Monday, February 11, 2013

The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien, A Book Review

The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien – A Book Review

This historical novel recounts a fictionalized version of the life of Katherine of Valois, the youngest daughter of the French King, Charles VI, who suffered from mental illness, and Isabeau of Bavaria, a neglectful mother who was considered a wanton power hungry Queen consort.

Katherine lived from 1401 to 1437, was married to Henry V of England, the hero of Agincourt, as a pawn in the political maneuvering of the day, in which Henry sought to secure the crowns of both England and France for himself.

While little is known of her life, Katherine is significant as the wife of Henry V, the mother of Henry VI, the mother of Edmund and Jasper Tudor, the half brothers or Henry VI, who would ultimately give rise to the Tudor dynasty, and the grandmother of Henry VII.

Katherine eschewed all political correctness after being left a widow at the tender age of 21. She was prevented from entering into a second marriage with Edmund Beaufort, grandson of John of Gaunt, because Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester, wanted to prevent the Beauforts from gaining too much political power. Parliament enacted a law to prevent the dowager queen from remarrying without the consent of Parliament and the king, who would not reach his majority for several year;  so she married, against the law of the land, without consent, her Welsh servant Owen Tudor, and set into motion a chain of events that ultimately changed the course of English history.

As written by Ms. O’Brien the story is engaging. It is far more entertaining that the one previous effort of historical fiction that I’ve read on this fascinating woman. It is clear the author did her due diligence and conducted a significant amount of research.

While I am, for the most part, one who prefers an actual biography based upon research and study of contemporary documents, I enjoyed this work of historical fiction. I’ve always been intrigued by women of substance during this period of history. It took courage to defy Gloucester and Parliament for Katherine to ensure she would not be left alone, as an icon, without love and passion, for that was surely the intent of the powers that existed at the time.

I give the book 4 stars out of five. I really liked it but did not love it. The narrative began to wane towards the very end. I started to lose interest. But compared to anything by Philippa Gregory, who is considered the doyenne of historical fiction of the Tudor period, I would give this book 10 stars.  I found it far superior in every way. 

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