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Watch out Kate! England has had five Queen Catherines so far – and it HASN’T always ended well…


Millions still think of her as plain Kate.

But when her husband, the Prince of Wales ascends the throne in due course, we will have a sixth Queen Catherine.

She already looks the part, fulfilling her royal duties with good-humoured diligence. Much has been said about the discipline she has maintained in the face of overwhelming public interest.

But as the author of a new book, The Catherine Code, points out, whatever the difficulties endured by today’s young royals are as nothing to the snake pits occupied by their forbears. 

Earlier royal women played a game in which one false move at court could lead to death – and did. 

One Catherine was abandoned, another beheaded, a third accused – falsely – of poisoning the king.

‘Kate’s five royal namesakes were ill-fated in various ways, and often ill-treated by their husbands,’ says author Bob Casey.

Watch out Kate!  

Catherine, Princess of Wales looks regal in a specially chosen headpiece at the Coronation of Charles II in May

Catherine, Princess of Wales looks regal in a specially chosen headpiece at the Coronation of Charles II in May

Catherine de Valois 1401-1437

When English monarch Henry V married French princess Catherine de Valois in 1420, after his success at the Battle of Agincourt, he cemented England’s ties with France.

But the heir apparent to the French throne died two years later and Queen Catherine – played by Emma Thompson in the 1989 Kenneth Branagh film Henry V, and Lily-Rose Depp, in the 2019 Netflix movie The King – became a widow.

Catherine de Valois is introduced to Henry of Monmouth who became Henry V. Her father was mad, her mother neglectful

Catherine de Valois is introduced to Henry of Monmouth who became Henry V. Her father was mad, her mother neglectful

Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson play Henry and Catherine

Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson play Henry and Catherine

Branagh and Thompson from the same production with Paul Scofield

Branagh and Thompson from the same production with Paul Scofield

Our first Queen Catherine in the 1989 film Henry V. But her husband would soon die

Our first Queen Catherine in the 1989 film Henry V. But her husband would soon die

However, unlike the other Queen Catherines, she did produce an heir to the throne, the future Henry VI, and was the grandmother of Britain’s first Tudor monarch, Henry VII.

The daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria, Catherine was neglected in childhood by both her parents: her father had bouts of madness while the mother was indifferent to her daughter.

When Henry V succeeded to the throne in 1413, he began negotiations for his marriage, demanding a large dowry and the restoration of Normandy and Aquitaine.

But his mandate led to war against France and it was only after the Treaty of Troyes was signed in 1420, recognising Henry as the regent and heir of France, that the marriage took place.

Catherine was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1421 and joined Henry in France the following year. She returned to England after his death and lived at Windsor and Baynard’s Castles.

She went onto marry Welsh squire, Sir Owen Tudor, and had three sons and two daughters, one of whom died in infancy. Their eldest son Edmund, who was created Earl of Richmond, was the father of Henry VII.

Catherine of Aragon 1485-1536

Played by Joanne Whalley, in the drama Wolf Hall, Catherine will always be remembered as the first wife of Henry VIII, whom he divorced after the failed to provide an heir, leading to the English Reformation.

But the daughter of 15th century power couple King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castille, has another accolade: as the Spanish ambassador to England, she was Europe’s first female ambassador.

Catherine of Aragon was a loyal and loving wife to Henry VIII but failed to produce a son

Catherine of Aragon was a loyal and loving wife to Henry VIII but failed to produce a son

Catherine as played by Joanne Whalley in Wolf Hall

Catherine as played by Joanne Whalley in Wolf Hall

Initially married to Henry’s older brother Arthur, she wed Henry in 1509, seven years after her first husband’s death – the King wanted to maintain the Spanish alliance as well as her dowry.

She went onto produce six children but only one survived – a daughter Mary I, who was born in 1516. But the lack of a male heir, proved insurmountable and when Anne Boleyn became the Queen’s lady-in-waiting the writing was on the wall.

