Book Corner: The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings by Sarah Bryson

Four generations of Brandon men lived and served six English kings, the most famous being Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, best friend and brother-in-law to King Henry VIII. Yet his family had a long history tied closely to the kings of the Wars of the Roses back to Henry VI. Charles Brandon’s father, Sir William Brandon, supported Henry Tudor’s claim on the throne and became his standard bearer, dying at the Battle of Bosworth. Charles’s uncle, Sir Thomas Brandon, was Henry VII’s Master of the Horse, one of the three highest positions within the court. Charles’s grandfather had ties with Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. These men held important offices, made great sacrifices, walked the fine line between being loyal courtiers and traitors, and even gave their lives, all in the name of loyalty to the king they served. No more shall the Brandon name be an obscure reference in archives. It is time for them to emerge from the shadows of history.

I have been looking forward to reading The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings by Sarah Bryson ever since I heard that Sarah was working on it. I loved her first book, La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters, and was hoping this one would be as good. I was wrong!

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is even better. In telling the story of Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, and Charles’ forebears, Sarah Bryson writes with a passion that draws the reader in from the very first pages. Sarah Bryson starts the story at the beginning, with the first known head of the Brandon family, Sir William Brandon, born in around 1425. The Brandons rose to prominence during the unsettled times of the Wars of the Roses, their fortunes turning with the tug-of-war between York and Lancaster. Sir William Brandon’s son – also William – was killed at the Battle of Bosworth while protecting the future king, Henry VII. It was this William whose son, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, took the family to its greatest heights, going so far to marry Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France and King Henry VIII’s beloved baby sister.

While the rest of the family had a no-less dramatic story, it is Charles Brandon’s which catches the attention. Brandon pursued a thriving career at court, as one of Henry VIII’s closest friends and jousting partners, while at the same time he chased after wealth and land through several scandalous marriages and betrothals. His marriage to Mary Tudor, however, was the icing on the cake; it brought him a beautiful bride, a love story that would last the ages, and the title of Duke of Suffolk as the brother-in-law to the king. It also brought him more trouble than even he could have imagined; whilst Brandon did not lose his head, he got heavily in debt trying to placate the king for his presumption in marrying the king’s sister.

Charles Brandon’s life was also tinged with family scandal, with one daughter being publicly shamed for her extramarital affair, and tragedy; two of his sons died during the duke’s lifetime, with two mores, his sons by Katherine Willoughby, dying within half an hour of each other before either reached their majority. It was Charles Brandon’s granddaughter by Mary Tudor, the tragic Lady Jane Grey, who became Queen of England for Nine Days. The Brandon story is one of the highs and lows of ambition and family; the veritable wheel of fortune that was so popular in medieval culture.

Lacking experience in military action, Henry Tudor appointed the veteran Earl of Oxford to command his troops and to lead the vanguard. Sir Gilbert Talbot took the right wing and was ordered to defend the archers and keep an eye on the battle line, while John Savage was to lead the left wing. Henry Tudor was positioned to the rear of the troops with several French mercenaries whom he had brought with him from France. Standing close to Henry was Sir William Brandon II.

Brandon had been appointed Henry’s standard-bearer. It is unclear exactly why Brandon was chosen to carry one of Henry Tudor’s standards; perhaps it was due to his unfaltering loyalty to the man he hoped would become king, or perhaps it was down to his physical toughness. We have no description of what Sir William Brandon II looked like, but his son Charles grew up to be tall, handsome, well built and extremely suited to physical pastimes such as hunting and jousting – all qualities that he may have inherited from his father.

Facing them, on King Richard’s side was John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, with Sir Robert Brackenbury leading the Yorkist vanguard. Next came a force commanded by Richard III and comprised of his bodyguard and others. In the rear was the Earl of Northumberland and his men.

When the battle cry went up, arrows flew and the roar of Richard III’s artillery filled the air. Oxford’s men clashed with the Duke of Norfolk’s, the two being old foes. Both sides paused to reorientate themselves. Oxford formed his men into a wedge and charged forward. At this second charge, Henry’s French troops attacked Norfolk’s vanguard. Soon Norfolk’s men were in trouble. Many were killed, including the duke. Others fled while some defected to fight on Henry Tudor’s side.

Northumberland and his men did not move into the fight, and it is believed that at some point the earl decided to leave the battle without throwing any of his men into the fray. Amid this chaos, some of Richard III’s supporters begged him to flee, but he declared that he would live or die as a king. Oxford’s men had pushed forward, leaving a gap, and Richard III now saw an opportunity to get to Henry Tudor directly. He charged with his men, aiming to strike Henry down.

