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The forbidden Queen was the first genuinely trying to be accurate historical novel I ever read. Although it had failings, in that large parts of it were speculation, I did feel as though I'd learnt something by the end, even if only the names of a few of the rulers at a less well known time in our history.
It is the story of Queen Catherine, wife to King Henry V, mother to King Henry VI and grandmother to King Henry VII. In many ways she was a victim of her times, as one of the youngest daughters of King Charles VI of France she was raised in a monastery with little choice in her future and her only prospect to be a bargaining chip between Henry and Charles.
King Henry wed Catherine in exchange for the support of King Charles and his promise that their future child would one day rule both England and France. At this point I felt the story began to lose it's basis in reality a little, there are very few records from this time period and so Anne O'Brien is worked around the facts. In her telling of the story Catherine is besotted with Henry, but he neglected her. From the first day of their marriage he had other priorities; when she gave birth to their son he never saw him and when he died less than a year later he seemingly called everyone but her to his side.
This part of the Forbidden Queen tells a story of heartbreak and disenchantment. O'Brien's Catherine grows as an individual, and understands that to this man she only ever had worth as a bargaining chip for his country.
The story then had what felt like little more than an interim to me, I wasn't overly enthralled, but I was able to keep reading. During this time Catherine was gradually stripped of her rights and privileges, we see her participation in a brief romance which further damages her situation, and helps her understand once again that she is being used.
During this point of the story our hero, Owen Tudor, is introduced. Quiet and unassuming I fell for him a little alongside our Queen. It is easy to see from O'Brien's descriptions why she would ever have let a Welshman into her bed.
Upon the discovery of her pregnancy we feel her shock, and the quandary she is caught in. However I couldn't help delighting when she wed Owen Tudor in secret. Her happily ever after began there and played out with only a few bumps in the road.
Within this story I particularly liked the friendship that developed between Catherine and King James of Scotland. Since both were foreigners trapped in a place where they were disliked and distrusted it was easy to see how they would have talked and laughed together. The basis of their friendship was very believable.
As a story with it's feet planted in fact I think anyone could have put the basic structure on paper. Anne O'Brien's skill lay in her taking the cardboard cut-outs and making them real.
I fell in love with these people and my heart broke when Catherine effectively left a suicide note for Owen. My heart broke for Owen. I couldn't help feeling she was the very reason he lived and breathed.