Katherine Willoughby

Born on the 22nd March 1519 Katherine Willoughby was the daughter of William, Eleventh Bardon Willoughby and his wife Maria De Salinis, one of Queen Katherine of Aragon’s ladies. At the tender age of just seven Katherine’s father died and with no male son surviving Katherine became his heir. On March 1528 Charles Brandon bought the wardship of Katherine from the King for a staggering £2,266 13s 4d with the intent to marry Katherine to his son Henry. Katherine had then come to live with the Brandon’s to be raised.

Charles Brandon’s third wife, Mary Tudor, died between seven and eight o’clock in the morning on the 25th of June 1533. Her funeral was held on the 20th July 1533 at Bury St Edmunds. Katherine attended the funeral and she and her mother brought forward palls of cloth of gold to the alter.

Less than three months later Katherine was married. Charles Brandon took Katherine as his fourth wife and they married on 7th September 1533. At the time of the marriage Brandon was forty nine and Katherine a mere fourteen. There has been some debate over Brandon’s actions in such a rushed marriage. Originally his intent was to have Katherine marry his son Henry who at the time was only eleven years of age. Brandon however needed cash and quickly and he could not afford to wait until his son became of age. In addition to this with his son’s marriage Brandon would not have acquired the properties and financial benefits that were left to Katherine from her father; instead these would have gone to his son.

We have no records regarding what Katherine thought or felt about the marriage but now at just fourteen years of age Katherine Willoughby was Duchess of Suffolk and one of the most powerful women in England.

Katherine Willoughby gave birth to a boy on 18th September 1535. A short time later the little boy, named Henry after the King, was christened. Henry VIII stood as one of the godfathers, a great honour for Brandon, and even gave the midwife and nurse £4 for their efforts.

Katherine then gave birth to a second son sometime in 1537 who was christened Charles. There are no details about where or when the young boy was born.

In 1536 the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in Lincolnshire. The people were unhappy with the dissolution of their Abbey in Louth, upset with many of the government commissions in the area which were being conducted to look at the resources that the smaller monasteries had as well as the conduct of the clergy. There was also widespread rumour that the government would confiscate the jewels, plate and wealth of the monasteries and also impose new taxes upon the people. Brandon, along with the Duke of Norfolk were instructed with supressing the uprising. After promises of pardons and then Henry VIII reneging on these promises the Pilgrimage of Grace was finally supressed in early 1537.

Sometime before May 26th 1537 the King ordered that Brandon permanently position himself within Lincolnshire to make the King’s presence known. Katherine and her two children moved to Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire to be with her husband and it was here that Katherine would make her main residence for the rest of her life.

 Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk died on the 22nd of August 1545 at Guildford leaving Katherine a widow at just twenty six years of age with two small boys. Upon her husband’s death Katherine retained all her own lands as well as a third of her husband’s property for her Dowager payment. Her eldest son Henry obtained the remaining two thirds of his father’s property and wealth which he would be entitled to when he became of age. Katherine bought her son’s wardship and right to marriage for £1500 which was to be paid over seven instalments.

Katherine was a Protestant in her beliefs that is she believed that there was no need for elaborate church ceremonies with priests and saints acting as intermediaries or the need for pilgrimages. Protestant’s also rejected the Transubstantiation, the idea that the bread and wine at communion became the body and blood of Christ. They believed that the word of God came from the bible and that salvation was through faith rather than good works and deeds. With Henry VIII’s break from Rome and the English Reformation there were many upheaval’s in the English Church throughout Katherine’s life but some of her beliefs were still not commonly accepted and thus it was quite dangerous to be a Protestant during the last years of Henry VIII’s reign.

Katherine became close friends with Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife who also held strong Protestant beliefs. The pair held a close friendship in which they shared their thoughts and ideas regarding their faith however they were to walk a fine line.

Following Henry VIII’s death on the 28th January 1547 his son Edward VI came to the throne. Edward shared many of the same Protestant beliefs that Katherine did and under his reign the young woman was excited to see the Protestant faith being publically promoted throughout England.

Tragedy truck Katherine again in 1548 when her dear friend Catherine Parr died shortly after giving birth to a daughter named Mary by her fourth husband Thomas Seymour. After Seymour’s execution for treason against Edward VI little Mary was handed to Katherine to look after. However Katherine as not so impressed at looking after the orphaned girl and the financial strain it caused her own household. However it does not seem that the little girl lived beyond her second birthday.

Tragedy would again strike on the 14th of July 1551 when both of Katherine’s boys, Henry and Charles, died within an hour of one another at Buckden at the tender ages of just sixteen and fourteen. Both boys were buried at Buckden and the title of Duke of Suffolk would pass to Katherine’s step daughter’s husband, Henry Grey. It would seem that Katherine had a close relationship with her step daughter Frances as she spent Christmas at her home in 1551.

