Lady Catherine Grey

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Lady Catherine Grey
Countess of Hertford
Lady Catherine Grey, by Levina Teerlinc, c. 1555–1560. On the reverse of this portrait miniature it reads: "The La Kathe'/ Graye. / Wyfe of Therle of / hertford"
Spouse(s) Henry Herbert
Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford
Noble family Grey
Father Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk
Mother Lady Frances Brandon
Born 25 August 1540
Bradgate Park, Leicester, England
Died 26 January 1568 (aged 27)
Cockfield Hall, Yoxford, Suffolk
Buried Cockfield Chapel, Yoxford Church, Suffolk

Catherine Seymour, Countess of Hertford (25 August 1540 – 26 January 1568), born Lady Catherine Grey, was the younger sister of Lady Jane Grey. A granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary, she was a potential successor to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, but incurred Elizabeth's wrath by her secret marriage to Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford. Following her arrest when the queen was informed of her clandestine marriage, she lived in captivity until her death, having borne two sons in the Tower of London.

Family and claim to the throne

She was born at Bradgate Park in the vicinity of Leicester. She was the second surviving daughter of Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, by his marriage to Lady Frances Brandon. She was the younger sister of Lady Jane Grey and older sister of Lady Mary Grey. Catherine Grey's maternal grandparents were Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Mary Tudor, younger daughter of Henry VII, and former Queen consort of France.[1]

Through their grandmother, the Grey sisters had a claim to the English throne. They were preceded in proximity only by Henry VIII's three children – Prince Edward, Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth – and the descendants of Margaret Tudor, the elder daughter of Henry VII and Queen consort of Scotland, after 1542 represented by Mary, Queen of Scots. However, Henry VIII had excluded the Scottish line from the English succession in his will, placing the Grey sisters next-in-line after his own children.[2]

Jane Grey and Catherine's first marriage

In 1553, as King Edward VI was dying, the King and his chief minister, John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, planned to exclude his sister Mary from the succession in favour of Catherine's elder sister, Jane. According to the letters patent of 21 June 1553, Catherine was to be second in the line of succession behind her sister and her heirs male.[3] Jane had been married to Northumberland's son, Guilford Dudley, on 25 May 1553. On the same occasion, Catherine was married to Henry Herbert, the son and heir of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke at Durham House. After the wedding, Catherine went to live with her husband at Baynard's Castle on the Thames.[4] Catherine Grey had been betrothed to Henry Herbert sometime before August 1552.[5] When Jane's accession failed due to a lack of popular support, Henry's father, the Earl of Pembroke, sought to distance himself from the Grey family by separating his son from Catherine and seeking the annulment of the marriage.[6] He succeeded in 1554, the union having never been consummated.[7] Meanwhile, Catherine Grey's sister, Lady Jane, and her father, the Duke of Suffolk, had been executed in February 1554 after the collapse of Wyatt's Rebellion.

Potential heir under Mary and Elizabeth

During the first phase of Queen Mary's reign, Catherine was a potential successor to the throne as Mary was yet unmarried and her younger sister Elizabeth was regarded as illegitimate.[8] Demoted when Elizabeth was declared heir, Catherine's claim came to the fore again when Elizabeth came to the throne in November 1558. At one point the Queen seemed to be warming to Catherine as a potential Protestant heir, with rumours speaking of a possible adoption, but any such opportunities were cut short by Catherine's second marriage.

Second marriage

One of Catherine's friends, Jane Seymour, daughter of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, introduced Catherine to her brother, Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford. Without seeking the Queen's permission, the two were married in December 1560 in a secret ceremony at Edward's house in Canon Row, with Jane Seymour being the only witness.

Shortly afterwards, the Queen sent Edward Seymour with Thomas Cecil, eldest son of William Cecil, on a tour across Europe to improve their education. Seymour provided his wife with a document that would, in the event of his death, allow her to prove the marriage and inherit his property,[9] but Catherine lost the document. Thus, after Jane Seymour died of tuberculosis in 1561, Catherine was unable to prove that she was married.


