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Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Following the announcement of her engagement to Prince William, Kate Middleton started using her first name, Catherine (her birth name is Catherine Elizabeth Middleton) and would like to be known with that name from now on. By choosing such name, some royal watchers could not help but recalled the sad fate of the previous English and British Queen Consorts with a name Catherine.

What interest me most (though not all of them suffered a terrible fate) is the controversial and often sad circumstances on the lives of each Queen Catherine in the past. Though the events were distinct from each other, I could not help but think if this name signifies tragedy or tribulation in the royal court.

Interestingly, no daughters of a ruling British monarch since the 16th century had the name Catherine. The last British sovereign who had a daughter named Catherine was King Henry VII, the birth was difficult that his wife, Queen Elizabeth, died shortly with the child.

Back to Kate Middleton.

Prince William is a direct successor to the throne and would mount someday as King William V. If his wedding, without obstacles, will push through next year, his bride would be the sixth Queen Consort in British history with a name Catherine.

So let's travel back in time and take a look with the past "Catherines" who were embroiled with controversies and scandals and suffered misfortune, if not, grisly fates within the English/British royal court.

Princess Catherine of Valois (1401-1437)

The first English Queen Consort bearing the name Catherine was the daughter of King Charles VI of France.  Princess Catherine of Valois (1401-1437), through a peace treaty to end the hostilities and settle the dispute between England and France during the Hundred Years of War, married King Henry V of England in 1420.

She gave birth to a son who would become King Henry VI but seven months later, her husband died leaving the thrones of England and France to her infant son, the countries were ruled by regents and the dowager queen was not allowed to get hand on the activities of the crown, she was also strictly prohibited to remarry without the consent of the parliament.

But Catherine secretly formed a romantic liaison with a Welsh nobleman, Owen Tudor, whom she had children. One of these children was Edmund Tudor, the father of King Henry VII, the question whether they actually married remained unknown. Queen Catherine died on January 1437 at the age of 36.

Princess Catherine of Aragon (14385-1536)

The second Queen with that name was Princess Catherine of Aragon (14385-1536), she first married Prince Arthur, the heir of King Henry VII, but he died several months after the wedding making Catherine a widow at the age of 16, unwilling to return the dowry to King Ferdinand of Aragon, the English court devised a plan to let her marry to Arthur's younger brother, Prince Henry, their wedding took place after the death of Henry VII.

For years, Queen Catherine enjoyed a harmonious life with her husband, King Henry VIII, until failure to provide the throne with a male heir strained the relationship. Their only surviving child was Princess Mary and the royal house of Tudor doubted if a woman can govern a volatile Kingdom, the King wanted to avoid the dispute of succession, which was the main cause of the War of the Roses, so he preferred a male successor.

The King eventually filed an annulment in order to remarry but his petition was denied by Pope Clement VII. The Roman Pontiff reportedly did not want to create a conflict with the Holy Roman Empire for political and religious reasons and because the Holy Roman Emperor at that time was Charles V (also the reigning King of Spain), the nephew of Queen Catherine, the Pope disapproved the annulment. Henry VIII was so angry that he cut all his ties from the Vatican, established the Church of England and declared himself as its supreme head.

The King obtained a divorce later and banished Catherine from the court forever, she was stripped the title of a Queen and her daughter was proclaimed illegitimate (but restored in the line of succession several years later and reigned as Queen Mary I). She was known as the dowager Princess of Wales after the divorce referring to her former style. Henry married his mistress, Anne Boleyn, who bore him a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I. Catherine lived in a poorly ventilated castle and was not allowed to see her daughter for the rest of her life. She died in 1536, though rumors persisted that she was poisoned by Anne Boleyn, historians believed the former Queen died from cancer.

Catherine Howard (1525-1542)

The third Catherine was Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard (1525-1542), a granddaughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk and a first cousin of Anne Boleyn. Catherine referred by Henry as his "rose without a thorn" referring to her innocence. But this Catherine did not live up to the high expectations of being a dignified Queen Consort, just two years after the marriage, she disappointed her husband and the royal court with her misconduct.

She was accused of adultery and the ministers formed an inquest on her case, she was found guilty of high treason. During medieval period, committing adultery while married to the monarch was considered a high treason against the crown (to ensure legitimate heirs) therefore punishable by death. A day before she was executed, Catherine was stripped the title of a Queen and reportedly very nervous while ushering to the scaffold, her knees were trembling that several people required to assist her, she was beheaded at the Tower of London, suffering the same horrible fate with that of her cousin, Anne Boleyn.

Catherine Parr (1512-1548)

The fourth Catherine was Henry's sixth wife, Catherine Parr (1512-1548). She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr, a descendant of King Edward III of England. Though she remained faithful to the King and possessed an amiable character, Parr remained one of the most controversial and unlikely choice Queen Consorts in English history because she married twice before catching the attention of the middle-aged King.

Not unless royal by birth and for political alliance purposes, a married, divorce or a widow woman was considered an inconceivable choice to become a monarch's wife, this tradition was still popular in the 20th century that King Edward VIII was forced to give up the throne because his choice of a wife (Wallis Simpson) was not only a commoner but twice divorce.

Catherine Parr joined the household of Henry and Catherine's only surviving child, Princess Mary, as the latter's attendant after her second husband died, it was there that she caught the attention of Henry. Though she wanted to marry Sir Thomas Seymour, the brother of Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, Catherine was obliged to accept the proposal of the King.

They eventually got married. Her strength of character and cordial demeanor won admiration and respect from the English subjects much more when she helped reconciled Henry with his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, after long separation and were both restored in the line of succession.

She created a scandal when she married Sir Thomas Seymour within six months after the King's death in 1547, she bore Seymour a daughter, her pregnancy became a surprise as she did not conceive in her past three marriages.

She was further involved in a controversy when it was reported that she tolerated the advances of her husband with  the 15-year-old Princess Elizabeth, the future Elizabeth I. Catherine Parr died shortly after giving birth to her only child, Mary Seymour.

Princess Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705)

The fifth Catherine was a Portuguese Princess, Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) the wife of King Charles II. Catherine, a Roman Catholic, was not popular among her husband's subjects due to her religion and inability to speak English, she failed also to produce heirs for the throne.

She had to endure the humiliation of being barren and the philandering nature of her husband who kept several mistresses and sired illegitimate children during their marriage, two of the King's sons were the Duke of Grafton and the Duke of Richmond, who were direct ancestors of Diana, Princess of Wales.

She lived a troubled life within the English establishment and often caught in the cross fire between the political conflicts of Catholics and Protestants. In 1678 after the mysterious death of Sir Edmund Godfrey, an English magistrate, she was accused of taking part on the plot to poison the King, the accusation was unfounded and even King Charles dismissed the accusation as purely fiction.

Luckily for the Queen, she grew up in a strict royal household of Braganza, who was trained to quietly follow royal decorum and should appear nice in public. She eventually won the admiration of the English subjects with her unique kindness and devotion to the King and to her role,When the King died, Catherine returned to Portugal.

Though the misfortunes attached to the former Queen Consorts with a name Catherine had many factors and should not worry Kate Middleton, speculations on what might happen to her and the difficult road she would traverse within the British establishment, continue to escalate.

FYI: The most common names of the daughters of the British monarchs are: Elizabeth, Anne, Mary, Margaret, Sophia, Victoria, Louise, Charlotte, Isabella and Alexandra.  

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