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The King's Widow: Her Secret Lover

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Signing the Treaty for Catherine and Henry's Marriage—Isabeau of Bavaria and Charles VI at the Treaty of Troyes

Signing the Treaty for Catherine and Henry's Marriage—Isabeau of Bavaria and Charles VI at the Treaty of Troyes

The Neglected Young Princess

Catherine of Valois was born a princess of France on Oct 27, 1401, the daughter of King Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria. She spent her life as a neglected child of this royal couple.

King Charles often suffered from bouts of madness and was often referred to as “Charles the Mad” or sometimes the mad king. Meanwhile, her mother, Isabeau of Bavaria, would act as Regent for France in her husband’s place during his times of madness and rumors were that she was much more interested in her young lovers than her children.

Brothers and Sisters

Although King Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria had a total of twelve children only a handful of them lived to become adults. Some that did survive died early deaths. Three were given the name Charles and two were named Jeanne presumably after babies that had not lived very long.

  • Jeanne of Valois (two were named Jeanne)
  • Charles (three were named Charles)
  • John
  • Philip
  • Marie of Valois
  • Michelle of Valois
  • Dauphin Louis (brother)
  • Isabelle of Valois (Catherine’s older sister)

Catherine of Valois

Catherine being the youngest child was probably the most neglected. She certainly did not live the life of a fairy tale princess due to her father’s madness and mother’s lack of interest. Catherine did spend some of her young life growing up at Poissy Convent which was the basis for her religious education. Catherine was raised with the knowledge that she would be merely a pawn when it came to the choice of who her future husband would be. There had been negotiations since she was fairly young regarding a possible marriage to the future king of England, Henry V. I believe that like most young princesses of Europe she hoped for love and a family with her husband even though her marriage would be to whichever member of European royalty was most advantageous to France.

Peace Through Marriage

King Charles VI reign was filled with war (known as The Hundred Year Wars). One effort at achieving peace was through marriage. Isabelle, Catherine's older sister was married to England’s King Richard at a mere six years of age. The marriage was never consummated due to her young age and the early death of King Richard in 1400. She was held in England for some time after Richard’s death before she was allowed to return to France.

Wedding of King Henry V and Princess Catherine Valois

Wedding of King Henry V and Princess Catherine Valois

King Henry V

King Henry was a young man when he was crowned the king of England. During much of the time of his father, the royal English family had been fighting with France, which came to be known as the “One Hundred Years War”. King Henry V signed a treaty with France on May 21, 1420, in which he demanded that lands that had once belonged to England be returned. This was the Treaty of Troyes which also included Henry’s marriage to the young eighteen-year-old Catherine of Valois. A large dowry was also included in the marriage contracts.

King Henry V and Catherine of Valois were married on June 2, 1420, and Catherine was crowned queen of England in February 1421. The royal couple soon welcomed their only son Henry VI heir to both the English and France thrones. Their marriage proved to be a brief marriage when Henry V died in 1422 leaving a twenty-one-year-old widow and an infant son.

As Henry VI was only an infant at the time of his father’s death, the government was then controlled by his two uncles, the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Bedford. His mother, Queen Catherine was sent off to live quietly, first at Windsor Castle and later at Baynard’s Castle, with only a small household staff. Her brothers-in-law who were controlling England were concerned that if Catherine were to remarry, any new husband might influence the infant king and they would lose their power over the boy and England.

Forbidden to Love Again

The two dukes and the English parliament had certain ideas about just how this young widow and the mother of the boy king should conduct herself and how she should be allowed to live her life. Therefore, parliament passed a law that forbade Catherine from establishing romantic relationships and she was forbidden to marry again without parliament’s or her young son’s approval. Any man with a title or lands would lose both his title and his land if he were to marry King Henry V's widow. No man was willing to take the risk of angering parliament or losing their lands or titles. As her son was only a year old and would not be able to give his consent for years, Catherine's fate had just been sealed. She would never be allowed to return to France, love again, or have more children to love.

The Queen's Secret Love

But Catherine was lonely and very young. Catherine was only in her early twenties and wanted to love and marry again. She wanted more children also. However, she was shut away from society in a huge castle with little company other than those who were her servants. She was even deprived of her young son, the future king. Henry had nurses and governesses and was allowed little time with Catherine.

At some time, Catherine met and became involved with a young handsome Welsh gentleman who was in charge of the royal wardrobes who was in reality a high-ranking Welshman. Thus, the two of them began a secret love affair. Although there seems to be no record of their marriage, and though it was forbidden, Catherine and Owen were secretly married. A marriage that would produce more children for Catherine to love but would also have tragic endings for both Catherine and Owen. When the marriage came to light Catherine entered a nunnery and died a short time later. Owen would be captured and imprisoned. Owen eventually escaped prison and served with Catherine’s oldest son King Henry VI but was later captured by enemies of Henry VI and was beheaded in Hereford marketplace. He was buried in Hereford.

Catherine’s grandson would later become king making Catherine the wife of a king, the mother of another king, and the grandmother of the first Tudor king.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 L.M. Hosler


L.M. Hosler (author) on April 20, 2021:

Yes Catherine really did have a sad life as many of the women did during those times. There was a book that I read that was so interesting about her story that intrigued me. It was called "The Forbidden Queen". A good book worth reading.

Sp Greaney from Ireland on April 20, 2021:

That was so interesting. The poor woman went through a lot it seems. At least she has some happiness in her life even if it was only for a short period of time.