Monday 4 March 2013

Guest Author ~ Anne O'Brien

I am delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo 

The Forbidden Queen
Published 1 March 2013
To celebrate the publication of her latest book The Forbidden Queen, Anne has very kindly provided a valuable insight into two of her main characters - Katherine de Valois and Owen Tudor.  

1415. The Battle of Agincourt is over, and the young princess Katherine de Valois is the prize to be offered to Henry V of England. The innocent Katherine is smitten with Henry, but soon understands that her sole purpose is to produce an heir to unite England and France. When Henry leaves her a widow at the age of 21, Katherine is forced to resign herself to a quiet life as the Dowager Queen; her duty is to raise her son, the young King of England, and little more.

But Katherine is still young and passionate. Many desire her, and her hand in marriage is worth a kingdom. Setting aside those driven by ambition, Katherine falls in love with her servant Owen Tudor, and glimpses the happiness that love can bring. But their enemies are circling, all battling for power and determined to prevent their marriage. Katherine will have to fight to control her own destiny…

A Renowned Historical Misalliance ...

How did Katherine de Valois and Owen Tudor fall in love?

This, the first flowering of the relationship between Queen Katherine, Queen Dowager of England, and Owen Tudor, is a subject that has fired my imagination over the past year when writing THE FORBIDDEN QUEEN.  It presents one of those fascinating minefields for a writer of historical fiction.  We know enough about Katherine to place her firmly in a historical context, but the origins of Owen Tudor are obscure in the extreme and the manner in which the two lovers met and fell in love has been described as ‘a pot pourri of myth, romanticism, tradition and anti-Tudor propaganda.’  It is certainly a gift to writers of historical fiction - although it brings its own problems.

To start with, who was Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudor?  A genealogy chart exists for Owen, which I certainly made use of and without regret, but it smacks of a good pinch of pro-Tudor propaganda, and I suspect that there is really no solid evidence for his Welsh nobility.

Owen Tudor

This is Owen Tudor.  Not the image of a romantic hero.  Since it is high on heraldic decoration, I presume that it is a piece of pro-Tudor propaganda, probably produced in the reign of Henry VII.

Owen’s early history is also open to debate and much romantic speculation from those who would wish to give him an ‘interesting’ background.  Owen, it is said, fought at Agincourt in 1415.  Owen went on a crusade to Greece.  Both again unlikely.  Perhaps with more realism it is said that in 1421 he, in the name of ‘Owen Meredith’, travelled to France in the retinue of Sir Walter Hungerford, Henry V’s steward, and this gave him his first experience of life at court.  He saw action in France and from there he progressed to some position in the royal household.  It certainly seems a more realistic proposition.  

Windsor Castle

And this, of course is Windsor Castle where the love affair with the Queen Dowager is most likely to have blossomed.

So what was his position, and most particular, how did his path cross that of Dowager Queen Katherine?  

Tradition gives us a number of possibilities, allowing him various ranks but all in the role of servitude:

The Queen’s tailor
Master of the Queen’s Household
Master of the Queen’s Wardrobe
A personal servant (unspecified) in the Queen’s chamber

Whatever the truth of this, we know that he was a disenfranchised Welshman, living under the restrictions placed on all Welsh by the English after the rebellion of Owain Glyn Dwr, and we must suppose that if he was a member of Katherine’s household, then she must have known him for some years before she fell in love with him around 1429 after the debacle of her flirtation with Edmund Beaufort.

It was, without doubt, an extraordinary liaison, for the Dowager Queen of England, a Valois princess, to wed a man from her household.  Not even the date of their marriage is on record but it is thought to be around 1430, before the birth of their eldest son Edmund in 1431.  The occasion of their falling in love is again a mix of myth and romantic legend, and deliciously scandalous, most likely occurring at Windsor where Katherine was by law made to live in the household of her son, the young king.

One strong tradition, written in a poem in 1361 at the time of Owen’s death, was that he first caught Katharine’s attention when he over-balanced and fell into her lap at a Court ball.  Too much alcohol?  Or clumsy dancing?  Impossible to tell.

A mid 16th century chronicler tells a quite different story.  Katharine saw Owen and his friends swimming in the river on a summer’s day.  

Perhaps in this very spot. 

Windsor castle and River

Overcome by his sheer masculinity, Katharine changed garments with her maid and arranged to meet Owen in disguise.  He was too ardent, mistaking her status, she struggled and, escaping his embrace, received a wound to her cheek. Serving her at supper that night, Owen saw the bruise and realised who the ‘maidservant’ had been.  Ashamed, he begged her forgiveness.  Katharine forgave him readily, they professed their love and were duly married.

Sadly, there is no historical proof for either version.  But what vivid scenes these sources paint for us.  The difficulty for a novelist is of course producing something half-way realistic.  If Owen was Katherine’s personal servant, how could he not recognise her face, her voice, even in disguise?  Unless she was mute and they met in a dark cupboard, it would seem impossible.  As for the drunken debauchery ...  It makes writing a credible version highly entertaining.  But whatever the circumstances, fall in love they did, and risked the weight of the law to marry.  As a novelist I chose the aspects that seemed to fit my characters, and since there is no evidence to prove me right or wrong, I am free to make use of the traditions.

Whatever the truth of their meeting, their love was strong enough to encourage the unlikely pair to flout the law of the land.  Katharine was forbidden to marry without the permission of the King who was not yet ten years old.  Any man foolish enough to wed her without permission would find all his lands and possessions declared forfeit.  

Most of their short married life was lived at Katherine’s dower properties of Hertford and Leeds Castle.  

They lived quietly, out of the public eye. 

Hertford Castle

This, the gatehouse, is all that remains of the Castle at Hertford which was probably Katherine's favourite property.

Whatever the truth or falsehood of their meeting, there was never any doubt that the marriage of Katherine and Owen was legal and their children legitimate. Even those who might have found it of an advantage to prove that the Tudor line came from illegitimate stock never did so. Whatever the opposition to Henry VII, it was not voiced that his father, Edmund Tudor, was illegitimate or born outside wedlock.

I would wish Katherine and Owen well in their love. 

 Sadly it was of short duration, Katherine dying in January of 1437.

Leeds Castle

So finally, to return to my original question, should I have stuck to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? 

 In all honesty, without the use of the romantic legends surrounding Katherine and Owen, there would be very little to write about. Who is to know what is truth and what is myth? 

 And without evidence, I feel justified in making use of what is long-held tradition. 

I rest my case.

Anne O’Brien


All Photographs reproduced by kind permission
of the author.

Thank you so much Anne for taking the time to give such a fascinating view into the relationship between Katherine and Owen.

Jaffa and I wish you continued success with The Forbidden Queen

Win a copy of The Forbidden Queen
UK only


  1. Would love to read this book, the story sounds great.

  2. Having never been a big historical fiction fan, I've found myself really enjoying this genre - maybe I'm growing up at last??!! Thanks for the giveaway Josie and Jaffa xx


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