Little Princess Gwenllian

Gwenllian was the only child of Llywelyn ab Gruffuddd, also known as Llywelyn the Last, Prince of Wales. Her mother was Eleanor de Montfort, who was the daughter of Eleanor of England, sister of Henry III, and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Llywelyn and Eleanor had married in Worcester Cathedral in October 1278, in a lavish ceremony attended by Edward I, King of England, and Alexander III, King of Scots.

Memorial to Gwenllian, Sempringham, Lincolnshire

Gwenllian, a descendant of both Welsh and English royalty, was born in June 1282 at the palace of Garth Celyn, Abergwyngregyn, near Bangor; her mother died giving birth to her. Shortly after her birth, Edward I concluded his conquest of Wales. Gwenllian’s father, Llywelyn, was killed in an ambush on 11 December 1282 – and just six months after her birth, Gwenllian was an orphan. Her uncle Dafydd, Llywelyn’s younger brother, became the little princess’s legal guardian. After his brother’s death, Dafydd continued the fight for Welsh independence but was betrayed to the English, in June 1283.

Dafydd, his wife, children and little Gwenllian were captured at Bera Mountain in Snowdonia, where they had been in hiding. At just one year old, Gwenllian was taken, by sea, probably to thwart any attempt at rescue, from Wales, the land of her birth. She would never see her homeland again. The baby girl was placed behind the high walls of the Gilbertine priory of Sempringham, in Lincolnshire, just south of the great city of Lincoln. Her female cousins, the seven daughters of Dafydd, were also placed in various nunneries, so it is possible some of her cousins were with her. Dafydd’s legitimate daughter, Gwladus, who was a similar age to Gwenllian, was placed in Sixhills, another Gilbertine priory, in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

Statue of Gwenllian’s father, Llywelyn the Last at Cardiff City Hall

Dafydd’s two sons, Llywelyn and Owain, were imprisoned in Bristol Castle; the eldest, Llywelyn, died there in 1287, just four years after his capture. Owain was still living in 1325, every night securely incarcerated in a specially constructed timber cage within Bristol Castle. Dafydd himself suffered the horrendous ‘traitor’s death’; he was hung, drawn and quartered at Shrewsbury.

The Gilbertines were the only wholly-English monastic community. Their founder, St Gilbert, had some form of physical deformity, which prevented him from pursuing a career as a knight. He trained as a clerk in France, studying under Master Anselm at Laon. He eventually entered the household of the Bishop of Lincoln and, in 1129, was appointed Vicar of Sempringham and West Torrington. He established the first priory there in 1131, with seven local women vowing to live a life of chastity, poverty and obedience. Sempringham Priory was a double-house, housing both men and women in segregated quarters.

At its height, the priory housed 200 nuns and forty canons. The order followed strict rules, based on those of the Augustinian and Premonstratensian monasteries. By the time of Gilbert’s death in 1189 there were thirteen priories in England; this number had risen to twenty-five at the time of the Reformation.1

Gwenllian was a prisoner at the Gilbertine Priory of St Mary, at Sempringham, for the rest of her life. A prisoner of three English kings, Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, she was a rallying figure for the subjugated Welsh and too valuable to ever be freed. Edward I wrote to the Prior and Prioress of Sempringham of his decision to place Gwenllian in their custody, on 11 November 1283: ‘… Having the Lord before our eyes, pitying also her sex and her age, that the innocent may not seem to atone for the iniquity and ill-doing of the wicked and contemplating especially the life in your Order’.2

Memorial plaque to Gwenllian on the memorial at Sempringham

Although Edward wanted Gwenllian to be forgotten, he could not afford to forget about her himself, and four years after she was placed in the convent, Edward ordered Thomas Normanvill to ‘go to the places where the daughters of Llewellyn and of David his brother, who have taken the veil in the Order of Sempringham, are dwelling, and to report upon their state and custody by next Parliament’.3 The extent of Gwenllian’s knowledge of her own history and homeland is far from certain. Having been taken from Wales at six months old, she is said not to have spoken a word of Welsh and may not have even known how to spell her name; she is referred to as ‘Wencillian’, in a document sent to Edward III at the time of her death, although spelling was far from uniform in the 14th century.

