Catherine de Valois (1401-1437)

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Catherine de Valois (1401-1437)

Catherine de Valois LG (born October 27, 1401 in Paris , † January 3, 1437 in Bermondsey Abbey (today: London )), also known as Catherine de France , was Queen of England as the wife of Henry V from 1420 to 1422. She was the mother of Henry VI. from England and is considered the ancestral mother of the English Tudor dynasty .

Descent and youth

Catherine of Valois was born on October 27, 1401 in the royal residence Hôtel Saint-Paul in Paris. She was the youngest daughter of King Charles VI. of France and his wife Isabeau de Bavière , daughter of Duke Stephan III. from Bavaria-Ingolstadt . Catherine had 11 siblings, including the later King Charles VII of France . Before June 18, 1403, she was temporarily betrothed to Karl, the grandson and heir of Duke Ludwig von Bourbon. Because her father had been falling ever more strongly into a mental illness since 1392, his ambitious relatives and other high nobility ruled in his place. From the beginning of the 15th century there were bloody power struggles between the political parties of the Armagnacs and Bourguignons . In addition, France was shaken by the turmoil of the Hundred Years War .

Catherine's mother, Isabeau, is often described by the sources as dissolute, domineering, and extravagant, but this characterization seems to go back in large part to hostile propaganda. According to later (unprovable) rumors, Catherine was neglected by her mother in her childhood and had to live with her siblings and her mentally ill father in unworthy circumstances, which were only alleviated by the care of compassionate servants. Catherine was later removed from her mother's sphere of influence and probably raised in the Convent of Poissy , where her sister Marie lived as a nun.

Marriage project with Henry V of England

At the beginning of the 15th century, the plan of the English King Henry IV failed to marry his son Heinrich (who was supposed to ascend the English throne in 1413 as Henry V ) to Catherine's older sister Isabella . In 1408 he proposed to end the long military conflict between England and France that Henry V should be married off to another French princess. For the first time, 1409 discussions took place about the fact that Catherine could be this bride. In 1413 serious marriage negotiations in this regard began. But at first the demands of the English were far too high for the French side to be able to accept. For the English ambassadors, who arrived in Paris on April 8, 1414, demanded as dowry for Catherine no less than two million gold crowns, Normandy and all the French possessions that had once belonged to Eleanor of Aquitaine . Charles VI was only willing to pay 600,000 gold crowns. In February 1415 a portrait of the beautiful young princess was sent to England. In the course of the negotiations, although the English demands were reduced, the French still considered them too high. Finally, in July 1415, negotiations were broken off. Henry V then renewed the war, which had been on the back burner for some time, and decisively defeated the French army, led mainly by the Armagnacs, in the Battle of Azincourt (October 25, 1415). Therefore, the marriage project between Catherine and Henry V was not pursued for a few years.

In France, however, not only the struggles of the French against the English, but also the internal French conflicts continued. Isabeau was completely disempowered by the Armagnacs in 1417 and placed under arrest at Tours , from which she was freed six months later by the Burgundian Duke Johann Unefurcht . The queen now became his ally. In October 1418, the two began new negotiations with the English king about his marriage to Catherine, who was now apparently Isabeau's favorite child. On June 2, 1419 , the Duke of Burgundy, Isabeau and Catherines met Henry V in Meulan , who, although gallantly kissed the hand of the noble ladies, did not refrain from his high demands. After all, he seemed deeply impressed by the beauty of Catherine, whom he got to know personally for the first time. Further negotiations followed and the English king sent Catherine jewelry worth 100,000 Écus, which allegedly fell into the hands of enemy troops in August 1419. The demands of Henry V were still considered too high, so that Johann Unafeart broke off negotiations after a violent argument with the English king and instead sought a settlement with the Armagnacs. There were reconciliation talks, but on September 10, 1419, at a meeting between the Dauphin, who was allied with the Armagnacs, later Charles VII, and the Duke of Burgundy, the latter was murdered by companions of the Dauphin. With that, the break between the Armagnacs and Bourguignons was final and Isabeau, who had been estranged from her son and heir to the throne for a long time, rejected it completely after this murder and took the side of the new Burgundian Duke Philip the Good .

Wedding of Catherine de Valois to Henry V of England

The French Queen and Philip the Good now resumed negotiations with the English. On December 2, 1419, a basic agreement for the marriage of Catherine and Henry V was made in Arras , and on December 25, 1419 in Rouen, an alliance agreement between Philip the Good and Henry V was agreed to fight the Dauphin together. The rapidly progressing negotiations eventually led to the Treaty of Troyes . Charles VII was disinherited by the French royal couple for inciting the murder of Johann Ohnefurcht and other crimes and declared forfeited the right to the throne, whereas Henry V married Catherine until the death of Charles VI. Regent and after his death the new King of France. He would have been a French and English monarch in personal union. The children of Henry V were also entitled to succession to the French throne. Catherine was to receive 40,000 écus a year as a dowry in England. On May 20, 1420, the English king arrived in Troyes to sign the treaty, which was solemnly confirmed in the cathedral of that city the next day. Immediately afterwards, the engagement of 18-year-old Catherine to 13-year-old Henry V took place and twelve days later (June 2nd) the wedding ceremony in the nearby, but modest St. John's Church in Troyes.

