Queens of England, Katherine of Valois, 1401 - 1437
Katherine was born at the Hotel-St-Pol, on 27th October 1401, daughter of King Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria. Katherine’s childhood was unstable due to her father’s madness and the political instability that this and the Hundred Years’ War caused in France. As part of a treaty for peace, Katherine was married to Henry V of England on 4th July 1420. Katherine was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 23rd February 1421, by this time she was already pregnant.
Katherine gave birth to the future Henry VI on 6th December 1421, his father would never see the child as he died of dysentery in France on 31st August 1422. Katherine was left a widow, with a young child, at the age of 20. Her future remarriage was a cause for concern with the Kings councillors, a bill was even passed in 1428, stating that a dowager queen could not remarry without consent from the King.
Katherine fell in love with Owen Tudor, probably the keeper of the queen’s wardrobe. They were married secretly, probably around 1431, although later this was disputed, as no records to prove their marriage could be found. Around this time Katherine left the Kings household and moved to her own establishment. Katherine and Owen between four and six children and lived quietly together for several years. Their lives were shattered when Owen Tudor was arrested in 1436 on charges of treason, Katherine was pregnant at the time. Katherine entered Bermondsey Abbey after his arrest and died there, separated from her husband, shortly after giving birth to her final child.
Owen lived until 1461, when he was executed fighting on the side of his stepson, Henry VI, during the War of the Roses. Henry VI promoted his Tudor siblings at court, arranging good marriages for them and showing them favour. It was from this Tudor line that Henry VII came, his right to the throne coming from his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who had married Katherine’s son, Edmund Tudor.
Katherine’s corpse became a tourist attraction years after her death. In 1669, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary of how he kissed Katherine on his birthday :
I did see the body of Queen Catherine of Valois, and had the upper part of the body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it I did kiss a Queen: and this my birthday and I thirty-six years old and I did kiss a Queen.
Katherine’s body was not re-interred properly until the reign of Queen Victoria.