Researching the Tudors (Guest Post)

Today we welcome best-selling author, Tony Riches, whose newest book, “Henry” (from his Tudor Trilogy) has reached #1 on Amazon. Congratulations to Tony!

Researching the Tudor Trilogy – Tony Riches

The idea for the Tudor Trilogy came to me when I began looking into the life of Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who married a queen, and was surprised to find there were no books offering a full picture of his amazing story.  I soon found out why, as the known facts of Owen Tudor’s life are so sparse. There are no images of him and even his name is sometimes written as ‘Tidder’ or ‘Tetyr’ and was probably Owain ap Maredudd ap Tewdwror).

As my research progressed I began to collect fascinating details of the lives of Owen’s sons, Edmund and Jasper. I realised that if I planned it as a trilogy, Henry Tudor would be born in the first book, come of age in the second and become King of England in the final book.

The research for the first book, OWEN, consisted mostly of reading about the well documented life of his wife, Queen Catherine of Valois. Although there are plenty of references to their marriage I found no real evidence – so it seems to have happened in secret. I had to piece together the details of Owen’s life by cross-checking different sources, then try to ‘fill in the gaps’ from other records of the period. As an example of how tricky that was, here’s a contemporary account of how Owen met his end from The Chronicle of William Gregory:

Ande in that jornay was Owyn Tetyr i-take and brought unto Herforde este, an he was be heddyde at the market place, and hys hedde sette a-pone the hygheyste gryce of the market crosse, and a madde woman kembyd hys here and wysche a way the blode of hys face, and she gate candellys and sette a-boute hym brennynge, moo then a C. Thys Owyne Tytyr was fadyr unto the Erle of Penbroke, and hadde weddyd Quene Kateryn, Kyng Harry the VI. ys modyr, wenyng and trustyng all eway that he shulde not be hedyd tylle he sawe the axe and the blocke, and whenn that he was in hys dobelet he trustyd on pardon and grace tylle the coler of hys redde vellvet dobbelet was ryppyd of. Then he sayde, “That hede shalle ly on the stocke that was wonte to ly on Quene Kateryns lappe,” and put hys herte and mynde holy unto God, and fulle mekely toke hys dethe.

(Source: British History Online)

Owen’s first son Edmund died from wounds or a form of bubonic plague while in prison in November 1456, two months before Margaret Beaufort gave birth to Henry in Pembroke Castle.  I visited the scene of Edmund’s death at Carmarthen Castle and found only the gatehouse remains, as the castle was largely demolished to build a Victorian Prison.

Fortunately, Edmund’s tomb was rescued from Carmarthen Priory during the dissolution, so I was able to visit it at St David’s Cathedral, although even there it wasn’t safe. Stripped of its finery by Oliver Cromwell’s army in the seventeenth century, the tomb was restored in 1873 with an engraved brass representing Edmund Tudor by Thomas Waller.

Edmund Tudor’s tomb in St David’s Cathedral ©Tony Riches

It was left to Edmund’s younger brother to continue the story of the Tudors in the second book of the trilogy, JASPER. Now my research became easier, as he was based at Pembroke Castle (in the town where I was born) and owned a house in Tenby, close to where I now live. I was also able to get a sense of the sort of man Jasper was from his letters which still survive, such as this one, written on the 25th of February 1461, three weeks after the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross:

To the right-trusty and well-beloved Roger à Puleston, and to John Eyton, and to either of them. Right-trusty and well-beloved Cousins and frinds, we grete you well. And suppose that yee have well in yor remembrance the great dishonor and rebuke that we and yee now late have by traytors Marche, Harbert, and Dunns, with their affinityes, as well in letting us of our Journey to the Kinge, as in putting my father yor Kinsman to the death, and their trayterously demeaning, we purpose with the might of our Lord, and assistance of you and other our kinsmen & frinds, within short time to avenge. Trusting verily that yee will be well-willed and put your hands unto the same, and of your disposicon, with your good advice therein we pray you to ascertayne us in all hast possible, as our especiall trust is in you. Written at our towne of Tenbye the xxvth of ffeu’r.


(Source Welsh Journals No. II April 1846)

Eventually the Yorkists forced Jasper and the young Henry Tudor to flee for their lives. The secret tunnel they used to reach the harbour still exists, so I was able to see it for myself and walk in their footsteps deep under the streets of Tenby.

‘Secret’ Tunnel under Tenby ©Tony Riches

I’ve sailed from Tenby harbour many times, including at night, so have a good understanding of how they might have felt as they slipped away to Brittany. Rather than follow their course around Land’s End I chose to sail on the car ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo in Brittany, where I began to retrace the Tudor’s time in exile.

I’ve read that little happened during those fourteen years but of course Brittany was where Henry would come of age and begin to plan his return. Starting at the impressive palace of Duke Francis of Brittany in Vannes, I followed the Tudors to the Château de Suscinio on the coast. I was amazed to find it has been restored to look much as it might have when Jasper and Henry were there, and the surrounding countryside and coastline is largely unchanged.

