Today we are hosting Conor Byrne, "Tudor Life" magazine regular contributor, historian and author, as part of his book tour for his latest book Queenship in England 1308-1485: Gender and Power in the Late Middle Ages. MadeGlobal Publishing is offering a paperback copy of Conor's book to one lucky commenter. All you have to do is leave a comment below saying which 14th or 15th-century queen you'd like to know more about and why. Leave your comment before midnight Tuesday 21st February 2017. One commenter will be picked at random and contacted for his/her address.
On 3 January 1437, Katherine of Valois, widow of Henry V, died at the age of thirty-five. The former queen was buried at Westminster Abbey. Five months later, the life of another former queen of England ended. Joan of Navarre, Katherine’s immediate predecessor, died at the age of sixty-six or sixty-seven and was buried at Canterbury Cathedral. The queenships of Joan and Katherine reveal the opportunities for triumph and tribulation that the office brought, as well as showcasing the variety of roles that were associated with it, including mother, intercessor, patron and lord. Their queenships also reveal the strikingly different political and diplomatic contexts, depending on circumstances, in which the occupant could attempt to fulfil her roles, and how these contexts affected her ability to succeed in the role of queen.
Some historians have associated Katherine of Valois with the Tudor queens.1 It is true that, following the death of her first husband, Katherine married Owen Tudor and achieved renown as the grandmother of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch. However, it is unlikely that Katherine would have regarded herself as a Tudor queen. Although she was a French princess, her status as queen of England was achieved through her marriage to Henry V. Both kingdoms enthusiastically greeted the prospect of a marriage between Henry and Katherine, because it offered the promise of peace after years of fighting. The chronicler Monstrelet romantically claimed that the English king personally wished to marry Katherine because of her beauty and ‘most engaging manners’, and while this was perhaps true, it is also evident that the king was determined to attain the crown and kingdom of France and knew that marriage to the French king’s daughter would enable him to achieve formal recognition as the heir to the French throne until the death of his father-in-law, when he would inherit the French throne.
The fourteenth- and fifteenth-century queens examined in Queenship in England were often accustomed to the military experiences that involved their husbands, and while Katherine’s role was entirely conventional in this respect, she soon learned after her marriage that her husband was a warrior king intent on securing what he perceived to be his rightful inheritance. As Michael Jones has astutely commented, ‘military needs meant that the honeymoon was spent in a succession of sieges.’2 Soon after her husband entered Paris to be honoured by its residents, the royal couple departed for England, and Katherine was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 23 February 1421. The coronation was customarily the most important ritual in which the queen participated. Although evidence is lacking for the nature of the coronation pageants and tableaux associated with Katherine’s coronation, it is possible that they praised her as a harbinger of peace and as the source of legitimation for Lancastrian claims on territories in France.3
Katherine’s short queenship provides striking evidence of the limitations that the consort could face. Unlike her predecessors, she was often absent from her husband, who sought military glory on the continent. This absence, coupled with the brevity of her tenure, ensured that Katherine struggled to establish her own model of queenship, and in view of this, it is perhaps not surprising that her role appears chiefly to have been ceremonial. In the spring of 1422, she attended a ‘marvelouslie glorious’ feast with her husband at Pentecost. The lack of time that Katherine and Henry spent together meant that she was unable to exercise considerable authority in the manner in which other queen consorts would able to do. Philippa of Hainault’s stable relationship with her husband, for example, enabled her to be effective as an intercessor. It is possible that this role was somewhat in decline by the fifteenth-century, and it may be significant, in view of this argument, that Katherine appears to have successfully interceded on only one occasion, when she pleaded with her husband to restore his prisoner, James I of Scotland, to liberty. Her inability to enjoy greater success as an intercessor was perhaps due, at least in part, to her husband’s frequent absences from the kingdom, because it meant that Katherine was unable to monopolise his patronage. It also may have prevented the royal couple from establishing a close relationship founded on trust and loyalty, which in itself may have limited the opportunities available to Katherine to exercise authority.
However, in one respect, Katherine succeeded in the primary role associated with queenship: motherhood. On 6 December 1421, the queen gave birth to a son, Henry, at Windsor Castle. Unfortunately for Katherine, and tragically for her son, Henry V died eight months later, on 31 August 1422. The eight-month-old Henry VI was not to enjoy the glorious reputation of his father, and Katherine could never have foreseen that her infant son would be deposed and murdered by his enemies half a century later.
