Queens of England +Catherine of Valois (1401-1437)
Catherine was born in 1401, the youngest daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria. Her older sister Isabella was Richard II’s second queen. Early in her life there was discussion of marrying her to Henry IV’s son but he died before negotiations could begin. The new king, Henry V, also proposed the match but he demanded a large dowry and acknowledgement of his right to the throne in France.
Henry went to war with France but plans for the marriage still continued even after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Catherine was known to be very beautiful and when Henry met her at Meulan he became enamored of her. In May 1420 a peace treaty was made between England and France in which Henry was acknowledged as Charles’ heir and Catherine married him in June.
Catherine returned to England with Henry and was crowned queen in Westminster Abbey in February 1421. In June of that same year Henry returned to France to continue his campaign. By the time he left Catherine was pregnant and gave birth to a son, Henry, in December. Catherine was made a queen dowager less than a year after the birth of her son when her husband died in August 1422 of dysentery in France.
Catherine’s youth was a concern to her brother-in-law, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector, as she was still marriageable. To prevent Catherine’s marrying without permission, the Parliament of 1427-8 introduced a bill setting the rules for the remarriage of a queen dowager. The bill stated that if she married without the king’s consent, the husband would lose his lands and possessions. It also stipulated the king could only grant permission once he had reached his majority. At the time the bill was written Henry VI was only 6.
Catherine lived in the king’s household, presumably to care for him. However, this arrangement also allowed the councilors to watch over the queen herself. Despite the surveillance, Catherine began a romantic relationship with the Welshman Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudor who served as her clerk of the wardrobe. The two soon became inseparable despite the danger of them being exposed. Unable to stay at court, Catherine retreated from court life into the countryside. She and Owen secretly married on an unknown date in the early 1430s. Catherine managed to conceal the marriage and the birth of her sons, Edmund, Jasper, and Owen by living in complete retirement.
In 1436, when she was pregnant with her fifth child, rumors of Catherine’s secret marriage reached the Duke of Gloucester. Finding this to be true, he swiftly punished her. He dissolved her household, sent her children away, and imprisoned Owen in Newgate. Catherine herself was sent to Bermondsey Abbey. The heavily pregnant Catherine was gravely ill by this time and distressed by the separation from her family. She soon gave birth to a daughter, Margaret, who died shortly after birth. Catherine never recovered from the birth and she died in January 1437.
She was laid in state at St. Catherine’s Chapel at the Tower of London and later buried in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey. (x)
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Catherine had little comfort besides her son when her stubborn English husband, the victorious Henry V, died in 1422 in France. She had tried to convince him to stay at least until after the birth of the child but he would not stopped. Now she was left all alone in what was still a foreign place to her with a son in infant bands named king of England and France. She wondered how this boy of hers would ever keep all this that was so hard won by his father. But there was no one to hear her worries as the regency council Henry had appointed took over the ruling of kingdom and she was pushed aside. Catherine came to the painful realisation that in some ways, her son belonged more to the whole of England than to her. She was no more than the French mother of an English king.
Catherine found unexpected solace in the person of Owen Tudor. He was a quiet Welshman who had distinguished himself at Agincourt and returned to England in Henry’s service. Of all the people that she was surrounded by at court, he was the single person that did not ignore her or patronise her. He treated her with sincere respect and did not look like he had something better to be doing when she spoke to him. In a way they were both very much foreigners in England, as there was no small bias against the Welsh and Catherine was still so very French. Their relationship quickly grew and Catherine appointed him Clerk of her Wardrobe to conceal how much time she was really spending with him.
Catherine’s ladies were not oblivious to the growing affair and they urged her to end it. Owen Tudor was a savage Welshman far below her station with no advantages to speak of. Their advice was blatantly ignored when Catherine did the unthinkable and asked for permission to marry him. Henry’s brother, Humphrey of Gloucester, denied it and a bill was passed in Parliament that stated a queen dowager could not marry without the granted consent of the king. It was 1428 and Henry VI was only 6 years old. Catherine settled in for a long wait.
