI of France (who went mad) and his queen Isabel (who had a reputation for lust and affairs), was highly sought after by Henry, King of England, for the alliance she would bring about between England and France and, beyond that, for the French crown. Katherine is portrayed as young, naïve and innocent, swept along by Henry, whom she idolises as the dashing, all-conquering hero that he was. But their marriage is destined to be short lived and tragic. Most of it was spent with Katherine alone whilst Henry was abroad on endless war campaigns. When she bears him a son and heir, the future Henry VI, Henry dies of dysentery without having set eyes on him. These scenes are very movingly described, beautifully written and realised.
The rest of the novel depicts the aftermath of the situation in which Katherine finds herself, as a young widow whose hand in marriage is worth a kingdom.
It is no surprise that Katherine does, in fact, marry Owen Tudor, who was of low rank and served Katherine as her Master of the Household. How they ever managed to actually develop a real loving relationship, get married and accepted and produce the Tudor dynasty is the lasting achievement of this novel.
This is a very long novel, but it is always engaging and retains the reader’s interest throughout. What violence there is tends to be off-stage. O’Brien concentrates on character development and relationships. This is essentially a love story, but male readers should not be put off. This male reader, for one, was hooked. Highly recommended.