Catherine of Valois
Alex Rover | April 3, 2023
Catherine of France, or Catherine of Valois, born on October 27, 1401 in Paris and died on January 3, 1437 in London, is one of the daughters of King Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria. She was queen of England through her marriage to King Henry V. From her childhood, Catherine aroused the interest of Henry V of England, who negotiated at length with Charles VI the amount of her dowry as well as the transfer of certain lands to England. However, the English demands were deemed unrealistic, precipitating the resumption of the Hundred Years War in 1415. After several military successes and dissensions between Armagnacs and Burgundians, Henri V reiterated his request for marriage in 1419.
Under the Treaty of Troyes signed in 1420, Catherine married Henry V, who was to inherit the throne of France upon the death of Charles VI. However, Henry V and Charles VI died respectively in 1422, which made it difficult to implement the dual Franco-English monarchy in the person of the young Henry VI, son of Catherine and Henry V. Catherine played no political role during the reign of her son and secretly remarried, despite the prohibition of Henry VI”s regents, to Owen Tudor between 1428 and 1432. Withdrawn from her son”s court, Catherine of France died in 1437, after having given several children to her second husband, including Edmond Tudor, father of the future king Henry VII.
Childhood and wedding plans
Catherine of France was the sixth daughter and tenth child of Charles VI of France and his wife Isabeau of Bavaria. She was born on October 27, 1401 at the Hôtel Saint-Pol in Paris. At the time of her birth, her father had been subject to recurrent bouts of insanity since 1392, which gradually distanced him from governmental affairs and forced him to delegate his power to a council of regency. Contrary to rumors accusing Isabeau of Bavaria of neglecting her children, modern historians actually show that she remained close to them during their childhood: she made them travel with her, bought them gifts and devotional texts and made sure that her daughters were educated. For her part, Catherine was sent during her childhood to her older sister Marie, a Benedictine nun at the priory of Saint-Louis de Poissy since 1397. Finally, Isabeau maintained close correspondence with her daughters after their marriages, including Catherine.
The interest that Catherine”s hand can bring is shown very early. Thus, on June 18, 1403, when she was only one and a half years old, she was engaged to her cousin Charles de Bourbon, grandson of Duke Louis II of Bourbon. However, the project was quickly abandoned, while Isabeau of Bavaria looked for a more interesting party for her last daughter. Since the accession of Henry IV of England in 1399, Franco-English relations had worsened and, in order to ease them, the latter proposed several times that Catherine”s older sister, Isabelle, marry his eldest son and heir, the future Henry V. The offer was systematically rejected by Charles VI, but, despite Isabelle”s marriage to Charles of Orleans on June 29, 1406, Henry IV proposed in 1408 that another daughter of the King of France be chosen. Finally, in 1409, discussions of a matrimonial alliance between France and England mentioned Catherine for the very first time, but they came to nothing.
The project was not abandoned, however, and after the death of Henry IV in 1413, his successor began more serious marriage negotiations. But from the beginning of the discussions, Henry V”s demands proved to be colossal. Indeed, the English emissaries sent to Charles VI in April 1414 demanded a dowry of two million crowns, including Normandy, Touraine, Anjou and Guyenne as territories. The king of France opposed these astronomical demands and proposed a dowry of 600,000 crowns with an increased English suzerainty in Guyenne. In February 1415, a portrait of Catherine was sent to Henry V, while negotiations continued, but the English king refused to moderate his demands. Finally, the discussions were broken off in July 1415 and, on August 13, Henry V landed with a small army in Normandy and conquered Harfleur, before inflicting a crushing defeat on France at the battle of Azincourt on October 25, 1415.
Marriage with Henry V of England
The English invasion occurred during the civil war between Armagnacs and Burgundians, which paralyzed the kingdom between the partisans of Bernard VII of Armagnac and those of John I of Burgundy. Hesitating between an alliance with the Armagnacs or the Burgundians, Isabeau de Bavière finally joined the latter when the Armagnacs removed her from power and put her under arrest in Tours in the summer of 1417. In November of the same year, the queen was freed by the Duke of Burgundy and relinquished her position as regent. Following the success of the English, who were now besieging Rouen, Isabeau and John I of Burgundy began negotiations in October 1418 with Henry V and planned to have him marry Catherine. On June 2, 1419, a first meeting took place in Meulan between Henry V and Catherine, accompanied by her mother and the Duke of Burgundy: the king of England gallantly kissed the hands of the queen of France and her daughter, but did not give up the demands he had made in 1414. Visibly impressed by the beauty of Catherine of France, Henry V sent her jewels worth 100,000 ecus in August 1419, but these were seized and confiscated by the Dauphin Charles, Catherine”s younger brother and new leader of the Armagnacs.
