Thursday, February 28, 2013

An Unfortunate End for a Remarkable Queen of England

by Anne O'Brien

This is a short and sombre post about Katherine de Valois' tragic death and its aftermath, to mark the release of The Forbidden Queen in the UK today, 1st march, 2013.

Katherine died 3rd January 1437 at Bermondsey Abbey as shown here.  It no longer exists except for its foundations under the streets of London.

She was clearly ill as she herself had commented: 'in grievous malady, in which I have been long, and yet am troubled and vexed.'  She had already made her will on the 1st January, appointing her son Henry VI as executor, and the execution of it to be supervised by Cardinal Beaufort and the Duke of Gloucester (Henry V's uncle and brother) and Bishop Alnwick of Lincoln.

She was 36 years old.  Were her problems mental or physical?  It seems that some of her servants secured favourable bequests from her - far too favourable - which were annulled afterwards, so perhaps she was too open to suggestion in those final weeks.  Perhaps it was the fragility of mind that had struck down her father and was to affect her son.  It has been suggested that she suffered from cancer, and she may have been pregnant with a baby that was born and died at Bermondsey.  We have no clear evidence.

Katherine was buried in Westminster Abbey. 

Here is a wooden likeness of her carved for her funeral procession.  It can be seen in the museum at Westminster Abbey.  Around the head is a light groove where once a crown would have been attached.  We can presume that it is a good likeness of her.  I think that she looks frail, although the long Valois features are striking.

Katherine was not allowed to lie in peace and it is a tale of neglect and terrible insensitivity.  When Henry Tudor became king as Henry VII, he replaced the original inscription on his grandmother's grave, which made no mention of her second marriage to Owen Tudor, with one that did.

In 1503 or thereabouts, during some rebuilding at the abbey, Katherine's body, loosely wrapped in lead, was taken from the original tomb and placed in Henry V's tomb, but it appears to have been openly on view there in its embalmed form.  Shockingly to our eyes, until the 18th century, it was often on display as a curiosity.  On 23rd February 1669 the diarist Samuel Pepys was allowed 'by particular favour' to take Katherine's body into his hands and he 'planted a kiss on her mouth reflecting upon it that I did kiss a queen and that it was my birthday.'  
It is a macabre thought.

This is Henry V's tomb.  The figure is original but the head has been replaced more recently.

In 1776 the dean of Westminster at last ordered Katherine's reburial but the corpse was still visible in 1793.  It was not until 1878 that she finally arrived at her present resting place in Henry V's chantry, as shown here.

The inscription for her on the altar can be translated:
'Under this slab (once the altar of this chapel) for long cast down and broken up by fire, rest at last, after various vicissitudes, finally deposited here by command of Queen Victoria, the bones of Catherine de Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France, wife of Henry V, mother of Henry VI, grandmother of Henry VII, born 1400, crowned 1421, died 1438.'

The date of her death is wrong, but at least Katherine has been allowed peace at last.  It is what she deserved, to rest with dignity and seemliness.

Do join me on Facebook to keep up to date with Katherine and the release date for the US

My novel The Forbidden Queen is now available in the UK.


  1. Fascinating - looking forward to the book!

  2. Fascinating indeed, Anne. I knew very little about her life (to my shame).


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