After the marriage was annulled by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, rather than the Pope, the King banished Catherine from court in 1533.

Cruelly, he also banned contact with their daughter. She died three years later at the age of 50. Her last letter to him, signed Katherine the Queen, read: ‘Mine eyes desire you above all things.’

Catherine Howard 1523-1542

The fifth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine’s claim to fame was her scandalous past: the first cousin of Anne Boleyn and second cousin of Jane Seymour was found guilty of adultery and executed at the Tower of London.

Played by Lauren McQueen in Lucy Worsley’s Six Wives, Catherine was a member of the Howard family. Her father Edmund was the younger son of Thomas, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, who had served four monarchs.

A portrait of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, who lost her head not for breaking her vows to him, but alleged adultery in the past

A portrait of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, who lost her head not for breaking her vows to him, but alleged adultery in the past

Lauren McQueen as Catherine Howard

Lauren McQueen as Catherine Howard

But she was sexually abused by her music teacher Henry Manox before falling in love with Francis Dereham, whom she addressed as her ‘husband’, and getting engaged to her cousin Thomas Culpepper.

She first came to the King’s attention in 1539, when she was the maid of honour of his fourth wife Anne of Cleeves. In 1540 – on the day of Thomas Cromwell’s execution – after the annulment of his marriage to Anne, he married Catherine.

However, her downfall came after the King discovered her premarital relationships. In 1542 Parliament passed a bill of attainder, declaring it treason for an unchaste woman to marry the King and she was beheaded at the Tower of London two days later.

Catherine Parr 1512-1548

Catherine had been married and widowed twice when she became Henry VIII’s sixth wife, giving up her paramour Thomas Seymour , the 1st Baron Seymour, to marry the king in 1543 at Hampton Court Palace.

A keen patron of the arts – she was played by Alice Patten in Lucy Worsley’s Six Wives – she was the first English queen to write and publish her own books.

Famously, the one who 'survived'. Catherine Parr was Henry's sixth and final wife

Famously, the one who ‘survived’. Catherine Parr was Henry’s sixth and final wife

Alice Patten plays Catherine Parr in a Lucy Worsley dramatisation for the BBC

Alice Patten plays Catherine Parr in a Lucy Worsley dramatisation for the BBC

She met the king when she got a job in Princess Mary’s household in 1542 and became a loving stepmother to his three children, the future Mary I, Edward VI and Elizabeth I – she became guardian of her 14-year-old stepdaughter. 

She was also instrumental in Henry VIII’s passing the 1543 Third Succession Act which restored his daughters to the line of succession.

After the king’s death, in 1547, she married her fourth and final husband, Thomas Seymour, making her the most-married English queen. But she died in childbirth a year later. Her funeral was the first protestant funeral to be held in English.

Catherine of Braganza 1638-1705

The daughter of King John IV of Portugal, Catherine was the Roman Catholic wife of King Charles II of England, as part of an important alliance between the two countries.

The marriage, which took place in 1662, gave England trading rights at cities such as Tangier, in Morocco, and Bombay, in India, while England pledged to help Portugal remain independent from Spain.

A famous Peter Lely portrait of Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II

A famous Peter Lely portrait of Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II

An illustration showing our fifth Queen Catherine

An illustration showing our fifth Queen Catherine

But, after it became apparent that she would bear the king no children, she became a target for Protestant extremists, who wanted the King to divorce her and marry their faith.

In 1678, they accused her of scheming to poison the King and put his Roman Catholic brother James on the throne. But the King stood by her and she was cleared of all charges.

After her husband died in 1685, she returned to Portugal, where she became regent for her ailing brother Pedro II. 

Played by Shirley Henderson in Charles II: The Power and the Passion, one of her claims to fame was that she popularised tea drinking.

  • The Catherine Code: A Thousand Years of Royal Bastards, Inbreeding and Bad Behaviour is available from www.amazon.com



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