However, the demands of Henry V worried John I of Burgundy, who interrupted his negotiations with him and began discussions with the dauphin Charles, in the hope of ending the conflict with the Armagnacs. A first meeting between the two men led to the peace of Ponceau on July 11, 1419, but during the next meeting organized in Montereau on September 10, 1419, the supporters of the dauphin took offense at the insolence of the Duke of Burgundy and took advantage of it to assassinate him during a heated melee. The rupture between Armagnacs and Burgundians became total after this assassination: the son and successor of John I of Burgundy, Philip III, immediately resumed negotiations with Henry V, while Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria denounced the actions of their son, disinherited him from the succession to the throne because of his “enormous crimes” and let him know that he had “rendered himself unworthy of succeeding to the throne or any other title. Advised by Philip III of Burgundy, Isabeau of Bavaria signed an agreement with Henry V in Arras on December 2, 1419, by virtue of which she agreed to have him marry her daughter Catherine. On the 25th of the same month, the king of England and the duke of Burgundy joined forces in Rouen to fight the dauphin jointly.
Negotiations between Henry V and Isabeau of Bavaria continued for the next few months and finally resulted in the Treaty of Troyes. Signed on May 21, 1420 by the King of England and the Queen of France on behalf of her husband, this treaty deprived the Dauphin Charles of his right to succeed to the throne of France for having plotted the assassination of John I of Burgundy and conferred his status as heir on Henry V, provided he married Catherine of France. Under the terms of the treaty, Charles VI remained king of France for the rest of his life, but Henry V retained control of the territories he had conquered in Normandy and served as regent of the kingdom on behalf of his father-in-law. The project of a dual French-English monarchy was thus born. Engaged to the king of England on the same day the treaty of Troyes was signed, Catherine married him on June 2 in the church of Saint-Jean-du-Marché in Troyes and received a dowry of 40,000 ecus. The hostilities with the dauphin continued however: Catherine accompanied her new husband during the surrender of Sens on June 11, then stayed with her parents in Bray and Corbeil while Henry V laid siege to Melun, which only surrendered on November 17, 1420. The king of England visited her frequently during the military operations.
Queen of England
On December 1, 1420, the kings of France and England entered Paris in triumph, to the acclaim of the population. The next day, their respective wives received the same welcome. While Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria settled in the Hôtel Saint-Pol, Henri V and Catherine celebrated Christmas with great pomp and circumstance at the Louvre Palace, then left Paris on December 27, arrived in Rouen on December 31 and returned to England on February 1, 1421, first passing through Amiens and then Calais. Disembarking at Dover the same day, the couple reached London on February 21, where they were received with all honors. Two days later, Catherine was crowned Queen of England by Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, at Westminster Abbey during a glorious ceremony. The coronation was followed by a sumptuous banquet held at the Palace of Westminster, where fish and shellfish were served despite Lent. In order to draw the attention of the personalities present to his new wife, Henry V was absent from the ceremony. During the banquet, Catherine of France was seated next to Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, and James I of Scotland, who had been in captivity in England since 1406 but was now considered more of a guest than a hostage.
Henry V then decided to take his wife to the North of England to introduce her to his subjects and to raise new funds for his upcoming campaigns against the dauphin Charles. The royal couple met at Kenilworth Castle on March 15, 1421, celebrated Easter in Leicester on March 23, then traveled to York on April 2 via Nottingham and Pontefract, before turning back and stopping in Lincoln on April 15. During their tour, Henry and Catherine visited many places of pilgrimage. Back in London in May, Henry V left his wife on June 10 to return to France to continue fighting the dauphin, who had just won a victory at the Battle of Baugé on March 22, during which Thomas, Duke of Clarence and younger brother of Henry V, was killed. Catherine of France remained in England and gave birth on December 6, 1421 at Windsor Castle to a boy, immediately baptized as Henry. During the absence of her husband from England, Catherine granted asylum to Jacqueline de Hainaut, who was trying to escape from the grip of Philip III of Burgundy”s allies, and the following year favored her marriage to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and brother of Henry V.
