Catherine de Valois

words i want to say to you

“She trembled in his arms but he didn’t know the words to soothe her. His French was dismal at best and her English broken, but he wanted to say, “don’t be afraid” and he wanted her to nod in response, blissful in the knowledge that her husband would sooner die than hurt her in any way. He wanted to tell her that from the moment he saw her, he thought her perfect and loved her, and when he saw that she was not perfect, he loved her even more..”

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The beautiful Catherine De Valois, wife of Henry V, had a convention-defying affair with the little-known Welsh squire Owen Tudor.

“The romantic roots of the Tudor dynasty

Our best-known royal line began with a scandlous love affair.

On 8th February 1437 a royal funeral procession wound through the streets of London. At its heart was a hearse pulled by horses and bearing a Queen’s coffin. It was draped with red cloth of gold stitched with golden flowers. On top lay her effigy carved in wood and dressed in a mantle of purple satin. The head, resting on a velvet cushion, bore a crown of silver gilt, while the face was painted to look as the lovely Katherine of Valois had in life, the eyes blue and the lips red. Real light brown hair was dressed above delicately carved ears, and the arms, crossing the body, embraced a sceptre, the insignia of her royal rank.

At Westminster the coffin was carried into the Abbey under a canopy of black velvet hung with bells that tinkled as it moved. Following a requiem mass Katherine was buried in the Lady Chapel, so called because it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Her tomb had been built close to that of her first husband, Henry V, the great victor of Agincourt. His successes would be remembered in song and tales of chivalric romance for generations. In 1420, as conqueror of France, he had been recognised as heir to Katherine’s father, the French King Charles VI, with their marriage sealing the treaty and the union of the crowns. But it had proved happy, like the peace their marriage had been short lived. Katherine of Valois had been Queen of England for only a year when Henry V had died on campaign in France, leaving her a widow aged twenty-one, with their son, Henry VI, a mere nine months old.

As Katherine’s coffin was lowered into the ground and the candles flickered in the Abbey, the silver head of Henry V’s tomb effigy glinted in the candlelight. There was nothing in this scene, however, to suggest Katherine had left behind a grieving widower, and if her second husband witnessed her funeral it was only as a face in the crowd.

It is not certain when, or how, the Queen met the modest Welsh squire Owen Tudor. What information we have suggests he had found a position in Katherine’s household as a chamber servant in around 1427. The widowed Queen was then twenty-six, and her son, aged seven, was considered old enough to be raised by men in the masculine business of rule. Since she was no longer required full time at court a new household was being set up for her. Owen, meanwhile, had arrived in England from Wales. Owen’s grandfather had been ruined after taking part in a Welsh rebellion against Henry V’s father, Henry IV in 1400, and they were seeking a new life. Owen’s Welsh name, Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur, meant, ‘Owen son of Meredith son of Tudor’, but that was too much of a mouthful for the English so he had become simply, Owen Tudor. If the attempts to anglicise it had gone differently we might have had a dynasty of Merediths. Not that it had seemed very likely that Owen would spawn a dynasty at all. He was, however, about to marry very well indeed.

Katherine was lonely and resentful that the Council, whom Henry V had appointed to rule during his son’s minority, had forbidden her from re-marrying. She was expected to wait at least until Henry VI had reached his majority and could approve a match. This was backed with an Act of Parliament that threatened to confiscate the lands of any great man who ignored the injunction. It never occurred to anyone that Katherine might marry instead a mere chamber servant. Later some wondered if Katherine chose to marry Owen specifically because he was, ‘a poor man’, who posed no threat to the king or his nobles, and so the Council, ‘might not reasonably take vengeance on his life.’ But if so, Owen also appealed to Katherine in a more straightforward way.

Although the early Tudor historian, Polydore Vergil, claimed Owen was ‘adorned with wonderful gifts of body and mind’, we hear little about his mind from anyone else. Other reports point exclusively to his physical attractions. One account describes how the Queen fell in love with Owen after coming upon him swimming naked. But the most repeated story, and the one most likely to have some basis in fact, describes how Owen came to her attention in dramatic fashion during a party in her household. There was music playing, and her servants were dancing. As Katherine watched, Owen performed a leap which span out of control, and he fell straight into her lap. As an Elizabethan poet asked, ‘Who would not judge it fortune’s greatest grace, Since he must fall, to fall in such a place’? It was not long before Katherine and her handsome chamber servant were married and, according to a rather disapproving sixteenth century account, when they made love she would scream in ecstasy.