The Château de Suscinio in Brittany ©Tony Riches

Duke Francis of Brittany, began to worry when Yorkist agents began plotting to capture the Tudors, so he moved them to different fortresses further inland. I stayed by the river within sight of the magnificent Château de Josselin, were Jasper was effectively held prisoner. Although the inside has been updated over the years, the tower where Jasper lived survives and I was even able to identify Tudor period houses in the medieval town which he would have seen from his window.

Château de Josselin ©Tony Riches

Henry’s château was harder to find but worth the effort. The Forteresse de Largoët is deep in the forest outside of the town of Elven. His custodian, Marshall of Brittany, Jean IV, Lord of Rieux and Rochefort, had two sons of similar age to Henry and it is thought they continued their education together. Proof I was at the right place was in the useful leaflet in English which confirmed that: ‘On the second floor of the Dungeon Tower and to the left is found a small vaulted room where the Count of Richemont was imprisoned for 18 months (1474-1475).

The Forteresse de Largoët ©Tony Riches


Entering the Dungeon Tower through a dark corridor, I regretted not bringing a torch, as the high stairway is lit only by the small window openings. Interestingly, the lower level is octagonal, with the second hexagonal and the rest square. Cautiously feeling my way up the staircase I was walking in the footsteps of the young Henry Tudor, who would also have steadied himself by placing his hand against the cold stone walls, nearly five and a half centuries before. (Although it was called the ‘dungeon tower’, in subsequent research I discovered intriguing details at the National Library of Wales which suggest Henry Tudor enjoyed more freedom at this time than is generally imagined. The papers claim that, ‘by a Breton lady’, Henry Tudor fathered a son, Roland Velville, whom he knighted after coming to the throne.)

When I returned to Wales I made the journey to remote Mill Bay, where Henry and Jasper landed with their small invasion fleet. A bronze plaque records the event and it was easy to imagine how they might have felt as they began the long march to confront King Richard at Bosworth. On the anniversary of the battle I walked across Bosworth field and watched hundreds of re-enactors recreate the battle, complete with cavalry and cannon fire.

Re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth ©Tony Riches

The challenge I faced for the final book of the trilogy, HENRY, was too much information. Henry left a wealth of detailed records, often initialing every line in his ledgers, which still survive. At the same time, I had to deal with the contradictions, myths and legends that cloud interpretation of the facts. I decided the only way was to immerse myself in Henry’s world and explore events as they might have appeared from his point of view. I stood in the small room in Pembroke Castle where Henry Tudor is thought to have been born, (within sight of where I was born) and began three years of intensive research about this enigmatic king.

I bought every book I could find about Henry and his times, and also studied the lives of those around him, including his mother, Margaret Beaufort, and his queen, Elizabeth of York. As I reached the end I decided to visit Henry’s Tomb in Westminster Abbey. There is something quite surreal about making your way through Westminster Abbey to the Lady Chapel at the far end. There are many amazing distractions, as you pass the tombs of earlier kings and Henry’s granddaughter Elizabeth I in a side chapel. Henry’s tomb dominates the centre of the Lady Chapel and is surrounded by a high bronze grille. His effigy is raised too high to see, so I climbed a convenient step and peered through the holes in the grille. There lay Henry with his wife, Elizabeth of York, their gilded hands clasped in prayer.

I am pleased to say that after all these years researching the lives of the early Tudors, all three books of the trilogy have become international best sellers. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers around the world who have been on this journey with me. Although this is the end of the Tudor trilogy, I am now researching the life of Henry’s daughter Mary and her adventurous husband Charles Brandon, so the story of the Tudors is far from over.

Tony Riches

About the Author

Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sea and river kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.  The Tudor Trilogy is available on Amazon UK  Amazon US and Amazon AU


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Thomas Seymour: Prisoner to Greed


Thomas Seymour had a way with women – his charisma so great and his looks so good that even Katherine Parr couldn’t help but fall for him. He was described as “…fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent.”  Yet with all those wonderful attributes he did not marry until he was nearly forty years old.

In 1547, after the death of King Henry VIII, his son Edward succeeded him as King Edward VI of England. Young Edward’s mother, Jane, died days after giving birth to him and the only remaining connection to her was through his uncles, aunts and grandmother.


The Seymour Brothers

From early on the Seymour brothers were gifted with titles. Edward was given the title Viscount Beauchamp after his sister married the King in 1536. The following summer he became Earl of Hertford. At the same time his younger brother Thomas became Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. A year later he was granted the castle and manor of Holt in Cheshire and knighted prior to the christening of his nephew, Prince Edward, into the Knight of the Bath.¹ From that point, until the death of King Henry, Thomas was continually given lands, but no greater titles – those were saved for his elder brother, Edward.

In Henry VIII’s will he named Thomas Seymour as an assistant to the King’s council and was gifted money, however, the will of the late monarch has been disputed and claims that it was changed prior to his death are widespread. ”The purported leaders of this faction were Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford; John Dudley, Lord Lisle; and Sir William Paget, the king’s chief secretary. All were apparently united by their evangelicalism – that is, their eagerness for further religious reformation.

