Catherine of Valois was born on 27 October 1401 as the daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria. She was the youngest of twelve siblings, and her eldest sister had been Queen of England before her as the wife of Richard II. She grew up in the shadow of her father’s insanity and was apparently quite a neglected child.
As early as 1413, she was suggested as a bride for Henry V of England, but this was at first not successful. He once again demanded her hand in 1415, along with a dowry of 2 million crowns and used the rejection of his demands as an excuse to invade France. He won his greatest victory at Agincourt on 25 October 1415. The war continued over the next few years as her father slipped in and out of sanity. After the fall of Rouen, Henry met with Catherine and her mother and the Duke of Burgundy, where he apparently kissed and embraced both mother and daughter. Catherine may have been his choice of bride, but he wanted something else, even more, the crown of France, which he already claimed as a descendant of Isabella of France. Henry came as an invader, and it was agreed that he would marry Catherine and Charles VI would also make him his heir, disinherited Catherine’s brother. He was also made regent of Charles for the duration of his life.
In 1420, Catherine married Henry, and they travelled from Paris to Rouen and Calais before sailing for Dover. On 24 February 1421, Catherine was crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey. Not much later, Henry left on progress around England, leaving Catherine in London initially. She rejoined him at Easter later that same year. She had conceived a child shortly after her arrival in England and gave birth to the future Henry VI on 6 December 1421. Henry never saw his son as he had left for France before his birth. Catherine joined her husband in France in May 1422 and left the young Prince behind. Henry fell ill with dysentery while in France and died on 31 August 1422. She was left with nothing; she was not granted the regency of France or England and not even the custody of her son, now King Henry VI. She joined Henry’s funeral procession back to England and was reunited with her son.
In September 1422, her father died and so her son was now also King of France according to the treaty made. Catherine was still only 21 years old when she was widowed. She spent the early years of her widowhood with her son, but she was soon romantically involved with Edmund Beaufort. It was feared that they wished to marry and the minority council were anxious that Edmund would seek to become regent of the young King. The regency council refused to allow Catherine to remarry and a statute was passed legislating the remarriage of dowager Queens. It effectively meant that Catherine could not remarry until her son obtained his majority. She probably abandoned her plans to marry the prominent Edmund Beaufort.
She found a new lover in the form of Owen Tudor, a Welshman in her household. We do not know exactly how it began, and details of the relationship only emerged after Catherine had died. She bore Owen four children: Edmund, Jasper, Owen and shortlived daughter. When the marriage was discovered in the summer of 1436, she was already in ill-health. She may have been sent away to Bermondsey Abbey, or she chose to go there to die. She died on 3 January 1437 at the age of just 35. Upon her death, Owen was arrested and imprisoned until 1439 when he pardoned by Henry VI. Henry was fond of his half-brother and created them, respectively, Earl of Richmond and Earl of Pembroke. Edmund married Margaret Beaufort, and with her, he had the future King Henry VII. Thus, Catherine was the grandmother of the new ruling house of England.
Catherine was buried at Westminster Abbey together with Henry, though at some point her mummified body was put on display. Samuel Pepys visited Westminster Abbey and recorded, “here we did see, by particular favour, the body of Queen Katherine of Valois, and had her upper part of her body in my hands. And I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it that I did kiss a Queen, and that this was my birthday, 36 years old, that I did first kiss a Queen.”1
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