By 1437 they had four children. But the English elite complained bitterly that the Queen should have ‘proved unable to control her carnal passions’, and with ‘ no man of birth neither of livelihood’. The king’s Council decided it was best therefore that the marriage remain secret until Henry VI had grown up and could decide what to do about it. He was sixteen and his mother was dying from a ‘grievous malady’, before he learned she had married, and that he had half siblings, bearing the strange name, ‘Tudor’. In his anger and grief he had Owen imprisoned for a time. But he in 1439 Owen was pardoned, and by 1444 the king was even referring to him as ‘our well beloved squire’. Still, Henry VI was determined to keep a close grip of future marriages within his family.

In 1453 it was Henry VI who arranged the betrothal between Owen’s eldest son, Edmund Tudor, and the nine-year old Margaret Beaufort, who, like the king, was descended from the royal House of Lancaster. That year was, however, to be a disastrous one for the king. He lost the English war in France and had a mental collapse. This weakness encouraged the ambitions of the rival House of York, and a spiral of violence began. Owen Tudor fought loyally for Henry VI in what later became known as the Wars of the Roses, and was one of the commanders of the royal forces confronting Yorkists at Mortimer Cross, Herefordshire in 1461.

The battle is remembered for the three suns that appeared in the sky, a phenomenon caused by light passing through ice crystals. Under those suns the Lancastrians fought and lost. Owen was captured and taken to Hereford. It was only when a Yorkist solider grabbed the collar of his red doublet to expose his neck, that Owen realised he was to be executed. Facing the block he managed a joke, recalling with dry wit how, ‘The head that shall lie on the stock was wont to lie on Queen Katherine’s lap’, the woman he had loved and married against all the norms of their times. Then, at the fall of the axe the life that began with a trip at a party was ended. Owen was buried ar the Hereford Greyfriars. Sadly his tomb was swept away at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Henry VIII did not think the memory of a humble Welsh squire worth saving. Today, Owen Tudor’s body lies under a 1970s housing estate: the forgotten ancestor of our best-known dynasty.

Katherine lay in her tomb only until Henry VII disinterred his grandmother from the Lady Chapel when he was reworking it to build his wife’s tomb and his own. Her body, loosely wrapped in lead from the chapel roof, was placed by Henry V’s tomb monument. This was intended as a temporary arrangement. Henry VII had given her presence in the Abbey as a major reason for choosing to be buried there. But Henry VIII made no effort to complete his father’s wishes in this respect, and, shockingly, for the next two hundred years she lay abandoned in a coffin above ground, covered by lose boards, that exposed her skeleton from the waist up. Why Katherine of Valois continued to lie abandoned over subsequent generations we can only guess. Perhaps she was still paying the price for her ‘carnal desires’ for Owen Tudor. In 1669 the diarist Samuel Pepys celebrated his birthday by playing a small fee to give her a kiss. During the eighteenth century, her body, still exposed, was described as, ‘thinly clothed, with flesh like scrapings of tanned leather’. Her body was placed where it lies today, under the altar in Henry V’s chantry, during the reign of Queen Victoria. Remarkably her wooden effigy, which was displayed at her funeral, remains in the Abbey museum, now dressed only in her painted red undergarment.”

By Leanda de Lisle.

Source: Prospect Magazine 

The Five Catherines: A Short History

The first Catherine to marry a King of England was, of course, Catherine de Valois (1401-1437), younger daughter of Charles VI of France. Catherine’s older sister had already been married to a King of England, Richard II, before his untimely death. Catherine was married off to Henry V of England as part of the treaty between the two countries, which acknowledged Henry as heir to the throne of France. Those of you have seen either the movie or the play Henry V no doubt remember the charming wooing scene between Henry and Catherine as he tries to speak French to her. Catherine and Henry were married on June 2nd, 1420. After her arrival in England, Catherine was crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey in February of 1421.  Before long, Henry had left his new bride to continue to wage war in France, leaving Catherine several months pregnant.

