Catherine was born in 1401, the youngest daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria. Her older sister Isabella was Richard II’s second queen. Early in her life there was discussion of marrying her to Henry IV’s son but he died before negotiations could begin. The new king, Henry V, also proposed the match but he demanded a large dowry and acknowledgement of his right to the throne in France.
Henry went to war with France but plans for the marriage still continued even after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Catherine was known to be very beautiful and when Henry met her at Meulan he became enamored of her. In May 1420 a peace treaty was made between England and France in which Henry was acknowledged as Charles’ heir and Catherine married him in June.
Catherine returned to England with Henry and was crowned queen in Westminster Abbey in February 1421. In June of that same year Henry returned to France to continue his campaign. By the time he left Catherine was pregnant and gave birth to a son, Henry, in December. Catherine was made a queen dowager less than a year after the birth of her son when her husband died in August 1422 of dysentery in France.
Catherine’s youth was a concern to her brother-in-law, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector, as she was still marriageable. To prevent Catherine’s marrying without permission, the Parliament of 1427-8 introduced a bill setting the rules for the remarriage of a queen dowager. The bill stated that if she married without the king’s consent, the husband would lose his lands and possessions. It also stipulated the king could only grant permission once he had reached his majority. At the time the bill was written Henry VI was only 6.
Catherine lived in the king’s household, presumably to care for him. However, this arrangement also allowed the councilors to watch over the queen herself. Despite the surveillance, Catherine began a romantic relationship with the Welshman Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudor who served as her clerk of the wardrobe. The two soon became inseparable despite the danger of them being exposed. Unable to stay at court, Catherine retreated from court life into the countryside. She and Owen secretly married on an unknown date in the early 1430s. Catherine managed to conceal the marriage and the birth of her sons, Edmund, Jasper, and Owen by living in complete retirement.
In 1436, when she was pregnant with her fifth child, rumors of Catherine’s secret marriage reached the Duke of Gloucester. Finding this to be true, he swiftly punished her. He dissolved her household, sent her children away, and imprisoned Owen in Newgate. Catherine herself was sent to Bermondsey Abbey. The heavily pregnant Catherine was gravely ill by this time and distressed by the separation from her family. She soon gave birth to a daughter, Margaret, who died shortly after birth. Catherine never recovered from the birth and she died in January 1437.
She was laid in state at St. Catherine’s Chapel at the Tower of London and later buried in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey. (x)