Catherine of Valois is yet more proof that being born a Princess isn’t all it is cracked up to be. She was born on 27 October 1401, the youngest daughter of Charles VI of France (who was intermittently mad as a march hare) and his queen Isabeau of Bavaria. France was being ripped to shreds by civil war and English invasions. Her older sister Isabella had gone to England as a little girl to marry Richard II in 1396, but she was returned to her parents in 1399 after Richard was deposed by his cousin, Henry IV. Now the usurper’s son, Henry V, was in France and decimating the countryside in his attempts to take the French throne.
Two days before Catherine’s 14th birthday in 1415, Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt (worst birthday gift ever!) and started marching toward Paris. What was he going to do to her parents? What would become of Catherine when the English monarch stormed the city?
Well, as fortune would have it, Catherine was very pretty as well as being a king’s daughter.
Henry IV had made overtures for her marriage to heir before his death, and now that heir saw Catherine with his own eyes and the 29 year old Henry V became besmitten with the 13 year old girl and wanted her for his bride, along with a huge dowry and a promise that he get the French crown. However, Henry wasn’t a complete skank. Even after all the agreements had been hammered out he waited until 2 June 1420 to marry the now 19 year old bride.
A few months later Henry brought his new wife to England and she was crowned queen in Westminster Abbey on 23 February 1421. Henry promptly got Catherine pregnant and made plans to return to France to wage war on her brother for their first anniversary.
They were so romantic back then, no?
On 6 December 1421 Catherine gave birth to the Prince of Wales, who became Henry VI before his first birthday when his father died of dysentery on 31 August 1422 while fighting in France. Unfortunately the baby had inherited his French grandfather’s mental illness and would be overthrown, but that wasn’t during Catherine’s lifetime so we’ll not discuss such a tragic subject on her birthday.
Catherine was now a beautiful, 20 year old widow and the English regents for the infant king were obsessed with preventing her from getting remarried and using her womb. They kept a close eye on her, worried about every well-born man in the country. They not only passed a law to prevent her from marrying without the king’s permission, they tried to keep Catherine away from ‘worthy’ men who might be willing to marry her at the loss of their lands. Meanwhile, a handsome young Welshmen who worked in her household named Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur – a veritable “nobody” from the English perspective — swooped in and seduced the queen, theoretically marrying her in secret and certainly getting her knocked up in 1430.
The joke was on the English, though. The scruffy Welshman was a descendant of Welsh nobility equal to any. The man the English referred to as Owen Tudor was the grandson of Tudur ap Goronwy and Margaret ferch Tomos, so his maternal great-grandfather was Thomas ap Llywelyn ab Owain of Cardiganshire, the last male of the princely house of Deheubarth. It was this linage that gave Owen’s cousin, Owain Glyndŵr, the right to be declared the Last Prince of Wales.
Before Catherine died 3 January 1437 she and Owen had a total of three sons and one daughter who would live to adulthood. Edmund was born in 1430, Jasper in 1431, Owen in 1432, and a final sister of uncertain nomenclature who became a nun and died at a young age. Faced with the existence if Catherine and Owen’s growing family the king’s regents gave in and in May of 1432 Parliament granted Owen the rights of an Englishman.
Apparently Henry VI loved his half-brothers and his mother’s husband, and they loved him. Henry made Edmund the Earl of Richmond on 15 December 1449 and later married him to the heiress Margaret Beaufort, grand-daughter of John of Gaunt and thus great-granddaughter of Edward III. Margaret was a child bride but Edmund broke with custom and consummated his marriage anyway, resulting in the birth of his son Henry on 28 January 1457 when Margaret was only 13 years old. Edmund died before Henry was born and Margaret was married off again, but she never had another child. It was assumed she had been damaged internally by her childhood pregnancy.
Jasper, who had become Earl of Pembroke on 23 November 1452, took charge of his young sister-in-law and devoted himself to the care of his infant nephew.
Owen theoretically became a monk and took on the psudenom Edward Bridgewater during the War of the Roses.
When Richard 3rd Duke of York rebelled against Henry VI and usurped his throne, the king’s Tudor half-brother Jasper and step-father Owen fought valiantly for him. Nonetheless, Jasper and Owen’s forces were defeated in January 1461 at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross by Edward of York (future King Edward IV). Owen was captured and beheaded, but Jasper escaped and fled to France with his small nephew. More than 20 years later, in August of 1485, Jasper and his nephew killed King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and Henry Tudor – grandson of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois – became King Henry VII.
Thus Catherine’s grandson sat on the throne of England after all, even though he wasn’t the offspring of her son by Henry V. The rise of Henry VII also fulfilled the supposed prophecy of Welsh mystic Myrddin Wyllt (turned into Merlin the Wizard in the Arthurian legends) that a Prince of Wales (which he was through the mother of Owen Tudor) would one day be crowned King of England. The Tudor dynasty had begun.