Catherine gave birth to the future Henry VI of England in December of 1421, but Henry never saw his son. He died during the seige of Meaux in August of 1422, leaving Catherine a widow at 20. During the years of her widowhood, there were rumors of the Queen remarrying, which concerned the King’s uncle Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who was serving as Protector. Catherine eventually found love again in the most unlikely of places: with Owen Tudor, a handsome Welshman who served as the keeper of the Queen’s wardrobe. The relationship apparently began while Catherine was living at Windsor Castle. Nobody knows where or when the two were married. The couple eventually went on to have at least five children, four of whom lived to adulthood: Edmund, future father of Henry VII, Jasper, Owen, and a daughter, Margaret. Catherine died at Bermondsey Abbey in early 1437 from an unknown illness. She is buried in Westminster Abbey next to Henry V. After her death, their enemies had Owen arrested for violating the law of remarriage for the Dowager Queen. Although he was acquitted of those charges, he was arrested again and his possessions seized. Eventually, he was released and was in the Household of the King… at least until he was arrested and executed by the Yorkists after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross.

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The Origin

The King was away, she was in a territory where it was historically known as enemy of her own. She was a Queen, though. Catherine opened her eyes and the sunlight was burning her chambers.

“Whoever opened the windows so early?!” she complained to herself in french.She left the bed and noticed her ladies were working already. Most of them were so dutiful that made her smile.

That day was another lonely one. Her son, Henry, was kept away from her not because Catherine was a bad mother, but because it was necessary that the Prince of Wales learned to know the art of rulling. The thought of her child being a King soon made her sigh. She turned at the mirror: Catherine was a still beauty with her long golden hair and pale skin, her hazel eyes and her lips being her charm. 
“Milady” said one of her ladies, curtsying and then rising. Catherine smiled and nodded. Nothing different would happen that day. Except one thing: she would see Owen Tudor again and such idea was the reason she suddenly shuddered.

Owen Tudor was once again pissed. He was a welsh nobleman, whose lineage came from great kings of Wales and even the legendary King Arthur of England too. Yet, the rivalry between English people and the Wales were a little bit too in evidence at the moment, specially after rebels in Wales being crushed long time ago. Even with the present peace, Owen was still target of humiliations and the fact of being a servant to Their Majesties only annoyed him.

However, he knew how to be kind and good, and Owen was not a stupid man nor was too naive about how things work at King Henry V’s court. Owen was very clever. He did won the Queen’s favour and, in particular, he found himself attached to her. Enough to protect and do enough to her safety.Few were the ones who suspected Owen was in love with the French Queen and thought they were lovers. Such story was always a rumour, as one who involved a silly story invovling a poor man named Edmund.

That day, however, would change their lives and even History for ever. Owen left early to work and Catherine was ready to act as Queen when it was not even midday and the news of the death of King Henry V had arrived at the court.

Queen Catherine was surprised: who was not? The heroic, brave and one of the most popular english King’s was now dead. Which means that now, the poor child Prince of Wales Henry Plantagenet was now King Henry VI.

“Mon Dieu"exclaimed Catherine. "What…? My poor baby, king so young!”

The council started to work and Catherine found herself in a strange position: not only now she was the Dowager Queen, but she wouldn’t play part in her son’s regency. It was also said that she couldn’t get married so soon, which meant that whichever plans that either she or Owen had… Well, they knew that waiting was necessary.

“But you are free to be mine, now."said Owen, when they met by the dawn, when everyone was sleeping."We shall marry as soon as possible and we will leave in the countryside"He promised as he took her hands.

Catherine couldn’t glow any brighter of happiness. "Mon amour, mon age, I cannot imagine myself living without you. I’m sure we will give a way, that everything will work out”.

“Everyone is sleeping by now, which means I’m allowed to take you in my arms"He whispered in his soft voice, knowing exacly which spot weak Catherine had.

And it worked out. She was in his bed, kissing his lips, touching his arms, playing with his hair with no clothes. She wanted him, she desired him. And he felt the same. He had under his body, uniting herself to him, his lips brushing her skin,his love expressing in every move they made. Until the sun rises, they are one. And so would remain.

The days passed slowly until Catherine was granted her own court. There she decided to marry Owen Tudor in secret. It was a beautiful ceremony with few witnesses. 

"I cannot believe it I’m Catherine Tudor now” she beamed, as she twirled around him.

“And I cannot believe I have such a beauty Queen next to me” he laughed, holding her close to him. “I swear you will be the happiest and most loved Queen next to me. If only I could take my lands back…”

She put a finger in his lips and smiled. “Shush you. We are reunited, that’s what matters” and she placed a kiss in his cheek. 

