Henry V and Catherine de Valois

Henry V (1387-1422)

Henry was born at Monmouth in 1387, eldest son of Henry IV and Mary de Bohun, and succeeded his father in 1413. His life and reign, especially his conquests in France, are matters of general history. A Te Deum for the victory of Agincourt, fought on St Crispin's Day (25 October) 1415 was sung before the shrine of St Edward the Confessor in the Abbey and Henry contributed money yearly towards the rebuilding of the nave. He married Catherine de Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France. In August 1422 he died at Vincennes and his body was embalmed and rested for a time in Rouen Cathedral. He was returned to England and a great procession accompanied the cortege from Dover to St Paul's Cathedral in London. The coffin, on which lay his effigy, was then brought to the Abbey on 7 November 1422 for burial. At his magnificent funeral four horses drew the chariot into the Nave as far as the choir screen. Henry had directed that a chantry chapel should be raised over his body, at the eastern end of the Confessor's chapel.

His tomb was completed in about 1431. The inscription around the ledge of the tomb platform can be translated:

"Henry V, hammer of the Gauls, lies here. Henry was put in the urn 1422. Virtue conquers all. The fair Catherine finally joined her husband 1437. Flee idleness".

The effigy head, sceptre and other regalia were all of silver, with silver gilt plates covering the figure of the king. However, all the silver was stolen in 1546 and the effigy was just a plain block of oak for many centuries. In 1971 a new head, hands and a crown for the effigy were modelled in polyester resin by Louisa Bolt, the features following a contemporary description of the king and the earliest portrait of him. The tomb lies beneath the arch of the chantry, which is carved with figures of kings and saints. Above him is the Altar of the Annunciation, where prayers were said for the soul of the king. On the bridges spanning the ambulatories are sculptures depicting Henry at his coronation and riding into battle on his horse.

The saddle, helm and shield, which were part of his funeral 'achievements', were for many centuries displayed on the wooden beam above the chantry, but were restored and removed to the Abbey Museum in 1972. This saddle is the earliest surviving example of a new light-weight type, originally covered with blue velvet. The lime wood shield has only a small section of crimson velvet remaining on the inner side. The domed helm, about sixteen inches high, is a tilting helm so would not have been worn in battle. A 15th century sword, found in the Abbey triforium in 1869, is thought to be part of this funeral armour.

Catherine de Valois

Henry's widow Catherine de Valois (1401-1437) married Owen Tudor, a Welsh squire, and one of her sons, Edmund, Earl of Richmond was the father of the future Henry VII. She was buried in the old Lady chapel and when Henry VII pulled this down to build his new chapel he moved his grandmother's body and it was placed above ground in an open coffin of loose boards near Henry V, where it remained for nearly 200 years. Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, saw the mummified remains in 1669 and records how he was allowed to kiss the queen! The body was eventually buried in 1778 and a century later Dean Stanley removed her remains for permanent burial under the altar in Henry V's chantry. The inscription for her on the altar can be translated:

“Under this slab (once the altar of this chapel) for long cast down and broken up by fire, rest at last, after various vicissitudes, finally deposited here by command of Queen Victoria, the bones of Catherine de Valois, daughter of Charles VI, King of France, wife of Henry V, mother of Henry VI, grandmother of Henry VII, born 1400, crowned 1421, died 1438”.

The date 1878 is given in the bottom corner, when the remains were buried, together with a coat of arms and three badges of Henry V within trefoils: a beacon, an antelope and a swan.

Her painted wooden funeral effigy is on display in the Abbey Museum, but the effigy used at Henry's funeral has not survived.

Photographs of the tomb, chantry, funeral armour and funeral effigy can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

“Henry V. A biography” by H.Hutchison, 1967
“The reign of Henry V” by J.H.Wylie, 3 vols, 1914-29
“The funeral, monument and chantry chapel of Henry V” by W.St John Hope in Archaeologia vol. LXV, 1914
“The funeral effigies of Westminster Abbey” edited by A.Harvey and R.Mortimer, revised edition 2003.

A service to mark the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt will be held in the Abbey in 2015.

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