After giving birth to her son, Catherine of France soon received news of her husband, who required her presence at his side. In early May 1422, she left her child in the care of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and disembarked at Harfleur with John, Duke of Bedford and Henry V”s other brother, at the head of 20,000 soldiers. The Queen of England and her brother-in-law settled in Rouen on May 14, and then reached Vincennes on May 26, where Catherine met her parents and husband. The two couples settled in Paris on May 30, where they celebrated Pentecost with sumptuous festivities that Charles VI did not attend, probably because of his health. His absence and the arrogance displayed by the English irritated the Parisians on this occasion. On June 11, the king and queen of England visited the Basilica of Saint-Denis, then continued their journey to Senlis. However, the dysentery that Henry V had contracted during the siege of Meaux worsened and gradually weakened him. While her husband was dying in Vincennes and added codicils to his will, Catherine remained in Senlis, probably at his request, and learned of his death on August 31, 1422. Their son was immediately proclaimed king of England under the name of Henry VI.
Catherine of France, accompanied by members of the court present at the death of Henry V at Vincennes, escorted the funeral procession of her late husband, which reached Rouen on September 24, 1422, and was then transported to Calais via Abbeville, Hesdin and Montreuil. The remains of the deceased king were shipped to England and a pompous funeral in his honor was held in Westminster Abbey on November 7. Later, Catherine had a magnificent silver portrait erected on her husband”s tomb. In the meantime, on October 21, Charles VI died at the Hôtel Saint-Pol in Paris and his grandson Henri VI, ten months old, was proclaimed king of France to succeed him, although the dauphin Charles, who had taken refuge in Bourges, proclaimed himself king under the name of Charles VII upon learning of his father”s death: by virtue of the fundamental laws of the kingdom, Charles VII emphasized that the king of France belonged to the crown, not the other way around, and proclaimed that the crown was unavailable, which meant that it was not up to the king or a council to designate his successor, but that it was transmitted by the simple force of custom, and that the king did not have the power to cede or pledge it to a foreign power, as Charles VI himself had done by approving the Treaty of Troyes in 1420.
On December 5, 1422, the last will of Henry V was examined by the Parliament of England, which made some modifications. A double regency was instituted: John, Duke of Bedford, received custody of the young Henry VI and was charged with leading the war in France against Charles VII, while Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was to lead the government of England in his absence with the title of Lord Protector. As for Catherine, her late husband”s will granted her several estates in England as a dower, but she was denied any participation in her son”s government. She did, however, take care of his upbringing, even though she was only mentioned for representative tasks, notably at the opening of several parliaments: for example, she carried the young king on her lap at the opening of October 20, 1423, and accompanied him in the solemn procession to St. Paul”s Cathedral in London before the one on April 30, 1425. Catherine of France remained an influential figure at court, where she resided at least until 1429, receiving James I of Scotland at his castle in Hertford at Christmas 1423 and trying to reconcile the dukes of Bedford and Gloucester during their conflict the following year.
However, Catherine of France soon acquired a sulphurous reputation, which explains why Walter Hungerford, charged under Henry V”s will with watching over his son and successor, was relieved of this function on February 18, 1423: in fact, by authorizing Catherine to stay with her son, the regents ensured that they would be able to monitor her more closely and curb her influence. As early as 1425, there were rumors of a possible relationship between the dowager queen and the young Edmond Beaufort, nephew of the prelate Henry Beaufort. But such a marriage was strongly opposed by the Duke of Gloucester, who was worried about the growing influence of the Beauforts. The following year, Parliament proposed to pass a law allowing dowager queens to remarry as they wished in exchange for the payment of a fine: this proposal tacitly targeted Catherine. Nevertheless, in 1427, the Duke of Gloucester had Parliament pass a law firmly forbidding the remarriage of dowager queens without the consent of the royal council or that of the king, if the latter was of age. In the event of a breach, the new husband of the dowager queen was to be dispossessed of his property, but no provision was made for the eventuality of children being born of this unauthorized remarriage.
Remarriage with Owen Tudor and death
Ignoring this legislation, Catherine married between 1428 and 1432 the Welshman Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur, anglicized as Owen Tudor, after having a relationship with him at Windsor Castle. The details of their meeting are uncertain: according to some chroniclers, the queen met this young courtier when he danced drunk in front of the court and fell in front of her; according to others, she watched him swim with her ladies-in-waiting; finally, he was first in the service of Walter Hungerford in France in 1421, before being transferred to work in the queen”s wardrobe. One theory is that Catherine”s relationship with Edmund Beaufort never ended, and that Owen Tudor only served as husband to the dowager queen to prevent Edmund from being deprived of his property by virtue of the parliamentary decision of 1427. The morganatic marriage of Catherine and Owen became known at court in May 1432, when Owen acquired the rights of an Englishman and was no longer subject to the Penal Laws against Wales of 1402. Although the marriage was not made public until after Catherine”s death, its validity and the legitimacy of the children born of it were never challenged by an ecclesiastical court.
