Reviewed by Jennifer Joyce
Despite being a princess, the daughter of French king Charles VI, Katherine de Valois grew up impoverished, squabbling with older sister Michelle over stale loaves of bread. At the age of five, Katherine is sent to live in a convent where is fed and clothed, but starved of love and affection. When the English king Henry V agrees to marry Katherine, she naively thinks the union will bring her the happiness and love she craves. However, for Henry, the move is purely political, the marriage creating a claim for the French throne, especially if Katherine produces a son and heir.
The marriage is not the happy ending Katherine hoped it would be as she finds herself in a foreign country with her new husband away in battle, leaving a pregnant Katherine alone and at the mercy of her gossiping ladies. But Katherine’s tale is far from over and only really begins after the death of Henry. Katherine feels she should be free to find love – true, reciprocal love – but, as the former Queen of England and mother to the heir, strict laws are imposed to prevent the queen from marrying again. Katherine refuses to live the rest of her life locked away in widowhood and is determined to defy those in power to finally find happiness and comfort.
Before reading The Forbidden Queen I had little knowledge of the time period and none at all of Katherine or the French Valois line, so I wasn’t sure how I would find the book. My doubts were soon put at ease and I quickly became enveloped in Katherine’s story. Told from Katherine’s point of view, it was easy to slip into her world and I immediately felt connected to her, feeling sympathy for how she was brought up in loveless poverty, forgotten about as her parents enjoyed the luxury royalty afforded them. I sometimes wished Katherine would pull herself together as she hankered after a happy marriage with Henry, something that clearly wasn’t going to happen. She was naïve in the beginning, but she grew stronger as the years passed, fighting for the life she wanted and deserved.
At over 600 pages, The Forbidden Queen is quite a hefty book, however I flew through it surprisingly quickly. It did dip a little in the middle for me, but it soon picked up and my interest was piqued once again. There are a lot of pages that focus on one character and Katherine has plenty of story to tell, both dramatic and heartfelt. I didn’t know anything about Katherine de Valois prior to reading The Forbidden Queen, but I enjoyed her story and would now love to learn more.