After Mary: Charles Brandon & Katherine Willoughby


We’ve covered before how Henry VIII’s younger and favorite sister, Princess Mary, married his best friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, shortly after the death of her first husband, King Louis XII of France, without her brother’s permission. Henry was livid, but was eventually brought around after levying a hefty fine on the couple. The marriage was cut short by Mary’s premature death in 1533 at the age of 37, and just three months later, Charles married again, this time to his adolescent ward, Katherine Willoughby.

Katherine could very well have faded into oblivion – after all, Charles’s two wives prior to Mary certainly have. Instead, Katherine is a fascinating figure from the Tudor court. Like Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, her name was put forth as a possible seventh wife for Henry, she had strong opinions on the reformation and her longevity positioned her as consistently relevant well into the reign of Elizabeth I.

Katherine was born in March 1519 to William Willoughly, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby and Maria de Salinas, a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon who came with the Queen from Spain back in 1501. Queen Katherine and Maria were incredibly close thanks to their shared heritage and proximity – indeed, Maria named her daughter for her. The marriage between William and Maria was a classic courtier match and took place in June 1516, the same year that Queen Katherine gave birth to her own daughter, the future Mary I.

Katherine of Aragon

Maria was one of two Spaniards who stayed on with Queen Katherine through her long widowhood after Prince Arthur’s death and before her marriage to Henry. We don’t know exactly what year she was born, but she was at least a few years younger than the Queen, making her essentially a child when she first arrived in England. As such, by the time Henry and Katherine married, Maria may well have considered herself as English as she was Spanish – the Spanish Ambassador wrote to Katherine’s father, King Ferdinand, at the time:

“The few Spaniards who are still in her household prefer to be friends of the English, and neglect their duties as subjects of the King of Spain. The worst influence on the queen is exercised by Dona Maria de Salinas, whom she loves more than any other mortal.”

William and Maria are believed to have had two other children – sons named Henry and Francis – whose exact birth order is unknown. Sadly, they both seemingly died in infancy and when William himself passed away in October 1626, it was Katherine who inherited the barony. Aged only seven at the time, it’s unknown what immediate impact this had on the girl, but her parents would have been remote figures thanks to their careers at court and only occasionally visited the country where their daughter was housed.

Immediately after William’s death, his brother stepped forward and insisted that he had claim to a portion of the Willoughby estate, however Maria’s relationship with Queen Katherine helped ensure the protection of her daughter’s inheritance and her own dower rights. Even so, it wasn’t until Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk stepped in and purchased Katherine’s wardship from King Henry in March 1528 that the matter was fully put to bed.

Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France

As her father’s heir, Katherine now claimed dozens of manors in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, receiving roughly £900 each year from them. She was a useful ward for the Brandons to possess – and indeed, it was a smart move for the Willoughbys, too, given Mary Tudor’s royal blood and Charles’s relationship with Henry. As of when Katherine moved into the Brandons’ household she was nine years old and joined the couple’s three children – Frances (b. 1517), Eleanor (b. 1519) and Henry (b. 1522) – as well as Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of Henry VIII’s other sister, Queen Margaret of Scotland, and her second husband, the Earl of Angus.

Over the next few years, we don’t know much about Katherine’s day-to-day life except that her education was built around the expectation that she would someday need to know how to manage a household akin to the one run by Mary (still known as the Dowager Queen of France per her first marriage). We also know that Katherine became close to the elder of the Brandon girls, Frances, and that her guardians spent most of the late 1520s and early 1530s wrapped up in the drama of court as the King fell in love with Anne Boleyn and prepared to divorce Queen Katherine.

Both Maria and Mary avidly disliked Anne Boleyn and expressed loyalty towards the Queen, likely coloring Katherine’s own views. Closer to home, Katherine was expected to marry the Brandons’ son, Henry, Earl of Lincoln, and was being prepared for her future as the Duchess of Suffolk. As of the early 1530s, though, Mary’s health was on the decline and rumors began spreading that Charles meant to co-opt his son’s intended should his wife pass away.

In August 1532, as part of an ongoing effort to punish Queen Katherine and break her spirit, Maria was removed from her place as a lady-in-waiting, and by the end of the year Henry secretly married Anne. The couple were married again early in 1533, Anne then pregnant, and Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon was formally annulled. As much as she personally disliked it, as Henry’s sister, Mary dutifully appeared at court with her husband, children and 14-year-old Katherine Willoughby to  participate in Anne’s coronation as the new queen. By the time they returned home, Mary was on her last legs and she passed away on June 25, 1533.

