Anne O'Brien tells the story of the innocent young princess, Katherine de Valois, England's most coveted prize who launched the most famous dynasty of all time " the Tudors.
It is 1415. The Battle of Agincourt is over, and a young princess, the jewel in the French crown, is the prize to be offered to Henry V of England. The innocent Katherine de Valois is smitten with Henry, but soon understands that her sole purpose is to produce an heir to unite England and France.
When Henry leaves her a widow at the age of 21, there is pressure on Katherine to resign herself to a quiet life as the Dowager Queen; her duty being to raise her son, the young King of England, and little more. But Katherine is still young and passionate. Many desire her, and her hand in marriage is worth a kingdom.
Anne O'Brien and her husband live in an historic cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, a wild and beautiful place on the border between England and Wales. Since living there she has become hooked on medieval history and has published a number of bestselling historical novels to international acclaim.
The Forbidden Queen
Author: Anne O'Brien
Question: Why did you decide to write about Katherine de Valois?
Anne O'Brien: Henry V and his young bride, Katherine de Valois, were acknowledged to be the most beautiful and romantic couple of their day, praised and feted by all. Even better, Shakespeare wrote for them a magnificent love scene in Henry V . But was it true? Was this lovely French princess in truth Henry's beloved? It was this thought that encouraged me to write about this little known English Queen.
Katherine proved to be an enigma. She moved from naive young girl through an equally naive widowhood, entering into an astonishingly unwise liaison with the ambitious Edmund Beaufort. What more could a writer of historical fiction ask for?
And then she fell spectacularly in love with Owen Tudor. The blatant romance of it is gripping, and the exact circumstances have been open to wide speculation. Whatever the truth, she fell in love with Owen, her servant, defying the Royal Council and Parliament, and in so doing established the first stone in the foundation of the mighty Tudor Dynasty. This is Katherine's story: a coming of age novel, the portrait of a sensitive young girl who obeyed the demands of her family, suffered increasing isolation, but ultimately grasped a hard maturity and was able to claim her own destiny. It is a very personal story. A love story. And ultimately a tragic one.
I had to write it.
Question: Can you tell us about the historic research you did for The Forbidden Queen? What was the most difficult thing about writing a book set in the 15th Century?
Anne O'Brien: The problem of researching Katherine de Valois, even compared to other female historical characters of the 15th century, was the lack of evidence about her as an individual. She left no personal records, no letters, diary comments or even notable speeches. Even when she gained some authority over her own life in her later years, she chose to live a retired existence in one of her dower properties. She was never a political animal. If I wrote the hard facts in a list about her life, it could be complete in less than 2 sides of A4 paper.
I undertook the research from various different angles: from the life and achievements of Henry V; from the history of the Regency of the child king, Katherine's son, Henry VI; from Yorkist, Lancastrian and Tudor propaganda, to discover what was being said about Katherine in her lifetime. The answer was: very little. Even in Henry V's history there was little reference to Katherine other than as his wife and mother of his son.
Another problem to emerge was that what she lacked in hard evidence Katherine made up for in myth and romantic tradition in her love affair with Owen Tudor. Is it acceptable to use such material in historical fiction? I think it is, particularly in this case. Who is to say that the legends are not true? Nothing can be proven, so I think that makes them fair game for a historical novelist, and I made use of them without compunctions. What a superb romance they make of the relationship between Katherine and Owen Tudor.
Finally, there were so many yawning gaps, where I was compelled to -join the dots' between the proven evidence. It had to be done with sensitivity and as much historical accuracy as i could, to keep the character of Katherine, and her life story historically honest and authentic.
Not easy, but a riveting task.
Question: What do you enjoy most about writing historical fiction?
Anne O'Brien: I find writing about history, particularly medieval history, enthralling. I cannot recall a time when I did not enjoy history. My father was the source of my original fascination – I have much to thank him for – and as a child I was taken to visit castles and churches and stately homes and fell in love with the lives of the people who lived there. I found it easy to imagine them. My degree was in history, and in another life I taught history for many years.
Writing about these historical characters in a fictional format enables me to breathe life into medieval people, to recreate them again in three dimensions. History books tell us so little about them, but they were real people who laughed and wept, cursed or told jokes, mourned or experienced great joy, hated and loved. What a pleasure it is, and an honour, to allow these characters to live again. I am drawn to writing about medieval women, to give them a voice since they were so often denied it in their own lifetime.
Question: Are you working on your next book?
Anne O'Brien: Many years ago now, when I first became hooked on historical fiction, I read that classic romance Katherine by Anya Seton. It is still much read and much loved even today, telling of the great romance of Katherine Swynford and John of Lancaster, son of King Edward III and known by history as John of Gaunt. This love affair, that flourished in the time of great political upheaval in the reign of Richard II, fascinated me, and still does, because it was a romance that broke all the rules. In spite of this it survived and ultimately, against all the odds, brought the pair together in marriage. It is too good a story for me not to write, and fits in perfectly with my series on royal wives and mistresses of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. My research has so far brought me some surprises. I am enjoying the relationship of Katherine and John although I have discovered that it was not quite such a straight-forward love affair as I might once have thought. In fact it is filled with far more passion and danger than I had expected.
It will be released in 2014.
The Forbidden Queen
Author: Anne O'Brien