22 March 1519 – Birth of Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk

Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, by Hans Holbein the Younger

The 22nd March 1519 is the date traditonally given as the birth date of Katherine Brandon (née Willoughby), Duchess of Suffolk, daughter of William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby, and Lady Maria de Salinas, maid-of-honour to Queen Katherine of Aragon.

Katherine was born at Parham Old Hall, Suffolk, and baptised at Parham Church a few days later, being named after the queen.

Following the Baron’s death in 1526, Katherine became a ward of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, in February 1529.

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13 thoughts on “22 March 1519 – Birth of Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk”
  1. Her fate was bound to be very sad :
    soon an orphan, she became the – certainly unwilling at fourteen – wife of Charles Brandon at once widowed (it was his fourth wedding, he was about 50 years old by then).
    And in her teens gave birth to two sons, both perishing in a tragic accident themselves being just teenagers.
    Her marriage to a Willoughby was more happy, it seems.
    I once read (in an ancient encyclopedia), she was born in 1520 (her wedding’s date being all the more frightening).
    But the same book gave the date of 1497 for the birth of Anne Stanhope, future duchess of Somerset (which is not probable, her last daughter being born in 1550, meaning she would be 53 by then).
    Another striking portrait by Holbein

    1. Her feelings about Charles Brandon are unknown so I don’t think we can necessarily say that she was unwilling. Yes, Brandon was born circa 1484 and so was about 49 at their marriage and she was 14 so a big age difference, but very different times. Their marriage appears to have been successful and I’ve never seen anything to suggest it was unhappy. She would have been 16 and 18 when her sons were born and they both sadly died of sweating sickness in the epidemic of 1551, within half an hour of each other. I think Katherine’s mother died in 1539 so she was around for the births of her grandsons.

  2. I mean her second husband was Richard Bertie, but her maiden name was retained in her descent.
    Her two sons by her previous wedding rather died of disease – two mistakes in just a few lines is my personal record …

    1. Yes, that’s right. She had two children by Richard Bertie: Peregrine Bertie (1555-1601), who became 13th Baron Willoughby, and Susan Bertie (b.1534), who married Reginald Grey of Wrest, 5th Earl of Kent, and, after his death, Sir John Wingfield.

      1. Strictly speaking, it was not her maiden name which was retained but her father’s peerage of Willoughby which has passed down through many generations to the present holder who is also a woman. ‘Willoughby’ has been used as a forename throughout the intervening centuries by her Bertie descendants (including me and my son).
        I don’t think her life was sad, by the standards of her contemporaries. She was clever, powerful and had a full life which is interesting to read about even now. Two of her children died but she is the ancestress of thousands of people down to the present day.

        1. Yes, I agree. Oxford DNB’s entry on Peregrine Bertie explains that “His mother was twelfth Baron Willoughby de Eresby in her own right” and that when she died Peregrine was recognised as the heir to the barony. So, yes, the title was in the name of Willoughby but she was known by her married names.

      2. Claire it appears you made a little typo – Susan Bertie (and not Willoughby indeed 😉 ) was born in 1554 , not in 1534 (it would have been possible only of she had been born from the duchess’s 1st wedding).
        I just saw her portrait by the Master of the Countess of Warwick.
        If teh sitter is clearly identified (seemingly), she was about 13 by then.
        But she already looks like a lady, quiet and dignified – with superb cheek-bones.
        So different from what we are used to be told about her”flamboyant” (and, it seems, sharp-tongued) mother.
        She was countess of Kent and then lady Wingfield – don’t know if this second husband was of the same family related to the (FitzAlan and) Howards, …
        I’d like to know more about this Susan – of course if she happened to be more than a twice-married noble woman…

        1. The only stuff I could find about this mysterious sitter is that she married well first.
          But being left a childless widow with a family close to the queen, she in fact proved unable – financially speaking – to reside in her late husband’s goods.
          She waited eight years (anf her own mother’s death) before marrying again.
          Out of peerage this time – certainly bringing Elizabeth I’s disfavor (we all know how this queen could react in tsuch a case, taking something like personal interest in her ladies’ wedding-affairs).
          And although this husband led his military life serving his queen (dying in 1596 in Cadiz), his widow was left in a very poor estate, for what she sold her late husband’s portion and had to send an humble letter to Robert Cecil, asking for financial help.
          Her brother – Willoughby and not Bertie 😉 – names her and her son in his will .
          Not much for a girl born to such a pre-eminent family indeed .
          Anyone to tell me more about this countess of Kent ?

  3. Funnily enough, she was never called either ‘Mrs Bertie’ or ‘Lady Willoughby’, she was always ‘the Duchess of Suffolk’. This was because in those days a duchess stayed a duchess however many subsequent husbands she had.
    BTW I think your website is fantastic. I came to it because I wanted to know more about Henry Norris/Norreys. It’s taught me more about the subject than school, TV or books ever have.

    1. I believe it was the same with Frances Brandon too, and of course, Mary Tudor who was always known as “the French Queen” rather than the Duchess of Suffolk.
      Thank you and thank you so much for getting involved.

  4. Katherine Willoughby de Ersby, Baroness Willoughby, 4th Duchess of Suffolk led a remarkable life, living to the age of 61, not bad for those days, a full life, not a tragic one. Even though she lost her sons to the sweat in 1551, she did not have a tragic life and was successful most of the time. Her life had its moments, such as when she was forced to flee during the reign of Mary with her husband and children, her second husband, Richard Bertie. He had fallen out with the officials over a dispute that he owed money to the crown on behalf of his wife, because of her first husband, Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk. The debt had been forgiven with the death of Mary, Henry Viii sister, but this was an excuse to get at Bertie and Katherine as they were reformers.