When Prince Edward became King of England Thomas Seymour’s social standings grew immensely; He was now uncle to the King. Finally he was given a title…though not a dukedom like his brother Edward who became Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector but Baron of Sudeley and Lord Admiral, along with several pieces of land. As an uncle to the King he should have received more, at least an earldom. Some chroniclers and historians have said that his brother Edward was behind the lack of any great titles.edward-seymour

Edward Seymour surely wanted to give the impression that he was a fair brother; After he was made Lord Protector he had this to say to the Council:

My lords, you know how long my brother, Master Seymour, has served, and how the King esteemed him, and if he had not died would have given him great rewards; and you also know that it is time the Earl of Warwick was allowed to rest, and had another less laborious office. My brother is young and is well fitted for this post, so if you approve I propose to make Warwick the Earl Constable, and my brother High Admiral.²

When we look back at previous kings in their minority it was more common that any remaining uncles were given much greater titles than what Thomas Seymour received. With his brother Edward as Lord Protector of the Realm, he had the power to recommend to council to give his brother a greater title. It’s almost as if Edward Seymour knew that his brother would attempt to over-throw him and take a more powerful position for himself.

Thomas never believed he was given enough and always thought he deserved more. That was definitely his weakness. It’s easy to see him as a villain, but he was also a victim of his brother’s ambitions. I believe this was his true motivator. However, imagine seeing your elder brother and your younger sister getting everything they desired and you, as a middle child, feeling like you were always forgotten.

Possible Marriages

Thomas Seymour was nearly forty years old and unmarried when Henry VIII died in 1547. There is no doubt that he could have married any noble woman of his choosing but his ambitions were always higher and greater than most expected. He wanted a marriage that would give him more money, more property and more political standing.

Before Katherine Parr was married to Henry VIII, she and Seymour had hoped to marry after the imminent death of her third husband, Lord Latimer. Merely a couple of months after the death of Latimer, Henry VIII asked Katherine to be his wife. She could not refuse. This may have fueled Seymour’s internal fire to strive for what he thought he deserved and what he thought should be his.


It was necessary to have a lengthy mourning period after the death of a husband, but especially if that husband was the King. If the wife was of child-bearing age she had to wait until a sufficient amount of time went by for everyone to see that she was not with the King’s child. As an example, the dowager queen, Catherine of Valois, was told she could not remarry until her son (who was a minor) came of age and could give consent.

Had Thomas Seymour proposed to Katherine in 1543 right after the death of her husband it would have been seen as improper. He had to give it some time before proposing marriage. The King however, did not have to follow the same rules as his subjects.

With Katherine married and out of the picture, Thomas had every opportunity to marry, yet he did not. He was send abroad several times by Henry VIII on embassies or battles and that sufficiently kept him away from Katherine Parr during the King’s lifetime.

When Seymour’s nephew, Edward succeeded the throne it opened up a new door of opportunity for Thomas. Seymour had approached the King’s servant, John Fowler to plead his case to the King regarding marriage. He had asked Fowler:

Mr. Fowler, I pray you, if you have any communications with the King’s Majesty soon, or tomorrow as his highness whether he would be content I should marry or not; and if he says he would be content, I pray you ask his grace whom he would have to be my wife?

When Fowler saw the King next he brought up Seymour in conversation by marveling how he had not yet been married. The King had no response. Then Fowler asked, “Could your grace be contented he should marry?” The King responded by saying only, “Ye-very well.” Fowler than proceeded to ask Edward whom Seymour should marry. The King said that Thomas Seymour should marry “My Lady Anne of Cleves.” He paused a moment and then changed his mind saying that Seymour should marry his sister Mary – to help “turn her opinions.” This must reference her religion.

Princess Elizabeth, Anne of Cleves, Princess Mary and Katherine Parr

The above reference situation is not dated so I am unsure when it actually occurred. I believe this was about the time that Thomas proposed to Elizabeth and married Katherine Parr. It appears he’s looking for the King to name one of the two ladies.

The Lord Protector approached Council regarding his brother marrying the dowager queen. That he deserved a wife of a great title as he was the uncle of the King. The dowager queen favored the marriage but worried to Paget’s wife that she would lose her title as queen. She was assured that it was not the case.²

Thomas Seymour secretly wed Katherine Parr in 1547. There marriage was short-lived but did produce a child, Mary.

After the death of Parr, Seymour asked the Council if he could marry “Madam Elizabeth.” He said that he, as uncle to the King, and someone whom had formerly been married to the dowager queen, deserved to marry her above everyone else. Nothing, of course, came from his request.

Things started to escalate from that point and Seymour showed signs of desperation after the death of the dowager queen and turned down request to marry Elizabeth.

We’ll stop there for now and continue on with a future article about what happened next.