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

Frances, as the eldest, acted as chief mourner at her mother’s funeral and was escorted by her new husband, Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset. They were followed by Eleanor, Katherine and Charles’s older daughters via an earlier marriage. Because this period of Katherine’s life is mostly lost to us, we have no idea what Katherine’s relationship to Mary was, but one can assume that regardless it was a sad occasion for the household. It was also a defining one for Katherine’s trajectory.

Three months later, in September 1533, Charles and Katherine married. Katherine was 14 to Charles’s nearly 50 years and had spent the last five years viewing as him as something akin to a father figure – at the very least, he was her legal guardian. But marriages in the 16th century were built on pragmatism – Henry Brandon’s health was never strong and Charles needed more sons, Katherine had a fortune and estates and she herself was prepared to make as strong a marriage a possible. We have no idea what the match looked like personally or how Katherine took the news Charles wanted to marry her, but it took place without much of a public reaction.

The wedding is believed to have gone forward in London, which would have been Katherine’s second appearance at court following her debut at Anne’s coronation. She is likely, however, to have met the King on earlier occasions, such as when he visited his sister in the summer of 1532 or on the occasion of Frances’s marriage to Henry Grey a few months earlier.

The change to Katherine’s life was immediate. Now the Duchess of Suffolk, few women at court would have outranked her. Essentially a child just a few months before, she was now in charge of running her husband’s household. And perhaps most disconcertingly, she was stepmother to his five children, all but one of whom was either her age or older. (Ironically, the only one who was younger was the one once intended to be her husband.) We don’t know very much about Katherine’s relationship with her stepdaughters, save that she never exchanged gifts or wrote to the eldest two who were roughly a decade older. Frances married a few months before Katherine and left home, while Eleanor married in 1537.

But if Katherine’s first obligation was to produce sons, then it became urgent just six months after the wedding when Henry Brandon passed away aged around 12. By the dawn of 1535, Katherine was pregnant and that September she delivered a new son and heir, also named Henry. Two or three years later, she delivered a second, Charles, named for his father.

In the interim, Katherine of Aragon’s health was declining by the end of 1535 and Maria’s repeated requests that she be allowed to visit her were ignored. She finally took matters into her own hands and traveled through the night on New Year’s Eve to reach Kimbolton, the remote castle in Cambridgeshire to which the Queen had been removed. The household’s keeper attempted to bar Maria from entering when she arrived, but thanks to the weather and a bad tumble from her horse, she was finally admitted so that she could warm herself by the fire. From there, she made her way to Katherine’s chambers and stayed a week, her former mistress dying in her arms on January 7, 1536.

Less than six months later, Anne Boleyn was found guilty and executed for treason, her marriage annulled and her daughter, Elizabeth, declared a bastard. Henry married his third wife, Jane Seymour, 11 days after Anne’s death, a ceremony which Charles and Katherine attended. That autumn, the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion in response to the dissolution of the monasteries, broke out in the north and Charles was deputized to help quell it. Eventually, he was asked by Henry to reside permanently in Lincolnshire as a way of maintaining order and Katherine joined him there by the end of the year. That Christmas, there is record of Charles traveling down to London to join Henry at court and leaving Katherine behind, which indicates she may have then been pregnant with her second child (a strong argument for the younger Charles Brandon having been born in 1537 as opposed to 1538).

Henry VIII

Regardless, both were back at court in the autumn of 1537 when Jane Seymour finally delivered Henry a son – Prince Edward. Charles was asked to stand as a godfather and Katherine carried the infant back to his chambers following his christening. It’s unclear if they were still at court nine days later when Queen Jane died of complications from childbirth.

In the years that followed, Charles and Katherine remained fixtures at court and were on excellent terms with Henry, while Katherine built a friendship with Katherine of Aragon’s daughter, Princess Mary. They were on hand at the end of 1539 when Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, arrived in England from Germany, and it was Charles who helped persuade the young woman to accept a divorce and the role of “the King’s sister” just a few months later in the summer of 1540.

The Brandons’ relationship with Henry continued through his fifth marriage to Katherine Howard – indeed, the couple hosted them at Grimsthorpe Castle, one of their Lincolnshire homes, in August 1541. Just a few months later, the young queen was arrested and executed in February 1542.

