Monday, 27 October 2014

The day the Tudors started

The Tudor dynasty took the throne of England in 1485 but their beginnings were in France on this date in 1401.  For on that October day, a princess was born to the King and Queen of France and her destiny was to marry a famous king and then begin an even more celebrated line with her second husband, one of her servants.  Katherine of Valois, Queen of England, was born on October 27th 1401.

Katherine of Valois was queen consort of England between 1420 and 1422

Katherine, Princess of France was the daughter of King Charles VI and the wife of Henry V. Her son, Henry VI, succeeded to both the English and French thrones, But had that been the end of Katherine's contribution to history, she wouldn't be nearly so interesting.  Her father was more commonly called Charles the Mad because of his steadily increasing mental health problems. Today, King Charles would receive help for his health issues which led him to believe that he was made of glass.  In 15th century Europe, he was just looked at with incredulity while his family and advisers went to war over his kingdom.

Charles VI, King of France, was known first as the Beloved and then as the Mad

Katherine was one of six princesses born to the king and his ambitious wife, Isabeau of Bavaria. Those who survived to adulthood were expected to do what all royal girls did and marry for politics to help shore up their dynasty's power.  Catherine's eldest sister, Isabella, had been Queen of England briefly when she wed Richard II a few years before his deposition - the bride was six at the time. She later married the Duke of Orleans while another sister, Joan, married the Duke of Brittany and a third, Michelle, wed the Duke of Burgundy. Catherine was the youngest of the girls and by the time she was ready for marriage, her father and his court were desperate for peace in the war being fought against the new King of England, Henry V.  The Treaty of Troyes did end the fighting and it also made Katherine a queen - part of the deal was her marriage to Henry V and his recognition as heir to the throne of France.

The wedding that turned a princess into a queen and a king into the heir to his rival's crown - Katherine of Valois marries Henry V in 1420

At that point, a long career as consort to a man already carving himself a reputation as a medieval powerhouse and great king in the making seemed to be in store for Katherine.  She gave birth to a son, Henry in December 1421 - everything was going according to plan.  Her baby guaranteed the future of two kingdoms and the glory of the Lancastrian dynasty.  Less than a year later, her husband and father were dead and her nine month old son was King of England and France.  Just like his grandfather, baby Henry found himself surrounded by relatives and advisers who were bent on winning power no matter what.  Katherine was pushed to the sidelines, destined to become a royal footnote as a long widowhood beckoned, and England and France went to war once more.

Henry V's premature death in 1422 made his baby son king

But Katherine was far from quiet as events unfolded around her.  She first began a flirtation with Edmund Beaufort which so worried those around her that a law was passed requiring a queen dowager to obtain the permission of the king himself before she could marry.  That didn't deter Katherine.  In her stubborness, her secrecy and her striving for a life of her own she began the dynasty that would take England as its own.  For soon after that law was passed, Katherine the Queen met Owen Tudor, who worked in her household and by 1431 they had a son.  Through this boy, Edmund, they became the matriarch and patriarch of the Tudors.

Henry VII, son of Edmund Tudor, became King of England in 1485

Katherine's life after the death of her first husband was controversial and sometimes put her at risk. So it's no surprise that this tenacious and ambitious woman should give rise to a dynasty that took risk taking to new heights.  Katherine died in 1437 when her Tudor sons were all still small but within fifty years her grandson sat on the throne as another King Henry. The bright Tudor rose would dominate England for over a century - it still looms large in history today. And it all began on October 27th 1401 in Paris where a baby princess called Katherine made her debut and began a story that would change two countries forever.

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