Anne O Brien
Posted on February 21, 2013
Henry V and Katherine de Valois. A fairy take marriage? Where is the evidence?
My Giveaway is now closed. Thank you to all who enjoyed Katherine and Henry and left a comment.
I will post the names of the two fortunate winners of a copy of The Forbidden Queen at the beginning of next week.
The Love Affair That Never Was
To mark the release of The Forbidden Queen, my novel of Katherine de Valois, in the UK and Australia on 1st March, 2013, I am hosting a giveway of 2 copies, to be won internationally. If you are intrigued by Katherine as much as I am, please leave your comments at the end.
William Shakespeare has a lot to answer for. Did he not turn Richard III into a monster with a hunched back and withered arm? Now we have to reconsider the curvature of the spine of course, but the jury is still out on whether Richard was quite as monstrous and bloodthirsty. Here is not the place for such a discussion. That's all another story ...
But similarly, the love scenes which Shakespeare wrote for Henry V and Katherine de Valois, in Henry V, were exceptional and truly romantic.
There is witchcraft on your lips, Kate.
So Henry expresses his feelings for her, and kisses her.
But was this true? Was this a fairytale marriage between two beautiful people?
There is some slight evidence, I admit, which suggests that this might have been the case. When they first met at Meulan in June 1419 when Henry, on record, gallantly kissed his betrothed, was this a matter of love at first sight? When they married at Troyes in May 1420, Henry looked as if he were 'King of all the World.' And without doubt they were attractive people, both tall and fair and good to look at. He was the experienced hero of Agincourt, she the innocent and most appealing young princess.
But is that the only evidence to hang this great love affair on? Was it a match made in heaven? I think not. And there is considerable evidence to weigh against it in the balance.
Henry had offered marriage to more than one of Katherine’s sisters before he actually got round to her, so it was obviously not a long-standing passion. Katherine was his final option because these older sisters were unavailable, being married, betrothed or having taken the veil. Katherine's sister Isabella, widow of Richard II, had refused point-blank to wed Henry when the match was proposed by Henry's father, King Henry IV. Katherine was by no means Henry's first choice - rather his last of the Valois girls.
Henry was loathe to put Katherine’s hand before financial or territorial gain. In his first negotiations he demanded a dowry 2,000,000 crowns to accompany Katherine to England and refused to consider marriage when Katherine’s father could only offer 800,000.
The timescale of their life together does not suggest a great passion which dominated all else:
Married in June 1420 in Troyes, Henry could barely wait to return to the war front. On the following day, after the ceremony, Henry abandoned the celebratory tournament – which was Katherine’s right and tradition - and immediately set off to lay siege to Sens. Katherine did not get her celebration.
From June until December, Katherine became an army wife for the period of her honeymoon, living for some of it with her parents in accommodation near the besieged towns – although Henry did send for two harps from England and ordered music to be played outside her house every morning. How much time they actually spent together is up for debate. Henry was engaged with the sieges. Katherine did not become pregnant.
Travelling to Paris and then Rouen, the happy couple returned to England in February 1421. Henry left Katherine at Canterbury while he went on to London to arrange the reception. When she was crowned in Westminster Abbey, Henry did not attend. This may have been customary but there is no doubt that the pair spent little time together in these early weeks in England.
After the coronation, Henry left Katherine to go on a fundraising progress through Bristol and the West Midlands. Katherine remained in London, only joining him at Leicester at Easter. We know that they travelled together through Lincoln, York and Beverley, but then Katherine returned to London via Stamford, Huntingdon, Cambridge and Colchester while Henry continued alone.
By June, Katherine was pregnant and Henry, no doubt staisfied that he had secured an heir for England, left her to go back to war. They had spent all of five months together in England although ‘together’ is a moot point. Henry never returned to England. They never lived together again in the whole of their marriage of 26 months, only meeting up briefly in France in May 1422.
Katherine gave birth to their son Henry at Windsor in December 1421. Henry never saw him. He ordered Mass to be said in celebration.
In the following year Katherine went to France. Was it in desperation to see him again? They were reunited briefly in May 1422 – for a very short time until Henry returned to the war front, planning another campaign of sieges.
Henry died in August 1422 at Vincennes. He knew he was dying for at least three weeks, spending his lucid moments with his brother Bedford and uncle Henry Beaufort, setting up the Regency for his baby son in great detail. He never sent for Katherine during all that time, although she was within easy travelling distance. She was not aware, until news of his death arrived.
His last words were not for her. He spoke of his thwarted intention to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and then presumably in agony and delerium he cried out: 'Though liest, thou liest! My portion is with the Lord Jesus Christ.' Katherine was not in his mind over all those final weeks.
A grand passion? I don’t think so!
So Henry looked as if he were King of all the World at his marriage?
If this is the only proof we have of a glorious love affair it is poor stuff. Of course he would look overjoyed Katherine’s dower that she brought with her to her marriage was not 2,000,000 crowns but something of far greater value to Henry. She brought the Kingdom of France. Katherine’s brother Charles, the Dauphin, was disinherited. Instead Henry’s son would inherit France. The marriage for Henry was a diplomatic triumph. he would assuredly have wed Katherine if she had been the ugliest princess in Christendom.
Therefore, I suggest that existing evidence points to this important marriage not being the culmination of a love affair, nor the beginning of one. Henry was a driven man, his whole ambition being fixed on the need to secure France as an English possession. Katherine fitted into the same category: she was a necessary step towards English power in France.
My sympathies are definitely with Katherine.
If you wish to win a copy of my novel of Katherine de Valois, The Forbidden Queen, please leave a comment and an email address. Click on 'Click here to read Comments' and leave your message. Two fortunate winners will receive a signed copy of The Forbidden Queen.
The Giveaway is international and will run until Friday, 1st March when the novel is officially released and I will post the lucky winners.
Good Luck to all lovers of historical fiction!
Posted on January 13, 2013
My Thoughts on Writing about Katherine de Valois, and how my novel developed to beome a novel of love and loss, fulfilment and tragedy.
Categories: Katherine de Valois: The Forbidden Queen,
My Thoughts on Writing about Katherine de Valois.
My previous novels – touching on the lives of Anne Neville, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Alice Perrers – have all included more than a pinch of background politics and national events. It is something that I enjoy, working the ‘history’ into the lives of my protagonists. And all three of these historical women were, to a greater or lesser extent, political animals. Katherine de Valois did not fit easily into this past experience.
When I began to write about Katherine de Valois in the first person, I realised that if I wished to keep this format, this novel would of necessity have limitations on the content, outside the life of the heroine. I had to accept what The Forbidden Queen could not be, and as I continued writing it became even clearer. So this is what the novel is not:
- It is not a novel about the Hundred Years War.
- It is not a political comment on the difficulties faced by a country under the minority rule of Henry VI.
- It is not a novel explaining the growth of powerful families and the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses.
- It is not a discussion of the problems of the Valois under Charles VI, with the resurgence of Charles VII under Joan of Arc and the ultimate defeat of the English.
All these are aspects of quite a different novel. It would be unrealistic to see them through Katherine's eyes, because Katherine, quite frankly, was untouched by most if not all of these issues. If I wrote a political novel, Katherine would be a mere on-looker for most of it – and not even that, since she was kept secluded from much that was going on in England both before and after Henry's death. This would not make an appealing novel. Katherine would spend most of her time explaining what she had heard and what she had been told by someone else ...
This is a scene of the magnificant marriage of Henry and Katherine at Troyes in France in 1420, undoubtedly the highlight of Katherine's political career. And one in which, like many other royal wives, she merely played the required role.
So why was she so uninvolved?
Katherine’s lifestyle was narrow and protected until the 1430s. Her interests as far as we know were domestic. Appallingly neglected as a child, she received little education in the convent at Poissy, and played the role of most princesses in the marriage stakes, to cement an alliance with a potentially hostile country - England. Katherine had of course no influence in this. We do not even know what she thought about it - not that it would have made any difference to the marriage. She is often portrayed as a beautiful young woman who was not very bright, which might simply indicate that she played no role other than a ceremonial one. She certainly does not seem to have had any political interest or knowledge of the country of which she would be Queen.
This, of course, is Henry V. I imagine Katherine was both seduced and dominated by him. He was older - 33 to her 19 - more experienced, confident, with the reputation as an English hero who had created the bloodbath at Agincourt, and was quite focused on his desire to take the French throne. Katherine did not stand a chance of winning his attention other than to conceive a child. He had already offered marriage to some of her sisters. By 1420 Katherine was the only one left unwed or not a nun.
Should we have expected more of this young woman? It is true that some royal wives developed political acumen as they matured and took on a role in government either at the side of their husband or independently. They supported causes, they promoted marriage alliances, they received petitioners and spoke for their interests. Their assigned role, to support and bolster royal power, gave a pattern to their days and a demand on their time.
This is not what Katherine de Valois did.
Here she is in the portrait by Alma Tadema from his series on Shakespearian heroines. He has given her much charm but she does not look a strong character. In effect, Katherine had the title, wore the robes of state and stood at her young son’s side as Queen Mother when he appeared infrequently in public, but that was the limit of her involvement. Nothing else was expected of her, and she appears to have little interest in carving out a role for herself. When she was able to take the initiative in the 1430s to live as she chose, the choice she made was to retire from public life, to live quietly away from the public eye. When politics encroached on her life, and stopped any possibility of a marriage to Edmund Beaufort, she became a victim, not a protagonist.
This likeness of Katherine taken from her features in death and used at her funeral (it can be seen in the museum at Westminster Abbey) sums it up for me. She is vulnerable and introspective with her heavy lidded eyes and elongated features. But none the less she was capable of inspiring love in Owen Tudor.
So what are we left with?