As he advanced, Richard III’s lance pierced through Henry’s standard-bearer, Sir William Brandon II, and broke in half. History records that William Brandon ‘hevyd on high [the Tudor standard] and vamisyd it, tyll with deathe’s dent he was tryken downe.’ What was racing through Sir William’s mind in those last few moments as Richard III and his men came thundering towards him? He had given up his property, his land, his wealth, everything he had to support Henry Tudor. He had bid his wife and infant son farewell to follow Henry to England in the hopes of a better life, not just for himself or his family but for England. It was his sworn duty to protect Henry Tudor with his life, and as Richard III’s lance pierced his armour and threw him from his horse, he gave up his life to save the man he believed to be the rightful king of England. Sir William Brandon II had been loyal to his last breath.

In The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings, Sarah Bryson puts flesh on the bones of history; she brings the family, their actions, hopes and dreams, back to life. Concentrating on the human side of their story, Sarah Bryson expertly recreates the world in which the Brandon men and their families lived, from the violence, suspicion and betrayal that personified the Wars of the Roses, to the glamour, intrigue and fear of the court of Henry VIII. Neither does she shy away from the more questionable actions of the family, such as Charles Brandon’s dislike of Anne Boleyn and complicity in her downfall. Sarah Bryson examines the evidence and arguments with a neutral, if passionate, eye, giving us a wonderful portrait of Charles Brandon as a fallible human being whose ambition sometimes gets in the way of his own success. However, and above all, Charles Brandon knew where his loyalty – and his prospects – lie; with the king. He did everything to ensure that his relationship with Henry VIII, and therefore his family’s security, remained paramount in his career.

I was surprised to see that the Brandon story overlaps a little with my own research on the Warennes. Two hundred years after the demise of John de Warenne, the 7th and last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, it seems that some of the Warenne lands, notably Bromfield and Yale in Wales, found themselves in the hands of Charles Brandon – a little serendipity there.

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is a beautifully written non-fiction biography of a family that most people have heard of, but of which few know the particulars. Meticulously researched, with substantial notes and an excellent bibliography, it tells the story of the Brandon family and their rise to heights that none of them could have predicted in their wildest dreams. It is a story of war and conflict, love and feuds, with family ambition tempered by family tragedy. It is, above all, a story of service to the crown.

Sarah Bryson is a wonderful writer of non-fiction, whose love of the Brandons’ story comes through on every page, drawing the reader in; engaging, entertaining and enlightening you on every page. It is, in short, a thoroughly enjoyable investigation into the rise of one of the greatest families of the Tudor court, from the origins in later medieval England and the discord of the Wars of the Roses; from humble Suffolk landowners, to the great Duke of Suffolk who owned most of Lincolnshire. The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is definitely worth reading!

To buy the book:

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon

About the author:

Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She has run a website dedicated to Tudor history for many years and has written for various websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and “QueenAnneBoleyn’. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade. She is the author of books on Mary Boleyn, Charles Brandon and La Reine Blanche. She lives in Australia. –This text refers to the hardcover edition.

My books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: The Brandon Trilogy by Tony Riches

It is a pleasure to welcome author Tony Riches to History … the Interesting Bits today. Tony has written a fabulous trilogy based on the story of Charles Brandon and two of his wives, Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and Katherine Willoughby.

Mary – Tudor Princess

From the author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy, the true stories of the Tudor dynasty continue with Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII and sister of King Henry VIII.

Born into great privilege, Mary has beauty and intelligence beyond her years and is the most marriageable princess in Europe. Henry plans to use her marriage to build a powerful alliance against his enemies. Will she dare risk his anger by marrying for love?

Meticulously researched and based on actual events, this ‘sequel’ follows Mary’s story from book three of the Tudor Trilogy and is set during the reign of King Henry VIII.

Brandon – Tudor Knight

Handsome, charismatic and a champion jouster, Sir Charles Brandon has a secret. He has fallen in love with Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, the beautiful widowed Queen of France, and risks everything to marry her without King Henry’s consent.

Brandon becomes Duke of Suffolk, but his loyalty is tested fighting Henry’s wars in France. Mary’s public support for Queen Catherine of Aragon brings Brandon into dangerous conflict with the ambitious Boleyn family and the king’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell.

Torn between duty to his family and loyalty to the king, Brandon faces an impossible decision: can he accept Anne Boleyn as his new queen?

Katherine – Tudor Duchess

Attractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine Willoughby is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor court. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Katherine knows all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and his son Edward.

She marries Tudor knight, Sir Charles Brandon, and becomes Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen. Her Spanish mother, Maria de Salinas, is Queen Catherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting, so it is a challenging time for them all when King Henry marries Anne Boleyn.

Following Anne’s dramatic downfall, the tragic death of Jane Seymour, and the short reign of Catherine Howard, Katherine’s young sons are tutored with the future king, Prince Edward, and become his friends.