In July 1552 or early 1553 Katherine married her second husband Richard Bertie. Bertie was Katherine’s gentleman usher and it was his role to undertake much of Katherine’s day to day business. At thirty six Bertie was only three years older than Katherine and despite there being much hushed talk about her marrying beneath her station it appeared that for her second marriage Katherine chose a man she loved.

Sometime in 1554 Katherine gave birth to her third child, the first with her second husband. She had a daughter who was named Susan.

Under Edward VI’s reign Katherine was a hard working Protestant, sharing her religious books with others, frequenting church, supporting those of the same faith both financially and with her names sake. However Edward VI died on 6th July 1553 and his death paved the way for the very Catholic, Mary I.

Mary I desired to return England to the Catholic faith and reunite the country with Rome. This was quite in opposition to Katherine’s own personal Protestant beliefs and in addition to this Mary I appointed Bishop Stephen Gardiner as her Lord Chancellor. Katherine and Gardiner had never seen eye to eye and there had been more than one occasion in the late 1540’s where Katherine had insulted Gardiner.

Katherine was also known to have a feisty temper. She herself admitted to having a short temper and a quick tongue and there were even times that she went out of her way to jibe at someone. At a dinner party when her husband Brandon suggested that each lady ask the man they liked best to escort them to dinner. Since Katherine could not take her own husband she decided to take Bishop Gardiner because she liked him the least. She also named her dog Gardiner as an obvious insult to the man.

With the accession of Mary I to the throne and Katherine’s clear Protestant beliefs Gardiner wasted little time in seeking to attack the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk. He claimed that her first husband, Charles Brandon, still owed the crown £4000 and that Katherine needed to repay this money. He called Katherine’s husband Bertie to a meeting to discuss the financial matters but the discussion focused on Bertie’s and Katherine’s religious beliefs.

Once he returned home Katherine and Bertie decided that it was only a matter of time before they were arrested for their religious beliefs and they decided to flee England. In February 1555 Katherine, her husband Richard and their one year old daughter Susan left England for Europe.

In a long, dangerous and often gruelling journey, the couple travelled across Europe to Samogitia. To add to the danger and difficulties of their travels Katherine gave birth to her second child with Bertie on the 12th October 1555. They had a son named Peregrine.

During their exile Katherine, her husband and their two children had to constantly look out for the threat of Mary I and her government as well as try and deal with financial difficulties. It is unclear if the couple wished to stay in Samogitia indefinitely or if they wished to return to England at some point, however Mary I’s death on 17th November 1558 paved the way for Katherine and her family to return to England.

Under the reign of Elizabeth I Katherine and her family were able to return to England without the fear of persecution. They returned in the spring or summer of 1559 and Katherine’s lands were soon restored to her. Richard Bertie returned to courtly duties and was appointed as a Member of Parliament for Lincolnshire. Katherine continued to be an active member of the community, visiting other noble families, being petitioned for support, favours and aid by people of Lincolnshire. She also travelled regularly, often going to London. Katherine fought hard and petitioned Elizabeth I for her husband to become Baron Willoughby de Eresby however the Queen never granted Katherine her wishes. Katherine continued to be a strong supporter of the Protestant faith and urged those around her to follow the faith as she did. She employed Protestant ministers as preachers in the local churches of Lincolnshire, sought people of the same faith as her chaplains and also provided bibles for those in her care.

Although in reasonably good health through out her life in her last years Katherine’s health began to fail. She suffered from several illnesses on and off in her final years and died on the 19th of September 1580. It is unknown where Katherine died but her funeral took place at Spilsby on the 22nd of October 1580.

Katherine Willoughby was sixty one when she died. A wife and a mother Katherine suffered great losses throughout her life but she held true to her faith, something that she was deeply passionate about and provided her with comfort in her darkest hours.

Catherine Willoughby

Katherine Willoughby, sketch by Hans Holbein the Younger. Image from Wikipedia.


Baldwin, D 2015, Henry VIII’s Last Love The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady-in-Waiting to the Tudors, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.

 ‘Henry VIII: August 1535, 26-31.’ Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535. Ed. James Gairdner. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1886. 57-81. British History Online. Web. 14 August 2015. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp57-81.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Brandon, Charles, first duke of Suffolk (c.1484–1545), 2015, Oxford University Press, viewed 14 March 2015, < http://www.oxforddnb.com/&gt;.


The marriage of Charles Brandon and Katherine Willoughby

On the 7th September 1533 just three months after the death of his third wife, Mary Tudor, sister of King Henry VIII, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk married his fourth wife, Katherine Willoughby.

There has been some debate over Brandon’s actions in such a rushed marriage. In March 1528 Brandon bought the wardship of Katherine Willoughby, daughter and heiress of the late Lord Willoughby de Eresby who has died in October 1526 from the King for a staggering £2,266 13s 4d.

