26 January 2020

Katherine Willoughby and Charles Brandon


Katherine Willoughby was one of the most intriguing yet least well known women of the Tudor court of Henry VIII. Attractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine knew all Henry’s six wives, becoming lifelong friends with Anna of Cleves and Catherine Parr, She and also knew Henry's children well, and It was rumoured that Henry might choose her as his seventh wife. So how did the daughter of one of the most committed Catholics in England become an outspoken advocate of religious reform?

Katherine was born at Parham Old Hall in Suffolk, on the 22nd of March 1519. Her father was  William Willoughby, the 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby, a prominent courtier and the wealthiest landowner in Lincolnshire.  Her mother was MarĂ­a de Salinas, who’d arrived in England from Spain in 1501 with Queen Catherine of Aragon. She was the Queen's ladies-in-waiting and closest companion, and named her daughter after Queen Catherine.

It seems young Katherine had a sheltered childhood. As her two brothers died in infancy, she was brought up with only her tutors and servants for company. Her mother was often away at court, and her father died suddenly when she was seven,  making Katherine Baroness Willoughby de Eresby – and one of the wealthiest heiresses in England.


I began exploring her life when writing about her first husband, King Henry’s best friend, Charles Brandon, for my book, Brandon – Tudor Knight. With typical panache, Brandon borrowed the money to buy the wardship of nine-year-old Katherine, and claimed his plan was to secure her as a bride for his son and heir, Henry, Earl of Lincoln, who was named after the king.

I suspect the truth was a little different. Charles Brandon’s wife, Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, and the king’s sister, suffered with a debilitating ‘pain in her side’, so I believe he was making plans for the future.

Whether or not I’m right, the fact is that Mary died on the 25 June 1533, and Brandon's marriage to young Katherine (barely two months later) instantly solved his money worries, with Katherine’s thirty manors making Brandon the most important landowner in Lincolnshire.

Katherine was fourteen at the time, and Charles Brandon was forty-nine, though we must take care not to apply modern standards, it must have been quite a shock to suddenly become a duchess, with privileged access to the king, and one of the most senior ladies of the Tudor court. The age difference was not unusual, although court gossips will have raised an eyebrow at Brandon’s haste.

Tony Riches


Katherine - Tudor Duchess is on Amazon UK and Amazon US
in paperback and eBook
and an audiobook edition is in production



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