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

Posted By on March 22, 2013

Today is the traditional birth date of Katherine Willoughby (married names: Brandon and Bertie), daughter of William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby, and Lady Maria de Salinas, maid-of-honour to Queen Katherine of Aragon.  Katherine was baptised at Parham Church in Suffolk and was named after Katherine of Aragon.

Following the Baron’s death in 1526, Katherine became a ward of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, in February 1529. In July 1531, Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, reported that Anne Boleyn had accused Suffolk of “criminal intercourse with his own daughter”1 and this is thought to refer to the Duke’s relationship with Katherine, who was aged twelve at the time.2 Just two years later, in September 15333 and less than three months after the death of his wife, Mary Tudor, Brandon married Katherine. The couple went on to have two sons, Henry and Charles, who unfortunately died of sweating sickness in 1551.

Suffolk died on 22nd August 1545 and in around 1552 Katherine remarried, marrying her gentleman usher Richard Bertie. The couple had two children: Susan, who was born in England, and Peregrine, who was born in Wesel while the family was in exile during Mary I’s reign.

Katherine had grown up as an orthodox Catholic but came into contact with reformers in Suffolk’s household. In her book on Katherine, Melissa Franklin Harkrider4 writes that although some historians credit Katherine “with the spread of religious change within her husband’s circle” that it is “unlikely that she was the catalyst for this change in their early years of marriage” because she was only a teenager at the time. Suffolk appears to have been a patron of evangelicals and it seems that Katherine’s association with them “laid the foundation for her later acceptance of the centrality of scripture and justification by faith.” By the 1540s, Katherine was an evangelical and became friends with Katherine Parr who appointed her as a lady-in-waiting when she became Queen in 1543. In Parr’s household, Katherine mixed with other evangelical women, including Anne Seymour, Countess of Hertford; Lady Elizabeth Tyrwhit; Jane Dudley, Lady Lisle, and Lady Joan Denny, and evangelical men like Dr Robert Huick, Sir Philip Hoby and John Parkhurst5 In 1546, her evangelical views put her in danger when outspoken evangelical Anne Askew was arrested and racked by Lord Wriothesley and Richard Rich in an attempt to get her to name evangelicals in the Queen’s household. Askew refused to cooperate and was burned at the stake, Katherine was safe.

Katherine’s biographer, Susan Wabuda, writes of how “Under Edward VI, Katherine’s encouragement and inexhaustible purse helped to shape a new protestant culture” and that leading theologians “had reason to pay her homage.”6 However, Edward VI’s reign only lasted from 1547 until 1553 and Roman Catholicism was restored when Mary I came to the throne. Katherine refused to adopt Catholicism and followed her husband into exile in 1555, returning in 1559 when Elizabeth I was on the throne. Although England was now a Protestant country, Katherine was a “forward Protestant” rather than an “moderate” like the Queen and Elizabeth I’s Religious Settlement didn’t go far enough in Katherine’s eyes.7 Katherine did not join the Queen’s household and, instead, concentrated on promoting her own idea of reform in Lincolnshire. She employed Miles Coverdale to teach her children and welcomed “forward Protestants” to her household.

Katherine died on 19th September 1580 and was buried in Spilsby church, Lincolnshire, being joined by her husband two years later. The tomb with its inscriptions from Job, Hebrews, Luke and John, “offers an elaborate presentation of her religious views, and reflects her desire, even in death, to encourage men and women to embrace Protestantism.”7

Trivia: Katherine had a spaniel which she named Gardiner and which she dressed in a vestment and processed in “a mock parade to humiliate her religious opponent Stephen Gardiner and voice her opposition to elaborate clerical robes”8. It is also said that she enjoyed calling her dog, Gardiner, to heel!9

Notes and Sources

  1. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 2: 1531-1533 (1882), pp. 203-217, Note 765
  2. Although Chapuys says “sa propre fille” (his own daughter), historians including Susan Wabuda (Wabuda, 2004) take this to mean his ward, Katherine Willoughby because he married her only two years later.
  3. LP vi. 1069
  4. Harkrider, Melissa Franklin (2008) Women, Reform and Community in Early Modern England: Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and Lincolnshire’s Godly Aristocracy, 1519-1580, Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, p40.
  5. Ibid., p49
  6. Wabuda, Susan (2004) Bertie , Katherine, duchess of Suffolk (1519–1580), Oxford DNB, Oxford Univeristy Press
  7. Harkrider, p116
  8. Ibid., p134
  9. Ibid., p58; Martienssen, Anthony (1973) Queen Katherine Parr, New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company

