Written by Stephanie Stohrer
Thanks to the Nine Day Queen, Jane, there isn’t much room for extra scandal in the Grey Family. Not unless you look a little closer at her younger sister, Catherine…
Lady Catherine Grey was born on August 25, 1540 to HenryGrey, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Lady Frances Brandon. Catherine’s paternal grandfather was the grandson of Queen Elizabeth Woodville by her first marriage to Sir John Grey, and her maternal grandmother was Mary Tudor, the younger sister to King Henry VIII.
In 1553, as King Edward VI lay dying, together with his chief minister John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, he intendedto exclude the king’s Catholic sister Mary from the line of succession, and install the Protestant Lady Jane Grey. Not soon after, Catherine was declared second in the line, behind her sister and any male heirs Jane may have. In May of that year, while Jane married Northumberland’s son Guildford Dudley, Catherine also married Henry Herbert, son of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke. Unfortunately, as we know, Jane did not remain queen for long, and she was executed. As he did not want to be associated with the shame and dishonor of the situation, Catherine’s father-in-law sought the marriage be annulled.
Throughout her time at court in the years of Mary I and Elizabeth I’s reign, Catherine befriended Jane Seymour (no, not that Jane Seymour), daughter of Lord Protector Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Jane introduced her brother, Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, to Catherine and the pair’s affection was immediate. In 1560, rather than seeking Queen Elizabeth’s permission to marry, Seymour and Catherine wed in a secret ceremony, with the only witness being her friend and new sister-in-law, Jane. When the Queen sent Edward away on a circuit across Europe, he left his new bride with a document proving the validity of their marriage, and confirming her right to inherit his property. The existence of this record proved to be of the utmost importance when, in 1561, Jane Seymour died of Tuberculosis, having been the only bystander to the wedding. However, in a disastrous twist seen only in the movies, Catherine lost the document and was therefore unable to prove the union. They also had no access to the officiant who performed the ceremony, leaving Elizabeth to decide herself whether or not she accepted their union, should she find out.
To make matters worse, Catherine found herself with child. By this point, Catherine was a genuine threat to Queen Elizabeth’s position on the throne and it was imperative that her marriage to Seymour was valid. She had lived a life of contempt for Elizabeth, being brought up to view her as the illegitimate child of an adulterer and traitor, knowing that her potential bearing of sons was significant in both staking a claim to the throne and preventing a rebellion to overthrow Elizabeth during her time as monarch. She remained silent and was able to disguise her growing belly for much of her pregnancy, but by her eighth month she became frantic, and needed someone on her side to appeal to the queen on her behalf. She went to Bess of Hardwick, pleading for help, but Bess refused to listen and scolded her for putting her in such a precarious situation in the first place. In another unusual and most likely desperate act, she then went to her brother in law, the Queen’s favorite, Robert Dudley, as a last-ditch effort for help. Not only did he not comply, but he went straight to Elizabeth and told her everything.
Elizabeth was not necessarily known for her ability to reason, and this information did not elicit a positive response. She put both Catherine AND Bess in the tower, as she was not convinced that Bess wasn’t involved in a decided scheme to use Catherine’s child to overthrow her. Seymour was sent for, and also imprisoned in the tower. Catherine gave birth to Edward Seymour, Lord Beauchamp, in 1561. In May 1562, it was declared by the Archbishop of Canterbury that there was in fact, no lawful marriage between Catherine and Edward. Their charge? Fornication.
As if the situation weren’t theatrical enough, the Lieutenant of the Tower, Edward Warner agreed to allow the couple to see one another during their imprisonment. Assuming he was doing the kind thing for them, Warner did not plan for the secondpregnancy that occurred during these visits. After the birth of Seymour and Catherine’s younger son Thomas in 1563, the couple were ordered to permanently separate. They were not permitted to have any physical or even written contact.
Catherine was placed under house arrest in the custody of her uncle, Lord John Grey. She was permitted to take Thomas, with her, but their eldest son Edward and Seymour were sent to live with his mother. Lady Catherine Grey spent the next seven years in several different homes/prisons, and died on January 26, 1568. Her guardian at the time tried help get her to a point of contentment at least, yet Catherine’s response was simply:
‘No, no, my lady, my time is come and it is not God’s will that I should live any longer, and his will be done, not mine. As I am, so shall you be; behold the picture of yourselves.’
She asked that they take the following message to the Queen:
‘I must needs confess I have greatly offended her in that I made my choice without her knowledge, otherwise I take God to witness I had never the heart to think any evil against her majesty.’
She asked that Queen Elizabeth not take their parents actions out on her sons and remain somewhat forgiving towards them.Furthermore, she asked that she forgive Seymour. Catherine returned her wedding ring to him, as well as a small collection of other gifts including a ring engraved with the words, ‘While I live, yours.’
At only 27 years old, Grey passed away potentially of consumption, but possibly also due to the anorexia many say she suffered, as she was too heartbroken and weak to eat after never having seen her beloved Edward ever again.
The story of Catherine Grey and her beloved Edward is one of passion, intrigue and unfortunately, desolation. Some feel sorry for her, while others find her actions reckless and irresponsible. But regardless of your position, it is fair to say that her story deserves to be told, and the shadow of her sister’s tale should cloud hers no longer.
De Lisle, Leanda. The Sisters Who Would Be Queen.