The war against the disinherited Dauphin and the Armagnacs allied with him continued. Catherine was present at the surrender of Sens on June 11th and then stayed with her parents in Bray and Corbeil while Henry V besieged Melun and during this time visited his new wife briefly. At the beginning of December 1420, the English king and his father-in-law entered Paris with a solemn ceremony, followed by Isabeau and her daughter Catherine the next day. She spent a splendid Christmas with her husband in the royal palace of the Louvre , while the French King Charles VI. had to spend relatively poorly in the nearby Hôtel Saint-Pol.

Queen of England

Catherine de Valois

Catherine left Paris with her husband on December 27, 1420 and traveled with him to Rouen , where the couple arrived on New Year's Eve and celebrated the New Year. The English parliament urged the king to return to the island after such a long absence. So the royal couple set out in mid-January 1421 and reached the coastal town of Calais , moving through Amiens , to cross over and to go ashore in Dover on February 1st . It slowly traveled on to London and was received there on February 21st with extraordinary pomp. This occurred z. B. minstrels and court jesters on and the spectators were served free wine. The city chronicles describe this solemn entry of the royal couple into the English capital in great detail. Two days later (February 23) Catherine was crowned by Archbishop Chichele at Westminster Abbey . Afterwards there was an extensive banquet in Westminster Hall, with mainly fish and shellfish being served, as it was Lent. In order for Catherine to be completely in the center of attention, her husband refrained from attending the coronation ceremony. In contrast, the Bishop of Winchester, Henry Beaufort , and the Scottish King James I , who had been in English captivity for many years, kept the new queen company.

Henry V then decided to travel with his wife to the north of England to introduce them to his subjects and to raise new funds and troops for further wars against Charles VII. Catherine joined her husband on March 15 in Kenilworth. The couple celebrated Easter on March 23rd in Leicester and then moved north to York via Nottingham and Pontefract (April 2nd). They then traveled back south via Lincoln , where they stopped on April 15. They had also visited numerous places of pilgrimage on their tour. In May the royal couple was back in Westminster. Henry V left England again in June to renew the campaign against the Dauphin. Catherine had been pregnant for a long time by then. Although her husband had wished that she should not give birth to her child in Windsor Castle , as he had astrological concerns about the place, Catherine went there and gave birth to the heir to the throne Henry VI on December 6, 1421 . At that time, Jakobäa von Bayern, Duchess of Straubing-Holland, who had fled to England, lived with her. In 1422 she married Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester , a younger brother of Henry V, for which Catherine actively supported.

Without her little son, Catherine wanted to meet her husband again, who called her to France. In May 1422, she crossed over to Harfleur with a younger brother of her husband, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford , and 20,000 soldiers . They arrived in Rouen on May 14th. Finally, Catherine met her parents and husband on May 26 at the Vincennes Castle . They moved into Paris four days later. Henry V and Catherine celebrated Pentecost with lavish celebrations, to which Queen Isabeau was invited. The unfortunate Charles VI. but it dawned, lonely and sick, which circumstance the Parisians as well as the arrogance of the English registered with displeasure. Catherine and her husband visited Saint-Denis Abbey on June 11th and then continued their festivities in Senlis. But the illness of Henry V - he had at the siege of Meaux , the Ruhr suffered - now showed very strong symptoms. Catherine stayed in Senlis and was away from her husband in his last hours when he died in Vincennes on August 31, 1422.

Queen widow, relationship with Owen Tudor and death

Catherine and her court attended the splendid funeral procession of her husband, who arrived in Rouen on September 24, 1422 and reached Calais via Abbeville , Hesdin and Montreuil . There the remains of Henry V were embarked for England. A pompous funeral for the late king took place in Westminster Abbey on November 7th. Catherine later had a magnificent silver image erected for her husband's grave. She received extensive estates in England from Parliament as a Wittum.

Since on October 21, 1422 - just a few weeks after the death of the English king - Catherine's father Charles VI. the death had overtaken, the claim to the French and the English succession to the throne went to the barely one year old Henry VI. over. His mother Catherine was refused any participation in the government, which instead led the brothers of the late English king. In England, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester , ruled (with limited powers), and in the occupied territories of France, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford, ruled . The latter, however, had to fight against the French nationalist movement of Joan of Arc , whom he had executed in 1431.

In the first years of widowhood, Catherine's household consisted mainly of English servants. She was mainly concerned with raising her son. Usually it is only mentioned in the sources for representative tasks. For example, she accompanied her young son to parliamentary sessions, where he sat on her knee. In official documents she is usually referred to as "Queen of England, the King's mother". At Christmas 1423, James I , who was still imprisoned, was her guest at Hertford Castle . In 1424 she sought a settlement of the dispute between the dukes of Bedford and Gloucester. In 1425 she accompanied her son in the solemn procession to St Paul's Cathedral before the opening of Parliament.

