Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Witchcraft in her Lips

by | April 14, 2014

You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate:

Henry V

reprinted from “Shakespeare’s Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects” — an excellent work on the subject by Neil MacGregor

there is more eloquence in a sugar touch of them

than in the tongues of the French council,

and they should sooner persuade Henry of England

than a general petition of monarchs.

Henry V, Shakespeare



This kiss in Act V was “greeted by cheers from an adoring public” in Shakespeare’s time. A high and mighty Princess, born of England’s greatest enemy, submissively capitulates to England’s most beloved king. Her father acknowledged Henry as his heir and the ambition of the Plantagenet dynasty was finally to be fulfilled.

Alas, Henry died from dysentery, leaving a young son in the care of his widow. Henry VI went on to ignominy and the Wars of the Roses. The queen dowager entered into an “amorous” relationship with the Welshman Owen Tudor and bore him children from whom sprang the Tudor dynasty. She died in childbirth and was laid to rest beside her royal husband in Westminster.

But her lips lived on.

“Shrove Tuesday, and here we did see, by particular favour, the body of Queen Katherine of Valois;                                         

Kate of Valois

From the Westminster Abbey collection–the closest thing to touching the history of England

and I had the upper part of her body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth,

reflecting upon it that I did kiss a Queen, and that this was my birth-day,

thirty-six years old, that I did first kiss a Queen.

Diary of Samuel Pepys, Vol. 8, part two, 1669

Pepys had the effrontery of taking his family on a tour of the royal tombs in Westminster, and, ‘by particular favour,” had the corpse of the queen revealed to him. Would he have violated the corpse of any dead person? It seems unlikely. But to take possession of the physical reminder of sovereignty must have seemed altogether too difficult to resist, and he took in his arms the remains of this princess whom Henry V was said to be enamoured of. 

It is what Pierre Nora tantalizingly calls “osculation” in his History, Memory, Necrophilia– a fleshly joining together that goes beyond any treaty or religious pronouncement.

A taste of history, as it were.






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