Book Review: The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson

agincourtbrideThe epic story of the queen who founded the Tudor dynasty, told through the eyes of her loyal nursemaid. Perfect for fans of Philipa Gregory.

When her own first child is tragically still-born, the young Mette is pressed into service as a wet-nurse at the court of the mad king, Charles VI of France. Her young charge is the princess, Catherine de Valois, caught up in the turbulence and chaos of life at court.

Mette and the child forge a bond, one that transcends Mette’s lowly position.
But as Catherine approaches womanhood, her unique position seals her fate as a pawn between two powerful dynasties. Her brother, The Dauphin and the dark and sinister, Duke of Burgundy will both use Catherine to further the cause of France.

Catherine is powerless to stop them, but with the French defeat at the Battle of Agincourt, the tables turn and suddenly her currency has never been higher. But can Mette protect Catherine from forces at court who seek to harm her or will her loyalty to Catherine place her in even greater danger?

This book has several advantages over other historical fiction novels covering the same period: it is told from that of the wet nurse of Princess Catherine of France, and that much of the “action” is held “off screen” where the future of Mette – and Catherine – is in the hands of others.

Mette, 14 years old and already the new mother of a stillborn baby, is requisitioned to be the wet nurse to the newborn Princess Catherine, daughter of the mad King Charles of France, who fears that since he is made of glass he will shatter at any moment.  Her involvement with the royal family comes and goes, dependant on the moods of Catherine, the Queen, and the Queen’s lover the Duke of Burgundy. The royal children suffer the vagaries of political machinations, where they are seen purely as pawns to aid power, and are rarely the recipients of parental or familial love.

Over the following 18 years, Mette becomes more useful to Catherine, and ends up being the Mistress of the Wardrobe. From her standpoint Mette sees the effect Burgundy has on Catherine, and what the political manoeuvring with regards to offering her hand in marriage to King Henry V of England. Henry’s reputation preceeds him significantly within the book, and it is second or even third hand that rumour and gossip comes through to Catherine’s group.

This book is clearly the start of a series and deals with the machinations leading up to a political marriage – Henry V appears as a specific character late in the narrative, Owen Tudor is a passing (though named) character in the last few chapters who, if you didn’t know your history, would make you wonder why the author was labouring so much over a Welsh bowman.

Some characters are, by necessity perhaps, a little two dimensional. This is a story of Mette and her relationship with the future Queen of England. So the character development of Mette’s son Luc (hound master to the exiled Prince Charles), daughter Alys (seamstress to Princess Catherine) and Son In Law (Alys’s lover who gets her pregnant before they get married) are rather unfulfilled.

This is a nice take on a frequently raised story, decently executed and set up decently for the following books in the series

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