    Even in exile Katherine Brandon thrived. Ending up in Poland, they even got employed by the King as governors of one of his provinces. The widowed Duchess before she married Richard Bertie was proposed to by the King of Poland, that’s how impressive she was. Her marriage to Suffolk was a successful one, which was not a forced marriage. Do you commenters even read the biographies and sources before trotting out some of the nonsense above? Katherine was Brandons ward, she was originally meant to marry his son, but this was changed for reasons that are not entirely clear, but Henry was still very young and he was not in good health. He died in March 1534, causing some gossip that was not substantiated. The fact that Katherine was fourteen does not mean that she did not consent to the match or was horrified by it. The marriage to an older man by a young woman was not horrifying, it was not unusual, especially for a second, third or fourth marriage. If a man needed sons or had young children, he would marry again. As women often died in childbirth, marrying early was sensible and at fourteen Katherine was considered a woman, she was above the age of consent. We don’t know what she felt, but there is no evidence that Brandon mistreated her or that the marriage was not affectionate, in fact the evidence is the other way. Her sons were born in 1535 and 1537, when she was about sixteen and eighteen, which again was not unusual. Unlike the nonsense in the Tudors they did not seperate or live seperate lives after the Pilgrimage of Grace. Suffolk moved to Lincolnshire, her country and was made Lord Lieutenant there to ensure law and order after the rising. He transformed Grimsthorpe where Katherine and Charles entertained King Henry and Katherine Howard in 1541. Katherine later lived there with Richard Bertie and her son and daughter by him.

    Katherine Brandon was no shrinking violet, either, as her letters, reputation and education reveal. Both her sons, Henry and Charles Brandon were scholars and at University when the Sweat came. Katherine was with her sons when they were tragically cut down by the disease, dying within a few hours of each other. Katherine was devastated. As an educated young woman she became the friend of Katherine Parr, even then she was starting to show a preference for the Protestant faith. The Queen and her ladies became embroiled in the purge by Bishop Gardiner and others, several were questioned, forced to hide their more radical books, one, Anne Askew was burned as a ‘heretic’ in 1546. Katherine Brandon had encouraged the Queen to be more radical and she herself had to go to Henry and pretend that he was right, in order to escape the Tower.

    Speculation arose from the Dutch Ambassador that Katherine Brandon and Henry Viii were more than friends, with a rumour that when Henry was looking for another wife, that Katherine Suffolk was mentioned. There is evidence that Henry Viii found Katherine good company and had conversation with her. A few sources say that he had visited Katherine socially but nothing scandalous seems to have happened. However, the late David Baldwin has written a Biography of Katherine called Henry Viii Last Love in which he asks how close did she come to being Henry’s seventh wife, and was she his lover, even in the 1530s?

    Katherine went on to sponsor many preachers, including Hugh Latimer who stayed at and preached several sermons at her home in Grimsthorpe, to befriend William Cecil Lord Burleigh, to serve and criticise Elizabeth I, to have numerous scholars around her, to be guardian to the weyward Grey sisters, to be for a short time guardian to the mysterious daughter of Katherine Parr, little Mary Seymour, to be a champion of learning and reform and to have a successful marriage to Richard Bertie. She may have found herself under pressure and suffered loss, but for the most part her life was rich and full.

    1. I am just discovering your comment Banditqueen,
      Of course I agree with you : her life was rich and full .
      But, about her, an orphan, married at 14, I personally did not find her life was BOUND to be that happy ; at the risk to displease you, I still consider that she did her way but only after having been widowed .
      In only meant that the first acts of her life were rather sad, not that her fate was tragic.
      She chose a 2d husband way less “valuable” (according to to by then standards) .
      I might be wrong in imagining that it would indicate that she got rid of her past…
      Not just a fancy of mine because I happened to meet an association devoted to afghan women .
      For them, being married at 14 to men far older than their own father is a very common thing.
      But the few women I met were very unhappy, praying for better times for their children – and especially their daughters.
      I might be accused of extrapolation, but I don’t care, for I still doubt of a woman’s (or girl’s) chance of happiness under these conditions.
      No you are right, only what I saw means that Katherine née Willoughby would not have been much happy after marrying Charles Brandon duke of Suffolk.
      I see your reasons : you see it from Brandon’s point of view and interests.
      We are speaking of a man who proposed first a high-rank Anne Browne who brought him one daughter – but in the same time, he courted a woman of even higher rank (born Neville, lately left a rich widow by a knight Mortimer), she was 20 senior to his first wife or betroth (still living by then) but the marriage took place and he immediately sold her aging sweetheart’s estate to keep the money before being obliged (what a surprise) to go back to his younger spouse of whom he was fortunately soon rid of by death, just an opportunity for him to be given (by royal favor) the ward of a girl of 8 Elizabeth heiress (Grey of) Lisle . But other occasions happened when he persuaded his friend’s sister (Mary Tudor) to marry him.
      When he was widowed again, he intended to marry Katherine Willoughby to his only living son (Henry, whose name was a tribute to the boy’s uncle , KH) .
      If I am not mistaken, he married Katherine before his son died.
      But it is true, he gave the predeceased boy’s name to th first born by his 4th wedding.
      Katherine was widowed by 1545, she was 25 at the time . So, she indeed showed some capacity and – we agree again – she was definitely no “shrinking violet” .
      Her strength of life does not imply that she had been the least happy with her first husband.
      As she obviously had no masochist tendancies, I’d rather guess she fully enjoyed her widowhood instead

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