Katherine and Charles Brandon are chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves as she arrives in England. When the royal marriage is annulled, Katherine’s friend, Catherine Parr becomes the king’s sixth wife, and they work to promote religious reform. When King Edward dies, his Catholic sister Mary is crowned queen, and Katherine’s Protestant faith puts her family in great danger – from which there seems no escape.

About the Author

Tony Riches was born in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, UK, and spent part of his childhood in Kenya. He gained a BA degree in Psychology and an MBA from Cardiff University. After writing several successful non-fiction books, Tony decided his real interest is in the history of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and now his focus is on writing historical fiction about the lives of key figures of medieval history. His Tudor Trilogy has become an international best-seller and he is in regular demand as a guest speaker about the lives of the early Tudors. Find out more at his website https://www.tonyriches.com/ and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

Links: Amazon UK; Amazon US.

Social media: Author Website; Writing Blog; Facebook; Twitter

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My Books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Tony Riches

Maria de Salinas, the Loyal Lady Willoughby

Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire

Maria de Salinas was lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon, and one of her closest confidantes. Although we know little of her origins, she was the daughter of Juan de Salinas, secretary to Katherine’s eldest sister, Isabella, and Josepha Gonzales de Salas. Despite the fact that she was not on the original list of ladies, drawn up in 1500, chosen to accompany Katherine of Aragon to England for her marriage to Prince Arthur, it seems likely that she, and her sister Inez, did come to England with the Spanish princess. She may have been added to the princess’s staff when her mother, Isabella of Castile, increased the size of Katherine’s entourage in March 1501.

Maria was one of the ladies who stayed with Katherine after her household was reduced and many returned to Spain, following the death of Katherine’s young husband, Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1502. She stayed with the Spanish princess throughout the years of penury and uncertainty, when Katherine was used as a pawn by both her father, Ferdinand, and father-in-law, Henry VII, in negotiations for her marriage to Prince Henry, the future Henry VIII; a marriage which was one of Henry’s first acts on his accession to the throne. Maria is included in the list of Katherine’s attendants who were given an allowance of black cloth for mantles and kerchiefs, following the death of Henry VII in 1509; she was then given a new gown for Katherine’s coronation, which was held jointly with King Henry in June of the same year.

In 1511 Maria stood as godmother to Mary Brandon, daughter of Charles Brandon – one of the new king, Henry VIII’s closest companions and her future son-in-law – and his first wife, Ann Browne. Katherine of Aragon and Maria were very close; in fact, by 1514 Ambassador Caroz de Villagarut, appointed by Katherine’s father, Ferdinand of Aragon, was complaining of Maria’s influence over the queen. He accused Maria of conspiring with her kinsman, Juan Adursa – a merchant in Flanders with hopes of becoming treasurer to Philip, prince of Castile –  to persuade Katherine not to cooperate with the ambassador. The ambassador complained: ‘The few Spaniards who are still  in her household prefer to be friends of the English, and neglect their duties as subjects of the King of Spain. The worst influence on the queen is exercised by Dona Maria de Salinas, whom she loves more than any other mortal.’¹

Maria was naturalised on 29th May, 1516, and just a week later, on 5th June she married the largest landowner in Lincolnshire, William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby. William Willoughby was the son of Sir Christopher Willoughby, who had died c.1498, and Margaret, or Marjery, Jenney of Knodishall in Suffolk. He had been married previously, to Mary Hussey, daughter of Sir William Hussey, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. The King and Queen paid for the wedding, which took place at Greenwich, the Queen even provided Maria with a dowry of 1100 marks. They were given Grimsthorpe Castle, and other Lincolnshire manors which had formerly belonged to Francis Lovel (friend of Richard III), as a wedding gift. Henry VIII even named one of his new ships the Mary Willoughby in Maria’s honour.

Maria remained at court for some years after her wedding, and attended 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 in 1519, would be the only surviving child of the marriage. Lord Willoughby died in 1526, and 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. Sir Christopher claimed that 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.

Miniature Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, by Hans Holbein the Younger

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 1528, intending her to marry his eldest son and heir Henry, Earl of Lincoln, and so had a vested interest in a favourable settlement for Maria. This interest became even greater following the death of Mary Tudor, Suffolk’s wife, in September 1533, when only three months later the fifty-year-old Duke of Suffolk married fourteen-year-old Katherine, himself.

