Queen Consort of Henry V of England
Born 1401 Died 1437

Also known as Katherine

Youth

Catherine was the youngest child of Charles VI of France and Isabelle of Bavaria, born on the 27th October 1401 at the Hotel de St Paul in Paris. (And sister of the Isabella of Valois who was earlier married to Richard II.) Her childhood was marred by her father's regular bouts of insanity and her mother's alleged affair with the king's brother, the Duke of Orleans and general indifference to the duties of motherhood. With neither of her parents willing or able to pay much attention to her, she was packed off to the convent at Poissy and largely raised by nuns.

Marriage

From an early age Catherine was seen as a suitable bride for the dashing Henry of Monmouth, Prince of Wales, and a number of fruitless attempts were made to negotiate a match. On his succession to the throne in March 1413 Henry of Monmouth, now Henry V, pursued this potential match with a greater vigour and demanded a large dowry and other concessions from the French crown as his price for marrying the princess. The French rejected his demands, and Henry used this rejection as a pretext for his invasion of France in 1415. Henry's subsequent military success against the French placed them in a position where they had essentially to comply with Henry's terms and by the Treaty of Troyes in May 1420, Henry won the restoration of both Normandy and Aquitaine, and the hand of Catherine of Valois.

Therefore in accordance with the Treaty, Catherine and Henry were married at Troyes on the 2nd June 1420, and subsequently left for England where Catherine was crowned at Westminster Abbey on the 23rd February 1421. On the 6th December of that same year Catherine gave birth to a son, named Henry after his father and grandfather. She remained in England until the summer of 1422, when she returned to France to to join Henry in Paris in 1422 and was therefore with him when the king died at Vincennes in August 1422.

Widowhood

After Henry's death, Catherine returned to England and took up residence first at Windsor Castle then at Baynard's Castle just outside London. Having been married at eighteen Catherine now found herself a widow a mere two years later and the death of her husband now placed her in a somewhat anomalous position. Although she was mother to the infant king Henry VI, she was viewed with suspicion by many because of her French birth and was denied any involvement in the upbringing of her son.

Catherine found herself exiled from court, whilst the government of the country lay in the hands of her brothers-in law Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and John, Duke of Bedford. Of course Catherine was still young woman and very likely to marry again, and the choice of her husband was a matter of great interest to the administration. Therefore in 1428 Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, secured the passing of an Act of Parliament that stipulated that she should not marry again without first first obtaining permission from the king and council. (Which in practice meant either Humphrey himself or his brother John.)

This turned out to be a little too late, as by this time it appears that Catherine had already remarried in secret, her choice falling upon a Welsh squire by the name of Owen Tudor who held the office of clerk of the queen's wardrobe. (The story is that Catherine happened to catch sight of the naked Owen whilst he was bathing in a river and was suitably impressed by what she saw.) Notwithstanding the requirements of the 1428 Act, Catherine and Owen were allowed to live unmolested in relative obscurity until the year 1436 when the authorities were prompted to act for some reason or another.

Owen was arrested and imprisoned whilst Catherine was placed in the Abbey of St Saviour in Bermondsey, which amounted to much the same thing. It was there that Catherine died on the 3rd of January 1437. The exact cause of her death reamins unclear, some sources state that she was suffering from some unspecified illness, others that she died giving birth.

It is still a matter of debate as to whether Owen and Catherine were actually married. The general consensus appears to be that they went through some kind of ceremony of marriage in 1428 but the legal status of this is unclear. Together they are variously cited as having produced four, five, six or seven children. The two undoubted offspring were Jasper Tudor, later Earl of Pembroke and Duke of Bedford and Edmund Tudor, later Earl of Richmond and father of the future king Henry VII. There also appears to have been a Thomas Tudor who became a monk at Westminster and a daughter named Tacinda. Some sources show variously, a son named Owen, an unamed daughter and a further daughter named Margaret all of whom died in childhood.


Catherine's body was buried in the Lady chapel of Westminster Abbey, until that chapel was demolished by her grandson Henry VII. Her remains were then removed and then kept above aground in an open coffin near the tomb of Henry V. In the year 1669 Samuel Pepys visited the Abbey and recorded how he was permitted to view her mummified corpse and was even allowed to kiss the dead queen. Her remains were eventually reburied in 1778 under the Villiers monument and then finally moved in 1878 to a position under the altar in Henry V’s chantry. You can still see her painted wooden funeral effigy on display at the museum at Westminster Abbey.


SOURCES

  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for CATHERINE_OF_VALOIS
    See http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm
  • Catherine of Valois at http://www.historyswomen.com/catherine.htm
  • Catherine of Valois:The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001 www.bartleby.com/65/ca/CathrinVal.html
  • Monarchs Buried at Westminster Abbey Henry V (1387-1422) http://www.westminster-abbey.org/library/monarchs/henry_v.htm
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)

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