From Catherine of Valois to Kate Middleton: The First English Queen Catherine

By , November 26, 2010 4:25 am


Kate Middleton is to marry Prince William on 29th April 2011, and will, in the fullness of time, become Queen Catherine.

Kate is far from the first to enjoy that title. From Queen Catherine of Valois onwards, there have been women who have been called Catherine and enjoyed (or suffered) the role of Queen of England, and later Queen of the United Kingdom.

This blog post is the first in a series which tells you about the Queen Catherines in English history, who they were, who they married, their lives, and children.

It is about Catherine of Valois, Queen of England for only 2 years, who gave birth to a son who became a King, and who by her second marriage founded the later Tudor dynasty.

Of the six women who were, or will be, Queen Catherine (including Kate Middleton), half of them were married to King Henry VIII. Which means, approximately, that at least half of English Queen Catherines probably regretted their marriages….

Queen Catherine of Valois, 1420 – 1422

Family and Upbringing

King Henry V, a 16th century painting

King Henry V, a 16th century painting

The first Queen Catherine, Catherine of Valois, was French. (Her name is also sometimes spelt “Katherine of Valois”, but usually it’s “Catherine”.)

She was born in Paris in 1401, the daughter of the French King Charles VI, who is (rather confusingly) known both as Charles the Beloved and Charles the Mad.

Charles VI suffered repeated episodes of mental illness, probably schizophrenia, and went through periods of failing to recognise his wife, and of beliving he was made of glass and might break.

Catherine’s mother was Isabella of Bavaria, also known as Isabeau of Bavaria.

Charles VI and Isabella had 12 children, of whom 4 died as children. Another 5 died in young adulthood, aged between 17 and 30.

Catherine was the third from youngest. One of her older sisters, Isabella, married King Richard II of England, at the age of 6.

Marriage to King Henry V

Contemporary engraving of the marriage of King Henry V and Catherine of Valois

Contemporary engraving of the marriage of King Henry V and Catherine of Valois

Richard II was deposed by his cousin, King Henry IV.

After winning the Battle of Agincourt, Henry IV’s son Henry V, negotiated a marriage treaty with Charles VI, and married Catherine of Valois in June 1420. Catherine was then 18, and Henry V was 32.

Queen Catherine of Valois visited England for the first time after her marriage, and was crowned Queen in Westminster Abbey on 23rd February 1421.

Catherine became pregnant, and the future King Henry VI was born in December 1421.

Henry V had by that time returned to the fighting in France, and did not meet his son and heir, as he died on campaign in August 1422.

Catherine of Valois had been Queen for just over two years, and was now a 20 year old widow.

Marriage to Owen Tudor

17th century engraving of Catherine of Valois

17th century engraving of Catherine of Valois

Catherine embarked in about 1423 on a relationship with the Welsh Sir Owen Meredith Tudor, whose name in Welsh was Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur.

This caused a great deal of concern about the influence a dowager Queen’s husband might have, and by a law passed in 1427, the Queen could only re-marry with her son’s permission, once her son was an adult. He was only 6 years old at time, so the law was clearly meant to delay any marriage for decades.

The couple nevertheless appear to have married in secret. Henry VI later declared that his mother had married and that her children by Owen Tudor were legitimate.

The couple had six children who lived past childhood. Thomas Tudor and Owen Tudor were monks, Edmund Tudor married Margaret Beaufort and fathered Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII, Jasper Tudor married Catherine Woodville, sister of Elizabeth Woodville, who married King Edward IV, and two other daughters became nuns.

Death and burial

The wooden funeral effigy of Catherine de Valois, made for her funeral

The wooden funeral effigy of Catherine de Valois, made for her funeral

Catherine of Valois died in January 1437 at the age of 35, shortly after giving birth to a daughter who died as a baby. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.

In a frankly revolting episode, Catherine of Valois’ tomb was damaged in the early 16th century, and her body exposed.

No-one got round to doing anything about it for about 350 years, and her body remained visible for the entire period.

It became a kind of bizarre tourist attraction, to view the corpse of the long-dead Queen.

Samuel Pepys noted in his diary that he went to the Abbey on his 36th birthday and held and kissed the Queen’s body. He wrote:

On Shrove Tuesday 1669, I to the Abbey went, and by favour 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.

I think kissing skeletons is the matter upon which he should have reflected.

5 Responses to “From Catherine of Valois to Kate Middleton: The First English Queen Catherine”

  1. Mick Rogers says:

    A very well researched article I enjoyed reading it immensely.

  2. Roni says:

    Interesting article, I enjoyed it too, thought you might want to take another look at the dates. For instance, if Catherine was born in 1401 but died in 1537, I’d really like some elaboration on that.

  3. prustage says:

    Nice article but you make the assumption in the opening paragraph that the monarchy in the UK will survive long enough for the Middleton woman to become queen. Hopefully it wont come to that.

  4. Kip Arnesen says:

    Decent article. Long live the English monarchy!

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