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November 27, 1560 – Katherine Grey Secretly Marries Edward Seymour

Katherine Grey, in a miniature by Levina Teerlinc, c.1560
Katherine Grey, in a miniature by Levina Teerlinc, c.1560

This was actually a secret marriage that would get the couple thrown into the Tower, so let’s back up a little for context.

Elizabeth was on the throne; under her father’s will (which had Parliamentary approval), Catherine Grey was the next rightful heir – and thus spent time at court. There, she became friends with Somerset’s daughter Jane…which helped her become better acquainted with Jane’s brother, Edward Seymour, who had been restored to the Earldom of Hertford. They quickly fell in love, and easily won the approval of their mothers (Frances Brandon Grey and Anne Seymour Somerset were both dowager duchesses whose husbands had been executed for treason – what are the odds?!) … but because of that heir-to-the-throne piece, the monarch’s permission was necessary as well.

This is where we see how unfortunate the couple’s timing was: if they fallen in love and asked Mary before she died, they likely would have gotten permission (Mary was close with both Frances and Anne, Mary didn’t want Elizabeth to inherit the throne, Mary expected to have a son of her own…). But Elizabeth was a different story. Even in 1560, after Elizabeth had been on the throne only two years, people knew she would never agree to the match. Elizabeth herself was still unmarried – and Hertford was the son of the “Good Duke” who tried to stop nobles from enclosing their lands, a man who was impliedly capable to rule in Katherine’s name. As a couple they made a stunning alternative to Elizabeth – which would have tempted rebels. This was why throughout her reign Elizabeth refused to settle the succession (“I was heir to the throne in my own time,” and “I will not put myself in a winding sheet during my lifetime”). So instead of risking permission being denied, the couple decided to take a calculated chance.

At Common Law all you needed for a marriage to be valid was an intent to marry following by sleeping together (though a witness was a good idea to prove intent, and a priest was a good idea to hallow the vows). Now, there were new rules promulgated under the Book of Common Prayer that required you to publish banns – but it was not clear that failure to publish the banns would invalidate the marriage. Katherine and Edward banked on the fact that it wouldn’t.

So one November day, when Elizabeth was leaving for a hunt, Katherine pretended to feel ill and stayed behind. Jane Seymour stayed with her, presumably to tend to her – but instead so that the two women could run off by barge to Cannon Row, where Hertford was living. Hertford ran outside and grabbed a random priest who pronounced the service with Jane as a witness, after which the newlyweds withdrew for a while so they could consummate the marriage before running back to court.

Things would unravel pretty quickly after then (Katherine got pregnant – that’s what got the couple thrown into the Tower). But today, the future seemed wonderful. I am going to stop the story here…and deal with the fallout in another post (or two).


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