Katherine Willoughby, the Puritan Duchess

Catherine,_Duchess_of_Suffolk_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger
Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk

Maria de Salinas was a lady-in-waiting and close friend to Katherine of Aragon; indeed, she probably came to England with the Spanish princess in 1501 for the marriage to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales. Katherine and Maria were very close and the Spanish ambassador complained of Maria’s influence over the queen, especially after she tried to persuade Katherine not to cooperate with the ambassador and encouraged the Queen to favour her English subjects.

In June 1516 Maria married the largest landowner in Lincolnshire, William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby. The wedding was a lavish affair – attended and paid for by the King and Queen. It took place at Greenwich Palace and the couple were given Grimsthorpe Castle, in Lincolnshire, as a wedding present. The Queen even provided Maria with a generous dowry of 1100 marks.

Maria remained at court for some years after her wedding, and attended Queen Katherine at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Henry VIII was godfather to Maria and William’s oldest son, Henry who died in infancy. Another son, Francis, also died young and their daughter Katherine, born on 22nd March 1519 and named after the queen, would be the only surviving child of the marriage. With her father holding over 30 manors in Lincolnshire alone, and an annual income of over £900 a year, Katherine was one of the great heiresses of her generation.

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Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

Little Katherine was only 6 or 7 when her father, Lord Willoughby, died in 1526. For several years afterwards Maria was embroiled in a legal dispute with her brother-in-law, Sir Christopher Willoughby, over the inheritance of the Willoughby lands. It seems William had settled some lands on Maria which were entailed to Sir Christopher. The dispute went to the Star Chamber and caused Sir Thomas More, the king’s chancellor and a prominent lawyer, to make an initial redistribution of some of the disputed lands.

This must have been a hard fight for the newly widowed Maria, and the dispute threatened the stability of Lincolnshire itself, given the extensive lands involved. However, Maria attracted a powerful ally in Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and brother-in-law of the King, who called on the assistance of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry’s first minister at the time, in the hope of resolving the situation.

Suffolk had managed to obtain the wardship of Katherine Willoughby in 1529, intending her to marry his eldest son and heir Henry, who had been made Earl of Lincoln in 1525, and so had a vested interest in a favourable settlement for Maria. Suffolk’s acquisition of the de la Pole estates had given him a prominent position in East Anglia; with properties these added to young Katherine’s lands in Lincolnshire, he would create an impressive power base.

Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Henry_Brandon,_2nd_Duke_of_Suffolk_(1535-51)_-_Google_Art_Project
Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk

Whether or not the young earl of Lincoln was a sickly child (as he died in 1534) is uncertain; however the marriage was not to be. Suffolk had been married to king Henry VIII’s little sister, Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, but she died in September 1533. The 50-year-old Duke of Suffolk caused a great scandal when, only 3 months later, he married 14-year-old Katherine himself. She was Suffolk’s 4th wife.

The marriage made Suffolk the greatest landowner in Lincolnshire and, despite the age difference, it does appear to have been successful. Katherine and Charles were to have 2 sons. The 1st, Henry, was born in 1535 and the youngest, Charles, was born in 1537.

Although Suffolk pursued the legal case with more vigour after the wedding, a final settlement was not reached until the reign of Elizabeth I. The combined properties of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and Katherine made Suffolk the greatest magnate in Lincolnshire. He added to their properties by purchasing monastic land and built a fine house at Grimsthorpe Castle. His prominence in the county meant Suffolk was instrumental in suppressing the Lincolnshire rebellion in 1536 (part of the Pilgrimage of Grace), a consequence of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Charles_Brandon_(Royal_Collection)
Charles Brandon, 3rd Duke of Suffolk

Along with her mother, Katherine was an official mourner at the funeral of Katherine of Aragon in 1536. Sadly, it was only 3 years later, in 1539, that Queen Katherine’s former lady-in-waiting, Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby, passed away.

Katherine served at court, in the household of Henry VIII’s sixth and last queen, Katherine Parr. A stalwart of the Protestant learning, Katherine used her position to introduce Protestant clergy to Lincolnshire, even inviting Hugh Latimer to preach and Grimsthorpe Castle. It was she and Sir William Cecil who persuaded Katherine Parr to publish her book, The Lamentacion of a Sinner in 1547.

In the early  1540s Suffolk played a big part in Henry’s wars with France and Scotland; in 1544 he successfully prosecuted the siege of Boulogne and was rewarded in February 1545 with the lands of Tattershall College, which he was allowed to purchase for less than half price.