Although Suffolk pursued the legal case with more vigour after the wedding, a final settlement was not reached until the reign of Elizabeth I. Suffolk eventually became the greatest landowner in Lincolnshire and, despite the age difference, the marriage does appear to have been successful. Katherine served at court, in the household of Henry VIII’s sixth and last queen, Katherine Parr. She was widowed in 1545 and lost her two sons – and heirs – by the Duke, Henry and Charles, to the sweating sickness, within hours of each other in 1551. Katherine was a stalwart of the Protestant learning and even invited Hugh Latimer to preach at Grimsthorpe Castle. It was she and Sir William Cecil who persuaded Katherine Parr to publish her book, The Lamentacion of a Sinner in 1547, demonstrating her continuing links with the court despite her first husband’s death. Following the death of her sons by Suffolk, Katherine no longer had a financial interest in the Suffolk estates, and in order to safeguard her Willoughby estates, Katherine married her gentleman usher, Richard Bertie.

The couple had a difficult time navigating the religious tensions of the age and even went into exile on the Continent during the reign of the Catholic Queen, Mary I, only returning on Elizabeth’s accession. Katherine resumed her position in Tudor society; her relations with the court, however, were strained by her tendency towards Puritan learning. 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, Susan and Peregrine. Unfortunately, Katherine died after a long illness, on 19th September 1580 and was buried in her native Lincolnshire, in Spilsby Church.

Catherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte

A widow since 1526, Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby, kept a tight rein on the Willoughby lands,proving to be an efficient landlady. Unfortunately, the fact she took advantage of the dissolution of the monasteries in order to lease monastic land; a business arrangement, rather than political or religious, but it still made her a target of discontent during the Lincolnshire Rising.

Maria had remained as a Lady-in-Waiting to Katherine. She was known to dislike Anne Boleyn and, as Henry’s attitude towards Katherine hardened during his attempts to divorce her, in 1532 Maria was ordered to leave Katehrine’s household and not contact her again. By 1534, as Emperor Charles V’s ambassador, Chapuys, described it; Katherine was ‘more a prisoner than before, for not only is she deprived of her goods, but even a Spanish lady who has remained with her all her life, and has served her at her own expense, is forbidden to see her.’²

When Katherine was reported to be dying at Kimbolton Castle, in December 1535, Maria applied for a license to visit her ailing mistress. She wrote to  Sir Thomas Cromwell, the King’s chief minister at the time, saying ‘for I heard that my mistress is very sore sick again. I pray you remember me, for you promised to labour with the king to get me licence to go to her before God send for her, as there is no  other likelihood.’² Permission was refused, but despite this setback, Maria set out from London to visit Katherine at Kimbolton Castle, arriving on the evening of New Years’ Day, 1536 and contrived to get herself admitted by Sir Edmund Bedingfield by claiming a fall from her horse meant she could travel no further. According to Sarah Morris and Nathalie Grueninger, Katherine and Maria spent hours talking in their native Castilian; the former queen died in Maria’s arms on 7th January 1536.³ Katherine of Aragon was buried in Peterborough Cathedral on 29th January, with Maria and her daughter, Katherine, in attendance.

Maria herself died in May 1539, keeping control of her estates to the very last. She signed a copy of the court roll around 7th May, but was dead by the 20th, when Suffolk was negotiating for livery of her lands. Her extensive Lincolnshire estates, including Grimsthorpe and Eresby, passed to her only surviving child, Katherine and her husband, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Maria’s burial-place is unknown, though there is a legend that she was buried in Peterborough Cathedral, close to her beloved Queen Katherine.

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Footnotes: ¹Henry VIII’s Last Love by David Baldwin; ²Catherine of Aragon by Amy Licence; ³In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger

Picture credits: Grimsthorpe Castle ©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly; all other pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

Bibliography: Bibliography: Catherine of Aragon by Amy Licence; Henry VIII’s Last Love by David Baldwin; Charles Brandon: Henry VIII’s Closest Friend by Steven Gunn; Accounts of the Chamber and Great Wardrobe Public Record Office; Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, edited by E. Jones (1964); John Leland Leland’s itinerary in England and Wales 1535-43 edited by L Toulmin Smith (1906-10); Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII 1509-47 edited by JS Brewer, James Gairdner and RH Brodie, HMSO London 1862-1932; Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry VIII from November MDXIX to December MDXXXII edited by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas 1827; Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 1980 & 1982; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; Henry VIII: King and Court by Alison Weir; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger; 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; Oxforddnb.com; Tudorplace.com

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My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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.

360px-Charles_Brandon_Duke_of_Suffolk
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 the Bishop of Lincoln’s Palace at Buckden in Huntingdonshire, in a futile attempt to escape the disease. For it was at Buckden, on July 14th 1551, 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. To lose both her sons in such a short space of time must have been hard for Katherine to take.

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.

450px-Grimsthorpe_Castle_-_South_Facade
Grimsthorpe Castle

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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; Sarah Bryson; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman.

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My Books

Coming 31 May

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016