Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Death of Catherine Valois

Marriage of Henry V
and Catherine Valois
On January 3, 1437, Catherine Valois died. She had been born a French princess and become an English queen when she married the famous warrior king, Henry V. At the time of her death, she was married to a simple Welsh squire named Owen Tudor.

Catherine had been banned from remarrying after the king's death, though it was not quite worded that way. Instead the council informed her that any match that she might make must be approved by the king, her son. This is something that he would not be able to do until he reached the age of majority, typically around sixteen but possibly as young as twelve. When Catherine was widowed, her son was not yet a year old. It was a clever way to control the young dowager queen.

She tried to do what was asked of her. When she fell in love with Edmund Beaufort, she requested permission to marry him and was denied. After all, who wanted the royal but illegitimate Beaufort clan to have claim to Valois blood? When Catherine next felt her heart flutter at the sight of a handsome young man, she did not bother asking for permission.

Catherine Valois
funeral effigy
Owen Tudor was from a prominent Welsh family who had lost everything in rebellions against the English. His position in Catherine's household is not completely clear, but he soon found his way to her bedroom. Details of their marriage do not exist, but their contemporaries did not question the legitimacy of their children, so it is fairly safe to assume that it took place. They proceeded to have four children in the next seven years.

Catherine may have inherited some of her father's madness, as she seems to have passed on to her son, Henry VI. She died young, possibly after beginning to experience symptoms of mental decline. While she was alive, the council's hesitancy to prosecute the king's mother had protected Owen, despite their disapproval for the union. When she died, they moved against Owen.

Perceiving that something like this would happen, Owen fled for Wales, but not quickly enough. A messenger from the king intercepted him and presented a summons to Westminster. Had Owen been willing to leave behind the riches that Catherine had bestowed upon him, he may have been able to travel with greater speed and make his escape.

Instead, he found himself at Westminster, kneeling before a king who had only recently been made aware that he had four Tudor half-siblings. Owen was initially released, since it had been only the promise of safe conduct that he had returned at the messenger’s request. Soon, though, new charges were brought against him, and he was held at Newgate.

Henry VI
He may have been given privileges and decent accommodations at Newgate rather than being tossed into a dank cell, but the lack of freedom still rankled since Owen believed he had done nothing wrong. A little over a year after Catherine's death, Owen schemed to escape Newgate. The plan succeeded, but it did not take long for Owen to be recaptured.

Thankfully, Owen was flouting the law under a king who would become famous for his peculiar blend of kindness and lack of judgement. Henry VI pardoned Owen and recognized him as his step-father. Henry even raised up his two eldest half-brothers, making Edmund earl of Richmond and Jasper earl of Pembroke.

How differently things might have turned out if Henry VI had looked upon these men jealously as a threat as so many other kings both before and after him would have done. Instead, he gave Edmund a royal cousin to marry, the young heiress, Margaret Beaufort. And the rest, as they say, is history.


  1. I always felt sorry for Catherine. She'd been persuaded to marry the gung-ho conqueror of her native country who died shortly after their son was born, she was bullied by the council, not allowed to marry one suitor and despised for marrying Tudor. Several children later, she died at 35.

    1. I agree. Here's hoping that her years with Owen were filled with joy!