Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The First Five Catherines: A Short History
The first Catherine to marry a King of England was of course Catherine de Valois (1401-1437), younger daughter of Charles VI of France. Catherine's older sister had already been married to a King of England, Richard II, before his untimely death. Catherine was married off to Henry V of England as part of the treaty between the two countries, which acknowledged that Henry as heir to the throne of France. Most of you have seen either the movie or the play HENRY V, no doubt remember the charming wooing scene between Henry and Catherine as he tries to speak French to her. Catherine and Henry were married on June 2nd 1420. After her arrival in England, Catherine was crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey in February of 1421. Before long, Henry had left his new bride to continue to wage war in France, leaving Catherine several months pregnant.
After giving birth to the future Henry VI of England in December of 1421, but Henry never saw his son. He died during the seige of Meaux in August of 1422, leaving Catherine a widow at 20. During the years of her widowhood, there were rumors of the Queen remarrying which concerned the King's uncle, Henry Duke of Gloucester who was serving as Protector. Catherine eventually found love again in the most unlikely of places, with Owen Tudor, a handosme Welshman, who served as the keeper of the Queen's wardrobe. The relationship apparently began while Catherine was living at Windsor Castle. Nobody knows where or when the two were married. The couple eventually went on to have at least five children, four who lived to adulthood, Edmund, future father of Henry VII, Jasper, Owen and a daughter Margaret. Catherine died at Bermondsey Abbey in early 1437 from an unknown illness. She is buried in Westminster Abbey next to Henry V. After her death, their enemies had Owen arrested for violating the law of remarriage for the Dowager Queen. Although he was acquitted of those charges, he was arrested again and his possessions seized. Eventually he was released, and was in the Household of the King at least until he was arrested and executed by the Yorkists after the Battle of Mortimer's Cross.
I've always found the love story of Catherine and Owen to be incredibly romantic, two star-crossed lovers who marry secretly and found a dynasty!
It can't have been easy for Catherine, she was madly in love with her husband, but she had to share him with many mistresses who seemed to give birth every few minutes, while Catherine suffered at least two miscarriages. Charles was fond of her, and insisted that she be treated with respect. Despite not being able to bear the much needed heir, he refused to divorce her. Over time, Catherine managed to win over her subjects by her quiet demeanor and her loyalty to the King. As part of her dowry, Catherine brought Tangiers and Bombay to British control. She also introduced the custom of tea-drinking to England, which had been popular in Portugal for some time, as well as introducing the use of the fork to English dining tables. After her husband's death, Catherine initially remained in England, living at Somerset House. She tired to intervene with James II for the life of James, Duke of Monmouth, her huband's illegitimate son after his rebellion but to no avail.
She returned to Portugal in 1692, when anti-Catholic sentiment made life uncomfortable in England, where she acted as a regent for her brother Peter II. She died in 1705 and is buried in Lisbon.
Hopefully the future Princess William's life as a member of the royal family won't be quite as dramatic as the lives of these 5 women!