(D. Suffolk)

Born: 22 Mar 1519

Christened: 26 Mar 1519, Parham, Suffolk, England

Died: 19 Sep 1580

Buried: Spilsby, Lincolnshire, England

Father: William WILLOUGHBY (11° B. Willoughby of Eresby)

Mother: Maria De SALINAS (B. Willoughby of Eresby)

Married 1: Charles BRANDON (1° D. Suffolk) 7 Sep 1534


1. Henry BRANDON (2° D. Suffolk)

2. Charles BRANDON (3° D. Suffolk)

Married 2: Richard BERTIE (MP) 1553


3. Susan BERTIE (C. Kent)

4. Peregrine BERTIE (1° B. Willoughby of Eresby)

Willoughby,Catherine(D.Suffolk)02.jpg (151705 bytes)

Sketch of Catherine Willoughby

by Hans Holbein the Younger

Only surviving daughter of William Willoughby, 11° B. Willoughby of Eresby, by his second wife Maria De Salinas, one of the spanish Maid of Honour who came to England with Catalina De Aragon. She was a good looking girl, healthy, intelligent and high-spirited. A baroness in her own right after her father death in 1526, she was also the heiress to 15000 ducats a year. Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, bought her wardship from the King, and she was contracted to marry the eighteen-year-old Henry Brandon, Earl of Lincoln, the son of Brandon and Princess Mary Tudor. She went with the Suffolk and lived with them, being educated with Frances and Eleanor, sisters of her fianceé. Suffolk didn´t want to loose Catherine heritance. He needed money badly and she was very rich. Brandon married his son's betrothed in 1533, shortly after his royal wife death. He was forty eight and she was thirteen.

His son, Henry Brandon would be betrothed elsewhere easily enough. But that was not to be soon after his father's wedding, the young Earl died, probably of the Tudor scourge, tuberculosis. His father was not particularly grieved; six months after his death, he and Catherine had a son and named him Henry Brandon, and other son was named Charles in 1537.

By the end of Brandon life, she was starting to move in the reformist circles at Henry VIII´s court. Together with Margaret Radcliffe, Countess of Sussex; Joan Denny; Anne, Lady Herbert; and Jane, Lady Dudley, she had joined an influential group wich studied and discussed the gospels and listened to discourses of preachers like Ridley, Latimer and Nicholas Shaxton. This group met under the sponsorship of the last wife of the King, Catherine Parr. Although still in her mid-twenties, Catherine had developed into a personality to be reckoned with, a lady with a sharp wit and sure hand to thrust it home and make it pierce where she pleased.

When Brandon passed away in 1545, he and Catherine's eldest son, Henry, became the second Duke of Suffolk. Catherine was the executor to the former Duke of Suffolk's estate. The Emperor Carlos V was owed money from the Duke of Suffolk's estate.

When Catherine Parr died of puerperal fever in 1548, her baby, a girl named Mary, was, at her father, Admiral Seymour's request, handed over the reluctant care of the Duchess of Suffolk, once her mother dear friend. The Duchess was soon complaining of the high cost of maintining her, and wrote furious letters to Protector Somerset and to William Parr, other of the baby uncles, demanding a regular allowance for the baby. There is no record of his granting one, nor any reliable testimony to Mary living beyond her first birthday.

Her son, the young Duke, and his younger brother, were students at St. John's College when the dreaded sweating sickness seized Cambridge in 1551. Although Henry and Charles had left Cambridge to escape to it, it caught them at their mother's rented house at Buckden, outside the city. The older had died before Catherine could get there; by the time Catherine had arrived, Charles had fallen unconcious, and died 30 minutes after his elder brother. This left the dukedom of Suffolk vacant until Edward VI would award it to Henry Grey. About one month after her loss, the Duchess wrote to her friend, William Cecil:

"... I give God thanks, good Master Cecil, for all His benefits which it hath pleased him to heap upon me; and truly I take this last (and to the first sight most sharp and bitter) punishment not for the least of His benefits, inasmuch as I have never been so well taught by any other before to know His power, His love and merey, mine own weakness and that wretched state that without Him I should endure here. And to ascertain you that I have received great comfort in Him, I would gladly do it by talk and sight of you. But as I must confess myself no better than flesh, so I am not well able with quiet to behold my very friends without some part of these vile dregs of Adam to seem sorry for that whereof I know I rather ought to rejoice..."