Notes and Sources:

¹ Wriothesley Chronicle
² Chronicle of King Henry VIII

Literary Remains of King Edward the Sixth: Edited from His Autograph Manuscripts, with Historical Notes and a Biographical Memoir, Part 2 (page cxv & cxvi)

MacLean, John; The Life of Thomas Seymour, Knight, Baron Seymour of Sudeley and Master of the Ordance

History – “Who Hijacked Henry VIII’s Will?”

‘Henry VIII: December 1546, 26-31’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 21 Part 2, September 1546-January 1547, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1910), pp. 313-348. British History Online [accessed 14 October 2016].

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Mother of a Dynasty: Catherine de Valois

Mother of the Tudor Dynasty


Guest article written by: Alan Freer

Catherine de Valois’ wooden funeral effigy

Catherine de Valois was the daughter of a king, the wife and then widow of a king and, finally, the mother of, arguably, the greatest dynasty in English history. Her father, Charles VI of France, despite the fact that he was insane for much of the last thirty years of his life, managed to sire twelve children by his queen, Isabelle of Bavaria. Catherine was born the youngest daughter at the Hotel of St. Pol in Paris on 27 October 1401.

The idea that she might marry the future Henry V of England was first muted in 1408 at one of the many abortive peace negotiations between the two countries. Henry was 21 and she, eight, at the time. Nothing came of the proposal. The subject rose again in 1413 but with the death of Henry IV the following year, the matter was dropped. When the young “King Hal” succeeded his father, he proposed that he and Catherine wed and, as her dowry, Charles acknowledged him as heir to the French throne. Naturally the French had problems with this suggestion and, instead of wedding bells, bloody war resulted.

Henry invaded France, slaughtered the flower of French chivalry at the Battle of Agincourt on 25 October 1415, and placed himself along side Edward, The Black Prince, as one of England’s greatest medieval heroes. Over the next few years he set about capturing Charles’s kingdom, province by province. Desperate for peace, the French once again raised the issue of marriage. Envoys armed with portraits of the girl were sent to Henry to press the suit and eventually the hero-king met Catherine at Meulan towards the end of 1419. He was at once captivated by her charm and beauty. Her chaste blushes when he kissed her won Henry over.

Negotiations took place at Troyes in May 1420; Henry was declared the heir to the French throne and the marriage contract became part of an Anglo-French treaty. The couple was married, not in the grandeur of Troyes Cathedral, but in the small, humble parish church of St. John by the Archbishop of Sens. Catherine was 18 and the King 33. They both entered Paris in triumph in December, sailed to England and Catherine was crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey in February 1421. The King and his new Queen made progress through the Midlands and northern counties of England but by June Henry was back on the continent, leaving his now pregnant wife at home.

On 6 December 1421 Catherine gave birth to a baby son, Henry, at Windsor Castle. Almost immediately she left her infant prince in the care of his nurses and sailed to France to join King Henry. They spent several weeks together before she went to Senlis to visit her parents while Henry engaged himself in a siege at Meaux. She was never to see him again. Henry contracted a wasting disease similar to dysentery. Two weeks short of his thirty-fifth birthday, at the Chateau of Vincennes, he died on 31 August 1422. Catherine was a widow at twenty.

Just as any mother in her situation, she devoted all her time and energy to the care of her small son. King Charles VI of France died on 21 October that same year thus making little Henry VI, King of England and France. Throughout the early years of the boy’s life Catherine hardly left his side. She appeared in public with the lad when his presence was required and took him to her own estates at Waltham and in Hertfordshire. There was, however, one question that seemed to worry those about her more than it did her. She was young and available – would she remarry?

The two most powerful men in the country were the dead King’s brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and Henry Beaufort, Cardinal Bishop of Winchester. Beaufort was a branch of that tree that had sprouted from John of Gaunt’s third marriage – he was technically royal but his lineage was tainted with the shadow of illegitimacy. The two men rarely agreed and their constant bickering made government difficult. Should a third element appear in the form of a second husband to the dowager-queen matters would become even more complicated – particularly if he should prove politically active. The wily bishop pressed the suit of his nephew, Edmund Beaufort, Count of Mortain, and, for a while, there were rumours that Catherine and Edmund might marry, but the match fell through. Humphrey gathered enough support to pass a bill through the Parliament of 1427-8 stating that any dowager-queen wishing to remarry must have the consent of the king and that could only be given when he reached his majority. As young Henry was only six at the time, Humphrey had effectively postponed the matter for the foreseeable future.

Catherine’s character also gave cause for concern. She was a young, vivacious, beautiful French woman with a lust for life. Indeed, one chronicler describes her as being “unable fully to curb her carnal passions.” No doubt he was a monk! A close eye was kept on the dowager-queen’s activities and those with whom she associated.

Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur

There was, serving in her household, a young Welshman by the name of Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur. Owen came from a family who had once held great power in the north of Wales. One of his ancestors, Ednyfed Fychen, had been the right-hand man of Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales. Through Ednyfed’s wife, Gwenllian, Owen could trace his line back through Rhodri Mawr (the Great) to the legendary 5th century Cunedda, Duke of Britain. There are numerous myths surrounding the circumstances of Catherine’s liaison with Owen – most of them an insult to the intelligence – so I will not relate them. One tale, however, does have the ring of truth and is supported by an oblique reference in a poem by Robin Ddu of Anglesey writing about the time of Owen’s death in 1461. Catherine noticed the handsome Owen at a ball where, a little the worse for wine, he lost his footing and fell into her lap.

