“The Marriage of Katherine Willoughby and Charles Brandon” by David Baldwin

By David Baldwin

Today is Day 2 of the Henry VIII’s Last Love blog tour!


Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk
Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk


“In September 1533 Katherine Willoughby married her much older guardian Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, whose third wife, Henry VIII’s sister Mary, had died in June.” – David Baldwin

One of the rights Charles Brandon acquired when he bought Katherine’s wardship was to marry her to a man of his own choosing. It was assumed that he intended her as a bride for his son, the eleven-year-old Henry, Earl of Lincoln, but in September 1533, only ten weeks after Mary’s death, he wed her himself. This was an era in which early remarriage, and marriage between youth and age, were commonplace, and the speed with which the wedding was arranged is no more likely to have raised eyebrows than the fact that a forty-nine-year-old man was marrying a fourteen-year-old girl. Catherine Parr was joined to Lord Thomas Seymour a mere four months after Henry VIII died in 1547, and when Chapuys wrote to inform Charles V that the Duke of Suffolk was to marry Lady Willoughby’s daughter ‘next Sunday’, he jocularly remarked that ‘in contracting such a marriage, the duke will no doubt please the ladies of this country, who, imitating his example, will no doubt take their revenge, when accused of marrying again immediately after the death of their husbands, as they are in the habit of doing’.

We do not know how Katherine received Brandon’s proposal, but she had been brought up to believe that making a ‘good’ marriage was more important than mutual affection. In his youth the duke had been a fine athlete and had cut an impressive figure; but now he was becoming stout and would be described a very few years later as ‘a good man and captain, but sickly and half lame’. He was old enough to be Katherine’s grandfather, but the passing of the years had not affected his ability to flatter or make playful advances to a pretty girl. As early as 1531 rumours emanating from Anne Boleyn’s household suggested that the duke’s interest in his young ward was more than paternal, and although allowance must be made for Anne’s poor relationship with the Brandons there is seldom smoke without fire. Brandon, for his part, surely relished the opportunity to espouse this nubile, attractive teenager, but the attraction was more than sexual. The Earl of Lincoln was ailing – he died six months later in 1534 – and even if he had wed Katherine her estates would have been lost to the Brandon family when she remarried. Instead, they remained firmly in Charles Brandon’s keeping, and Katherine’s youth could only improve his chances of fathering another son to inherit them. Later commentators hinted that young Lincoln died of grief when his father ‘stole’ his intended, but they were probably being wise after the event.

Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk (Artist: Holbein)
Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk
(Artist: Holbein)

According to Chapuys, Katherine and Charles Brandon were married on 7 September, almost certainly in London and very probably in the presence of the king. We can be reasonably certain of this because only three days later Brandon ‘supported’ the old Duchess of Norfolk when she stood godmother to the infant Princess Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s baptism would have been Katherine’s first formal appearance as Duchess of Suffolk, and marks the beginning of what was to be a long and not always easy relationship with the future sovereign. But no one, least of all Katherine, would have guessed this on a late summer’s day in 1533.

No detailed account of the wedding has come down to us but we may assume that, in accordance with tradition, the couple exchanged vows and the groom placed a ring on the fourth finger of the bride’s left hand ‘in plain sight’ at the church door. They then entered the building where their marriage was blessed and wine – a symbol of the new bond between the two families – was served to the assembled guests. The ceremony was followed by a feast – usually at the bride’s home but perhaps on this occasion at Suffolk Place – and then by consummation. There was frequently much horseplay as the newly-wed couple were put to bed, but such revelries were part of the occasion. Katherine would not have been surprised or alarmed.

How Katherine coped with her new role and responsibilities can only be imagined, but she cannot have found it easy. Until very recently she had been the heiress to a barony and the ward of one of the most powerful men in England; now she was his wife, a duchess, and the mistress of his household. At court she could allow her husband to take the lead while she basked in his evident pride in her, but she could not expect him to shield her when they were ‘at home’ in London or at Westhorpe. The servants would have been used to treating her with the respect due to a girl in her former position, but how did they respond to this abrupt change in their relationship? Some, no doubt, laughed behind their hands when she made mistakes (as she was almost bound to do in the early days), but they knew their places and Katherine would have learned fast.

Extract taken from David Baldwin’s new book, Henry VIII’s Last Love (published by Amberley, 2015). The book is available to buy from all good bookstores, as well as online at the Amberley website, Amazon and The Book Depository.


David Baldwin
David Baldwin


David Baldwin is a historian who has taught at the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham for many years. He is the critically acclaimed author of The Lost Prince (‘A fascinating new theory’ THE DAILY MAIL), Elizabeth Woodville (‘Inspirational… brings her alive for the general reader’ PHILIPPA GREGORY), Richard III (‘A believably complex Richard, neither wholly villain nor hero’ PHILIPPA GREGORY), Robin Hood (‘Excellent… a pleasure to read’ BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE) and co-wrote the bestseller The Women of the Cousins War. He lives in Leicester.


Henry VIII's Last Love


‘A gripping biography of the woman who might have been Henry VIII’s seventh wife… David Baldwin is a brilliant historical detective.’ PHILIPPA GREGORY (author of The White Queen).

‘A vivid and fascinating account… brings Katherine Willoughby deservedly to the forefront of the Tudor age.’ ALISON WEIR.

To Purchase Henry VIII’s Last Love, The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady-in-Waiting to the Tudors, CLICK THE LINK BELOW!!

Henry VIII’s Last Love


Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of QueenAnneBoleyn.com. Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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