Originally his intent was to have Katherine marry his son Henry who at the time was only eleven years of age. Brandon however needed cash and quickly and he could not afford to wait until his son became of age so he could be married to Katherine. In addition to this with his son’s marriage Brandon would not have acquired the properties and financial benefits that were left to Katherine from her father. Instead these would have gone to his son and Brandon was ever the opportunist and in desperate need for money.

At the time of the marriage Brandon was forty nine and Katherine a mere fourteen. Looking back with a modern prospective Brandon was old enough to be Katherine’s father and this can be quite horrifying, but for the age it was not completely unusual for an older man to marry quite a younger woman. However it is said that there were still some mutterings surrounding Brandon’s actions, and people were well aware of the real reasons as to why Brandon married Katherine Willoughby.

We have no knowledge regarding Katherine’s thoughts and feelings towards her marriage to Brandon. She had been raised to seek out a good and prosperous marriage and by marrying a Duke she would become a Duchess and in turn become one of the most prominent women in England at the time. Despite the vast age gap between the pair there seems to be a close relationship of some sorts as Katherine would go on to give Brandon two sons in a short period of time.

Charles Brandon and Katherine Willoughby (Images from Wikipedia).


Baldwin, D 2015, Henry VIII’s Last Love The Extraordinary Life of Katherine

Willoughby, Lady-in-Waiting to the Tudors, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.


Franklin-Harkrider, M 2008, Women, Reform and Community in Early Modern England: Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and Lincolnshire’s Godly Aristocracy, 1519-1580, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.


Gunn, S 2015, Charles Brandon, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire, UK.

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J.S Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H Brodie, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932.

A Princess is Born

On the 7th of September 1533 at approximately 3 o’clock in the afternoon Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, gave birth to a baby girl at Greenwich. Perhaps Anne and Henry had decided that Anne should give birth at Greenwich as it had been the very place that Henry had been born forty two years previously. This was Anne’s first pregnancy and she had retired to her chambers only thirteen days before her daughter was born. It was customary of the time that a Queen should retire to her chambers several weeks before the believed due date so perhaps the doctors or Anne miscalculated the baby’s due date or the child was born early.

According to Starkey the chambers in which Anne Boleyn retired to deliver her child had ‘a false roof in the Queen’s Bedchamber for to seal it and hang it with cloth of arrars. They also constructed a cupboard of state… for the Queen’s plate to stand on in the Bedchamber, together with an alter, a platform and a stool where the Queen could sit during her devotions. Finally, they erected a great bed of state in her Presence Chamber, or Throne Room.’ (Starkey 2004 p. 505).

Anne Boleyn’s labour was reported to be without great difficulty and he little girl she bore had the facial features of her mother but her father’s classic Tudor red hair. Elizabeth was reported to be a strong and healthy baby and was probably named after both Henry and Anne’s mothers. Both Henry and the astrologers and physicians of the day had predicted that the child would be a boy – a prince and heir to continue on the Tudor dynasty, unfortunately the child had been a girl.

Letters that were to be dispatched to foreign dignitaries and King’s which had already been written up were quickly altered, from Prince to Princess. Also the celebratory jousts that had been scheduled to rejoice the birth of a son were cancelled. Yet despite this Elizabeth’s birth and the declaration of Henry VIII’s first legitimate child were celebrated and Te Deum was sung at the Chapel Royal.

It has often been reported that Henry was greatly disappointed at the birth of a daughter and it was right from this early stage that his and Anne Boleyn’s marriage began to crumble. This however is not exactly the truth. Certainly both Henry and Anne were disappointed but not as much as many believed. Elizabeth was strong and healthy and Anne fallen pregnant shortly after she began to sleep with Henry. Her pregnancy and labour were reported to be fairly easy (for the time that is) and there was still time and hope that Anne’s next pregnancy would be quick and this time she would deliver the son Henry VIII so desperately desired. It is also reported that when Henry went to visit Anne after the birth he told her that ‘You and I are both young… and by God’s grace, boys will follow’ (Weir 1991 p. 258). If indeed Henry said this I can only imagine how Anne must have felt.

Henry’s disappointment also cannot have been that great as before Elizabeth was even a year old he had ‘caused an Act of Succession to be passed in her favour, which made her his heir in place of Mary’ (Weir  2008 p. 6).  Mary being the daughter born to Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon.

Unfortunately despite the birth of a healthy daughter Anne Boleyn was still under pressure. She had achieved her desire to marry Henry and been crowned Queen of England but she still had to fulfil her role. It was believed of women at the time that it was not only their duty to serve their husbands but to give them healthy sons. Anne was under even more pressure as not only did she need to give her husband, the King a son, she needed to give England a healthy male heir.  If only she and Henry knew the powerful ruler that Elizabeth would grow up to be, reigning over England for forty four years in a time known as the ‘Golden Age’.

