On the 23rd March 1538 Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador at the English court, wrote to the Queen of Hungry explaining that: ‘On the same day, the 18th, the painter returned with the Duchess’ likeness, which has pleased the King much, and put him in much better humour. He has been masking and visiting the duchess of Suffolk.’
The fact that the King visited and entertained with Katherine Willoughby has been used to suggest that he was romantically interested in her from as early as 1538. It should be pointed out that in the previous sentence Chapuys informs the Queen of Hungry that the painter (Hans Holbein) returned with the Duchess’ likens which pleased the King much. The Duchess in question was Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan who Henry VIII was investigating as a potential fourth wife. Even Chapuys states that the King liked the appearance of the Duchess, confirming his further interest in her for a bride so it makes little sense that he would then go and romantically pursue Katherine Willoughby.
Imperial ambassador, Francois Van der Delft, wrote to Charles V telling him of rumours he had heard about the King and Katherine Willoughby:
‘Sire, I am confused and apprehensive to have to inform your Majesty that there are rumours here of a new Queen, although I do not know why, or how true it may be. Some people attribute to it the sterility of the present Queen, whilst others say there will be no change whilst the present war lasts. Madame Suffolk is much talked about, and is in great favour; but the King shows no alteration in his demeanour towards the Queen, though the latter, as I am informed, is somewhat annoyed at the rumours.’
It must be noted that this letter was written on 27 September 1546 over a year after Brandon’s death. The letter also states that the King is annoyed by these rumours which suggest that he was not romantically interested in Katherine Willoughby or at least he was not seeking to cast off his sixth wife and replace her with a seventh.
In all, there is very little to suggest that Charles Brandon’s widow was in any danger from the King’s attention or that he was seeking to make her his wife after his friend’s death. Perhaps the King sought to spend time with Katherine as a means to reminisce and remind himself of happier memories after Brandon’s death.
Baldwin, David, Henry VIII’s Last Love: The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady-in-Waiting to the Tudors (Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2015).
Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 10, 1550-1552, (London: British History Online) <http://www.british-<history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol10/pp225-237>.
Gairdner, James, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47 (United Kingdom: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932).