Amid preparations for another expedition to France, Suffolk died at Guildford in August 1545; the cause of death is not known. He would have been in his early 60s. Suffolk’s son and heir, Henry, was just 10 years old. Katherine was granted his wardship in May 1546, for the sum of £1500 and he was sent to the household of Prince Edward to continue his studies. It must have been a cause of great pride for Katherine when Henry and Charles were both knighted at Edward VI’s coronation, with Henry having the honour of carrying the orb during the ceremony.

In 1549 Henry and Charles were enrolled at St John’s College, Cambridge, in order to finish their education.

330px-Catherine_Willoughby,_portrait_miniature_3
Katherine Willoughby

It was in the summer of 1551 that an outbreak of sweating sickness struck Cambridge. Henry and Charles moved to Buckden in Huntingdonshire, in a futile attempt to escape the disease. For it was at Buckden, on July 14th 1551, and with their desperate mother moving between the 2 sickbeds, that the boys both passed away within minutes of each other. Charles became the 3rd Duke of Suffolk when he survived his brother by about half an hour. The boys, who had shown great promise at Cambridge, were buried together at Buckden.

Following the deaths of her sons by Suffolk, Katherine no longer had a financial interest in the Suffolk estates, which went to the heirs of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister. However, Katherine still had her own Willoughby estates to look after and in order to safeguard these, Katherine married her gentleman usher, Richard Bertie, in 1552. This marriage appears to have been made for love and with mutual religious beliefs; unfortunately for the couple, Katherine was unsuccessful in her attempts to gain the title of Lord Willoughby for her 2nd husband.

The couple had a difficult time navigating the religious tensions of the age and, during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, in early 1555, even went into exile on the Continent, travelling through Wesel, Strasbourg and Frankfurt. And at the time of Mary’s death, in 1558, they were staying at the court of the king of Poland. They returned to England the following year. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Katherine resumed her position in Tudor society; however, her relations with the court were strained by her tendency towards Puritanism.

Susan_Bertie,_Countess_of_Kent
Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent

Katherine used her position in Lincolnshire and extensive patronage to help disseminate the Puritan teachings. The records of Katherine’s Lincolnshire household show that she employed Miles Coverdale – a prominent critic of the Elizabethan church – as tutor to her two children by Bertie. The couple’s 1st child, a daughter, Susan, was born in 1554 and was still a baby when she went into exile on the continent, with her parents. A son, Peregrine, was born in Wesel in Cleves in 1555, whilst the family was still exiled from England.

Susan went on to marry Reginald Gray of Wrest in 1570. Reginald would be restored to the family title of Earl of Kent in 1572, but died in March 1573. They couple had no children and the Dowager Countess of Kent would marry again in 1581, to Sir John Wingfield, a nephew of the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick. they had 2 sons.

Peregrine Bertie spent his teenage years in the household of Sir William Cecil, a good friend of his mother and Queen Elizabeth’s principal secretary. It was there that he met and fell in love with Mary de Vere, orphaned daughter of John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford. Despite opposition from Katherine and the bride’s brother Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, the couple married sometime in late 1577, or early 1578. The marriage appears to have been happy and loving, and produced 5 sons and a daughter.

330px-Peregrine_Bertie,_13th_Baron_Willoughby_de_Eresby,_oil_painting
Peregrine Bertie, 13th Baron Willoughby de Eresby

Peregrine succeeded as the 13th Baron Willoughby of Willoughby, Beck and Eresby on the death of his mother and would serve Queen Elizabeth, both as a soldier and administrator, until his own death in 1601.

Katherine had been a strong supporter of the Protestant faith; numerous books carried her coat of arms, or were dedicated to her, including works by Erasmus and William Tyndale. The family’s adventures on the continent were retold in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, and even in popular Elizabethan ballads.

Katherine Willoughby, Dowager Duchess of Suffolk and 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, died after a long illness, on 19th September 1580, at Grimsthorpe Castle. She was interred with a fine, alabaster tomb in Spilsby Church, in her native Lincolnshire. Her husband, Richard, died 2 years later and was buried beside her.

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Grimsthorpe Castle

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: Susan Wabuda, Oxforddnb.com; Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII; Retha M. Warnicke, Oxforddnb.com; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Earlier Tudors 1485-1558 by JD Mackie; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman.

©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

6 thoughts on “Katherine Willoughby, the Puritan Duchess

  1. Peter J Leonard 19/09/2016 / 15:34

    Sharon, this is another excellent and informative article. Great stuff. One minor point: I am not confident Charles Brandon was ‘instrumental’ in ending the Lincolnshire rising. The participants knew he was on his way (and may have believed they could have beaten his poorly provisioned force) but they sparpled (ie. dispersed) when he was still a few days ride away.

    Like

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