Gwenllian was probably well-cared for. Edward III endowed her with a pension of £20 a year, which was paid to the priory for her food and clothing. Whether Gwenllian was treated according to her rank at the priory is unknown. However, she was aware of her importance and her family connections; as David Pilling points out and she does in fact call herself Princess of Wales, daughter of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in a petition of 1327 to Edward II:

Wentliane, daughter of Lewelyn [Llywelyn], formerly Prince of Wales, prays the King of his grace to remember her and aid her, since the King, his father, promised her when she was put in the house of Sempringham, £100 of land and rent; whereof he told Walter de Langeton, then Treasurer, that he had given her £20 from the Exchequer yearly; and with this she has been provided.4

She is said to have received gifts from her cousin the king, and may have spent time in Edward III’s company, when he visited the priory at Easter-time in 1328; the young king issued a charter from Sempringham on 2 April of that year.5

St Andrew’s Church, Sempringham stands close to the site of the Gilbertine priory of Sempringham

Gwenllian may also have spent time in the company of Joan Mortimer, the daughter of Roger Mortimer, supposed lover of Isabelle of France, Edward III’s mother, and ruler of England after the deposition of her huusband, Edward II. Joan was held at Sempringham following her father’s downfall in 1330. She was only eighteen at the time, however, so may have had little in common, beyond their joint status as prisoners of the crown, with Gwenllian, who was a woman now in her late forties who had spent her entire life in conventual seclusion. The profound difference between Joan and Gwenllian, of course, is that Joan was released after a short time.

Gwenllian only found release in death. The on 7 June 1337, the same month as her fifty-fifth birthday. She was buried at the priory where she had spent all but eighteen months of her life. Her grave was lost at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, in the 16th century. However, a memorial plaque was placed near St Andrew’s Church in Sempringham in 1993, stating:

In memory of Gwenllian, daughter of the last Prince of Wales. Born at Abergwyngregyn 12.06.1282. Died at Sempringham 7.6.1337. Having been held prisoner for 54 years.6

Although she left very few marks on the world, a child whose very future was stolen by Edward I, Gwenllian’s remarkable story has not been forgotten. In 2009 a mountain in Snowdonia in Wales, formerly known as Carnedd Uchaf, was renamed Carnedd Gwenllian in the lost princess’s honour.

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Gwenllian’s story, and that of her mother and grandmother, is told in my latest book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England.

Footnotes: [1] David Ross, editor, Sempringham Priory, Church and Holy Well, britainexpress.com; [2] englishmonarchs.co.uk; [3] ibid; [4] William Rees, Calendar of Ancient Petitions Relating to Wales [5] Calendar of the Charter Rolls. 1-14, Edward III; [6] The Princess Gwenllian Society, Princessgwenllian.co.uk

Sources: castlewales.com; snowdoniaheritage.info; William Rees, Calendar of Ancient Petitions Relating to Wales; Marc Morris A Great and Terrible King;David Williamson Brewer’s British royalty; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Oxford Companion to British History; The History Today Companion to British History; Derek Wilson The Plantagenets; britainexpress.com; englishmonarchs.co.uk; princessgwenllian.co.uk; Calendar of the Charter Rolls; David Pilling.

Images: Photos of Sempringham Church and memorial copyright Sharon Bennett Connolly. Llywelyn the Last courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My Books

Out Now!

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.

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,  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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Lady Rose

Lady Rose

Lady Rose

Rose Locke was born in London on 26 December 1526. She was the daughter of Sir William Locke and his 2nd wife, Katherine. The 3rd of 11 children, her family were some of the earliest Protestants in England, and staunch supporters of Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The family lived in Cheapside in the 1530s, with Rose’s father and several brothers serving as agents of the king in France and Flanders during the 1540s. A mercer and alderman of London, Rose’s father was a gentleman usher of the chamber to Henry VIII and was appointed sheriff of London in 1548; he was knighted by Edward VI in 1549.

According to Rose her father, Sir William Locke, a merchant with strong links to Antwerp, had smuggled ‘herectic’ Protestant writings from abroad for Queen Anne Boleyne herself. Rose had long been familiar with the new learning and wrote in 1610: “My mother in the dayes of King Henry the 8th came to some light of the gospel by means of some English books sent privately to her by my father’s factor from beyond the sea: where upon she used to call me with my 2 sisters into her chamber to read to us out of these same good books very privately for feare of troble because these good books were then accepted hereticall…”¹

On 28 November 1543, just a month short of her 17th birthday, Rose married London merchant Anthony Hickman. They had as many as 7 children together and their eldest daughter, Mary, was born in 1547 and a son, William, was born in 1549. Sons Walter and Anthony were born in 1553 and 1560 respectively. Another son, Eleazar, born in 1562, was named after John Knox’s son, and the last, Matthew, was born in 1563. There were two other daughters, Frances and Rose, though their birth dates are unclear.

