Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Sixth Catherine

On Friday, Catherine Middleton will be marrying into the British Royal Family and one day, God willing, becoming our country's queen consort and the sixth to be called Catherine. I have already blogged a little about this on my Popular blog, but I thought I would post some information here on the five other Queen Catherines in British history. And to wish everyone a great royal wedding day!

Catherine de Valois (1401 - 1437)
Queen of England 1420 - 1422

Wife of King Henry V and mother of King Henry VI

Married into the English Royal Family at the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Troyes, France on June 3rd 1420

Parents: Charles VI, King of France and his queen, Isabeau of Bavaria-Ingolstadt

Born: Hôtel Saint-Pol, Paris, October 27th 1401

Died: In childbirth at Saint Saviour Abbey, London on January 3rd 1437

Buried: Westminster Abbey, London

Immortalised in Shakespeare's play Henry V, Catherine de Valois was a picture perfect medieval princess, with ivory white skin, long golden hair and delicate, beautiful features. Her marriage to King Henry V in 1420 symbolised the English military triumph over France, although it survived only marginally longer than Catherine's own marriage. She was left a widow at the age of twenty-one following her husband's death on military campaign and she was sidelined from affairs of state by the regency council set up to rule in the name of her infant son, Henry VI. Bored and lonely, the Queen Mother later eloped with a Welsh chamberlain, Owen Tudor, and by him had three more sons and became the grandmother of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. Tragically, the so-called "bride of peace" died at the age of thirty-six and, as the king's mother, she was buried in Westminster Abbey. In a macabre twist, her body was exhumed during the reign of King Charles II and found to be perfectly preserved, whereupon the famed diarist, Samuel Pepys, stole a kiss from the dead queen's lips.

Katherine of Aragon (1485 - 1536)

Queen of England 1509 - 1533

First wife of King Henry VIII and mother of Queen Mary I

Married into the English Royal Family twice. Her first husband was Arthur, Prince of Wales, who she married at Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, on November 14th, 1501.  She later married King Henry VIII at the Church of the Observant Franciscans in Greenwich on June 11th, 1509.

Parents: Ferdinand V, King of Aragon and his wife Isabella I, Queen of Castile

Born: The Episcopal Palace at Alcala de Henares, Spain, on December 16th, 1485.

Died: Kimbolton Castle on January 7th 1536 of cancer

Buried: Saint Peter's Cathedral in Peterborough, England.

Katherine of Aragon was a Spanish princess who won her subsequent fame for being the first of Henry VIII's six wives and for her heroic stance against his divorce of her in the 1530s. Originally married to his brother, who died during an outbreak of the plague in 1502, Katherine's marriage to Henry was initially opposed on these grounds by various conservative clergymen, despite the Vatican's dispensation of Old Testament Law. The marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon was conventionally satisfactory by contemporary royal standards, with Katherine being well-equipped by both upbringing and personality to carry out the duties of a queen with dignity and confidence. A string of pregnancies ruined her figure and she was deeply humiliated when the King elevated his bastard son to the title of duke, which Katherine took as an insult to both her and her daughter, Princess Mary. She resisted Henry's attempts to divorce her in favour of Anne Boleyn - a stance which won her praise and condemnation in equal measure. She was praised for her tenacity and courage, but also later blamed for having allowed her attachment to her royal status blind her to the wider implications of her stance for the Catholic faith in England. A devout Roman Catholic, Katherine was horrified by her husband's break with Rome and the establishment of the independent Church of England. She was banished from court in 1531, stripped of her title in 1533 and she died with great dignity after an agonising battle with cancer in 1536.

For the death of Katherine's first husband, click HERE.
For Katherine's portrayal in movies and television, click HERE.
For an account of Katherine's own death in 1536, click HERE.

Catherine Howard (?1523 - 1542)
Queen of England 1540 - 1542

Fifth wife of King Henry VIII

Married into the English Royal Family at Oatlands Palace in Surrey on July 28th, 1540.

Parents: Lord Edmund Howard and his first wife, Lady Jocasta Howard (née Culpepper.)

Born: Sometime between 1522 and 1525 in southern England

Died: Executed in the Tower of London on February 13th, 1542

Buried: The Tower's chapel of Saint Peter-ad-Vincula

The eldest daughter of an impoverished aristocrat, Catherine was brought to court as a lady-in-waiting in 1539 through the patronage of her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Petite and flirtatious, she caught the attention of the middle-aged monarch almost immediately and he began making serious advances to her in the Easter of 1540. As soon as his divorce from his fourth queen was finalised that summer, he married Catherine in a private ceremony and immediately showered the young woman with gifts. Fun-loving and extravagant, Queen Catherine had no interest in politics, but her family had many enemies and when allegations concerning her private life surfaced in the autumn of 1541, those enemies capitalised on the scandal shamelessly. Allegations that Catherine had not been a virgin at the time of her marriage led to wider investigations and a letter discovered in the bedroom of the noted womaniser, Sir Thomas Culpepper, suggested that she had been unfaithful after the marriage too. Abandoned by friends and family, the poor girl was executed on a cold morning in February 1542.

