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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly