Category Archives: Catherine de Valois

Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Grande Dame

The second in a series of posts looking at formidable Tudor women.

30 October is an important date for the early Tudors. Aside from being the anniversary of Catherine de Valois’s son, Henry VI, retaking the English throne in 1470, it is also the anniversary of the coronation in 1485 of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch.

Henry VII was the grandson of Catherine de Valois and Owen Tudor. His parents were their elder son Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort.

Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII

Edmund and Margaret married on 1 November 1455 when the bride was probably twelve years old. The Wars of the Roses had recently started and less than a year after the marriage, Edmund was captured by Yorkist forces. He died of plague in captivity on 3 November 1456, leaving his 13 year old widow seven months pregnant.

On 28 January 1457 Margaret gave birth to their son. Margaret was young and small and it was a particularly difficult labour and for a time it was feared that both mother and child would die. However, both survived, and she named her son Henry.

Henry VII

Although Margaret married twice more, she would have no more children, perhaps as a result of complications after this birth. Her second husband was her first cousin Henry Stafford. They married in 1462 and she was widowed in 1471. Her third marriage was to Thomas Stanley in 1472.

It was her son, though, who was the focus of Margaret’ attentions. She plotted with Elizabeth Woodville, widow of Edward IV and mother of the Princes in the Tower (by then both boys were presumed dead) against Richard III. The two women decided to marry Margaret’s son to Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, also named Elizabeth. This marriage would unite the twin claims to the English throne as Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV represented the Yorkists and Henry was the last Lancastrian claimant to the throne.

Elizabeth Woodville

On 22 August 1485, Henry’s forces met Richard’s at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Although Richard’s army was superior in numbers, Richard himself was killed in the battle and many of his supporters fled. When the dead king’s crown was found (according to legend, in a thorn bush), Henry was crowned with it.

On 18 January 1486, Henry followed his mother’s advice and married Elizabeth of York at Westminster. Margaret’s influence over her son, however, was not eclipsed by his new wife. She was given titles and, unusually for a married woman, allowed to own property in her own right. Technically, the royal pecking order places Margaret lower than her daughter in law Elizabeth of York, the new queen, and Elizabeth Woodville, who as Edward IV’s widow was the queen dowager. Perhaps at Margaret’s insistence, Elizabeth Woodville was banished from court in 1487. Margaret refused to walk further behind the queen than half a pace, indicating that she only grudgingly acknowledged the latter’s superiority.

Elizabeth of York

Margaret continued to be a dominant influence on the new king. She was known for her piety and good sense and when her son predeceased her on 21 April 1509, she was named regent for his son, Henry VIII. Her stint at direct power, rather than behind the scenes influence, was brief though. Henry VIII turned 18 on 27 June and his formidable grandmother died two days later.

Margaret Beaufort

Catherine de Valois and the Tudor Dynasty

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