For an account of Catherine's lavish fashion tastes, click HERE.
For the on screen portrayals of Catherine Howard, click HERE.
For an account of Catherine's execution in 1542, click HERE.

Katherine Parr (1512 - 1548)
Queen of England and Ireland 1543 - 1547

Sixth wife of King Henry VIII

Married into the English Royal Family at Hampton Court Palace on July 12th, 1543.

Parents: Sir Thomas Parr and his wife, Lady Maud Parr (née Green.)

Born: In 1512, probably in the south of England

Died: As a result of post-natal complications at Sudeley Castle on September 5th, 1548

Buried: Sudeley Castle Chapel

The daughter of two courtiers, Katherine was married twice before coming to court herself in 1543. Both marriages ended in widowhood but the Dowager Lady Latimer, as she was when Henry VIII began courting her, had a reputation for elegance, charm, intelligence and diplomacy. Despite this, her marriage to the King brought her many enemies, who despised her devotion to the Protestant faith. Her zeal in promoting evangelical theology almost lost her the King's favour and it was only by supplicating herself entirely to his will that she was able to survive the crisis. After Henry's death, she married again to the ambitious and seductive Lord High Admiral, Thomas Seymour, who broke her heart when he attempted to seduce (and possibly molest) her teenage stepdaughter, the future Queen Elizabeth. Pregnant with Seymour's child, Katherine died in childbirth at the age of thirty-six.

For Katherine's position as Queen of Ireland, click HERE.
For movie and television versions of Katherine, click HERE.
For an account of Katherine's death, click HERE.

Catherine of Braganza (1638 - 1705)
Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland 1662 - 1685

Wife of King Charles II

Married into the British Royal Family at the Church of Saint Thomas Becket in Portsmouth on May 22nd, 1662

Parents: João IV, King of Portugal and his queen, Maria-Luisa of Medina-Sidonia

BornVila Viçosa in Portugal on November 25th, 1638

DiedBelém Palace, Portugal on December 1st, 1705

BuriedThe Hieronymites Monastery, Belém, Portugal

Described by her mother-in-law, Queen Henrietta-Maria, as "a saint," Catherine was demure, gentle and devoutly Catholic. Her enormous dowry helped bolster the British Empire's expansion in India and she is credited with popularising the habit of drinking tea in England. However, her failure to produce a living child after four miscarriages led to calls from many courtiers and politicians for her to be set aside. This was something the King refused to do, despite his numerous public adulteries, which Catherine endured with great dignity. Despite her childlessness and his unfaithfulness, King Charles and Queen Catherine were relatively happy together and cared for one another deeply. She was faithful to him whilst he lived and to his memory after he died. Her quiet devotion to her Catholic faith led to her being targeted during the outburst of hysterical sectarianism known as the "Popish Plot," but as with the divorce crisis earlier in the reign, she weathered the drama gracefully. She may very well have been instrumental in helping with her husband's alleged deathbed conversion to Catholicism in 1685. The widowed Catherine returned to Portugal in 1692, after her religion again earned her public disapproval from the Protestant regime of William III and her niece, Mary II. Faced with the nervous breakdowns of her brother, King Pedro II, in 1701 and 1704, Catherine assumed the regency and lead the Portuguese government with great skill, despite having no formal political training. She was widely mourned when she died in 1705.

For an account of her husband's womanising, click HERE.


  1. Excellent summary, Gareth! I too hope they have a long and happy marriage and reign!

  2. Completely agree with the comment above!

    Can I just say how much I enjoy your blogs Gareth, your blog is one of the websites I regularly check on as I really enjoy your portrayals and presentations of Tudor history in particular. :)

    Can I ask, would you recommend a history degree? I am thinking of doing it at uni but many have said to me that it's a degree that doesn't enable one to easily get a job, it doesn't get you anywhere, etc. etc but it really interests me. The only problem is I'm only really interested in medieval/Tudor history - although I do enjoy some aspects of modern, such as Germany 1919-1945 - so should I become more interested in other aspects perhaps?

    Please give me some advice, much appreciated. And thanks for the blogs again! Can't wait for your bio on Anne.

  3. Thanks, Conor. That's really kind of you.

    Whoever is telling you this about history degrees is misleading you. History has one of the highest employment percentages in graduates, although few of them are in a historical profession. The skills a History degree teaches you - spelling, punctuation, grammar, skills of analysis, independent research and the forces of societal change, are invaluable and prized by many employers. It is recognised as a serious degree subject and one which many employers are pleased to see on an applicant's resume. In the United Kingdom, it has a 90%+ post-graduation employment rate, which puts it in favourable comparison to things like Law, to be perfectly honest.

    I read Modern History at Oxford and I loved it. I would absolutely recommend it.

  4. Actually, Queen Katherine Parr didn't die in childbirth. She died days after.

  5. As far as I was aware, until a queen formally left the birthing chamber, it was still regarded as childbed, but I could, of course, be wrong and I take the point that she didn't die while in the actual process of labour.


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