The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Paperback, 578 pages
Published 2013 by Harper (an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)
Buy now: Amazon – Indigo – Indiebound
Note: As a tour host selected by TLC virtual book tours, I received a complimentary copy from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are completely honest and completely my own.
The Agincourt Bride is the story of Catherine de Valois, princess of France (early 15th century). This novel is the first instalment in a series about Catherine’s life. The story however is not told from Catherine’s perspective, but from that of Guillaumette Lanière, her fictional nursemaid, affectionately called Mette.
Mette is thrust into Catherine’s life just after Catherine is born. Mette becomes her wet nurse after her own child is stillborn. From there on, Mette plays an important role in Catherine’s turbulent childhood as surrogate mother and protector. Later in life, Mette becomes Catherine’s friend and trusted confidante.
From the beginning, I was easily caught up in the story. Mette, a young commoner down on her luck, ends up moving from a poor bakery into the royal nursery (although it wasn’t exactly her idea). She gets to see what it’s like from the other side of the spectrum—and it’s not always so pretty. Even the royal children knew what it was like to want. Their upbringing was borderline atrocious. They were completely ignored by their parents (although, their father didn’t ignore them on purpose. He was insane. Literally), and they were left essentially to their own devices as their governess hoarded all their money. Mette, pitying the poor little things, becomes attached to them—especially to Catherine, “the child of her breast.”
Most historical novels that I have read set in the 15th and 16th centuries have been told from the perspective of the main historical character. I found it interesting how this tale was told through the eyes of a trusted friend instead. Through Mette we see more than one side of things. She can be more objective about Catherine’s experiences but still also has an emotional stake in Catherine’s life that makes the reader feel involved.
Furthermore, Mette notices things that the upper class might not notice, or, at least, take note of. For example, Mette’s descriptions show us what it was like to really live in those times—the poverty, the starvation, and the uncertainty that lingered. She also shows what went on in the day to day running of a castle, and what it was like being moved from place to place with the royal court at the whim of the King or Queen (in this case, Queen). The latter wasn’t glamorous or easy like it would seem from the eyes of the upper class. It was a heck of a lot of work—aristocrats don’t pack light. Nor do they pack (or unpack) themselves. On one move she asks one of the men if it was really necessary to take apart the princesses bed and drag it along (it was big). Weren’t there beds where they were going? Yes, there were but they, of course, weren’t good enough for France’s royalty.
I really like the way that Hickson handled Catherine’s life. The relationship between her and Mette provided really good scope for the story. Hickson made me really care about Catherine and Mette. Their relationship was believable and warm—although separated a great deal in rank, their female companionship was quite true to form. While no one seemed to care what Catherine thought about things, Mette did. From their confidences we learn how Catherine was torn between her duty to her mother and her allegiance to her brother, the dauphin (i.e. the heir to the throne). I also like how Hickson decided to turn her exploration of Catherine’s life into a series. Much of the historical fiction like this that I’ve read has told the entirety of the person’s life in one volume. This generally leads to both a long book and large jumps in time. The Agincourt Bride however, only tells of Catherine’s life up until she was about twenty, focusing largely on her late teen years.
However, the villains in the story, mainly Queen Isabeau and the Duke of Burgundy, were a little flat, rarely receiving much attention or depth as far as character was concerned. However, this didn’t bother me too much. I honestly wasn’t overly concerned about them. It would have been nice to see a little more depth, but I was more concerned with the effect they had on Catherine and Mette, and that’s where attention was focused. I think that’s pretty understandable since the story is from Mette’s perspective. Which because of her rank (or lack-there-of), she would not have spent much time around the Queen or the Duke. Therefore, she wouldn’t be able to provide much information about their characters. She would have to rely on what she could glean from Catherine, her impressions, and things she heard about them.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I got caught up in it right from the beginning, and had trouble putting it down! Hickson’s writing was clear and compelling, and so were her characters (mostly). I’m really looking forward to reading her next novel, The Tudor Bride, and learning more about Catherine’s story. If you have read and enjoyed Philippa Gregory, this book is right up your alley. Loved it.
About the Author:
Joanna Hickson became fascinated with history when she studied Shakespeare’s history plays at school. However, having taken a degree in Politics and English she took up a career in broadcast journalism with the BBC, presenting and producing news, current affairs and arts programmes on both television and radio. Now she writes full time and has a contract with Harper Collins for three historical novels. The Agincourt Bride is the first. She lives in Scotland in a 200 year old farmhouse and is married with a large extended family and a wayward Irish terrier.
Beth is the founder and editor of Fuelled by Fiction. She is a twenty-something east coast Canadian girl who loves writing about books and feminism.