I’ve been looking forward to this book for quite some time, so I was very happy to receive ‘The Sister Queens: Isabella & Catherine de Valois’ by Mary McGrigor in the mail from the publishers. Isabella and Catherine were the daughters of Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria. They were born 12 years apart, and though Isabella was their third child, she would ultimately be the eldest surviving child. Both of them would become Queens of England as respectively the wives of Richard II and Henry V.
Isabella is the least known of the sisters, and she married Richard II in 1396 as his second wife at the tender age of just six. They developed a friendship, and she seemed to care for Richard. However, the marriage wouldn’t last long. Richard II was imprisoned and died in custody in 1400, though he had been overthrown in 1399. She was now a widow at the age of just 10. Though the new King of England, Henry IV, wished for her to marry his son she refused and went into mourning. She was eventually allowed to return to France. Isabella arrived in France just in time for the birth of her sister, Catherine. Though used to her own household, she was now again in the home where she was born and into a scene of madness. Isabella would marry again in 1406 to her cousin, Charles, Duke of Orléans. This marriage too would not last long, though it had developed into love. Isabella died giving birth to her only child. Joan on 13 September 1409. She was still only 19 years old.
Her younger sister Catherine too would go to England to be Queen of England. Her circumstances were quite different. Her marriage was one of the parts of the Treaty of Troyes, a peace agreement between England and France that also recognised Henry as the heir of France. It completely disinherited Catherine’s brother Charles, and it must have been a confusing time for Catherine. They married in 1420 and Catherine gave birth to the future Henry VI on 6 December 1421 while her husband was in France. He never saw their son, dying on 31 August 1422. He was followed to the grave just a few months later by Catherine’s father. Her son was now Henry VI of England and King of France, though this was of course disputed by Catherine’s brother. Catherine was stuck in the middle, though she was not allowed any power or regency over the young King. She lived with him for a while, though stopped when she began a relationship with Owen Tudor and became pregnant by him. No record of marriage was ever found, but the couple would have six children, though not all would live to adulthood. In the end, Catherine followed in the footsteps of her elder sister, dying shortly after childbirth on 3 January 1437, and she never lived to see the consequences of her relationship with Owen Tudor.
I was glad to finally have a biography of the two sisters, especially about Isabella who died at such a young age. The book is quite enjoyable and written in a nice style. I loved reading about Isabella’s defiance after she was widowed at such a young age. It’s such a shame she died so very young. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but I did notice two small errors. In 1401 Isabella as described as returning home as a 17-year-old girl and Eleanor Cobham is mistakenly called Elizabeth once.
Mary McGrigor is also the author of ‘The Other Tudor Princess: Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII’s Niece‘ (UK & US). ‘The Sister Queens: Isabella and Catherine de Valois‘ (UK & US) has already been released in the UK and is expected to be released in the US on 1 May 2016.