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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December 30, 1535 – Chapuys tells Henry VIII of Catherine of Aragon’s Impending Death

December 30, 1535 - Eustace Chapuys tells Henry VIII of Catherine of Aragon's impending death, and gets permission to visit her. Read about it on www.janetwertman.com

Eustace Chapuys, by an unknown artist (public domain via Luminarium.Org)

After Henry VIII rode away from Hampton Court Palace with Anne Boleyn and the rest of the court in June 1531, he never saw Catherine again. Instead, he had her installed in a series of castles and strictly limited who could visit her. By the end of 1535, Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys had not seen Catherine of Aragon for five years, though they corresponded frequently. When he heard in December that she had “fallen into her last sickness,” he immediately sought an audience with the King, hoping to get permission to visit Catherine so that she would have a friend around her when she died.

On December 30, the King finally saw Chapuys and learned that the end was indeed approaching for the woman who still referred to herself as his wife. Henry is reputed to have ignored the personal side of the news to focus on its political ramifications, specifically the fact that once she was gone, the Emperor would have no further cause for “interfering in English affairs.”

Still, he allowed Chapuys to go visit. He refused to extend the same courtesy to Mary, clinging to his insistence that mother and daughter would be reunited only after/if they acknowledged the King’s supremacy in religious matters.  I wonder if Chapuys would have pointed out the irony in the situation, that Catherine could see her daughter only by declaring her a bastard, that Mary could see her mother only by admitting that she had whored with Henry for decades…or whether he would have kept his silence to avoid angering the King and have his hard-won permit revoked.

A bit of a postscript: Chapuys arrived at Kimbolton two days later, followed by Henry’s spies (to make sure no treachery was planned). Catherine was gratified and relieved (“Now I can die in your arms, not abandoned like one of the beasts,” she is reputed to have said). Several hours later, another visitor arrived: Lady Willoughby, formerly Maria de Salinas and one of Catherine’s most loyal ladies, had also heard about her condition. Maria lied about having a permit, and because Chapuys’ presence made her statement believable she was able to gain access to Catherine’s bedchamber – where she basically bolted herself in. Thankfully, Henry’s agents allowed her to stay with her mistress until the very end.

By the time she died, Catherine had spent a total of seventeen years of her life either hoping that Henry would marry her – or that he would abandon his view that they had never been married. Such a long time to be patient…

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If you like my posts, you’ll love my book! Jane the Quene is now available in ebook and paperback on Amazon.Com (here are some easy links to  Amazon.Com, Amazon.Co.UK and Amazon.Com.Au)!