The fact that they were very much in love can not be questioned for both ran considerable risks. With Humphrey’s statute in force they could not marry openly so a secret marriage was arranged, probably in 1430-1. The ruling council must have become aware of the match as Owen was naturalised as an Englishman in May 1432. The fact that the dowager-queen was pregnant probably gave the game away!

Catherine had four children by Owen Tudor, three sons and a daughter who died young. Edmund was born at Much Hadham, a manor owned by the Bishop of London, while Jasper first saw the light of day at Hatfield on the estate of the Bishop of Ely. The third son, Owen, became a monk and took no part in the future history of England. The marriage of Catherine and Owen Tudor was not public knowledge until after her death.

In 1436, Catherine entered Bermondsey Abbey to obtain treatment for an illness described as a “long, grievous malady, in which I have been long, and yet am troubled and vexed by the visitation of God.” The King’s Council had banned any meeting between Catherine and Owen and she had just been delivered of her last child, christened Margaret, who died soon after birth. This would have been sufficient to bring about a mental breakdown in most people. At the time, her mental state was blamed on a hereditary condition from her father, Charles VI of France. The mental problems of herself and her father were considered the cause of Henry VI’s “weakness of mind.” She died on 3 January 1437. The illness was probably of a mental nature as there were suggestions that she was deranged at the end; a sad conclusion to the life of such a beautiful woman.*(see source below)

Catherine’s departure spelt trouble for Owen. While she lived none could touch him. He soon found himself in jail. Edmund and Jasper, as half-brothers to the King, were placed in the care of Katherine de la Pole, Abbess of Barking and sister to the Earl of Suffolk, where they were treated in a manner that befitted their status. Owen was eventually released, pardoned of all offences and generously treated by his stepson, the King. He passed much of the rest of his life as a country gentleman.   Owen drifted in and out of history after the death of Catherine. At the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, he is recorded as being present at a Lancastrian Council in 1459 with his son, Jasper, and both swore loyalty to his stepson, King Henry VI. He then made the mistake of getting involved in a minor battle in the Welsh Marches at a small hamlet named Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire. Early in the engagement it was realised that the Lancastrians were outnumbered and they broke ranks. Owen was captured south of the battlefield while trying to escape. He was aged about 60 by then and this may have hindered his bid for safety. The Yorkist Edward, now Duke of York after the murder of his father a few months before at Wakefield, wanted revenge for the death of his father and a brother and ordered the execution of the captured Lancastrian nobles. It appears that Owen expected to be released due to his close family relationship to Henry VI, and it was only when he was stood before the block that he realised the end was imminent. While others begged for mercy, Owen Tudor was praised for the dignity with which he conducted himself in death.

A contemporary chronicler relates, “On 3 January good Queen Catherine, wife of Henry V and mother of Henry VI, died at Bermondsey Abbey, just outside Southwick, in Surrey. On 8 February she was brought to St. Katherine’s by the Tower of London, and from thence through London to St. Paul’s, escorted by noble lords and ladies, also the mayor, aldermen and guildsmen of London, with a company of canons, priests and friars. After this her body was taken to Westminster, where she was buried with royal honours in the Lady Chapel. God have mercy on her soul. Amen.” And there she rests to this day.

Her eldest son, Edmund Tudor, was to become the Earl of Richmond, marry a remarkable lady named Margaret Beaufort, and sire the future King Henry VII. Jasper Tudor was created Earl of Pembroke and proved a most loyal and steadfast supporter of his nephew. Catherine would have been proud of her Welsh offspring.


*I have a book, Chronicles of the Plantagenets, that says it was common knowledge that Catherine’s mental state was seriously in question.

About the Author:

CaptureI am Alan Freer and live in the small village of Byfleet, Surrey, England. Edward, the Black Prince, spent much of his final years in Byfleet. I have been an amateur “historian” since the age of seven, when I purchased my first history book in 1955. Indeed, it was anticipated that I would become a history teacher, but a brief conversation just before I was due to go to university directed me to the banking industry – more lucrative but, perhaps, not so satisfying! History lead me into genealogy and I have my own website detailing the Descendents of William the Conqueror ( ). A never-ending project! When I retired from the bank in 1999 I started to write and have had a number of articles published in US history magazines or on magazine websites. Primarily I wrote for the amusement of my colleagues in my second occupation as a civil servant. I count myself most fortunate to have been born in England and would not wish it otherwise – except, possibly, Italy!!

