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On this day in history in 1401, was born Catherine of Valois.
Catherine was a French princess who married Henry V and, after his death, married Owen Tudor, whose descendants became the Tudor monarchs. It is said that Catherine suffered from a hereditary form of insanity, which was passed on to the mad king George III.
Catherine was born on 27th October 1401, in Paris, the daughter of the French king, Charles VI, known as Charles the Mad. Charles’ frequent bouts of lunacy had a calamitous effect on the administration of the French government, and Henry V of England took full advantage. Henry attacked and ravaged France and after victory at the Battle of Agincourt, he had the French government at his mercy. He forced Charles to disinherit his son, the Dauphin, nominate Henry as the next king of France, and give Henry his daughter as a bride. Henry and Catherine were married; they had a son Prince Henry, Later Henry VI, but sadly Catherine’s husband Henry V, died within two years of the marriage.
Catherine’s son, Henry VI, came to the throne as an infant, with his uncles as Regents. With her husband dead and her son on the throne, Catherine was isolated from the court and placed into the care of a young Welsh courtier, Owen Tudor. The couple secretly married in 1429, and had five children. Their eldest son Edmund Tudor was created Earl of Richmond and his son, Henry, eventually succeeded to the throne as Henry VII.
When Catherine’s son, Henry VI, became an adult, he frequently displayed symptoms of insanity. On occasions, he forgot who he was and could not recognise his wife or son. It was suspected that he had inherited his madness, through Catherine, from his grandfather Charles VI of France. Nearly four centuries later, George III began to exhibit the same symptoms of madness as Henry VI had done, despite the fact that he was not a direct descendant of Henry. It is possible, even probable, that latent insanity had been carried in the Royal genes over several generations, until it manifested itself in Mad King George.
Catherine died on 3rd January 1437, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. When her grandson, Henry VI, came to the throne, he had Catherine’s alabaster effigy and the stonework over the tomb, removed from the Abbey, leaving no visible memorial. He possible did this in order to distance himself from Catherine and disguise his dubious claim to the throne. In later years, Catherine’s coffin lid became disengaged and her body exposed to view. Samuel Pepys in his diary writes: ‘On Shrove Tuesday 1669, I to the Abbey went, and by favour did see the body of Queen Katherine of Valois, and had the upper part of the body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it that I did kiss a queen.’
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