Anthony Hickman owned several ships, including the Great Christopher, given to Queen Elizabeth I’s navy in 1560 and renamed Victory; and had property in London, Essex and Antwerp. He had a business partnership with Rose’s brother, Thomas Locke, and both were favourites of Henry VIII and Edward VI, growing rich through their mercantile endeavours. The Hickmans entertained such eminent clergymen as John Foxe and John Knox; Rose’s sister-in-law Anne Locke was a correspondent of John Knox and he mentioned the family a number of times in his letters to her between 1556 and 1560.

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Gainsborough Old Hall

However, the advent of the reign of Mary I, and the resurgence of the Catholic faith in England, meant that the staunchly Protestant family fell out of favour with the catholic queen. They defied Mary by holding private religious services in their homes.  Anthony and Thomas were both arrested and held in the Fleet prison for a time, before being released to house arrest. Anthony eventually escaped to Antwerp, with Rose and the children following him shortly after; the family would remain on the continent until after Queen Mary’s death.

They returned to England shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I. However, religious divisions were becoming more pronounced as Queen Elizabeth’s reign advanced, not only between Catholicism and Protestantism, but within Protestantism itself.

After Anthony’s death in 1573, Rose married again. Her 2nd husband was a widower, Simon Throckmorton of Brampton, who died in 1585. Rose rarely used the Throckmorton surname, possibly because of its association with plots to rescue Mary Queen of Scots by disaffected Catholics; the Throckmorton Plot being led by Sir Francis Throckmorton, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth’s lady in waiting, Bess Throckmorton.

The Hickman family had become known for their Puritan leanings; Puritans were those who wanted the ‘purer’ church as envisaged in the reign of Edward VI, rather than the compromise established by Elizabeth I. In 1593, in order to curb the activities of such religious dissidents, Elizabeth I’s government had approved the ‘Act Against Puritans’, whereby it became illegal to become a Puritan or encourage others to that tendency.

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Gainsborough Old Hall

As a result, official appointments at court, for those known to have Puritan connections, suddenly dried up. Rose’s son Walter, deeply entrenched in court circles and an old hand at brokering appointments for friends and family (usually with a financial incentive) discovered the implications of the new stance in 1594. The Cecil Papers show that Walter was refused when he applied for the position of Receiver of the Court of Wards for his brother William, despite offering an inducement of £1,000.² The increasing hostility towards Puritans, and the possibility of escalating religious persecution, may well have persuaded William to move his family north; away from the prying eyes of the authorities and into Lincolnshire.

With the encouragement of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, ministers with Puritan leanings had been appointed to various churches throughout Lincolnshire. Several of the Pilgrim Fathers, who sailed to America on the Mayflower, would come from the region, including William Brewster and William Bradford. Families with strong ties to service at the Tudor court, such as the Burghs of Gainsborough, were moving south, closer to London and the person of the Queen, while other families were moving north.

In 1596 William Hickman bought the Old Hall at Gainsborough, which provided the merchant with his very own port on the River Trent. The move to Gainsborough was not without its challenges. With the Burgh family having essentially left the town to its own devices for the last 30 years, Hickman’s attempts to collect market revenues and port tolls met with opposition, including the apparent murder of one of his servants, who was stabbed to death. It may well have been that William’s puritan leanings exacerbated the situation, but the main unrest seems to have stemmed from relatives and retainers of the outgoing Burgh family. A Mr Topliff, who tried to stop William obtaining justice for his servant, was the son-in-law of Thomas Burgh III (himself the father-in-law of Henry VIII’s last queen, Katherine Parr).

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The great hall of Gainsborough Old Hall viewed from the solar

Now approaching her 80s, Rose moved to Gainsborough with her eldest son. In 1610, at the age of 84, she wrote an account of her early life, from 1534, when her father removed the papal bull, which had been posted in Dunkirk, against Henry VIII. Her recollections ended in 1558, with the death of Mary I and her family’s return to England on the accession of Elizabeth.