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Joan of Arc: Her Mission

Guest Article written by: Samia Chebbah

Place du vieux
Place Du Vieux Marché Rouen where Joan of Arc died

Hello everyone, my name is Samia, I live in Rouen, Normandy in France where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake on Wednesday 30th May, 1431, at the age of 19. We know she was 13 when she heard voices from three saints, Saint Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. Apparently, God sent them to her to tell her that she would be the one who would save France, drive the English out of the country and last but not least, have King Charles VII crowned at Reims Cathedral on July 17, 1429. Although Charles was the legitimate heir of his father, Charles VI of France, he was not allowed to become king of France. Indeed, the signature of the Treaty of Troyes in May 1420 between the King of France and Henry V of England gave the throne of France to the king of England who was going to marry the princess Catherine of Valois, Charles VI’s daughter.[1] That left little hope to Charles to become king one day. His only luck was that both his father and Henry V died in 1422.

After this brief recap, let’s go back to Joan of Arc’s story which was short but full of mystery.  The even more mystical part of it is that it is said that centuries before she was born, soothsayers said they foresaw her mission.

The most popular versions are those of Merlin, the famous enchanter and Marie d’Avignon. It is even said that Joan herself envisioned her own death.

Let’s start with Merlin. His prophecies are collected in Prophecii Merlini by Geoffrey Monmouth[2] in the 12th century. Monmouth’s life is not well documented and historians often use words such as ”traditionally”.[3] This is understandable since at that period, the accounts were oral. It was often based on hearsay. Some also said that some parts of the collection were invented.[4]

Apparently, Merlin foresaw two things. First of all, he said ”ex nemore Canuto eliminabitur puella” meaning ”from Le Bois Chenu, a maiden will come” He also said ”Descendet virgo dorsum sagitarii et flores virgineos obscurabit.” meaning ” she will ride down the back of the Sagittarius”.[5] Le Bois Chenu was a wood which belonged to Joan’s father, Jack of Arc and the Sagittarius, reminded of the shape the English archers.[6] In this imagination of Joan of Arc riding down the english archers, one can understand that she will succeed in defeating the English. Since Merlin is a legendary figure. Can we believe it? Indeed, in my research, he existed either in literature and some he truly existed because of the prophecies.  Some even said that he descended from the Devil.[7] His very existence is as mysterious as how it was possible that in 1429 a young girl was allowed to wear an armor to fight and to top it all, have a king crowned! But there must be some truth in it because how could Geoffrey Monmouth relate the prophecies?

cross (3)
Cross in Memory of Joan of Arc, Place du Vieux Marché

Closer to Joan of Arc’s lifetime, Marie Robine, also known as Marie of Avignon (in the south of France) because she settled down in this city, was considered insane. Her predictions started when she was cured from paralysis.[8] In total, she had 12 visions which are collected in Marie Robine’s Book of Revelations. It is said that she told King Charles VI of France, father of the future Charles VII, that ”she had a vision where she could see numerous arms. She feared that she had to use them but she was told that they were meant for another maiden that would come after her.”[9] It is even said that Charles VII himself might have remembered the conversation between his father and Marie Robine.[10]The account was oral, based on hearsay and related during the revision of Joan of Arc’s trial in 1456 that gave way to a rehabilitation[11]. To this extent, we cannot be sure of the veracity of the facts. What is more, I have found a source that contradicted the fact that Marie Robine foresaw Joan of Arc. Indeed, the historian Noël Valois makes it clear that after reading The Book of Revelations, he had found no mention to the Joan of Arc episode.[12]

The white sign, the very place where she died

Joan of Arc herself foresaw her mission. She supposedly knew that the Dauphin Charles would eventually be restored. She also predicted that the English would be defeated and driven out of France, except for those who would die there. She gave the very localization of Charles Martel’s Sword inside the Church of Fierbois. Eventually, she asked the voices if she would be burnt at the stake.[13]

The white sign, the very place where she died
The white sign, the very place where she died

The question of the sword is essential since it was that very one that Jeanne D’Arc used to fight. Charles Martel was a descendant of Charlemagne (King of the France in 8th century).[14] Martel defeated the Arabs in Poitiers in 732 and gave his sword to the said church. The voices supposedly told Joan about where she would find it and fight with it herself.[15]

Other soothsayers were said to have foreseen Joan of Arc. Among them, Pierre de MonteAlcino, St Bede the Vulnerable, Jean de Montalcin, Euglide of Hungary. They are mentioned but little is known about what was said exactly.

Interesting fact:

Satue JA (2)
Photo Copyright: Samia Chebbah

During her trial for heresy and witchcraft, which started on February 24th 1431, Joan of Arc was asked to dress like a woman and to deny that God gave her the mission to save France. She did not until May 24th when the Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon decided to stage her execution. In fact, Joan of Arc carried on saying that she would not stop fighting and wearing men clothes as long as God did not stop her.[16] Everything was done in due form during the fake execution episode for even the executioner, Geoffroy Thérage, was present. That was cruel but seemed to work on Joan. Indeed, she accepted to wear women’s clothing again and her death sentence was commuted into a life sentence.[17] A source explains the reason why Pierre Cauchon did not accept Joan of Arc’s mission to crown Charles VII. In fact, the bishop was a counsellor of the King of England, Henry V. In fact, on May 21st 1420, King Charles VI of France signed the Treaty of Troyes, an alliance with England through the marriage of Catherine of Valois (his daughter) and King Henry V of England[18]. That Treaty stipulated that Henry V would become King of France after Charles VI’s death, even though the latter had an heir, Charles. So If Charles VII really was the king of France, that meant that Joan of Arc’s mission (saving France and have the Dauphin crowned) were legitimate.[19] The life sentence also dissatisfied the English. Unfortunately, Joan of Arc returned to her old habits of wearing men clothes and was sentenced to death again.[20] It is said that the executioner, Geoffrroy Tthérage, was moved by the death of Joan of Arc ”and feared that God would never forgive him for he did.”[21]