For the next several years Catherine did not have an unhappy life. Although excluded largely from the upbringing of her son, she was near him and knew that she would not get anything more than that from the greedy regency council. Owen remained in her household and once her ladies stopped begrudging her a little romance, Catherine found them less insufferable than she used to. Finally in 1437, Henry was declared of age and granted his mother the permission for which she had waited nearly a decade.
Catherine and Owen were quietly married and removed to the countryside away from the ever squabbling court. It hurt her deeply to abandon Henry to those wolves that called themselves his advisors; he had been raised to patronise her like every other Englishman and would not listen to her anyway. She and Owen eventually had four children, Edmund, Jasper, Owen, and Margaret. After the birth of Margaret in 1447, she became ill and died with Owen by her side.
Birth made her a French princess and marriage made her an English queen, but choice made her a Welshman’s wife. (x)
Catherine of Valois was the daughter of King Charles VI of France and Isabelle of Bavaria, daughter of Duke Stephen III of Bavaria-Ingolstadt. Catherine was born at the royal palace of the Hôtel Saint-Pol in Paris on 27 October 1401, one of eight children born of the marriage. An older sister, Isabella of Valois, had previously been married to King Richard II.
Catherine’s father, Charles VI was mentally ill, he is believed to have suffered from schizophrenia, Charles experienced delusions, believing he was made of glass or denying he had a wife and children. He ran from room to room until he collapsed from exhaustion, declaring that his enemies were upon him. Charles’ illness is believed to have been later inherited by his grandson, Henry VI of England. Charles’ ancestors were closely related. His mother, the French Princess, Joan of Bourbon (1338-1377) was slightly unstable, as were her brother, Louis, Duke of Bourbon, her father and grandfather, she suffered a complete nervous breakdown in 1373 after the birth of her seventh child.
By the time Catherine had reached the age of three, the decision was reached that for the sake of his health and dignity Charles VI should retire from public life. Catherine’s mother, Queen Isabeau, an arrogant and ruthless woman, was openly unfaithful to her father. Acquiring the assistance of her brother Louis, Duke of Bavaria and her brother-in-law Louis, Duke of Orleans, she seized control of the government of France from the rival forces of the King’s cousin John, Duke of Burgundy. Catherine and her sisters, Marie and Michelle and her brother the Dauphin Louis, were at one point carried off by the Duke of Bavaria during power struggles at the French court. Catherine’s early years were dismal and impoverished, her only education was obtained in a convent at Poissy.
King Henry V of England renewed the English claim to the French throne and invaded France. Agreement was finally reached in 1420 by the Treaty of Troyes. By its terms King Charles VI of France recognised Henry as his heir, disinheriting his own son, the Dauphin Charles and the English King married Charles’ youngest daughter, Catherine on 2nd June 1420.
Catherine travelled to England with her husband and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23 February 1421. Henry’s brother, Thomas, Duke of Clarence was killed fighting in France at the field of Baugy. Determined to avenge his death, Henry returned to France in June 1421. Queen Catherine gave birth to a son, Henry, on 6 December 1421 at Windsor. Leaving her son in the care of his uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, she joined Henry in France in May 1422, the child and his father were never to meet, Henry V contracted dysentery during the siege of Meaux and died on 31 August 1422, at the age of 34, leaving Catherine a widow. Her father King Charles VI died a few months later, leaving the infant Henry VI king of England and France.
In 1428, Henry V’s younger brother, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, concerned that a step-father of the infant king could wield too much influence, secured the passing of an act to prevent Catherine from marrying without the consent of the king and council. Now Dowager Queen, Catherine sometimes took part in state processions, contemporaries describe how often on such occasions, ‘the infant king was seated on her lap’.
Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudor, a Welshman of relatively modest background, who had entered the service of Henry V and distinguished himself at Agincourt, was appointed as keeper of the wardrobe to the twenty year old widow. By all accounts Owen was a handsome young man, the chroniclers dwell upon the beauty, at some point he became the Dowager Queen’s lover. Legend relates that Owen caught the Queen’s eye when she saw him swimming, or that he tripped and fell into her lap when dancing. The affair is thought to have started at Leeds Castle in Kent.
No documentation has survived of Catherine’s marriage to Owen Tudor in 1429. The discovery of at least three of the queen’s illegitimate children had caused scandal at the time, and was seen as an insult to the memory of the great Henry V. Owen and Catherine produced at least five children in all. Edmund, Jasper and Owen Tudor were all born away from court. Owen later became a monk. They also had two daughters, Tacinda, who married Reginald Grey, 7th Baron Grey de Wilton and Margaret who later became a nun.
In 1436, when Catherine was pregnant with her fifth child by Tudor, rumours of the Queen’s secret marriage reached the ear of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Owen Tudor was imprisoned and Catherine retired to Bermondsey Abbey, shortly after giving birth to their daughter Margaret, on 3 January 1437. Distressed and traumatised at the forced separation from her husband and children, Catherine fell gravely ill. Her son Henry VI sent her a 'tablet of gold, weighing thirteen ounces on which was a crucifix set with pearls and sapphires’ as a token of his love. Catherine died in disgrace on 3rd January 1437 and was buried in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey. Henry VI provided an altar tomb and included an inscription describing her as his father’s widow, with no reference to her second marriage.
Catherine’s will addressed to her son the King, refers in a guarded manner to an intent known only to him, 'in tender and favourable fulfilling of mine intent’ is thought to refer to her wishes regarding her children by Owen Tudor, which may have been revealed to him before her confinement in Bermondsey.
Owen Tudor was arrested soon after her death, he appeared before the Council, acquitted himself of all charges and was released. On his return journey to Wales, he was arrested again. He attempted to escape from Newgate Jail in early 1438 and was eventually moved to Windsor Castle in July of that year. Henry VI, when he came of age, 'never forgave his uncle Gloucester the harsh usage his mother had experienced’. He knighted his stepfather Owen, made him Warden of Forestries, and appointed him a Deputy Lord Lieutenant.
Owen lived on until 1461, on 2nd February 1461 he led the Lancastrian forces at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross for his step-son against Edward, Earl of March, the Yorkist claimant to the throne. The Lancastrian’s were defeated in battle and Owen was subsequently beheaded at Hereford. He was reported not to have been convinced of his impending death until the collar was ripped off his doublet by the executioner. At this point he is alleged to have said that “the head which used to lie in Queen Catherine’s lap would now lie in the executioner’s basket”. His head was set on the market cross, where a mad woman combed his hair and washed his face, setting lighted wax torches round about it.
The two eldest sons of Owen and Catherine, Edmund and Jasper, went to live with Katherine de la Pole, Abbess of Barking and sister of the Duke of Suffolk. Sometime after 1442, the king, their half-brother, took on a role in their upbringing and they were given Earldoms by Henry VI, Edmund became Earl of Richmond and married Lady Margaret Beaufort, he was to become the father of Henry VII, the founder of England’s Tudor dynasty. Jasper Tudor became Earl of Pembroke .
The wooden effigy which was carried at Catherine’s funeral still survives at Westminster Abbey and is on display in the Undercroft Museum. Her tomb was originally surmounted by an alabaster memorial, but this was destroyed during extensions to the abbey in the reign of her grandson, Henry VII. It has been said that King Henry ordered her memorial to be removed to distance himself from his illegitimate ancestry. At this time, the lid of Catherine’s coffin was accidentally raised, revealing her corpse, which for generations became a tourist attraction. In 1669 the diarist Samuel Pepys kissed the long-deceased queen on his birthday- 'On Shrove Tuesday 1669, I to the Abbey went, and by favour did see the body of Queen Catherine of Valois, and had the upper part of the body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it I did kiss a Queen: and this my birthday and I thirty-six years old and I did kiss a Queen.'Catherine’s remains were not properly re-interred until the reign of Queen Victoria, when in 1878 her body was re-buried in Henry V’s chantry.