Kat Ashley entered the life of Elizabeth Tudor in July 1536, becoming gentlewoman in waiting to the girl who had been demoted from princess upon the execution of her mother two months before. In 1537, Kat became the four-year old’s governess. Well educated herself, Kat first taught Elizabeth protocol, needlework, embroidery, dancing and riding – then quickly added mathematics, geography, astronomy, history, French, Italian, Flemish, and Spanish. In later years Elizabeth would say that Kat took “great labor and pain in bringing of me up in learning and honesty.”
Now, Kat’s judgment was not necessarily the best. During Edward’s reign, she encouraged the fourteen-year-old princess/lady to consider a match with Thomas Seymour. During Mary’s reign, she accepted pamphlets handed to her on the street and did not destroy the incriminating ones…Still, Kat Ashley was unquestionably loyal to Elizabeth.
She was also family: in 1545, she married John Ashley, Elizabeth’s senior gentleman attendant and a cousin of Anne Boleyn. Though her real role was as surrogate mother.
Which gave Kat the right/guts to warn Elizabeth that she was behaving in such a way with Robert Dudley that sullied her “honor and dignity” and in time would undermine her subjects’ loyalty. Elizabeth did not react well to this. First, she reminded Kat that she was always surrounded by ladies and maids who could all attest to the fact that there was nothing dishonorable between her and her Master of Horse. Then, like the true daughter of Henry VIII, Elizabeth informed Kat that if she chose to indulge, then no one could stop her…
Kat kept her mouth shut after that, living the rest of her life as First Lady of the Bedchamber, one of the most influential ladies at court.
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