Editor’s Note: Queenanneboleyn.com is very excited to announce that Leanda de Lisle is completing the “finishing touches” on her new biography White King, The Untold Story of Charles I. This highly anticipated and comprehensive look at England’s tragic Stuart King and his family will release in the United Kingdom on August 31, 2017, by Random House.
If you are seeking an outstanding introduction to the Tudor Dynasty of English History, look no further than Tudor: The Family Story. For more information about Katherine Grey and her sisters Mary Grey, and Lady Jand Dudley, enjoy The Sisters Who Would be Queen: Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey, a Tudor Tragedy.
Lady Katherine Grey’s Confession
Leanda de Lisle
Katherine Grey could not keep her secret to herself any longer. The strain of hiding her seven month pregnancy during the constant upheavals as Queen Elizabeth progressed through Suffolk was proving intolerable. On Saturday, August 9th, when the court arrived at Ipswich, she turned to a friend, Lady St Loe, confiding ‘that in a few weeks she should be a mother; but that she was a wedded wife and married to Lord Hertford’.
Katherine’s being was a ‘wedded wife’ made her condition respectable if she was an ordinary subject, but she was not. The twenty-one year old Maid of Honour was Elizabeth’s heir under the Act of Succession. Her husband, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, was, furthermore, the son of Edward VI’s uncle, the Protector Somerset, and a descendant of Edward III. Katherine’s friend, better known as Bess of Hardwick, knew that Elizabeth would never have given the couple permission to marry and was horrified to find herself dragged into a matter of state.
As Katherine confessed that she and Hertford had married in secret the previous December, Bess ‘fell into great weeping and saying that she was very sorry that she had done so without the consent and knowledge of the queen’. Bess feared that the couple might even be executed for their actions. Elizabeth had almost gone to the scaffold during the reign of Edward VI, for considering a marriage with Hertford’s uncle, Thomas Seymour. This was much more serious and for twenty-four hours Katherine fretted over whom to turn to next.
Hertford had been in France since May and Katherine hadn’t heard a word from him. The only things she had received were a few bracelets and she had discovered that he had sent similar tokens to other ladies in waiting. She wasn’t sure if he had abandoned her and would repudiate the marriage – the only witness to it had been his sister and she had died in March. In her desperation, the hope grew that her former brother in law, Robert Dudley, might act as her protector for Elizabeth’s devotion to her young Master of the Horse was the talk of Europe.
Late on the Sunday night Katherine finally summoned up the courage to go to Dudley’s rooms. He was asleep when she arrived, but as soon as he awoke the tearful Katherine fell on her knees and told him about her pregnancy and secret marriage Katherine was wrong, however, to think Dudley would be sympathetic. His family had a history of rivalry with the Seymours and he was keen to marry Elizabeth and sire an heir to the crown himself. The next morning he gave the Queen an unvarnished account of everything Katherine had told him and, as he expected, Elizabeth’s reaction was swift and furious.
Katherine was sent under guard to the Tower that very afternoon and messengers left for France to order Hertford’s immediate return. He joined his wife in the Tower on September 5th. Elizabeth suspected a plot –she knew the Spanish ambassador had planned to kidnap Katherine and carry her aboard and it seemed probable he was behind the marriage. Far from being involved, however, the Spanish ambassador was dispatching home that Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, William Cecil, was the prime mover behind Katherine’s marriage. Cecil was close to Katherine’s family and bitterly opposed to Elizabeth marrying Dudley. The ambassador conjectured that he had planned to use Katherine to replace the Queen in the event that Dudley and Elizabeth married.
Elizabeth ordered the interrogation of Katherine, the Earl of Hertford, and anyone Their love affair was soon catalogued and the wedding ceremony described. Details even emerged of what they had worn in bed and how the marriage was consummated. But there was nothing to suggest a plot, or evidence of any figure behind it – other than a dead nineteen-year-old girl, Hertford’s sister, who had encouraged the romance since its beginnings during the reign of Mary I.
On September 24th 1561 Elizabeth’s worst fears were realised when Katherine gave birth to a son, Edward Seymour, Viscount Beauchamp. Two days later the baby was baptised in the church at the Tower. Only feet away from the font were the decapitated remains of several members of the baby’s family: His paternal grandfather, the Protector Somerset, his paternal great uncle, Lord Thomas Seymour, his maternal grandfather, the Duke of Suffolk, his maternal great uncle Lord Thomas Grey and the young woman they had placed on the throne, his aunt, Lady Jane Grey, England’s first Queen regnant.
Leanda de Lisle is a renowned journalist and historian who writes articles and book reviews for BBC History Magazine, History Today, the Literary Review, the New Criterion and the Spectator, as well as several national newspapers in the United Kingdom. Leanda’s first non-fiction book, After Elizabeth: The Death of Elizabeth & the Coming of King James, made a huge impression, a runner-up for the Saltire Society’s First Book of the Year award. Leanda’s book, Tudor; The Family Story (1437-1603), was a top ten bestseller in the United Kingdom and released in the United States, re-titled Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder – The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family for an America audiences. Leanda’s newest highly anticipated biography, White King, The Untold Story of Charles I, will release August 31, 2017.
Fittingly, Leanda lives near Bosworth Battlefield, Bosworth, England. For more information, visit Leanda’s website at LEANDA DE LISLE.
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