Elizabeth I


Hu asdf Ives, E 2009, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Starkey, D 2004, Six Wives The Queens of Henry VIII, Vintage, London.

Weir, A 1991, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Grove Press, New York.

Weir, A 2008, The Children of Henry VIII, Ballantine Books, New York.

The Lady becomes a Marquis

On September 1st 1532 Anne Boleyn was created Marquis of Pembroke, a title held in her own right, the first time a woman in England had ever held such a peerage.

Anne Boleyn had been mistress to King Henry VIII for approximately six years and the “Great Matter” of Henry’s divorce from his wife Queen Catherine of Aragon was still raging on; yet  it appeared that both Anne and Henry believed their time was approaching. Henry had faith that soon the whole matter regarding the annulment of his marriage would be sorted and he would be free to marry Anne. Already Henry was spending increasing amounts upon Anne in not only coin but also for fine clothing – clothing befitting a future Queen.

As well as this belief Henry VIII would soon be meeting with King Francis I of France and with Anne travelling with him she needed a suitable title and position to meet the French King. Last time Anne Boleyn had seen the King of France she had been a lady in waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Henry and Anne both believed that soon she would be Queen and therefore Anne needed status.

On September 1st at Windsor Castle a lavish ceremony was held creating Anne Boleyn as the Marquis of Pembroke. For this stunning and important ceremony Anne wore her long dark hair down, flowing over her shoulders and down her ermined trimmed velvet surcoat. She also wore many beautiful jewels given to her by Henry himself.

Anne was taken into the King’s presence by the Garter King-at-Arms and the Countess of Rutland and Derby and Mary Howard, Anne’s cousin and wife of Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, who carried the crimson velvet mantle and the golden coronet of Marquis.

On each side of the King stood the Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Suffolk and the whole court watched the following ceremony.

After Anne entered the King’s presence she bowed before him and Bishop Stephen Gardiner read out the patent which gave Anne Boleyn the title of Marquis of Pembroke in her own right. After this Henry VIII placed around her shoulders the mantle and upon her head the coronet and then gave her the patent of her status. He also conferred upon her lands which were worth about £1000 a year.

It is important to note that the patent of Marquis of Pembroke was given to Anne Boleyn in her own right – that is she held the title and not her father or future husband. It was to her son that the title would be inherited. It should also be noted that the words ‘lawfully begotten’ was removed from the patent – that is if an illegitimate child was born to Anne that son would be able to inherit the title of Marquis of Pembroke. I find this extremely interesting and I can only wonder if Henry and possibly Anne were accounting for the chance that Anne might fall pregnant before her marriage to Henry. If Henry and Anne were already thinking about the possibilities of a child before marriage I can only wonder if Anne had finally decided to sleep with Henry or if the possibility was close.  Either way Anne Boleyn was now one step closer to becoming Queen.

Anne Boleyn

(Image from Wikipedia)


Ives, E 2005, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Australia.

Friedmann, P 2010, Anne Boleyn, Amberly Publishing, Gloucestershire.

Weir, A 1991, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Grove Press, New York.

The death of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk died on the 22nd of August at 4’oclock in the afternoon at Guildford. Despite wishing to be buried in the college church of Tattershall in Lincoln without any pomp or display Brandon was buried at St George’s Chapel in Windsor near the south door of the choir at the King’s expense. Of his death Charles Wriothesley wrote:

 This moneth also died at Gilford the excelent Prince Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolke, and Lord Great Master of the Kinges Household, whose death all true Englishment maie greatlie lament, which had been so valiant a captaine in the Kinges warres, booth in Scotland, Fraunce, and Irelande, to the great damage and losse of the Kinges enemies, whose bodie was honorably buried at Windsor at the Kinges costes”[2]

In his Chronicle of the history of England Edward Hall wrote…

In thys moneth died Chalres, the noble and valiaunt duke of Suffolke a hardye gentleman, and yet not so hardy, as almoste of all estates and degrees of menne high and lowe, rych and poore, hartely beloued and hys death of theme muche lamented, he was buryed at Wyndsore”.

It is said that the King was struck with grief at the loss of his longest and most loyal friend and upon hearing the news of Brandon’s death the King declared that Brandon had been one of his best friends. He went on to say that Brandon had always been loyal and generous and that he had never taken unfair advantage of a friend or enemy and was truly fair towards all his political enemies.

Charles Brandon Older


Gunn, S 2015, Charles Brandon, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire, UK.

Hutchinson R 2006, The Last Days of Henry VIII, Phoenix, London.

Hall, E 1809, Hall’s chronicle : containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, J. Johnson, London.

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J.S Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H Brodie, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932.

Weir, A 2008, Henry VIII King & Court, Vintage Books, London.

Wriothesley, C 1875, A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Camden Society.