The Last Will of Henry V & the Inheritance of an Empire

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Henry V was not supposed to die on August 31, 1422. Not when he was only his 30s, not when his son was less than a year old, and not when England was establishing a dual empire inclusive of France. The death itself was a national tragedy, one which would have had a huge impact on the health and viability of his successor’s reign regardless, but it was it was his final will and last-minute codicils that first drew the battle lines against which England found itself fighting for the next 60+ years.

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Before Woodville: John, Duke of Bedford & Jacquetta of Luxembourg

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The pairing of John, Duke of Bedford and Jacquetta of Luxembourg is one which never fails to jar me in hindsight. What are the odds that the Duke’s second wife would go on to become the mother of a queen of England via her own second marriage, particularly given the outrageousness of each match? Well, they’re nil. Much like how it can still be difficult to fathom that the marriage of Katherine of Valois’s that became most dynastically significant was hers to Owen Tudor and not Henry V.

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The Coronation of Katherine of Valois

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Katherine of Valois was only queen for 26 months before Henry V died unexpectedly in France and she was suddenly tasked with the lofty job of mothering the king of England and France, staying out of the way and lending her hand as Christendom’s greatest ornament, as needed. Don’t be jealous.

Needless to say, in that short window of time, Katherine didn’t have much opportunity to play at being the king’s wife, but her coronation did provide an opportunity for her to carry out a traditional act of queen consort: Pleading for mercy on behalf of her husband’s prisoners.

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The English Duchess Convicted of Witchcraft

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On January 19, 1442, Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester was convicted of treason for conspiring against the king, Henry VI. Specifically, she was charged with witchcraft and for consorting with astrologers and fortune-tellers to predict when King Henry would die. Not at all coincidentally, Eleanor stood to benefit from Henry’s death since her husband, his uncle, was the heir apparent.

The charges, which were likely embellished by the political enemies of her husband, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, nevertheless prompted him to swiftly divorce her when they came to light in the summer of 1441. After her conviction, Eleanor was forced to do penance by walking through the streets of London and then imprisoned.

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The Marriage of Katherine of Valois and Owen Tudor

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On January 3, 1437 Katherine of Valois, Dowager Queen of England, died in Bermondsey Abbey in London. It was not until after her funeral that news began to trickle out, far beyond the inner circle of the English court, that somewhere in the last years of her life Katherine had conducted a secret relationship with a Welshman, Owen Tudor, far below her station. Not only had this relationship occurred, but proof of it could be found in the multiple children she had taken care to hide across the English countryside and in religious houses.

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