Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk – I love her!

Today is the traditional date given for the birth of Katherine Willoughby (married names Brandon and Bertie), Duchess of Suffolk, and a woman who is known for her patronage of the reformed religion and reformists.

She is a woman who appeals to me because of her reformed faith (the Reformation is my second favourite Tudor topic!) but also because of the glimpses we see of her character in the records. How can you not love a woman who called her dog Gardiner, after Bishop Gardiner, so that she could call “Gardiner” to heel? That just makes me chuckle. Fantastic! What spirit?!

Katherine was the daughter of William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby, and Lady Maria de Salinas, lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon. She became Charles Brandon, Duke f Suffolk’s ward in 1529 and married him in 1533. Brandon died in 1545 and in 1552 Katherine married her gentleman usher, Richard Bertie. Katherine died on 19th September 1580.

You can read all about her in my article from 2013 – click here.

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15 thoughts on “Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk – I love her!”
      1. After learning that Catherine Parr had a daughter I wonder what happened to her. It seems so sad that something might have happened. I like to think that Mary Seymour disappeared into history.

  1. Although the lot of a high born Tudor wife was one of complete servility to her husband there were some exceptional women who did break the mould, Henrys first two queens were some and later Anne Askew and Katherine Willoughby, a very high spirited lady courageous and intelligent who embraced the new religion and encouraged others, she became friends with Catherine Parr and served in her household, what I find very interesting about this lady is she had been brought up as a Catholic as her mother was Katherine of Aragons close friend and devoted servant, having travelled with her from Spain and thus her upbringing would have been one of that doctrine, yet she possessed an independent mind that allowed her to question the very beliefs of her religion and decided to be a Protestant instead, that must have been quite hard for her in the beginning as she had been influenced by her mothers religion and she must have been friends with the princess Mary to, who was quite fanatical in her beliefs, she had an adventurous life being married to Charles Brandon who had been her ward initially, there must have been some attraction there and as his first wife was the feisty Mary Tudor he seems to have liked strong minded women, yet it must have raised eyebrows at the time as they were married within a few months of her death, which makes me wonder had they been having an affair prior? she had two sons who sadly died just days apart and she served Henrys sixth queen during the dark days when Anne Askew was being interrogated, I also find it comical that she called her dog Gardiner, he was her enemy and that of the queens and tried to bring her down via Askew yet that extrodinary woman refused to implicate her and others and Gardiner had to nash his teeth in fury, from what iv read about that man he sounds thoroughly dislikeable, after her husbands death she married again and had two more children and thankfully they lived to adulthood, they then fled the country during Mary Tudors reign and I feel they were sensible to do this, they may have been condemned to the flames also, even though Katherine had known Mary for many years and their mothers had been very close friends, yet at this moment a reign of terror was sweeping England, (now I’m not being harsh on Mary as iv said before she didn’t make the heresy laws but according to the Protestants they were being persecuted for their beliefs) therefore they must have weighed up the odds and realised it was safer to live abroad as indeed many other families did flee England at the time, they then returned to England and lived happily and I hope peacefully till her death, a unique woman and in those days of religious strife a very brave one to, she was what we would call today a scholar, and I can see her going to university and making an impact on those around her just as she did in her own time, the 16th c as I said before did produce some remarkable women.

  2. Anyone happen to know of a good book on women and the Reformation. I found one of that title at Amazon, which is a huge £25.99 for a paperback, by Kirsi Stjerna. On ‘Christianity.com. an Episcopal priest has written a quick synopsis of ‘Influential women of the Reformation’, incl Italy, England (Jane Grey, Katherine Willoughby), France and the Low Countries & Germany. I’d be interested to know what it was about the new ideas that made so many ‘thinking’ women prick up their ears on this dangerous subject. Certainly the option of preaching and teaching (except to other women) isn’t on the cards. This seems to me an area in which some of our more knowledgeable AB contributors will have something to say. Hope so, anyways!

    1. “Women, Reform and Community in Early Modern England: Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and Lincolnshire’s Godly Aristocracy, 1519-1580” By Melissa Franklin-Harkrider is excellent but is often expensive unless you can find a copy on Ebay or AbeBooks. Obviously that one’s focus is on Katherine and her patronage. Derek Wilson has just done one called “Mrs Luther and Her Sisters: Women in the Reformation”, which is very good. I’ve seen one by Roland Bainton but I don’t know what that’s like.

      1. Very grateful, Claire. I’ll try and chase those down. Now I come to think about it, there must be some feminist work done on this really interesting subject

        1. There is also Paul Zahl’s book but I don’t believe he addresses Katherine Willoughby. I know he looks at Anne Boleyn, Jane Grey and Anne Askew.

