Katherine of Valois, Queen of England

Born: October 27, 1401

Paris, France

Died: January 3, 1437

Southwark, London, England (Age 35)

Katherine in History

As was the case with most women of royal families in the middle ages, Katherine of Valois (youngest daughter of King Charles VI of France) was used as a political bargaining tool. She was first betrothed to the heir to the Duke of Bourbon in 1403, when she was not quite two years of age, but this never amounted to anything. By 1409, however, King Henry IV of England was in discussion with the French to betroth Katherine to his eldest son and heir Henry, Prince of Wales and future King Henry V. When Henry V ascended the throne after his father's death in 1413, he once again affirmed the desire to marry Katherine. The betrothal was put on hold though, when Henry V decided to press his claim to the French throne by renewing the Hundred Years War (first begun over seventy years earlier by his great-grandfather King Edward III) and achieved major victories at Harfleur and Agincourt in 1415. As the war raged on for the next five years in England's favor, it became clear that the French were eager to make peace with their enemy, and the idea of marriage between Henry V and Princess Katherine was once again discussed. When the king met his soon-to-be wife, he was immediately taken with her.

In 1420, as a condition of the Treaty of Troyes, Henry and Katherine were betrothed to one another, and the king was able to keep the French territories he had conquered (also being named heir to Charles VI's throne), in exchange for allowing Charles VI to reign for the rest of his life. Henry and Katherine were indeed married, but the English king was still busy attempting to bring further territories in France under his control, so that his ultimate succession to the throne would be smooth. By early 1421, the king decided to take a break from the war in order to introduce his new bride to his English subjects and to have her crowned. The couple spent the next six months together in England before the king was forced to return to France after his brother Thomas was killed in battle. Katherine, by this point, was pregnant and gave birth to the future Henry VI in December of that year. After the birth of her son, Katherine traveled to France to be with her husband, only to find out, soon after, that his health was rapidly deteriorating. Henry V died, most likely of dysentery, in August of 1422, leaving behind a twenty-year-old widow and a nine month old son as King of England.

The situation became infinitely more complex when King Charles VI died two months after Henry V, leaving Henry VI as king of both England and, nominally, France. Katherine, who was certainly well taken care of after her husband's death, does not seem to have taken any dramatically active role in politics, instead acting as simply the king's mother. Problems arose when rumors spread of Katherine's supposedly romantic involvement with Edmund Beaufort (a cousin of Henry V's). As a former queen, Katherine was, for all intents and purposes, forbidden to marry any one of substance for fear of that man becoming too powerful as the stepfather to the king. Whatever may have happened between Katherine and Beaufort is a matter for speculation. The facts show that Katherine was ultimately married, in secret (a fact that was not fully known until after her death), to a Welsh squire named Owen Tudor. Since Tudor possessed little or no land or assets, it appears he would not have been considered a threat to become too powerful. It is by no means clear where or how the two met, but in they end, the marriage produced at least three children. The most significant of the offspring were Edmund and Jasper Tudor, father and uncle, respectively, to the future King Henry VII. By the mid-1430s Katherine's health was swiftly deteriorating, most likely a combination of her multiple pregnancies and the debilitating mental illness that was in her Valois blood and affected her father in such a devastating manner. She passed away in early 1437 at the age of thirty-five. Certain historians will undoubtedly find it ironic that Katherine, the daughter, wife, mother, and future grandmother of kings, would ultimately find love with a lowly Welsh squire. Perhaps this is proof that she possessed the spirit of a loving human being and not that of a cold-hearted royal personage.

Katherine in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry V

Kathrine appears in two scenes of Henry V. First, she is seen with her lady, Alice, inquiring on how to say a number of words in English, since England may soon be taking over parts of France. She is then seen again in the play's final scene where Henry V attempts to woo her after the two are betrothed as a condition of the Treaty of Troyes. In the end, Katherine agrees to do whatever her father feels is best for her, and the two are, of course, married.


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