Lady Rose Hickman died on 21 November 1613, a month short of her 87th birthday. She was buried in the Hickman Quire of the former Burgh chantry chapel in the parish church of All Saints in Gainsborough, just across the road from her home, Gainsborough Old Hall. Her epitaph was written in 1637 and reads:

God gave unto this matron in her days
Such pledges firm of his affliction dear
Such happy blessings as the psalmist says
They shall receive as serve the Lord in fear
Herself in wedlock as the fruitful vine
Her children like the olive plants to be
And of her issues in descendant line
She did her childrens childrens children see
And freed from the Babylonish awe
Peace permanent on Isreal saw
Now having fought a good and Christian fight
Against the spiritual common enemy
And exercis’d herself both day and night
In oracles divine continually.
And kept the sacred faith with constancy
Even in the midst of persecutions rage
Express’d by worthy works of peity
From time to time as well in youth as age
She finished her course and doth possess in heavenly bliss the crown of righteousness”³

 

 

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Footnotes:

¹A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall by Sue Allan; ²ibid; ³MS C Folio 7, deposited in the British Museum in 1935, quoted by gainsborougholdhall.co.uk/throckmorton

Images:

Rose Hickman from gainsborougholdhall.com; Gainsborough Old Hall photos ©SharonBennettConnolly 2017

Bibliography:

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: the Recollections of Rose Hickman edited by Maria Dowling and Joy Shakespeare; Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 1980 & 1982; A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall by Sue Allan; 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 Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence; Oxforddnb.com; Tudorplace.com; gainsborougholdhall.com.

Lady Rose also features in Marie McPherson’s novel on the life of John Knox, The Second Blast of the Trumpet.

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Heroines of the Medieval World:

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.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Sad Story of Little St Hugh of Lincoln

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Lincoln Cathedral viewed from Lincoln Castle

While researching Lincoln this week I came across the unhappy story of Little St Hugh, a young boy whose death caused a lethal backlash of blame and recrimination which attracted the attention of the king, Henry III, himself.

The story revolves around a young boy called Hugh. Born around 1246 he  was probably 9 years old when he disappeared on 31st July 1255. No one seems to know who Hugh’s father was, or even if he had one – some sources suggest he was illegitimate – but his mother was a Lincoln lady called Beatrice.

According to reports young Hugh had been doing what all boys do at that age – he’d been out playing with friends. But when it got late the lad could not be found. His mother spent days looking for him and apparently was eventually told by some neighbours that he had last been seen ‘playing with some Jewish boys of his own age, and going into the house of a Jew.’¹

According to Matthew Paris it was Beatrice, herself, who had discovered Hugh’s body sometime around 27th August 1255, after marching into the house Hugh had been seen going into. Little Hugh’s body was supposedly found in a well at the property of a Lincoln Jew, named Copin (or Jopin, Joscefin or Koppin).

Poor Copin was immediately seized by those present when the body was found; Beatrice and her neighbours and the city’s bailiffs all appear to have been in attendance. In no time at all a dreadful tale of ritual murder and the ‘blood libel’ (where it was believed Christian children were tortured and killed in Jewish rituals, supposedly mimicking the crucifixion of Christ) was woven around the tragedy of the little boy’s death.

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Body of Hugh of Lincoln

According to Paris:

… having shut him up in a room quite out of the way, where they fed him on milk and other childish nourishment, they sent to almost all the cities of England where the Jews lived, and summoned some of their sect from each city to be present at a sacrifice to take place at Lincoln; for they had, as they stated, a boy hidden for the purpose of being crucified. In accordance with the summons, a great many of them came to Lincoln, and on assembling, they at once appointed a Jew of Lincoln as judge to take the place of Pilate, by whose sentence, and with the concurrence of all, the boy was subjected to divers tortures They beat him till blood flowed and he was quite livid, they crowned him with thorns, derided him and spat upon him. Moreover, he was pierced by each of them with a wood knife, was made to drink gall, was overwhelmed with approaches and blasphemies, and was repeatedly called Jesus the false prophet by his tormentors, who surrounded him, grinding and gnashing their teeth. After tormenting him in divers ways, they crucified him, and pierced him to the heart with a lance.²

It is still unclear whether or not Little Hugh was murdered; some sources suggest that it could have been a terrible accident or the boy lost his footing and fell down the well (although the well in question was apparently only dug in 1910)3. And even if the boy was murdered, it is far from clear that Copin was the culprit. However, one man took the initiative and played on the prejudices of the time to, not only, create a scapegoat but use the anti-Semitism prevalent at the time in order to blame the Jewish population of England as a whole.

