Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Katherine of Valois, a Mother of Queens

Katherine of Valois, queen of England (died 3 January 1437)


The daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria, Katherine of Valois, was born in 1401. By the terms of the Treaty of Troyes, the French king had named Henry V of England as his heir and successor, the peace sealed by the marriage of the French princess and the English king on 2 June 1420. Despite the peace treaty, Henry V was back in France a year later, in June of 1421, continuing his military campaign. He died there in August of 1422, leaving his infant son, Henry, to succeed him as the English king; the baby would also become king of France when Charles died two months later, in October 1422.

The Marriage of Katherine of Valois and Henry V,
miniature from a fifteenth-century manuscript
Widowed at age twenty and after just a little more than two years of marriage, the young dowager queen began a relationship with a member of her household, Owen ap Tudor, probably around 1430. The couple may have married, although the legal status of their marriage isn't clear, and knowledge of Katherine's remarriage wasn't widespread even at the time of her death. (After Katherine's death, her husband was arrested and charged with violating the Royal Marriages Act of 1428, which prohibited the marriage of a queen dowager without royal consent. He was eventually pardoned.) What is certain is that the couple had at least four children, including a son named Edmund, who would later marry Margaret Beaufort. Their child, Henry Tudor, would become the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII, in 1485.

The two Tudor queens who would eventually rule England--Mary and Elizabeth--are not the only female monarchs who can look back to their foremother, Katherine of Valois. Katherine's great-granddaughter Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's sister, would become queen of Scotland in 1513, and her grand-daughter (Katherine's great-great-great granddaughter), Mary Stuart, would become queen regnant of Scotland in 1542.

And there are still more queens who are direct descendants of Katherine of Valois--Henry VIII's second sister, Mary Tudor, was briefly queen of France; and Jane Grey, this same Mary Tudor's granddaughter, was, for nine brief days, queen of England. 

The relationship between Henry V and Katherine of Valois is perhaps best known through Shakespeare's fictional version of it in Henry V. A brief but authoritative account of her life, from the Dictionary of National Biography, is available online. There is, unfortunately, no full-length biography of her life, but there is an excellent chapter on Katherine of Valois in Lisa Hilton's Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens.

And one curious note: Katherine of Valois' elder sister, Isabella of Valois (1389-1409), preceded her on the throne of England: Isabella became queen of England in 1396, at the age of six, when she married Richard II of England--yes, you read that correctly, she was married to the thirty-year-old Richard when she was six, an earlier effort to resolve the conflict between England and France by means of marriage between an English king and a French princess. After Richard's death in 1400, there was some pressure for Isabella to marry the very Henry whom her sister would later wed. The young princess refused; she eventually returned to France, married a second time, and died in childbirth at age nineteen.