  3. Yes I find Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk and I believe she held the Willoughby title in her own right, something unusual at this time. She was a fiesty lady and had her own very independent views, which she was not afraid to express. Her relationship with Brandon has been controversial but any gossip about her having sinful intercourse with him is nonsense. There is absolutely nothing to support it but the accusations of an angry Anne Boleyn in response to his telling the King Anne was sleeping with Thomas Wyatt. Even then the source is probably dubious.

    Katherine was meant to marry Charles Brandon’s son, Henry, Earl of Lincoln but it seems he was considered still too young and his health was in question. Brandon needed money and Katherine was a rich heiress and potential landowner. Yes, there may have been some attraction and a fifteen year old marrying a man in his fourties was not wrong or unusual in Tudor England. The marriage was successful, they had two sons and there is no evidence that it broke down as in the ridiculous comedy series the Tudors. (I am being a little sarcastic). Katherine was raised in the Suffolk household and also in the capital. She was well educated, intelligent, fierce, independent and more inclined towards reformation than even her later friends William Cecil and Queen Elizabeth, whom she chided for not being firmly Protestant enough. She was also a friend of Katherine Parr, has been proposed by the late David Baldwin as a possible mistress and candidate for wife no 7 of Henry Viii, a guardian of Lady Mary Grey and little Mary Seymour, daughter of Katherine Parr and her mother was a great friend to Katherine of Aragon.

    With her second husband Richard Bertie she was given leave to flee England with her family after he was threatened with arrest on the pretext of owing money to the crown. Her adventures abroad are well recorded and she was even involved in some swashbuckling. Katherine had a fiery temper and you crossed her at your peril. She was also proposed to by the King of Poland and her husband and herself spent some years in his service. She prompted her reformation locally in Lincoln and owned a book of sermons by Hugh Latimer. Sadly her two sons by Brandon died in their teens of the sweat within hours of each other. However, she had two adult children by Bertie….Susan and Periguine. Katherine lived a productive and interesting, if sometimes sad or dangerous life, dying in 1580 aged 64, not a bad age at this time.

    I have been fascinated with this lady since buying a very old book about her several years ago by Lady Goff. Her more modern biography is also worth reading as is David Baldwin book. A novel Royal Nonsuch, also quite old is a very lively read. I have to admit I like people who are different or something of a rebel. I can’t but smile every time I read the story of her calling her dog Gardiner, who she obviously didn’t like. I wonder if she ever dressed him in amusing clothing. Imagine if she had called him Wolsey lol!!!

    1. There were titles that could be inherited by a daughter in lieu of a son. They were usually those originally granted ‘by writ’; that is, granted when the King sent a writ to the first holder summoning him to Parliament instead of granting the title via letters patent.

      Another such title was that of Baron Morley, the title held by Jane Boleyn’s father Henry Parker. He inherited his title from his mother Alice Howard, earlier Parker, née Lovel.

      1. Thanks for the information, Charlene, especially on Baron Morley. The Willoughby title was held by either male or female as well. Katherine also seems to have been an only child or at least an only living child. Her title was also challenged by her father’s brother, which also put her jointure and her mother’s lands in jeapardy. Charles Brandon intervened to help both women win what was theirs by right. Again, thanks, very interesting.

    2. Yes I also read that she was considered by the King to be wife number seven, one source claims he was quite in love with her, the sketch of her I don’t really find very attractive yet there is a lovely painting on an earlier post which shows her to have a little pointy face with large eyes and beautiful auburn hair, it is an intelligent spirited face that gazes out at us from the canvas, it is a pity this interesting lady never wrote her memoirs, I think it would be great if there was a television series made about her, there’s so many about Henry V111 and his wives they forget there were other interesting people around at that time to, it would be comical to see her little dog dressed up and Katherine rebuking him sharply making out she was talking to Gardiner as well.

  4. There isn’t anything especially remarkable about remarrying soon after being widowed any time before, say, the mid-18th century. (Nor on the frontier, nor other high-stress situations.) The general sense is that it was more like needing to fill an employment position that had fallen vacant when someone died, especially as it generally took both a husband and wife to run a household /farm or business. The pool of likely spouses probably included mostly people you’d known since childhood, or only a degree or two of separation from them.

  5. Oh heavens, I did not know the Gardiner story! That is great. I am sure His Grace was quite amused.

  6. I have heard the Katherine gave great sums of money to tens of Reformed theologians as financial aid. However, I have been unable to find concrete evidence of that. Is there any truth to this claim?

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