Catherine concealed the marriage from everyone for months, even after she became pregnant; in her eighth month of pregnancy and on progress with the Court in Ipswich, she decided to ask someone to plead for her with the Queen. She first confided in Bess of Hardwick, who refused to listen to Catherine and berated her for implicating her. Catherine then went to her brother-in-law, Robert Dudley. Visiting his bedroom in the middle of the night, she explained her dilemma. As Dudley's room adjoined the Queen's chamber, he was afraid they might be overheard or that he might be caught with a visibly pregnant woman at his bedside, and tried to get rid of Catherine as soon as he could. The next day he told Elizabeth everything he knew regarding Catherine and her pregnancy.[10]

Elizabeth was greatly angered that her cousin had married without her permission. The marriage upset Anglo-Scottish diplomacy, as a possible union between Catherine and the Earl of Arran, a young and unstable nobleman with a strong claim to the Scottish throne, was now removed from the table.[11] The Queen also disapproved of her choice of husband and, still unmarried, also feared that Catherine's ability to bear a son could facilitate a rebellion in support of Catherine as queen.[12] To Catherine's misfortune, her claim to the throne was at the time argued by a book written by John Hales.[13]

Elizabeth had Catherine imprisoned in the Tower of London, where Edward joined her on his return to England. Bess of Hardwick was also imprisoned, as Elizabeth became convinced that the marriage was part of a wider conspiracy against herself.[14] Sir Edward Warner, the Lieutenant of the Tower, permitted secret visits between Catherine and Edward. Warner reported that the furnishings of Catherine's room, which were provided from the royal wardrobe in the Tower, had been damaged by her pet monkey and dogs.[15] While imprisoned in the Tower, Catherine gave birth to two sons:

In 1562, the marriage was annulled and the Seymours were censured as fornicators for their "carnal copulation" by the Archbishop of Canterbury's commission.[21] This rendered the children illegitimate and thus ineligible to succeed to the throne. However, they were nevertheless courted as potential heirs to the Crown.

Final years

After the birth of her second child in 1563, the enraged Queen ordered Catherine's permanent separation from her husband and younger son. Catherine was removed to the care of her uncle, Sir John Grey, at Pirgo. She stayed there until November 1564, when she was committed to the charge of Sir William Petre. For two years she was in his custody, and probably resided at Ingatestone Hall; then she was removed to Sir John Wentworth's (a kinsman of Petre's first wife) at Gosfield Hall, and after seventeen months' confinement there was taken to Cockfield Hall at Yoxford in Suffolk.

There, Lady Catherine died fourteen days later on 26 January 1568 at the age of twenty-seven of consumption.[22] She was buried in the Cockfield Chapel in Yoxford church in Suffolk. Her body was later moved to Salisbury Cathedral to be buried alongside her husband.[23]

See also



  1. Chapman p. 154.
  2. Chapman, p. 156.
  3. Ives, pp. 147, 150
  4. Chapman, p. 165.
  5. de Lisle, p. 302
  6. Chapman, p. 166-167, 169.
  7. Haynes
  8. Chapman, p. 169.
  9. Chapman, p. 197
  10. Chapman, p. 199-200.
  11. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. i, HMSO (1898), 483, Thomas Randolph to Cecil, 23 September 1560
  12. Chapman p. 200
  13. Ellis, Original Letters, 2nd series vol. 2, London (1827), 285, note citing British Library Ms. Lansdown, no. 102 art. 49.
  14. Chapman, p. 200-201.
  15. Ellis, Original Letters, 2nd series vol. 2 (1827), 274, note citing British Library MS. Lansdown no.7 art. 32.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1897). [ "Seymour, Catherine" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. 51. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 311.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Richard Harold St. Maur. Annals of the Seymours, K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., ltd., 1902. pg 161. Google eBook
  19. Sir Bernard Burke. A Genealogical History of the Dormant: Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire, Harrison, 1866. pg 489. Google eBook
  21. Chapman, p. 214.
  22. Farquhar p.33
  23. Geograph - Seymour monument. Accessed 6 Dec 2013


  • Chapman, Hester: Two Tudor Portraits: Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and Lady Katherine Grey Jonathan Cape 1960
  • de Lisle, Leanda: The Sisters Who Would be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine & Lady Jane Grey Ballantine Books 2009 ISBN 978-0-345-49135-0
  • Farquhar, Michael: A Treasure of Royal Scandals Penguin Books 2001 ISBN 0-7394-2025-9
  • Ives, Eric: Lady Jane Grey. A Tudor Mystery Wiley-Blackwell ISBN 978-1-4051-9413-6
  • Haynes, Alan. Sex in Elizabethan England Sutton Publishing 1997 ISBN 0-905778-35-9

External links