Henry took his last wife the following year, a widow in her early 30s by the name of Katherine Parr. By now, our Katherine had turned away from the Catholicism in which she was raised, a significant conversion that would affect the rest of her life. It likely didn’t take place until after Mari’s death, herself a fervent Catholic, in 1539, but it’s interesting to think through that Katherine invested in the reformed faith following her exposure to religious and political unrest up north. Katherine was one of only 18 people asked to witness the private wedding ceremony between the King and Katherine Parr, and while she never served as a lady-in-waiting, she did strike up a friendship with the new queen and the two spent considerable amount of time together discussing religion and studying scripture and the latest sermons.

In the spring of 1544, Charles was sent to France by Henry for a military campaign where he acquitted himself well at the siege of Boulogne and returned to England that November. Just a few months later he was dead, passing away around the age of 60 at Guildford in August 1545. His death left Katherine a young widow at only 26, responsible for the protection of their son, Henry, now the Duke of Suffolk at 10. Charles’s will stipulated that Katherine remain unmarried, likely out of worry that a second husband might tamper with the inheritance of his children.

As a widow – and a wealthy one at that – Katherine was finally independent for the fist time in her life. Her fortune and her close relationship with the Tudors ensured that she didn’t lose social standing after her husband’s death, though her own personality did at times make her controversial figure. Katherine was forceful in her opinions, occasionally high-handed and outspoken. Indeed, there is a letter from Katherine to William Cecil preserved in which she begs his forgiveness for her “foolish choler” and “brawling,” while at another time a bishop once preached a sermon to her at Grimsthrope arguing that women “should keep their tongues in better order.” At one point when Charles was still alive, the couple hosted a dinner party in which Charles said each lady present should choose the man she loved most save her husband to escort her to the table and Katherine chose Bishop Stephen Gardiner, saying that since she could not choose the man she loved most she would choose the man she loved worst. For that matter, she named one of her dogs “Gardiner.”

Alone at court, she befriended influential men who championed the reformed faith, including Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford (Queen Jane’s brother) and John Dudley (the future Duke of Northumberland). She also maintained her own separate friendship with King Henry, which has given rise to the hypothesis that when Katherine Parr came close to downfall in 1546 the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk was in the corner of his mind to become his seventh wife. This is debatable, though not out of the realm of possibility. Indeed, one of Katherine’s own biographers David Baldwin argues it’s possible the two were lovers as early as the late 1530s and again in the 1540s, Charles turning a blind eye as a career courtier.

Katherine Parr

This last part I find less believable, but that is based more on what we know of Henry’s character as opposed to the Brandons. Henry did take a mistress in the years between Jane Seymour’s death and his marriage to Anne of Cleves, but Katherine’s name is never put forth as a second candidate. Similarly, in the early 1540s he was married to Katherine Howard with whom he was seemingly, albeit briefly, happy. As for whether he took lovers during his marriage to Katherine Parr, it’s worth pointing out Henry was a [psychopathic] romantic and not overly prone to infidelity. Where Katherine may well have come into the narrative are in the last years of his life when it became clear Katherine Parr wouldn’t produce a second son and “spare.” Katherine Willoughby, on the other hand, was attractive, younger and already the mother of two sons, her fertility proven.

As Baldwin writes:

“The question we must try to answer, of course, is of just how close Katherine Willoughby came to becoming King Henry’s seventh wife and queen. The evidence is slight and tantalising inconclusive, but there can be no doubt that she was on familiar terms with him and that the possibility of marrying her did enter his calculations. But perhaps, in the end, even Henry had to face the reality that he would have no more children – by his present wife or any other – and what had begun as a serious proposition became a game in which he toyed with some of his leading subjects’ emotions. The reality is that he would have found Katherine’s forceful Protestantism as disconcerting as Queen Katherine’s if he had allowed her to take Katherine’s position, and it made no sense to exchange one virago for another. The feistiness he admired in her as a subject could have made her less appealing as a wife.”

Indeed, that’s a theme we’ve discuss in the past here.

In the end, Henry remained married to Katherine Parr until his death in January 1547, and Katherine Willoughby was present at his funeral a few weeks later. She stayed on for Edward VI’s coronation on February 20 and then returned home to Grimsthorpe to be with her sons. It was from here that she learned of Katherine Parr’s illicit marriage to Edward Seymour’s younger brother, Thomas, which would have some impact on the young duchess. When Katherine Parr died in September 1548, she had just given birth to her only child, a daughter christened Mary. Thomas was arrested a few months later thanks to a falling out with his brother and an inappropriate relationship with Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, and was himself executed in March 1549.

Thomas decreed that his daughter should be sent to Katherine at Grimsthorpe, while Edward Seymour promised that funds from the child’s parents’ estates would help fund her upkeep. Nevertheless, none were forthcoming and none of Katherine Parr’s other relatives stepped forward to help. In the summer of 1549, Katherine wrote to William Cecil:

“I have so wearied myself with the letters that I have written at this present to my Lord’s Grace and to My Lady [Edward Seymour and his wife, Anne Stanhope], that there is not so much as one line could be spared for Cecil. But by that time I have made you the amends, you will be well pleased by another line; you shall have letters when they get none, That is to say, I will trouble you when I will not trouble them.

“So I trow you may hold you well repaid. In these letters to my Lady, I do put forth in remembrance for the performance of the promise touching some annual pension for the finding of the late queen’s child; for now she with a dozen persons lyeth all together at my charge, the continuance whereof will not bring me out of debt this year.

“My lord Marquis Northampton [Katherine Parr’s brother], to whom I […] deliver her, hath as weak a back for such a burden as I have. And he would receive her but willingly if he might receive her with appurtenances. Thus groweth matters; you must help us beggars and I pray that you may. And then we will cease our importunities. But never a word that you are required by me. So fare you well, with my commendations to your wife.”

This letter was followed by others to Cecil intimating that she was still in correspondence with Edward Seymour’s wife regarding the matter. Then there is silence. The fate of Mary Seymour is unknown, but Katherine’s abrupt cessation in mentioning her is a strong indication that the child died. Katherine gets a bad a rap for appearing so reluctant to care for her friend’s orphaned child – and indeed, she was hardly short of funds – but it’s worth noting that these few letters are but one glimpse into the situation and apparently followed empty promises from the child’s relatives to help care for her.

Edward VI

As a Protestant, Katherine was well-pleased by the ascendancy of her friends in Edward VI’s government, but their glory would be short-lived. Edward Seymour, now Duke of Somerset, was ousted from power in the autumn of 1549 and replaced by John Dudley in early 1550. He was finally arrested and executed in early 1552 for attempting another coup d’etat to take back power. In-between Edward’s arrests, he proposed a marriage between one of his daughters and Katherine’s son, the Duke, which Katherine rejected, clearly knowing the Seymours were on shaky ground.

As for the young Duke himself, he was close in age to Edward VI and spent considerable time in his sovereign’s company, no doubt as preparation for his expected future as a courtier. In 1549, he was sent to France for a few months and when he returned, Katherine sent both of her sons to Cambridge to complete their education. She chose St John’s, which happened to be William Cecil’s alma mater and was once founded by Henry VIII’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, and she rented a house nearby so that she could visit with them.

Henry Brandon, Katherine’s son, as a child

Unfortunately, both boys – then aged 14 and 11/12 – fell ill with the sweating sickness in the spring of 1551. They were moved from Cambridge to Kingston and then to Buckden, the home of one of Katherine Parr’s stepdaughters, where they both died on July 14. An account of their last hours was captured by Thomas Wilson:

“They both were together in one house, lodged in two separate chambers, and almost at one time both sickened, and both departed. They died both dukes, both well learned, both wise, and both right Godly. They both gave strange tokens of death to come. The elder, sitting at supper and very merry, said suddenly to that right honest matron and godly gentlewoman, ‘O Lord, where shall we sup tomorrow at night?’ Whereupon, she being troubled, and yet saying comfortably, ‘I trust, my Lord, either here, or elsewhere at some of your friends’ houses.’ ‘Nay,’ said he, ‘we shall never sup together again in this world, be you well assured,’ and with that, seeing the gentlewoman discomfited, turned it unto mirth, and passed the rest of his supper with much joy, and the same night after twelve of the clock, being the fourteenth of July, sickened, and so was taken the next morning, about seven of the clock, to the mercy of God.

“When the eldest was gone, the younger would not tarry, but told before (having no knowledge thereof of anybody living) of his brother’s death, to the great wondering of all that were there, declaring what it was to lose so dear a friend, but comforting himself in that passion, said, ‘Well, my brother is gone, but it makes no matter for I will go straight after him,’ and so did within the space of half an hour.”

Indeed, because Henry died before Charles, Charles also died a duke, even if he only held the title for a few minutes. Katherine was herself unwell at this time, but apparently rode hard from Kingston to Buckden when she heard her sons had taken a turn for the worse and though Henry was already dead when she arrived, she may have been at Charles’s bedside when he passed away.

Charles Brandon, Katherine’s son, as a child

The loss of Katherine’s sons was a huge blow to her mentally and physically, and it signified a marked change of state. Though still wealthy enough, grants that had come from the crown reverted back and the bulk of the Suffolk estate was bestowed on Katherine’s stepdaughter, Frances, the eldest of Charles’s daughters with Mary Tudor, and her husband, Henry Grey. But Katherine, who had grown up with Frances, appears to have maintained a friendship with them and she spent that Christmas at their home.

It is somewhere in these hazy months that the name Richard Bertie becomes important. Richard had long-served Katherine was a gentleman-usher in her household and was only a couple years older than his mistress. His name appears here and there in her letters to her friends, thus indicating he was a constant presence through Katherine’s widowhood. The two married either in the summer of 1552 or early 1553, and by all appearances it was a rather seamless transition since Bertie was already assisting Katherine in her finances and carrying out the day-to-day management of Grimsthorpe. Certainly some eyebrows were raised over Katherine marrying beneath her, but little of Katherine’s character indicates she would have paid it much mind given her own confidence in her decision-making ability. Then 33 and recently bereaved of her sons, it’s also likely she was keen to have more children.

Whenever the actual wedding was carried out, it happened well before Edward VI finally gave into illness and died in July 1553. His death caused a crisis in the succession, for his father’s will in 1546 stipulated that Edward’s heirs were his elder sisters – the Catholic Princess Mary and the Protestant Princess Elizabeth. Mary Tudor was then 37, fervent in her faith, and her succession meant a reversion to Catholicism and the likelihood that she would marry a Catholic and attempt to beget a child. Edward VI, himself a staunch Protestant, attempted to change the succession by bypassing his sisters in favor of none other than Lady Jane Grey, the eldest daughter of Henry Grey and Frances Brandon. She had recently married Guildford Dudley, son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, which fairly obviously draws one to the conclusion that Edward’s last actions were certainly facilitated by the ambitions of his ministers.

Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk

Jane Grey was hailed as queen for a brief nine-day reign that never really had a chance. Mary Tudor prevailed and all parties were swiftly arrested, the entire fiasco not reflecting well on either the Dudleys or the Greys. John Dudley was swiftly executed in August 1553, while Guildford and Jane were spared as mere children and political pawns. Mary’s close relationship with her cousin, Frances, spared her and her husband in the immediate aftermath. Indeed, it wasn’t until Wyatt’s Rebellion in the early weeks of 1554 that Mary’s government was forced to cast the net wider, understanding the genuine dynastic and religious threat that a Protestant contender posed. The uprising was quashed and Henry Grey, Guildford Dudley and young Jane herself were all executed that February. Only Frances was spared and allowed back at court, though she was impoverished and without real political or social power.

Sadly we have no idea what Katherine thought of all of this, though it stands to reason she may have sympathized with her Protestant friends and also desired a reign that would keep England independent of Rome. Had the Greys and Dudleys been successful, it would have made Katherine the queen of England’s step-grandmother, so she may well have viewed it as politically advantageous. Even so, Katherine had known Princess Mary – now Queen Mary – since childhood and may have felt some sort of kinship thanks to the relationship between their mothers.

Regardless, Katherine wasn’t involved in the rebellion as far as we know. Indeed, she remained in the country throughout the turmoil, pregnant with her first child with Richard. She delivered a daughter, Susan, whose exact birth date is unknown but who certainly arrived at some point in 1554.

William Cecil

But even out in the country, the Berties had to answer the question of religion, for Mary I did impose Catholicism back in England, solidified by her unpopular marriage to King Philip II of Spain. Richard was summoned to London to answer to Bishop Stephen Gardiner, who had been imprisoned during the reign of Edward VI but reinstated by Mary I. First, the Berties were accused of not paying off Charles’s debts, but Richard protested they had been paid in installments during the former reign. Next, old wounds such as Katherine naming a dog “Gardiner” were raised. Finally, the crux of the matter was brought up, which is that Richard and Katherine were now expected to espouse Catholic views. Richard answered that his wife was open to conversion (unlikely), and that they were loyal to the crown. He was let off, but it was a harbinger of what was to come.

When Richard returned to Grimsthorpe, he and Katherine decided it was only a matter of time until they were arrested and hatched a plan to leave England. Richard planned to travel through Europe and see what accommodations he could put together, but in order to do so he needed a license from the government. In order to not arouse suspicion, he claimed that he meant to go and call in Charles’s old debts on the continent and so he left his wife and daughter in June 1554 and Katherine and Susan left Grimsthorpe for the Barbican, their London home.

On New Year’s Day 1555, Katherine slipped out of her house with her daughter dressed as a merchant’s wife and a handful of trusted servants and arrived in Brabant in February. From there, she and Richard traveled to Cleves, with the plan of establishing residency in Wessel. By now, Mary I and her government were well-aware the Berties meant to live as exiles and didn’t try to stop them – likely it was the easier option for all involved. Mary may well have been loyal to the memory of Maria de Salinas and would have hesitated to harm her daughter, but Katherine’s status also made her high-profile enough to be an irritating presence in England if she maintained Protestantism.

Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk

But despite being given a wide berth, the journey was far from easy and without danger, complicated further by Katherine being pregnant once again. After several months in Wessel, during which time Katherine gave birth to a son, Peregrine, in October, the family moved again to Weinheim in Bavaria. Their exile had made them popular figures for Protestants back home, many of whom were inspired to also seek refuge on the continent, further irritating Mary’s government. As Mary’s reign unfolded and the conversion of the English people back to Catholicism proved difficult, the queen and her council grew less forgiving and more violent.

In July 1556, the couple learned that warrants had been issued ordering their return to London. When the envoy arrived at the Bertie residence, he was rushed by the household’s servants and guards, placing the family in an even more awkward situation thanks to the outward display of aggression. Increasingly strapped for cash and living on loans from various sympathetic parties, the family moved again in the summer of 1557 to Samogitia. There, they lived under the protection of the Polish king until Mary’s death in November 1558, which likely didn’t come a moment too soon for the Berties.

Even then, the family didn’t immediately return to England. Katherine corresponded with William Cecil, now serving the new Queen Elizabeth I as her primary councilor, regarding the religious landscape in the new reign and was dismayed that they intended to make the Church of England as inclusive as possible. Katherine, equally as hard-headed and fervent in her Puritanism as Mary I had been in her Catholicism, was dismayed. Indefinite exile, however, wasn’t an option and the Berties returned home in the early summer of 1559, their lands and status restored to them and their debts cancelled.

Mary Grey

Katherine’s new life under Elizabeth I was quieter than it had ever been and she was no longer a fixture at court. Instead, she spent most of her time overseeing her estate with her husband and raising her children. Katherine had never been a fan of Anne Boleyn and appeared to have a limited relationship with Elizabeth, bearing little to no influence, even if there wasn’t any bad blood. The first real interaction the Berties had with the Elizabethan government came in 1567 when Mary Grey, Frances’s youngest daughter, was sent to Katherine and Richard under house arrest for having married without the Queen’s permission. Once again Katherine found herself writing to William Cecil for money, annoyed at the imposed upkeep of another drain on her finances.

Mary stayed with Katherine for two years until she was transferred to a household in London in June 1569. In the interim, her sister, Katherine Grey, also died under house arrest for having dared to marry without Elizabeth’s permission and it’s thought that our Katherine attended her funeral. Following the death of Mary’s husband, Thomas Keyes, in September 1571, Mary was finally released the next year.

Susan Bertie

Katherine retained mostly good health until her last days – indeed, that she was still active in her 50s throughout the 1570s was not unremarkable in Tudor England. She continued a robust correspondence with William Cecil until the end, played an active role in the maintenance of her household and the study of religion, and was very much involved in the lives of her children even as they reached adulthood. In 1570, when Susan was 16, she married a man named Richard Grey, who was elevated to the earldom of Kent in 1572. Unfortunately, Grey died in 1573 and Susan, childless, was left a widow. She remarried, in 1581, to Sir John Wingfield, a nephew of the notorious Bess of Hardwick (mentioned frequently in this post).

As for Peregrine, he had a romance with Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, a daughter of Bess of Hardwick, but it faltered and he instead married Mary de Vere, a daughter of the Earl of Oxford. Katherine disliked the de Vere family, and indeed, her son caused her considerable angst throughout his young adulthood. In his youth he had been sent to finish his education and training in William Cecil’s household and surviving letters from Katherine show that she was eager for Peregrine’s character to be molded into shape. Instead she was left with a son and daughter-in-law who drank to excess, mismanaged their estates and generally caused problems. At the very least, Katherine was able to secure for him her father’s barony and he was eventually styled the 13th Baron Willoughby de Eresby.

Peregrine Grey

Katherine passed away in September 1580 at the age of 61 and was accorded a funeral in all style due to a dowager duchess.

One thought on “After Mary: Charles Brandon & Katherine Willoughby

  1. Roxana

    Peregrine may have given Katherine trouble in his youth but he grew up to be one of Elizabeth’s better soldiers and military leaders.

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