NB : Most of the sources are in french, if you are interested and need more explanation about this article, I will gladly help you.
[10]Liocourt, de, Ferdinant. La Mission de Jeanne D’Arc, Volume 2. Source Internet
[11]  I visited the Historial Jeanne D’arc in Rouen which is mostly about the revision of her trial. I was told that       Charles VII needed that revision because she was the reason why he was king and she was sentenced to death because she was said to be a witch. In order to legitimate his title, he needed her to be rehabilitated.
[12]Valois, Noël. Jeanne D’Arc et la Prophétie de Marie Robine. Source Internet.
[16]Les Mini Larousse. Jeanne D’Arc. Editions Larousse, 2012.
[17]Les Mini Larousse. Jeanne D’Arc. Editions Larousse, 2012.
[20]Les Mini Larousse. Jeanne D’Arc. Editions Larousse, 2012.

About the Author: Samia Chebbah

SnHLuCicI live in France and french is my mother tongue. I am in love with the History of England ! Whenever I go there, visiting castles is my top priority ! My favourite period is the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. So it came as no surprise that when I had to decide the dissertation topic for my Master’s Degree, the English monarchy was my first choice. And so I talked about the ennoblement of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s race for supremacy. I am very curious and always have to make some researches when I learn about a new historical event! I have found it to be very enriching to do so because it always leads to another fact. This is the magic of history I guess!

Catherine of Valois: Family History with Mental Illness


Catherine of Valois, daughter of King Charles VI of France and Isabelle of Bavaria was born into royalty at the royal palace of the Hôtel Saint-Pol in Paris on 27 October 1401.

Catherine’s father was called, “Charles the Mad” because of his bouts with mental illness.  Through my research I’ve discovered that he is not the only family member with mental illness. There were more – it’s almost alarming and mostly surprising that she did not suffer from it herself.

Catherine’s father, Charles VI was mentally ill, he is believed to have suffered from schizophrenia, Charles experienced delusions, believing he was made of glass or denying he had a wife and children. He ran from room to room until he collapsed from exhaustion, declaring that his enemies were upon him. Charles’ illness is believed to have been later inherited by his grandson, Henry VI of England. Charles’ ancestors were closely related. His mother, the French Princess, Joan of Bourbon (1338-1377) was slightly unstable, as were her brother, Louis, Duke of Bourbon, her father and grandfather, she suffered a complete nervous breakdown in 1373 after the birth of her seventh child.” ¹

In general, medieval Europeans allowed the mentally ill their freedom, as long as they were not dangerous to others. With that being said there were often times when the mentally ill were labeled as witches or said to be possessed by demons.

I’m not sure how they treated Charles VI for his illness but it is known that common “remedies” were: Bleeding of the humors, exorcism, shaving a cross on the head of the “infected” person and having them drink ice-cold water.

Did the royal family understand that this was something that was genetic? Obviously it was passed down through the generations. Some were spared but some of the unlucky ones had a very confusing and difficult life. Did Catherine of Valois understand that when she had a child that it was possible this child could also carry this family “curse?”

The early years for Catherine of Valois were not as rich and glamorous as one might expect of a royal family. She was the tenth child of her parents and at the time France was in chaos due to her father’s bouts of insanity.² This left an opening for other countries, like England, to fight for throne of France.

In 1405, Henry IV of England had suffered the first of many debilitating illnesses. In pain, and clearly unable to rule his nation he ceded power to his council, which included his son, Henry, also known as “Hal.” Over the final years of King Henry’s reign it is believed there was tension between the king and his son. It is said that when the king lay dying his young son took the crown from his head. Still alive, Henry IV asked his son what right he had to the crown since it had been won in blood and not received through a divinely blessed hereditary line. Hal replied, “As you have kept the crown by the sword, so will I keep it while my life lasts.

Henry V

In early July 1415 the now reigning King Henry V declared his intention to fight for the throne of France. He claimed it through his lineage to Edward III – his great-grandfather. Edward III’s mother was the daughter of the French king Philip IV. Henry V saw this as his right to France since the French king, Charles VI, was widely known to have bouts of madness and was unable to rule his own country.

England advanced upon France and captured Harfleur, then marched to Calais. He defeated the french at Agincourt with his army outnumbered (6,000 vs. 20,000) and then returned to London where he was acclaimed as King Henry V of England and France by his subjects as he rode through the streets of London.

