Katherine Grey did not have a very long or happy life. While it started out full of promise, the death of Edward VI changed everything. Her own bad decisions just compounded the problem…
Katherine was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary. Hers was the line that Henry VIII chose (and Parliament confirmed) as successors to the English throne after his own children. This was a key factor in Northumberland’s scheme surrounding Edward VI’s Devise for the Succession, in which the dying monarch instructed that the crown was to bypass his sisters and vest in his cousin Jane Grey. Northumberland had his son Guildford married to Jane, and to cement necessary political support made it a triple wedding in which his daughter married one of his allies and Katherine Grey another. Now, of course, Edward’s little plan didn’t work out – as soon as Mary won her throne, Katherine found herself formally repudiated and her marriage annulled. She also found herself viewed as a threat.
Then Elizabeth came to the throne, and all was forgiven. There was even talk of Elizabeth recognizing Katherine as heir, marrying her off in some foreign alliance (mainly wishful thinking on the part of the Spaniards – remember, Elizabeth never did name an heir during her reign!). But then Katherine fell in love with Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford – son of the executed “Good Duke” of Somerset – and married him secretly (a treasonous act). Elizabeth found out when Katherine was about eight months pregnant, and threw the couple into the Tower. Things got worse when Katherine gave birth to a son – because this couple presented a stunning alternative to the unmarried Elizabeth and they had a healthy heir to boot. Upon royal urging, the Archbishop of Canterbury invalidated their marriage (there were numerous grounds – their only witness had died, they could not find the priest…) but left the family in the Tower. For the first year, the guards took pity on them – enough that Katherine fell pregnant again and had another son. They were kept completely separated after that, never seeing each other again.
But they did get released from the Tower. In Summer of 1563, an outbreak of the plague got Elizabeth to move them to house arrest – Hertford and their older son into his mother’s custody, Katherine and the younger to her uncle, Lord John Grey. (Fun fact: this is when Darnley was released from the Tower as well!). Katherine went into a terrible depression, and was said to be constantly weeping, not eating properly and refusing to leave her room. In November, she wrote to Elizabeth begging her pardon, but never received an answer. Katherine followed up with many pleading letters over the next five years but was always refused. She was moved to a succession of houses, with different custodians, but her depression continued to grow. She finally died of consumption on January 26, 1568. She was only twenty-seven.
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