Presumably dazzled by her royal suitor, Katherine played her part successfully in her brief marriage with Henry V and the even briefer time she actually spent with him, by giving birth to a son and smiling at the crowds when she joined Henry on his royal progress in 1422. Left a widow at 21 with no power and no official position assigned to her in the rearing and education of her young son other than the title Queen Dowager and Queen Mother, Katherine remained obscure, destined to a ceremonial widowhood at her son’s side to enhance the boy’s claim to the Valois throne. Nor is there any evidence that she had any interest in events in France. Her only visit after Henry’s death was for the coronation of young Henry VI - he was ten years old - as King of France.
The knowledge we have of Katherine in the late 1420s and 1430s is of an entirely personal nature.
- Lacking the political wisdom that might have shown her the foolishness of her actions, she became infatuated with Edmund Beaufort, sufficiently that marriage was mooted – with the obvious repercussions.
- Prevented from this dangerous step, Katherine fell in love with Owen Tudor, an astonishing liaison between a Dowager Queen and a disenfranchised Welshman who was a servant in her own household. She loved him enough to marry him
So this is Katherine’s story, as told in The Forbidden Queen. A coming of age novel of a young girl who obeyed the demands of her family, suffered increasing isolation, but ultimately grew up. Not politics, not foreign policy, not struggles for power, but the story of a young woman caught in the grip of dynastic aggrandisement
It is a very personal story. A love story. And ultimately a tragic one.
I will leave it with this more modern romantic image of Henry wooing Katherine. A delightful image - even though I would question its authenticity. I would like to think that this royal marraige brought her some happiness, if only that of a much loved son.
If you would like to leave a comment about Katherine or the ups and downs of writing historical fiction, click on 'Click here to read Comments'
The Forbidden Queen is released in the UK on 1st March, 2013.
Posted on December 12, 2012
A guest blog by the talented author of medieval historical fiction,David Pilling, whose new novel The Half-Hanged Man is just released. Welcome David.
Anne has very kindly allowed me a guest spot on here to talk about The Half-Hanged Man, my tale set during the Hundred Years War.
I've wanted to write a novel set during the latter half of the 14th century for a long time. Even by medieval standards, this was a brutal and bloody era, with much of Europe plunged into dynastic wars. England under her warrior-king, Edward III, was at war with France and Scotland, and Spain and Italy were riven by internal conflicts. The constant fighting and general chaos offered rich pickings to savvy mercenary captains such as Sir John Hawkwood, Bertrand du Guesclin, Hugh Calveley and Robert Knolles, all of whom succeeded in making a fat profit while Christendom burned.
"The Half-Hanged Man" is the story of one such captain, though a fictional one. His name is Thomas Page and like many of his peers he is a commoner, destined to rise to brief greatness by virtue of wielding a nifty sword. The book also follows the story of his lover, the Spanish courtesan known as the Raven of Toledo, and the narrative of Hugh Calveley, a particularly ruthless soldier and black-armoured giant with flaming red hair and incisors he had specially sharpened to terrify the French!
Throw into the mix are any number of battles and sieges, including the Battle of Auray in 1364, where the Franco-Bretons and Anglo-Breton armies hammered the life out of each other for possession of the Duchy of Brittany. The Battle of Najéra is also included, as told from Calveley’s perspective.
Below is an excerpt of his narrative...
“I led my portion of the rearguard across the open ground to the right of the prince’s battalion, and surged into the first company of Castilian reinforcements as they tried to arrange into a defensive line. They were well-equipped foot with steel helms and leather jacks, glaives and axes, but demoralised and unwilling to stand against a charge of heavy horse. I skewered a serjeant in the front rank with my lance and rode over him as the men behind him scattered, yelling in fear and hurling their banners away as they ran.
If all the Castilians had behaved in such a manner, we would have had an easy time of it, but now Enrique flung his household knights into the fray. It had started to rain heavily, sheets of water blown by strong winds across the battlefield, and a phalanx of Castilian lancers on destriers came plunging out of the murk, smashing into the front rank of my division. A lance shattered against my cuisse, almost knocking me from the saddle, but I kept my seat and slashed at the knight with my broadsword as he hurtled past, chopping an iron leaf from the chaplet encircling his basinet, but doing no other damage.
My men held together under the Castilian charge, and soon there was a fine swirling mêlée in progress. I was surrounded by visored helms and glittering blades, men yelling and horses screaming, and glimpsed my standard bearer ahead of me, shouting and fending off two Castilians with the butt of his lance. Another Englishman rode in to help him, throwing his arms around one of the Castilians and heaving him out of the saddle with sheer brute strength. A fresh wave of steel and horseflesh, thrown up by the violent, shifting eddies of battle, closed over them and shut off my view.
I couldn’t bear to lose my banner again, and charged into the mass of fighting men, clearing a path with the sword’s edge. A mace or similar hammered against my back-plate, sending bolts of agony shooting up my spine. My foot slipped out of the stirrup as I leaned drunkenly in the saddle, black spots reeling before my eyes.”
Intrigued? See the links to the Kindle and paperback below: