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On 27 October 1401, Isabelle of Bavaria gave birth to her last daughter in the Hôtel St Pol in Paris. The baby’s father was Charles VI of France and the newborn princess was destined for great things, though she was to achieve them in rather unexpected ways. Catherine’s infamy lies in her determination that, once her duty had been performed, she would ensure her own happiness rather than blindly follow decorum.

Henry V

On 2 June 1420, Catherine married Henry V of England at the church of St John in Troyes. Henry had been besotted by the French princess since their first meeting the year before. In fact he was so in love with her that he married her without a dowry and settled a fortune of dower lands on her.

Marriage of Henry V and Catherine of Valois

The couple left for England at the end of the year and Catherine was crowned queen at Westminster Abbey on 23 February 1421. The couple spent the spring on progress so that the English could see their beautiful new queen. By the time Henry left for France once more, Catherine was pregnant. She gave birth to a son on 6 December. Though she was a devoted mother, in May 1422 she left her little son in England to join her husband in France. Within a few months, though, Henry had died of dysentery, leaving Catherine a 21 year old widow and never having seen his little son.

Her nine month old son was now Henry VI, king of England. Soon, the question of the queen mother’s marrying was raised. She was still a young woman, very attractive and potentially very powerful. There would be plenty of Englishmen keen to marry her. However, until 1425, Catherine showed no signs of looking for a new husband. Not until Edmund Beaufort appeared on the scene. Beaufort was nineteen years old and rather dashing.

Henry VI, Catherine's son

Their exact relationship is unclear but parliament were sufficiently concerned about it that they changed the law to forbid a queen to marry without royal consent on pain of forfeiture of lands for life. Regardless, Catherine did marry without consent, but not to Edmund. At some point between 1428 and 1432, she married Owen Tudor, a Welsh groom. As the marriage was morganatic, their children had no claim on any royal titles Catherine may otherwise have passed on to them. It has even been suggested that Catherine married Owen Tudor while (or just after) giving birth Edmund’s son, in order to ensure that her true love, Edmund Beaufort, did not suffer the loss of his lands under the new statute. This idea is given further weight by the fact that her first son with Owen Tudor was named Edmund.

This may be mere speculation. She went on to have two more children who were certainly Owen Tudor’s: a son, Jasper, and a daughter named Margaret who died young. Catherine herself did not survive into old age, dying at Bermondsey Abbey on 3 January 1437, aged only 35.

She was buried in Westminster Abbey but somehow her embalmed corpse was put on display. On 23 February 1669 the diarist Samuel Pepys, bizarrely, lifted Catherine’s body and kissed her on her mouth, ‘reflecting upon it that I did kiss a Queen, and that this was my birthday.’

Catherine’s story has been the subject of many romantic legends but in fact, we know very little about what moved a queen to marry a squire in defiance of parliament. Perhaps it was an attempt to protect another man, or perhaps, having done her duty in marrying a king and providing an heir to his throne, she decided to marry a second time for love. Whatever her reasons, her actions would change England forever: the children of her second marriage would lay the way for a new dynasty.

Effigy of Catherine de Valois in Westminster Abbey

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6 Responses to Catherine de Valois and the Tudor Dynasty

  1. [...] Catherine de Valois and the Tudor Dynasty [...]

  2. Lyudmila Sutherland says:

    Very unfriendly and not quite true statements about her here.

    • Gillian says:

      I’m sorry you feel that way. Perhaps you’d like to expand on your comment?

      I’ve re-read the post and can’t see how it is “unfriendly” towards Catherine. I think it’s quite neutral since we know so little about her and especially her motivations. However, I don’t think it’s the historian’s job to be “friendly,” really. If you think I’ve been unduly critical of her, please tell me where so I can rethink my approach a bit. Also, where is it “not quite true”? I have aimed to write a factual, dispassionate and very brief outline of Catherine’s life and career so if I’ve made mistakes, I’ll be happy to correct them. If you can recommend any good secondary literature on her, I’d be interested to read it.

      Thanks.
      Gillian

  3. Liz says:

    Sources for this? Also, most records indicate that they had four children, including the first son which was named Owen, who is not mentioned here. He became a monk.
    Her relationship with Owen Tudor was strong enough for him to support her son’s throne against the Yorks, and he was executed as a consequence. Catherine’s death has often be related to childbirth complications, and he was being held on charges of breaking the law by being her when she died. However, there is no documentation to every say that they were married, though it is often implied due to him not being dealt the punishments until after her death. But because there is no record anywhere to say they were married, we can’t say that they were.
    As far as my own research has gone, Edmund Tudor was nearly all Tudor, just as Jasper was. I know that no portrait survives, but the contemporary accounts describe him and Jasper as nearly twins, so I very much doubt they had different fathers. In contrast, they are not said to look much like the King, even though he had the same mother and a Lancastrian father. The Beauforts were the half-siblings of Henry IV, and were on the side of Lancaster. Edmund was a very popular name at the time, as it was royal, and as were Henry and Edward. Not sure where the name Jasper comes from, as I have not seen any other Tudors on the family tree that have that name, so it may be French.
    If you want some books and other sources, let me know and I can send you a list.

    • Gillian says:

      I wouldn’t expect to necessarily find much in the way of marriage records for this time, however I would expect to find a fair bit of comment about a dowager queen having four children out of wedlock (and yes, you’re quite right about it being four- not sure how I forgot about Owen!). For that reason I would assume they were married. Similarly I’m not convinced either way on the paternity of Edmund, but there were rumours. I’m not sure how far we can go with contemporary descriptions of their looks as evidence. These sorts of accounts are biased and highly subjective. When looking for family resemblances people tend to see what they want to see, or what was politically expedient. On balance, I’d guess he was Owain’s son though.

      Thanks for your comment!

    • Suzanne Rahm says:

      I am a direct descendant of Caherine of Valois, through her elder son, Jasper..
      I would dearly love to have your book list so that I may purchase my own to keep.
      If you care to chat and discuss the descendancy you may even call me at 812-401-1658 in Indiana , USA
      Are you a descendant or a student of history?? Just curious.
      Suzanne Rahm

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