14 thoughts on “22 March 1519 – Birth of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk”

  1. Tiffaney says:

    Great post Claire 😉 It would be really great to see more literature on Katherine Willoughby. The changing landscapes within her journey make her life absolutely fascinating. I want more! I want more! 😀

  2. Baroness Von Reis says:

    This women sounds fascinating!!Aswell as very smart.I however am trying to get a mental picture of a girl of 14 year’s married to the Baron,so clearly he must have had some attraction to Katherine and she to him.I also can’t see Anne Bolyen ever having a agreeable conversation Chapuy’s,when it did infact have to do with the Baron in the chase of Katherine when she was a girl of 12 yrs,another mental picture?A very great read as alway’s Claire! Regards Baroness

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      Correction ,The Duke.

  3. Jodi Fuller says:

    Thanks for a really interesting article. I had not heard of Katherine Willoughby before though I had read of her mother. I agree with Tiffaney that more needs to be written about Katherine and her times.

  4. Sonetka says:

    An interesting and impressive woman. Though I have to say, the Duke of Suffolk sounds like more of a dog every time I read about him, so I’m glad she got a less adventurous second husband.

  5. Dawn 1st says:

    I had forgotten that Katherine was half spanish, her mother was a very faithful lady and friend to Kof A, I wonder what they would have thought of her changing her believes to the new learning.

    It sounds as though she had a very interesting life, and that she was very much a strong minded lady who did as she thought right. As for the dressed up spaniel, I had to laugh, heres me thinking it was only Hollywood stars that dressed up their dogs! 🙂

    Spilsby is close to Skegness, the ‘seaside’ only an hour or so from where I used to live, went through there many times as a child and adult to go for a ‘paddle’ lol, and never knew about the Lincolnshire connection to this Tudor lady otherwise I would have visited where she is buried, have to make do with a look on the web now. will also have to read some more on her, she sounds by all accounts a interesting character.

    1. Dawn 1st says:

      Just checked it out, it seems to be a very grand tomb, I think her son Peregrine was buried there too.

      1. Charlene says:

        Actually, Peregrine Bertie, Katherine’s son, Lord Willoughby, is buried in St. Margaret’s, next to Westminster Abbey. Does anyone know where Suzan Bertie, Countess of Kent, Katherine’s daughter, is buried?

  6. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Just my opinion ,they sure did like that incest word?? Regrads Baroness x

  7. LINDA FOX says:

    Wonderfful article.thank-you for all this inforamtion .

  8. B. A. Willoughby says:

    I have been looking for the children of Katherine Willoughby. I new that one of the early Wm Willoughby 11th Baron, had married Maria de Selinas. But could not find more. She is an ancestor of mine..

    1. Claire says:

      The Katherine Willoughby I’m talking about here was the daughter of William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby, and Maria de Salinas. This Katherine had four children. She had two children by Charles Brandon, Henry and Charles, but they died young after contracting sweating sickness. Her other two children were by her second husband, Richard Bertie, and these were Susan Bertie (who married Reginald Grey of Wrest, Earl of Kent, and then Sir John Wingfield), and Peregrine Bertie, 13th Baron Willoughby de Eresby (who married Mary de Vere). I hope that helps.

      1. Betty Ann Willoughby says:

        Yes, it does, Thank You very for taking the time to help. You see I am adopted and this is my natural family on my Mothers side, my Fathers side is Balcomb. they were both in the Royal Air force, one from Canada and the other from Jamaica and me well I am a war accident looking for blood relatives. So thank you for all this information.
        Truly, Betty Ann Willoughby.

  9. Caroline says:

    Great article! I only first heard of Katherine Willoughby a few days ago and am awaiting a book I’ve ordered, “Henry VIII’s Last Love: The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady-in-Waiting to the Tudors.” What a pleasure that I’ve come to your post to find that Katherine and I have a shared birthday!

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