From 1417 – 1419 there was a second campaign on France and Henry captured Caen and Rouen, capital of Normandy. At this point France had suffered many losses and the remaining leaders were ready to come to an agreement with Henry V.

The Treaty of Troyes in 1420 brought together Catherine of Valois and Henry V. The Treaty of Troyes was an agreement that King Henry V (of England) and his heirs would inherit the throne of France (instead of Charles’ son, the Dauphin) upon the death of King Charles VI of France. It was signed on 21 May 1420 after Henry’s successful military campaign in France. ³

Marriage of Catherine & Henry V
Marriage of Catherine & Henry V

Henry V thought Catherine was a beautiful young woman and it wasn’t long after their marriage that she gave birth to a son – Henry on 6 December 1421 at Windsor. This son, and prince, would soon inherit the throne…as an infant. On 31 August 1422, as Henry V lay dying of dysentery (or cancer, depending on what you read) he appointed his brothers as regents of his domains.

Catherine, now dowager queen was nearly 21 years old upon the death of her husband. Her father, King Charles VI died a few months after her husband which left her son to also inherit the throne of France, per the Treaty of Troyes. Catherine doted on young Henry during his early years.

Since the dowager queen was so young Parliament passed a bill (1427-1428) which set forth the provision that if Catherine remarried without the king’s consent her husband would forfeit his lands and possessions. Any children of said marriage would not suffer punishment. The king’s consent was contingent upon his having attained his majority. At that time, the king was only six years old.

Young Henry would be crowned King of England when he was eight years old – in 1429. Catherine continued to live in her son’s household so she could care for the young king. This was also beneficial to the council because they could keep a watchful eye on the dowager queen.

Henry Vl
Henry VI

Eventually Catherine started a secret relationship with Owen Tudor while living at Leeds Castle.[1] Owen was the keeper of Catherine’s wardrobe. Legend says that Owen caught the Queen’s eye when she saw him swimming, or that he tripped and fell into her lap when dancing.

No documentation has survived of Catherine’s marriage to Owen Tudor.  Owen and Catherine produced at least five children in all. Edmund, Jasper and Owen Tudor were all born away from court. My research has also unearthed that they may have had two daughters (Tacinda & Margaret), however I have been unable to confirm those reports.

Towards the end of the summer of 1436, while pregnant with her fifth child rumours of the Queen’s secret marriage appear to have reached the Duke of Gloucester. Upon further investigation the truth of the matter was revealed and the Duke acted swiftly and decisively. We are told that, ‘the high spirit of the Duke of Gloucester could not brook her marriage. Neither the beauty of Tudor’s person nor his genealogy, descended from Cadwallader Kings, could shield him or the Queen from sharp persecution as soon as the match was discovered.’ The Queen’s household was dissolved with immediate effect. Catherine was parted from her children the eldest of whom were sent to live with Catherine de la Pole, sister of the Earl of Suffolk, Owen was confined to Newgate and Catherine was sent to Bermondsey Abbey.

By this time the heavily pregnant Queen was gravely ill and deeply distressed by this enforced separation from her husband and children. Not long after entering Bermondsey she gave birth to a daughter, christened Margaret, who died shortly after her birth. Overcome by illness and trauma it appears the Queen never recovered. Even the ‘tablet of gold, weighing thirteen ounces on which was a crucifix set with pearls and sapphires’ an elaborate token of remembrance sent to Bermondsey from her son, Henry VI failed to revive her spirits. On 3rd January 1437, Catherine of Valois, Queen of England died a broken woman. – Source of Quote: Britannia 

When Henry VI came of age it is said that he never forgave his uncle, Duke of Gloucester for the harsh treatment his mother had experienced. Henry subsequently knighted his stepfather Owen, made him Warden of Forestries, and appointed him a Deputy Lord Lieutenant.

Mental illness once again crept into this family when Henry VI went into a catatonic state, August 1453, Henry experienced some kind of mental breakdown and became completely unresponsive to everything that was going on around him for more than a year. During this time his queen, Margaret of Anjou gave birth to a son, Prince Edward and Henry failed to respond to his birth.

It seems Henry inherited this condition from his grandfather, Charles VI of France. I’m curious if his son, Edward was also inflicted by this awful hereditary disease. Unfortunately we’ll never know - his life was cut short when he was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury when he was only 17 years old.


¹ -  (paragraph 2)
² -
³ -
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain, by Charles Phillips (pages 82-87)
Kings and Queens of Great Britain, David Soud


1387 – Birth of Henry V

Henry V
Henry V









House: House of Lancaster
Father: Henry IV of England
Mother: Mary de Bohun

Henry V was the 1st husband of Catherine of Valois. He was also the Father of Henry VI, who was half brother to Edmund and Jasper Tudor from Catherine’s second marriage to Owen Tudor.

by Edward Hargrave, after Unknown artist, coloured line engraving, 1842
Catherine of Valois
Henry Vl
Henry Vl