7 February 2022

How Katherine Willoughby knew all the wives of King Henry VIII, his son, Edward, and his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.


I began exploring the life of Katherine Willoughby when writing about her first husband, Charles Brandon for my book, Brandon – Tudor Knight. With typical panache, Brandon borrowed the money to buy the wardship of nine-year-old Katherine, who’d become Baroness Willoughby de Eresby on the death of her father – and one of the wealthiest heiresses in England.

During my research I realised what a unique and extraordinary insight Katherine had to all six wives of King Henry VIII, as well as his children. Part of the reason was her position as Duchess of Suffolk, after her marriage, at the age of fourteen, to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and lifelong friend and companion of the king, but as always, the details are more complicated.

Here is a summary of how she knew each of them:

Catherine of Aragon

Katherine Willoughby was named after Henry’s first queen, as her mother was Maria de Salinas, the queen’s closest friend and companion, who accompanied her when she arrived from Spain. Interestingly, Maria was of course a devout Catholic, yet her daughter became a champion of the Protestant cause. 

Anne Boleyn

Anne married Henry in January 1533 and was crowned Queen in Westminster Hall on 1 June that summer. At the time, Katherine was living in the household of Charles Brandon and his wife, Mary Tudor, (Queen of France, youngest sister of Henry VIII, and subject of my book Mary – Tudor Princess.) Mary Tudor was a best friend of Catherine of Aragon and one of the few who dared speak out against Anne Boleyn. When Mary died on the 25 June, 1533, Charles Brandon married the fourteen-year-old wealthy heiress, Katherine. She therefore regularly attended the Tudor Court when Anne was queen, and Charles Brandon was a participant in Anne’s trial on May 15, 1536.

Jane Seymour

Jane was a maid of honour to Queen Catherine and a friend of Katherine’s mother, Maria de Salinas. They would know each other since Katherine was a girl, and Katherine carried the infant Prince Edward at his christening on the 15th of October, 1537, as well as attending Jane’s funeral as chief mourner soon afterwards.


Baptism of Prince Edward Tudor

Anna of Cleeves

Katherine and her husband Charles Brandon were chosen to welcome Anna of Cleeves at her arrival in England on January 1, 1540, and escorted her to Deal Castle. Duchess Katherine was the first noble to meet Anna, and a Mistress Gilmyn acted as translator to overcome their language difficulties. They seemed to get on well and kept in touch by letter long after Anna’s downfall.

Catherine Howard

Katherine’s home at Grimsthorpe Castle was one of the stops on the ill-fated royal progress to the north of June 1541 where Thomas Culpeper met the young queen in secret. Katherine first met her when she was on of Anne Boleyn’s ladies-in-waiting, but Catherine was a Catholic and they were not close.

Catherine Parr

Katherine knew Catherine Parr when she was Lady Latimer, wife of Sir John Neville, Baron Latimer, and they became close friends through their shared interest in religious reform, Katherine often visited her house in Chelsea, and remained a close friend after she became queen. Katherine is thanked in the dedication page of Catherine Parr's Lamentation of a sinner:

King Edward VI

Prince Edward was tutored with Katherine’s sons, Henry and Charles, so she would have seen him often before he was crowned on the 20th February 1547 at the age of nine.

Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane was the eldest daughter of Charles Brandon’s daughter Frances, and Henry Grey, 3rd Marquess of Dorset, a friend of Katherine’s husband. As well as visiting Grimsthorpe, Lady Jane also lived for a while at Catherine Parr’s house in Chelsea, where she would have met Katherine.

Queen Mary I

Katherine knew Mary since they were both girls, as their mothers were close friends and companions. Their religious differences meant that Katherine and her family had to flee into exile abroad when Mary became queen.

Queen Elizabeth I

Katherine met the young Elizabeth when she was the ward of Catherine Parr, and her house in Chelsea where the incident with Thomas Seymour occurred.  Although Katherine could have become a lady-in-waiting when Elizabeth became queen on the 15th January 1559, she chose to remain at Grimsthorpe Castle.

By any comparison, this is quite a list.  Katherine Willoughby was a woman far ahead of her time, prepared to stand up for her beliefs. The story of her life helps us see the complex world of the Tudors through a new perspective, and I believe she would have been pleased to know that is her legacy.

Tony Riches 

Katherine - Tudor Duchess, the true story of Lady Katherine Willoughby, an amazing Tudor woman, is available in paperback, eBook and audiobook editions:

🇺🇸 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07YCV3RJV

🇬🇧 https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07YCV3RJV

🇦🇺 https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07YCV3RJV

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