As dowager queen, Katherine was concerned mainly with the upbringing of her son. However, the council appear to have been apprehensive of her actions as dowager queen, and in 1428 an Act of Parliament was passed forbidding her remarriage without their permission. Contemporary observers faulted the queen for being ‘unable to bridle her carnal passions entirely’, and there were rumours that she was romantically involved with Edmund Beaufort, later duke of Somerset. By 1428-9, she appears to have clandestinely married Owen Tudor. Whether it was a love match, as is traditionally supposed, is unknown, for it is entirely possible that Katherine sought a protector to safeguard her fortunes as a result of her ambiguous position during the minority of her son. Her political and dynastic significance ultimately lay in her position as grandmother of Henry VII, the first Tudor king, but at her death, Katherine undoubtedly would have expected her importance to reside in her young son, Henry VI, and his anticipated offspring.
Joan of Navarre, of course, failed to provide her royal husband with offspring, and this childlessness rendered her vulnerable during her stepson’s reign, leading to accusations of witchcraft directed against her in a calculated bid to enrich the crown at her expense. Katherine of Valois, fortunately, was not slandered as a witch, but she was criticised for her alleged immorality in the aftermath of her husband’s death. Her queenship reveals the limitations that could be faced by the consort in late medieval England, depending on political, military and diplomatic circumstances. In fulfilling the ceremonial aspects of her role and in providing her husband with a male heir with which to ensure the continuation of the dynasty, Katherine conformed to contemporary expectations, but Henry V’s activities on the continent, coupled with the shortness of her tenure, ultimately limited Katherine’s ability to be an effective consort. She was not praised for her activities as an intercessor, nor is there evidence of especially successful household management. Katherine’s successor, Margaret of Anjou, the wife of her son, was to experience a very different tenure as queen consort.
Conor Byrne studied History at the University of Exeter. He is the author of Katherine Howard: A New History and Queenship in England, both published by MadeGlobal. Since 2012 he has run a historical blog and was formerly editor of "Tudor Life" Magazine. His research to date specialises in late medieval and early modern European history, with a focus on gender, sexuality and the monarchy.
You can catch up with Conor's other articles and enter all the giveaways on Conor's book tour by going to the blogs listed in this schedule:
“An interesting and accessible exploration of medieval queenship in relation to gender expectations.” – Amy Licence, author of Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife
“A very readable and thoroughly researched book that looks at the role of late medieval Queens of England in an original way.” – Toni Mount, author of A Year in the Life of Medieval England
Between 1308 and 1485, nine women were married to kings of England. Their status as queen offered them the opportunity to exercise authority in a manner that was denied to other women of the time. This book offers a new study of these nine queens and their queenship in late medieval England.
- Isabella of France, wife of Edward II
- Philippa of Hainault, wife of Edward III
- Anne of Bohemia, wife of Richard II
- Isabelle of France, second wife of Richard II
- Joan of Navarre, wife of Henry IV
- Katherine of Valois, wife of Henry V
- Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI
- Elizabeth Wydeville, wife of Edward IV
- Anne Neville, wife of Richard III
The fourteenth- and fifteenth-centuries were frequently characterised by dynastic uncertainty and political tensions. Scholars have recognised that the kings who ruled during this time were confronted with challenges to their kingship, as new questions emerged about what it meant to be a successful king in late medieval England. This book examines the challenges faced by the queens who ruled at this time. It investigates the relationship between gender and power at the English court, while exploring how queenship responded to, and was informed by, the tensions at the heart of governance.
Ultimately Queenship in England questions whether a new model of queenship emerged from the great upheavals underpinning the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century polity.
Go to http://getbook.at/queenship to find out more and to order from your country's Amazon store.
Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: MadeGlobal Publishing (January 10, 2017)
Kindle ASIN: B01MT5OVGK
Notes and Sources
- For example, David Loades, Tudor Queens of England (London; New York: Continuum, 2009).
- Michael Jones, ‘Catherine [Catherine of Valois] (1401-1437)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004); accessed online at http://oxforddnb.com/view/article/4890?docPos=1.
- John Lydgate praised Katherine thus in his Troy Book of 1412-20.