The Tudor Society
The Tudor Society

Katherine of Valois: Lancastrian Queen, Tudor Wife

Tudor History Tours with the Tudor Society

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:

Book blurb:

“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)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 8494593773
ISBN-13: 978-8494593772
Kindle ASIN: B01MT5OVGK

Notes and Sources

  1. For example, David Loades, Tudor Queens of England (London; New York: Continuum, 2009).
  2. 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.
  3. John Lydgate praised Katherine thus in his Troy Book of 1412-20.

There are 19 comments Go To Comment

  1. Laurie Mahon /

    I’ve always been interested in reading more about the earlier Queens of the Platagenet reign. I’m absolutely still in awe when I learn about the Tudors, but this time period was also intriguing. I often wonder what life for a woman/ Queen would have been like. I think I may give this book a go, sounds very well researched. Thank you for the overview. I’m always looking for a great read!

  2. Becky Davis /

    I am interested in Margaret of Anjou after writing a school paper on her political life. Please enter me as I would love to win this book.

  3. Lui C /

    I’d love to know more about Anne Neville and what really happened with the princes in the Tower! Such a tumultuous period of history

  4. Roland Hui /

    I’m curious about Elizabeth Woodville’s relationship with Richard III and Henry VII.

    Did she believe that Richard II murdered her 2 sons, and did she really intrigue against Henry VII that he would confiscate her properties and force her to retire from court?

  5. Banditqueen /

    Katherine was only 21 when she was a widow and Queen Dowager of the eight months old Henry vi…the only English King to have an English and French coronation after we lost our claim. While Katherine was a devoted mother and played a part in the early years under Enlish tradition she could not rule in his stead. Possibly due to her relationship and wish to marry Edmund Beaufort Henry Parliament passed an act ensuring a Queen Dowager could not remarry without the council’s permission. This was more than rumour and is confirmed by every historian regarding Katherine, plus the sources. What is questionable is the exact nature of this relationship. How long it was is clearly unknown, plus it has been suggested that it was a sexual relationship. G L Harrisis suggests it went on for a couple of years, JAH suggests that Beaufort was the father of her first child with Owen Tudor, while Amy Linacre hardly mentions it. There is little doubt that Katherine and Edmund had a loving relationship, but it may have been a formal courtship rather than a passionate affair. It is also unclear when she got together with Owen Tudor, giving rise to speculation that there was overlap between her two lovers and thus confusion over the parenthood of her son Edmund Tudor. Owen did not have any problems recognising Edmund as his son and this is more down to hostile sources who maligned Katherine as having loose morals. In any event Katherine defied the council and Parliament, moved in with her new husband, Owen Tudor and five kids later they had evidently had a happy marriage. It took Humphrey of Gloucester, the Lord Protector several years to discover their marriage. Katherine was arrested and put in confinement in a convent. Owen, several months later was put in prison in Newgate. Katherine died a few weeks after childbirth in 1437. Owen lived on, being beheaded after Mortimers Cross in 1461 and her eldest son by him became the father of Henry Vii. Jasper his second son became a force for the Lancaster and Tudor cause, being Henry’s protector and training him for war. Katherine and Owens marriage was recognised by Henry vi and their sons granted titles and lands. Katherine de Valois may not class herself as a Tudor Queen and in reality she can’t be considered one, but she still became the grandmother of the Dynasty, thanks to her willingness to risk all and follow her heart.

  6. Michael Leaver /

    This book looks like a fascinating read.I for one have it near the top of my tbr list.

  7. Kathryn Swartz /

    I would like to learn more about joan of navarre, henry ivs queen. It is very interesting to learn about the plantagenent queens and what kind of women they were. Thank you.

  8. TAMMY CUEVAS /

    I would like to know more about Elizabeth Woodville. I have read a little about her, but most of what I know if her comes from movies and TV, and I don’t know how factual they were.

  9. Sarah Schmoll /

    I’m interested in learning more about the two wives of Richard II.

  10. Lisa H /

    I always meant to do more reading on Philippa of Hainault. Though she had one of the longest tenures as queen consort, she tends to be much overlooked. These days you hear more about Alice Perrers than about Philippa! I also wish we knew more about Mary de Bohun, who did not live long enough to become Henry IV’s queen but had an inestimable impact on history by mothering Henry V.

    I look forward to reading Connor Byrne’s book, whether through winning or purchasing it. Cheers.

  11. Elysium /

    I would love to learn more about Joan of Navarre. I haven’t found any books focused on her and all I know is that Henry V accused her of witchcraft.

    1. Lisa H /

      Though it’s historical fiction, Jean Plaidy’s Star of Lancaster relates Henry Bolingbroke meeting Joan of Navarre while in exile and their ensuing relationship. Since the novel runs from Bolingbroke’s meeting and marrying Mary de Bohun through the death of Henry V, it also covers Joan’s witchcraft accusation. Plaidy certainly had her faults, but she tells a good story and when I was younger her books often led me to investigate history and find out further details as well as what was accurate and what was literary license.

  12. Tina /

    I hope very much to win this book. I recently have fallen in love with reading everything I can get my hands on related to this historical period. Currently reading “Game of Queens” which is fascinating in showing how interwoven all the political powers of that time were. Your book would be perfect next addition .

  13. Cathy Brown /

    I absolutely love Anne Neville. I am always on the lookout for anything referring to or about Anne. She is my very favorite Queen of England even if she only reigned for a very short time.

  14. Carol Hornby Clements /

    I would love to win this book. I have read some of Jean Plaidy’s books as my mum was very fond of them. I read Alison Weir’s book on Eleanor of Aquitaine. I like to learn more about the queens of England from this era.

  15. Agnes Szabo /

    About Anne Neville.
    Being the Kingmaker’s second daughter…
    Why and how did she marry Richard? How was their relationship?
    She’s such an interesting person.
    Thanks for the chance to win this book! 🙂

  16. Liz Wharton /

    I am always interested in learning more about the monarchy. I was named for good queen Bess and have been reading about British monarchy since I was 5. Please enter me in the giveaway!

  17. Edna Fowler /

    I am interested in all of the kings and queens of England.

  18. Constance Owens /

    Anne of Neville

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Katherine of Valois: Lancastrian Queen, Tudor Wife