Withdrawn at the end of 1436 to the abbey of Bermondsey, Catherine de France died there on January 3, 1437. The cause of her death remains uncertain: either she was weakened by her successive pregnancies, or she died of another illness, perhaps suffering from the congenital frailty that afflicted several of her ancestors, in particular her father Charles VI. Having written her will two days before her death, she mentions only her son Henry VI and makes no mention of Owen Tudor or the children she had from her second marriage. Her book of hours, which she probably wrote herself, has been preserved. After her death, Owen Tudor was deprived of her protection and prosecuted for violating the 1427 law concerning the remarriage of dowager queens. Going before the royal council, he was arrested and imprisoned at Newgate, from which he tried to escape in early 1438, then at Windsor Castle from July 1438. Finally, he was released on payment of a fine of 2,000 pounds, but was pardoned in November 1439 and his fine was cancelled soon after. Owen Tudor then received the favor of Henry VI, before being executed in 1461 by the future Edward IV after the battle of Mortimer”s Cross, during the War of the Two Roses.
The body of Catherine of France was laid to rest in St. Catherine”s Chapel near the Tower of London, then transferred to St. Paul”s Cathedral and buried in February 1437 in the future Henry VII Chapel of Westminster Abbey. His son Henry VI had an alabaster tomb built for him, the epitaph of which does not mention his marriage to Owen Tudor. Later, his grandson Henry VII gave him a new tomb with an inscription duly mentioning this marriage. When the Henry VII Chapel was rebuilt around 1503, her body, which was only loosely wrapped, was buried next to the grave of her first husband, Henry V: it is possible that Henry VII ordered this transfer in order to distance himself from his illegitimate ancestry, being a grandson of Catherine by his second marriage to Owen Tudor. On February 23, 1669, the diarist Samuel Pepys kissed the mummy of Catherine of France on the mouth during a visit to the abbey. It was not until 1878, during the reign of Victoria, that Catherine”s body was moved to its final resting place under a marble altar slab in Henry V”s votive chapel. A wooden effigy used for her first burial is on display in the Westminster Abbey Museum.
From her first marriage with Henry V of England, celebrated on June 2, 1420 in Troyes, Catherine of France has only one child:
From her second marriage to Owen Tudor, celebrated at an unknown date between 1428 and May 1432, she has at least three children:
Other children would have been born from this second union, but their existence remains uncertain:
In William Shakespeare”s play Henry V, written around 1599, Catherine of France appears in Act V, as the English and French negotiate the Treaty of Troyes, and Henry V attempts to woo the French princess. Neither speaks the other”s language well, but the humor of their mistakes helps Henry achieve his goal. In film adaptations by Laurence Olivier in 1944, Kenneth Branagh in 1989, Thea Sharrock in 2012, and David Michôd in 2019, the role of Catherine is played by Renée Asherson, Emma Thompson, Melanie Thierry, and Lily-Rose Depp, respectively.
Other literary works include Rosemary Anne Sisson”s The Queen and the Welshman, written in 1957; Martha Rofheart”s Fortune Made His Sword, published in 1972; Rosemary Hawley Jarman”s Crown in Candlelight, published in 1978; Jean Plaidy”s The Queen”s Secret, published in 1989; Margaret Frazer”s The Boy”s Tale, published in 1995; Dedwydd Jones” The Lily and the Dragon, published in 2002
- Catherine de France (1401-1437)
- Catherine of Valois
- Gibbons 1996, p. 51–74.
- Autrand 1986, p. 325.
- Gibbons 1996, p. 51–63.
- a b Michael Jones: Catherine. In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Bd. 10, 2004, S. 546.
- Thea Tomaini: The Corpse as Text: Disinterment and Antiquarian Enquiry, 1700-1900, Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2017, S. 80–83
- Westminster Abbey: Henry V and Catherine de Valois. In: westminster-abbey.org, letzter Zugriff am 5. September 2020.
- Amy License: Red Roses: Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort. The History Press, Strout 2016, ISBN 978-0-7509-7050-1, S. 200–201.
- она же Екатерина Французская.