Within two years after her sons' deaths Catherine fell in love with and married Sir Richard Bertie. Thus Catherine Parr married Thomas Seymour weeks after Henry VIII's death; now Catherine Willoughby trusted Richard Bertie because he was her "gentleman usher". That meant that he was her escort at all official functions of the court, as well as a sort of factotum at Grimsthorpe. When he married her in 1552, his father having been granted arms two years earlier classed Richard as a noble (but by the custom of the time, a gentleman of coat armour, not a gentleman of blood) which, while society disapproved of the wide difference in rank, allowed the Duchess to escape the ignominy inflicted on her stepdaughter, also a Duchess of Suffolk, who, two years later, took from her household as her second husband an unarmigerous usher (gaoled for his presumption). Bertie was also a committed Protestant. Hugh Latimer, Catherine's friend and confidant, approved of the marriage and almost certainly solemnized it. Latimer preached in Stamford before the Duchess of Suffolk, in London in convocation and in the garden before King Edward at court.

When Mary Tudor entered London as queen on 3 Aug 1553, Catherine Willoughby and her husband knew they were a marked pair. The Duchess was believed by Stephen Gardiner to be one of his greatest enemies. Years before, Catherine had offended Gardiner by confessing in public her dislike of him. Gardiner became now Mary's Lord Chancellor; he moved rapidly. Gardiner sought revenge against Catherine first through her husband, Richard Bertie, by insisting that the Sheriff of Lincolnshire bring Bertie before him. The pretext was a debt owed to Henry VIII by Catherine's former husband, the Duke of Suffolk. But Gardiner added a key question when he interrogated Richard Bertie:

"I pray you if I may ask the question of my lady your wife, is she now as ready to set up the mass as she was lately to pull it down?... I pray you, think you it possible to persuade her?"

Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, urged Bertie to make Catherine repent and then released him of his bond. Bertie devised a plan to send Catherine overseas. He went overseas before his wife, who followed him shortly afterwards. Between four and five o'clock the morning of New Year's Day, 1555, Catherine and a very small band of servants left their house in London, sailed down the river, and sailed in the direction of the Netherlands. They were so afraid of being caught that they got lost in the fog. Every one of the servants missed the boat. Robert Cranwell, an elderly gentleman, travelled with Catherine and her daughter when they went overseas.

Gosling, a merchant of London, learned of Catherine Brandon's departure, and he was a friend of Cranwell's. He housed her as Mrs White and her daughter as his own daughter.

The high point of this story is the arrival of Catherine, Richard, and baby Susan tous seuls in Wesél, in the Duke of Cleves' dominion, where the inns were all full and, having nowhere to go, they took shelter, like the Holy Family, in the half-shelter of the porch of St. Willibrord' s Church. At the end of his rape, Richard, who knew no Dutch and could communicate only in Latin, the lingua franca among educated people, of whom he seemed to meet very few in these circumstances, knocked on the door of the house next door to the church. He was prepared penniless to plead for shelter on his knees. But it was the English pastor's house. From that point, there was light, and hope. The Berties stayed with their coreligionists for several weeks, Catherine in fact became pregnant and bore a child named Peregrine; and they went to church in the Protestant Reformed manner. Francis Pernsell (Francis de Rivers) was the minister who secured the protection of the magistrates for Bertie and Catherine.

John Mason warned Bertie and Catherine that Lord Paget was on his way under a false pretence and that the Duke of Brunswick was nearby in the service of the house of Austria against the French King.

Bertie and Catherine departed for Windsheim in Germany, under Palgrave's dominion. Even there, however, they were vulnerable, because it was an afea of mixed religion. They were attacked at one point, in their little covered wagon. They were all almost killed by mercenary soldiers. Bertie distinguished himself in courage, resourcefulness, faithfulness, and faith.

The King of Poland offered Catherine Brandon and her husband assistance during their exile, at the request of John a Lasco. They devised with William Barlow, former Bishop of Chichester, to travel with him. Finally in Poland, King Sigismund needed a governor to administer Lithuania. Moreover, he needed a Protestant governor. So he enlisted the Berties. It is an amazing denouement to their road less traveled. Thus Catherine and Richard spent their last year in exile administering the northern province of Poland on the Baltic.

Willoughby,Catherine(D.Suffolk)01.jpg (10492 bytes)

Miniature of Catherine Willoughby

by Holbein
Grimsthorpe and Drummond Castle Trustees

The family returned to England in the late spring of 1559, six months after "Bloody Mary" died. Catherine wrote to Cecil, 4 Mar, showing her true state of mind concerning the state of the Reformation in England at that early point in Elizabeth's reign. Catherine was alarmed to discover, as were almost all the returning Protestant exiles, that Elizabeth was taking it slow. The new Queen was not moving nearly as rapidly in the interests of reforming the church as her best supporters wished. It was the story of her reign writ large, this feeling letter of Catherine to Lord Burghley and to his wife Mildred. This was the sign standing sadly over the rest of Catherine's life: her insistent impatience with Elizabeth. A contemporary, Sir Richard Morison, who had clashed with the Duchess over some small matter noted acidly. 'It is a great pity that so goodly a wit wasteth upon so froward a will'. The Dowager, now Mrs Bertie, was an inveterate schemer and loved nothing better than getting involved in other people's affairs. She was constantly being reproved for interfering in things that did not concern her. Her sharp tongue had offended many but she was not one whit abashed by her general unpopularity.

The last twenty years of Catherine's life were spent in obsessing with her children's rights and the rights of their spouses. Catherine spun her wheels, pathetically as it seems, trying to get Elizabeth to declare Susan's husband, Reginald Grey, the Earl of Kent. She also devoted years of letter writing and personal appointments to seeking the title "Lord Willoughby" for her husband Richard Bertie. She succeeded in the first suit and failed in the second.

In 1565 Lady Mary Grey married without royal consent Thomas Keyes, the Queen' s Serjeant Porter, a widower of fairly humble extraction. They were separated, and Mary' s succession of keepers included the Duchess of Suffolk, who found it hard to provide for her impecunious charge. She wrote to Cecil on 9 Aug 1567:

'...according to the Queen's commandment, on Friday at night last, Master Hawtry brought my Lady Mary to the Minories to me, even as I was appointed to have gone to Greenwich... All the stuff that I had left me when I came from the other side of the sea, and all that I have since scraped for and gotten together, will not sufficiently furnish our houses in Lincolnshire... Wherefor I was fain to declare the same lack of stuff to Master Hawtry, praying him that my lady's stuff might come before [her] for the dressing up of her chamber. But would God you had seen what stuff it is... She hath nothing but an old livery feather bed, all to-torn and full of patches, without either bolster or counterpaine, but two old pillows, the one longer than the other, an old quilt of silk, so torn as the cotton of it comes out ...
Wherefor I pray you heartily, consider of this, and if you shall think it meet [proper], be a means for her to the Queen's majesty, that she might have the furniture of one chamber for herself and her maid; and she and I will play the good housewives, and make shift with her old bed for her man. Also I would, if I durst, beg further some old silver pots to fetch her drink in, and two little cups to drink in, one for beer, another for wine... I cannot yet, since she came, get her to eat, in all [in so much as] that she hath eaten now these two days not so much as a chicken's leg. She makes me even afraid of her [life]... And so I end my long begging letter...

It was incumbent upon a host to provide everything necessary to accommodate a guest, and again, like she had done with the little daughter of Queen Catherine Parr, the Duchess was herself guilty of a social misdemeanour in not herself providing for Lady Mary.

In 1577, the Berties' son Peregrine, who Queen Elizabeth actually liked, married Mary De Vere, dau. of John De Vere, 16° Earl of Oxford, and sister of the famous Edward, the seventeenth Earl. The letters extant from this period are all rueful complaints to Cecil and also to the Earl of Leicester concerning the cantankerous "harridan" her son had married. Their wheedling tone sounds unworthy of the woman who crisscrossed Europe under violent persecution without losing her nerve. After Catherine died on 19 Sep 1580, both Susan's marriage and Peregrine's marriage produced grandchildren, and that both of Catherine's children came to later life happy and fulfilled.

Richard Bertie was Catherine's true life partner, unconditionally devoted to her welfare and protection, and, when the roof fell in, stalwart to the highest point of sacrifice. He died 9 Apr 1582, and was buried with her at the splendid tomb at Spilsby, in Lincolnshire.

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Catherine Willoughby

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The tomb of Catherine and Richard Bertie, at Spilsby


Zahl, Paul F. M.:  Five Women of the English Reformation

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