September 19, 1580 – Death of Catherine Willoughby

Catherine Willoughby, drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger

Catherine Willoughby, drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger

Catherine Willoughby has always been fascinating to me, and today is a fitting day to raise a glass in her memory and talk about her life. A few salient points:

  • She was the daughter of Maria de Salinas, Catherine of Aragon’s most devoted lady in waiting, but became so associated with the reform movement that she had to flee England when Mary I came to the throne. (When she was in Katherine Parr’s household, she actually named her spaniel “Gardiner” so that she could amuse the rest of them by calling it to heel)
  • She became the ward of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, when she was nine – and his wife when she turned fourteen (he was forty-nine at the time…).
  • It would seem that Henry was attracted to her for years. There was even a rumor right after Brandon died in 1545 that Henry was considering divorcing Katherine Parr to marry her. It was said that the impetus was that Katherine was barren since she had never had children, while Catherine was fertile, having already borne two sons. It never came to pass.
  • After Thomas Seymour’s execution, Catherine was given the wardship of the infant Mary, his daughter with Katherine Parr – despite clearly not wanting it. The child brought no financial benefit since Katherine Parr had left her entire estate to Thomas Seymour, and his estate had been forfeited to the state when he was convicted of treason. At the same time, as the daughter of a former Queen she required certain expensive formalities. Catherine wrote to Secretary of State William Cecil asking for funds to cover those costs. It is not clear whether they were granted, but the issue disappeared since the baby died around her second birthday.

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to Jane the Quene (tentatively entitled The Path to Somerset) so I’ve been reading up on Catherine and the events of the second three-queen set of Henry’s life (the final book in the trilogy will The Boy King, covering Edward’s accession to his death – I’m not quite up to that yet). I’m still working out how much of my fascination to indulge, and how much of it will be distracting to the story…Anyone who would like to weigh in, I’d love to hear from you!


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