Few couples broke through as many barriers and changed the course of history more than Owen Tudor and Catherine Valois. They were unequally matched, married for love, and broke the law with their union. Because they dared to do so, England boasts the history of the Tudor dynasty.
Details of the marriage of Owen Tudor and Catherine Valois are lost to history. However, since there was no attempt made to declare their children illegitimate, we can quite safely assume that it took place sometime before their first child was born in 1430. This was long before the time prescribed by the king’s council for Catherine to consider another match. They had ordered the dowager queen to wait until King Henry VI, Catherine’s son, was old enough to approve any marriage that she might make. Since he was less than a year old when his illustrious father, Henry V, died, the council intended that Catherine have a rather long wait.
She had been a widow for approximately six years when she decided that she had waited long enough. The council had already thwarted her efforts to make a match with Edmund Beaufort, so Catherine was more clandestine in her plans with Owen. The king was only six years old, potentially a decade away from being deemed of age and able to approve his mother’s marriage, so Catherine took charge of her own future.
|Marriage of Henry V and Catherine Valois|
While Catherine may have been encouraged by the fact that Owen was of low enough status to not pose a threat to her son or his council, evidence indicates that she married him primarily because of mutual attraction. The couple quickly produced four children and several disapproving accounts note Catherine’s lust for her handsome new husband. In fact, rumors of how their relationship began include stories of her discovering him naked as he bathed and another that he caught her eye by falling into her lap when dancing.
Women of this era were expected to be pillars of virtue, and no one more so than the queen. Therefore, the fact that Catherine had failed to control her urges in her defiance of the law brought down the wrath of the council upon her. If she thought Owen’s lowly status would protect him, she had lost that gamble. Worse, they thought even less of him because he was Welsh.
Not quite sure how to proceed against the mother of the king, the council bided their time until Catherine died on January 3, 1437. Did Owen ever regret that he had married the beautiful French princess as he sat in his cell at Newgate? He would have had no inkling that one of he and Catherine’s sons would become the father of a king of England.
The line of succession would not typically go through a queen consort, and even Owen’s oldest son’s marriage to Margaret Beaufort did not place them in line for the throne. Margaret, after all, was from a bloodline that had been legitimized but not included in the succession. Were it not for the Wars of the Roses, which so thoroughly pruned the branches of England’s royal families, the sprig of the Tudors would likely never have flourished.
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De Lisle, Leanda. Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. New York: PublicAffairs, 2013.
Penn, Thomas. Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
Bacon, Francis. The History of the Reign of King Henry VII. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1850.