Friday, 10 January 2014

Catherine Grey, Queen of England and Spain?

Lady Catherine Grey

When Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558 she was put under immense pressure to marry and provide England with an heir to the throne.
Elizabeth was the last of Henry VIII's children, and the Tudor dynasty had an alarming lack of heirs. Elizabeth's closest relations of the royal blood were the children of Henry VIII's two sisters; Margaret and Mary. In his Will, Henry VIII had declared that should his three children die without heirs of their own, the crown was to pass to the heirs of his younger sister Mary - who was close to her brother as she had remained in England whilst Margaret had moved to Scotland when she married. Through this line, Lady Catherine Grey was the heir apparent to Queen Elizabeth. Lady Catherine was the younger sister to Lady Jane Grey, the nine days queen, and was a favourite of Queen Mary I and as such believed that Elizabeth was illegitimate.

Despite their lack of an amicable relationship, Catherine Grey was considered by many to be the rightful heir to the throne. The alternative was Mary, Queen of Scots, however this was not favourable to many English subjects due to her foreign birth and Catholic faith. Queen Elizabeth, however, for her whole life refused to ever name an heir. She was unwavering in her silence on the matter.

Her position and potential now made Catherine Grey a political pawn to be played.

King Philip II of Spain, who had been married to Queen Mary and who also had a mind to then marry Queen Elizabeth, schemed to use this situation to his advantage. A scheme came about in which Catherine Grey was to be abducted from Court and shipped to Spain, where she would then be married to a Spanish nobleman. In the eyes of Catholic Europe Elizabeth was illegitimate and therefore had no right to the throne. Philip II would then use Catherine in order to invade England and seize power. Therefore, once Catherine was Queen, Spain would have influence and control in England. It was even thought by some that Lady Catherine should be Queen in place of Elizabeth due to her illegitimacy.
It was common knowledge that Lady Catherine was unhappy at Elizabeth's court; the Spanish ambassador Count Feria even reported that a kidnap may be unnecessary as Lady Catherine may even be persuaded to leave England willingly. Whilst under Queen Mary, Catherine and her younger sister Mary Grey had retained posts in the Privy Chamber, under Elizabeth they were merely 'Ladies of the Presence'. In mid-1559 the Duke of Savoy's envoy reported that Lady Catherine had said 'very arrogant and unseemly words in the hearing of the Queen and others standing by', her exact words were not recorded.

It seems that Queen Elizabeth became aware of the Spanish plot towards Lady Catherine and she changed her treatment of her; Elizabeth suddenly began treating Catherine nicely, calling her 'daughter', restoring her to the Privy Chamber and even mentioned formally adopting her. There were discussions around this time that Catherine was to be married to a Scottish nobleman to improve Anglo-Scots relations.

However, Catherine Grey was not a woman to be used by others. Catherine had long since fallen in love with Edward Seymour and had a mind to marry him. They wanted to marry as early as March 1559. They eventually married in secret, with Edward's sister Jane as the only witness and the only person who knew and encouraged the pair. Shortly after Edward was sent abroad with Thomas Cecil for his education.
In July 1561 the whole scandal was discovered, as Catherine could no longer disguise her pregnancy and sought out Robert Dudley's help. During this time Jane Seymour had died, Catherine had lost the marriage certificate and the priest had disappeared and therefore the fact that a marriage had taken place could not be proved. Edward was recalled to England and the couple were imprisoned separately, with the Queen having the marriage declared null and void, a state in which they remained until Catherine's death in 1568. On her deathbed Catherine sent Edward a ring inscribed with the words 'while I lived, yours'. Catherine and Edward had two sons both born in the Tower; Edward born in 1561 and Thomas born in 1562. Edward was pardoned in 1570, but never stopped searching for the priest who performed the marriage ceremony. In 1606 he achieved his goal, the priest was found and the marriage was declared legal, along with the legitimacy of their sons.
Edward Seymour

Had Catherine not married Edward Seymour, her life may have been very different, perhaps as the next Queen of Spain?

It appears that this rebellious trait was a family one; Lady Catherine's grandmother Princess Mary Rose Tudor had married her second husband Charles Brandon without her brother the king's permission. Catherine's mother Frances took as her second husband her Master of the Horse Adrian Stokes. Catherine's younger sister Mary also eloped with the widower Sergeant Porter Thomas Keyes. Catherine's eldest son Edward married Honora Rogers, a girl far below him in status and therefore his father did all he could to end the marriage. Edward then threatened to commit suicide rather than return to his father's house. Edward and Honora's son William Seymour later secretly married Arbella Stuart.


  1. It always makes me feel a little sad, this preening to be monarch, or, worse, the youngsters - barely adults - used as pawns in the power games of the time. Now, of course, we have the likes of Alan Sugar and everything is much cleaner. Nice post!

  2. PS Following you as A Bit About Britain.