“Well, let me enjoy my wife properly” he whispered and kissed her lips, wrapping his arms around her waist.

She didn’t answer as she kissed him, enjoying him the way her dreams wanted to. Finally she was free of that world she had the obligation to belong since she was born. It was not a matter of royalty, but a matter of happiness. She could easily throw her titles away to stay next to her beloved. Catherine was well aware things were hard.

And she was right. The prosecution to Owen Tudor started as soon as they found out he married the Queen Dowager without requesting permission of the king. It was a mess: he had to run away and she returned at the King’s court to stay under “observations”. 

It was, however, resolved when Owen was captured and he swore to King Henry VI his fidelity and Queen Catherine payed what she had to. Then, the new king gave his bless and approved the relationship, to much of the dislike of his uncle. 

Catherine de Valois and Owen Tudor lived happily in the countryside until her death. They had four children, two of whom survived the infancy: Edmund Tudor, father to the future king Henry VII, and Jasper Tudor. Owen died right after the War of the Roses exploded, and it is said he was buried next to the Queen.

An interesting article on Elisabeth de Valois, Francis’s younger sister and the real Mary Queen of Scots’ former playmate…and maybe roommate. 

It mentions Don Carlos, the son of Philip II (who Elisabeth married at a very young age). A character named Don Carlos is supposedly going to show up in season 3 of Reign. In reality he was thought to be cruel, sadistic, mean–a Spanish version of Joffrey Baratheon it seems. Reign will probably portray him as another hot ladies man, as if we don’t have enough of them on this show (every guy is a ladies man on this show, except for Castleroy, he’s the one exception out of ALL of the male characters.) 

Thankfully Mary didn’t marry Don Carlos after Francis died, but he probably would have been a horrible, abusive husband. His own father had to imprison him for a few years because of his dangerous behavior! Not that Mary’s future two husbands were that much of an improvement…Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley is typically described as a vain idiot (to be fair, he was a few years younger than Mary), and James Hepburn, Lord Bothwell–well…he doesn’t seem like much a catch either, don’t let fictional romance novels featuring him and Mary fool you, he was a scheming, dangerous, unstable man. 

I’d love it if Reign got rid of a lot of guest stars. The only guest star I’m interesting in seeing, besides Elizabeth Tudor, is Elisabeth de Valois, since she would have been in Spain at this time, which might as well have been a world away back then. 

I’ve heard that she wrote her mother Catherine extensively during her marriage, revealing that they had a very tender, close bond. If only I could get my hands on an English translation of these letters…


Young Catherine & Henry {Lucrezia & Cesare)

A Spanish Prince

The Spanish Prince that is rumored to appear in Season 3 is LOOSELY based off of a real person who was involved with possible marriage arrangements with Mary AFTER Francis died (but knowing this show they’ll fall in love and all that crap while Francis is still alive or on his death bed, disgusting). Obviously this idea of a union between Mary and the prince of Spain didn’t pan out. Though what is interesting about these two is that this prince was the son of Philip II, who was married to Elisabeth de Valois (and had previously married Mary “Bloody Mary” Tudor)–Francis’s younger sister (we saw her get married in the pilot). If the real Mary had married Don Carlos she would have been related to young Elisabeth through marriage twice (or even three times since Mary and Francis’s families were distantly related, like most royal families in Europe at this time). Personally I’d rather see Elisabeth de Valois pop up than another dime a dozen hunk from a foreign land, but that’s just me. 

Note: There was an English Queen Consort named Elisabeth de Valois, but she isn’t the one I’m talking about. Henri II and Catherine de Medici’s daughter Elisabeth de Valois married very young (it was during the celebration of HER wedding to the much older Philip that her dad died, which was obviously rather upsetting, especially for Elisabeth because this would have happened right before or after she boarded a ship for Spain with her much older husband). Elisabeth died a few years later, also very young, like most of Henri and Catherine’s children, including Claude (the younger siblings young Henri III–born Alexander–and Marguriette, whom Reign’s version of Claude is loosely based off of, were outliers since they died in middle and old age respectively, Henri III was murdered if I remember correctly, but if he hadn’t been he’d probably have lived a longer life too like his youngest sister.) 

Yep, this branch of the Valois family is very tragic….