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Gateway to Lincoln Cathedral precincts

John of Lexington was one of the witnesses at the discovery of the body and appears to have been the one to investigate the accusation of ritual murder levelled at Copin, probably by the distraught Beatrice. He may have been familiar with the case, just over a century earlier, of William of Norwich, who died in 1144 and whose death was said to involve a mock execution at the hands of a converted Jew named Theobald.

Lexington, described as ‘a man of learning, prudent and discreet‘² by Matthew Paris, managed to persuade Copin to confess and describe the murder in return for a promise of protection from torture and execution. Copin is said to have confessed to his involvement, and described the scourging, disembowelling, crowning with thorns and crucifixion of the young boy. He went on, it seems, to implicate the rest of his people, saying ‘nearly all the Jews of England agreed to the death of this boy.’4

At the time of the death many prominent Jewish families had congregated in Lincoln; not to  commit murder, but to celebrate the marriage of Bellaset, the daughter of Berechiah de Nicole. These were suddenly caught up in the tragedy and more than 90 of them were arrested and charged with practicing ritual murder. They were sent to London and imprisoned in the Tower to await trial.

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Sign in Lincoln Cathedral explaining Hugh’s story

In the mean time rumours of miracles started circulating  and being attributed to Little Hugh. It was said his body had been thrown down the well because when Copin had tried to bury him the earth had thrown the corpse back out. In another miracle attributed to him a blind woman regained her sight by bathing her eyes in water from the well in which Hugh’s remains had been found. Having heard of the miracles associated with Little Hugh, the canons of Lincoln Cathedral requested the body and Little Hugh ‘was honourably buried in the church of Lincoln as if it had been the corpse of a precious martyr,’² with the Cathedral even raising a shrine to the memory of Little Saint Hugh.

As for Copin; the story of a boy’s murder by England’s Jews had attracted the attention of England’s king, Henry III. According to Paris the king himself reproached John of Lexington for having promised life to such a ‘wicked being’ and the poor man was condemned to death. He was tied to the tail of a horse and dragged through the streets to the gallows, and hung.

Just 6 months before Hugh’s death the king had sold his rights to tax the Jews to his younger brother Richard, earl of Cornwall. However, he retained the right to receive the goods and property of any Jew implicated in a crime. This made the 90 Jews arrested alongside Copin extremely valuable to the king if they were guilty – and to his brother if they were innocent. Of these 90 or so Jews caught up in the aftermath of the tragedy, 18 ‘of the richer and higher order of Jews of the city of Lincoln’² were condemned to death and dragged to gibbets erected especially and hung; their property confiscated by the king.

The remaining prisoners were eventually released, following payment of their ransom by the Earl of Cornwall; his personal Jew had probably been caught up in the arrests and so it was in Cornwall’s interests to get the Jews released. Among those freed was Berechiah de Nicole, the father of the bride for whose wedding the Jews had been gathered in Lincoln.

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The shrine of Little Hugh in Lincoln Cathedral

The tragedy of Little Hugh’s death was only worsened by the judicial murders of so many innocent Jews in revenge. Little St Hugh is the best known of the ‘blood libel’ saints and although a shrine was erected in Lincoln Cathedral, with a feast day of 27th August, Little Hugh was never canonised by the Vatican and has never been included in the official roll of Catholic martyrs. The shrine inside the cathedral, although still there, has lost its canopy and now has a sign at the side, explaining the legend and telling the sad tale of the boy’s death and its dreadful aftermath.

Little Hugh’s story would continue to be told in the succeeding centuries. It has been the subject of ballads in both English, Scottish and French poetry and is referred to by Chaucer in The Prioress’s Tale and by Marlowe in the Jew of Malta.

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Footnotes:

¹Matthew Paris, quoted by Haidee J Lorrey from oxforddnb.com; ²Matthew Paris, Of the cruel treatment of the Jews for having crucified a boy from arts.cornell.edu; ³It’s About Lincolnshire via Twitter; 4Matthew Paris, quoted by Haidee J Lorrey from oxforddnb.com.

And thanks to Dean Irwin for clarifying some points for me.

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Article and photos of Lincoln Cathedral and precincts ©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly; Picture of the Body of Little Hugh courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sources:

arts.cornell.edu; oxforddnb.com; pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.co.uk; britannica.com; Who’s Buried Where in England by Douglas Greenwood;  Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 by Robert Bartlett; jewishencyclopedia.com.

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My books

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.

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

©2016 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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

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.

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,  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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