But Catherine soon had a reputation for being a lively and passionate lady. As early as 1425 there were rumors of a love affair between the young widow. Her chosen one was Edmund Beaufort, who was just 19 years old. This was the nephew of Bishop Henry Beaufort , who was then again serving as Lord Chancellor of England. But marriage between this couple was undesirable because Edmund came from a lower social class than Catherine. A proposal made in 1426 by the House of Commons to allow queen widows to marry freely against payment of a fine probably referred to Catherine's liaison with Beaufort. On the other hand, an allusion to the already elderly widow of Henry IV, Johanna von Navarra , is less likely. In the year after next, this motion was rejected at the instigation of the Duke of Gloucester, who instead introduced a law that strictly forbade the marriage of queen widows without the consent of the king and his council. In the event of a violation, the queen's widow's husband should be completely expropriated.

From 1427 to 1429 Catherine lived at her son's court. At that time, too, she performed on public occasions, for example at the coronation of her son as English king on November 6, 1429.

Catherine's last - long kept secret - love affair was her liaison with one of her servants, the Welshman Owen Tudor . This connection became politically extremely important because the resulting grandson Henry VII was supposed to establish the rule of the new Tudor dynasty on the English throne in 1485 . Neither the time nor the circumstances of the first meeting between Catherine and Owen Tudor or the genesis of their relationship are known. Many legends later circulated on the subject. It is said that Catherine first became aware of Owen when he was dancing drunk in front of the courtyard, slipped and fell into her lap, or when she watched him swim with her ladies-in-waiting. There was even the theory that in reality she only loved Edmund Beaufort and wanted to save him from expropriation under the 1428 law by marrying the (relatively) poor Welshman instead. This secret morganatic marriage , which is not authenticated by any church or state document, was concluded sometime between 1428 and 1432 and was known to the royal court at the latter point in time, although it was only made public after Catherine's death. Owen Tudor had several children with Catherine (see below) and in 1432 received all rights of an Englishman.

The Queen Dowager suffered from a serious illness in her final months, retired to Bermondsey Abbey in London to recover and died there on January 3, 1437. Two days before her death, she had drawn up her will, which only Henry VI. as her offspring, while her second husband and the children he conceived were not mentioned with any syllable. Her book of hours with some prayers that she probably wrote herself was preserved.

Ancestor of the Tudor dynasty

Catherine's relationship with Owen Tudor is sure to have at least three children: Edmund and Jasper Tudor and a daughter Margaret, who died young. These children were considered inappropriate. Later invention is likely that another son named Owen died in 1502 as a monk of Westminster Abbey.

Edmund Tudor married Margaret Beaufort of the Beaufort family , a branch of the Lancaster . He died of the plague in captivity in 1456 . From the marriage between Edmund and Margaret of the Lancaster Heritage 1485 in the stems from the 1457-born Henry Tudor, Battle of Bosworth Field , Richard III. of York and when King Henry VII ended the Wars of the Roses . He married the York heiress Elizabeth , daughter of Edward IV. Both sons are the future King Henry VIII.

Catherine de Valois, daughter of a French king and granddaughter of a Bavarian duke, is thus the ancestor of the English Tudor dynasty. Her love affair with Owen Tudor was considered a scandal in her time.


Catherine's body was solemnly laid out in St. Katharine's Chapel by the Tower of London, then transferred to St Paul's Cathedral and finally buried in February 1437 in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey. Henry VI. had an altar tomb erected for her, the epitaph of which did not mention her marriage to Owen Tudor. Her grandson, King Henry VII, donated a new grave with an inscription duly describing this marriage. When the Lady Chapel was demolished, her loosely wrapped corpse was buried next to the grave of her first husband Heinrich V around 1503 and was often shown as a tourist attraction from the 16th to 18th centuries. On February 23, 1669, the English politician and diary author Samuel Pepys kissed the long-faded queen on the mouth on his 36th birthday, according to his own note. It was not until 1878, during the reign of Queen Victoria , that Catherine's body was properly buried under a marble altar plate in the votive chapel of Henry V and is still there today. A magnificent wooden grave painting used at her first burial is now on display in the Museum of Westminster Abbey.


Johann II.
Jutta from Luxembourg
Peter I of Bourbon
Isabelle de Valois
Stephan with the prisoner
Elisabeth of Sicily
Bernabò Visconti
Beatrice Regina della Scala
Charles V
Joan of Bourbon
Stephan III.
Taddea Visconti
Charles VI
Elisabeth of Bavaria-Ingolstadt
Catherine de Valois


First marriage to Heinrich V :

From the second marriage / affair with Owen Tudor :

Possible other children with Owen Tudor:


In the 1989 feature film Henry V , based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare , Henry V is portrayed by Kenneth Branagh and his wife Catherine by Emma Thompson .

In David Michôd's The King , Catherine is played by the French-American actress Lilly-Rose Depp .


  • Michael Jones: Catherine . In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography . Vol. 10, 2004, pp. 545-547.
  • Karen E. Mura: Catherine of Valois (1401-1437) . In: Women in World History . Vol. 3, 1999, pp. 548-551.

Web links

Commons : Catherine de Valois  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Michael Jones (see lit.), p. 546.
predecessor Office Successor
Joan of Navarre Queen Consort of England
Margaret of Anjou