Catherine of Valois – Matriarch of Insanity

Catherine of Valois was the daughter of the French King Charles VI. History has mostly forgotten about her, but perhaps they shouldn’t have. The princess didn’t do much worthy of being remembered though. Charles VI and Henry V arranged for Catherine to marry the english King (Henry V). They were only married a few years, before Henry V died. During that time though, they had one son who would go on to be made king Henry VI.

I have blogged about the French King Charles VI in the past, because Charles VI was seriously mentally ill. Modern thoughts on it are he probably suffered from schizophrenia. This is rather important, because Catherine of Valois is the great grandmother of Henry VIII and the great, great, great, great, great grandmother of George I, who started the Hanoverian dynasty and gave us Mad King George III.

I know most people don’t think of madness when thinking about Henry VIII, but there’s some evidence to suggest that Henry VIII had some issues with mental instability and his eldest daughter Mary, was known for being a hysterical, nervous type who suffered persecution mania and claimed that God spoke to her on a few occasions.

Neither Henry VIII nor Mary were as mentally ill as Charles VI of France, but modern research on the subject does suggest that mental illness might be an underlying complication that lead to Henry VIII’s hot-tempered nature and paranoia about being incapable of producing an heir to the throne with either Catherine or Anne Boleyn.

How does that tie into the Hanoverians? Catherine of Valois had two children after Henry V died with a Welshman named Owen Tudor. Henry VI grew up to be a decent man, not just a good king, but a good man. After the untimely death of his mother, Henry VI took over caring for his very young brothers. He bestowed earldoms on both boys and managed to get both of them advantageous marriages (they were technically illegitimate and Owen Tudor had served in the house of the king, but not in a high ranking position as he was a Welshmen). It was the descendents of one of these illegitimate children that eventually married into the German Royal House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which is where George I came from.

There has been much speculation about what was wrong with Charles VI of France. We don’t have good records from his times of madness. We have some records written by his brother, who served as regent when Charles VI couldn’t rule. But, his brother was murdered and his many of his papers confiscated by the nobles involved in his murder. Porphyria, which is what we are nearly certain George III had, is hereditary and it has different stages and phases. Sometimes, symptoms are incredibly bad, sometimes they aren’t. And someone can have porphyria with only mild symptoms.

What little we do know about King Charles VI’s illness could support a diagnosis of porphyria, but it could also support a diagnosis of schizophrenia, another hereditary illness. Interestingly, both conditions rarely cause the same intensity of symptoms in women, that they cause in men. Catherine of Valois was prone to hysterical fits. Meaning she may have had mild symptoms of either, but being a woman, she wasn’t given the same interest as the kings from her lineage. There is a growing school of thought that Henry VIII’s obsession with having an heir was more about mental illness than wanting to ensure the Tudors kept the throne.

The current rulers of England, Queen Elizabeth II is actually related to King Henry VIII and King George III (genetically speaking, much more closely related to George III than Henry VIII, but still related). And this may explain why many of the male heirs since the death of Queen Victoria in the 1800s have had short life spans. Even mild porphyria still causes enzyme deficiencies that can shorten a person’s life. During WWI, the King of England changed the family’s name from Sax-Coburg to Windsor because anti-German sentiment was incredibly high and the family was basically British at that point anyway.

And the interesting and somewhat bloody royal history for the last 600 years in England, is the result of Catherine of Valois.

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