Grey, Catherine (c. 1540–1568)

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Grey, Catherine (c. 1540–1568)

Countess of Hertford. Name variations: Katherine Grey; Lady Catherine Seymour. Born around 1540 or 1541 in England; died on January 22, 1568, in Cock-field, Suffolk, England; daughter of Henry Grey, marquis of Dorset (later duke of Suffolk) and Frances Brandon (1517–1559, granddaughter of King Henry VII); younger sister of Lady Jane Grey (1537–1554); married Henry Herbert, 2nd earl of Pembroke, on May 21, 1553 (divorced before 1554); married Edward Seymour, 2nd earl of Hertford, in November 1560; children: (second marriage) Edward Seymour (b. 1561, Viscount Beauchamp); Thomas Seymour (b. 1563).

At 17, Lady Catherine Grey was in line for the throne of England but was excluded because of the actions of her sister, Lady Jane Grey . In 1558, their cousin Elizabeth I was crowned queen. When it became known at the English court that French and Spanish intriguers were scheming to have one of their own kidnap and marry an unwitting Catherine to usurp the crown, Elizabeth began to grow wary. And Catherine Grey's behavior did not help. She seemed incapable of comprehending that, because of her importance in the line of succession, all her youthful actions would have grievous consequence.

In the first week of 1560, Lady Catherine Grey married Edward Seymour, secretly and without royal approval, her mother having died before a letter of permission could be sent to the queen. When Catherine became pregnant and Elizabeth was apprised of the marriage, she had Catherine sent to the Tower of London. Edward Seymour was also imprisoned. Elizabeth, who had long been convinced that Edward would lend his name to foreign rivals, now saw a double threat. The queen's inability to produce an heir was also an important consideration. In September of 1561, Catherine gave birth to a son while in prison, and Elizabeth allowed him to be baptized as Edward Seymour, Viscount Beauchamp. Then, England's Privy Council set out to prove that the marriage was illegal and that Catherine's child, another claimant to the throne, was illegitimate.

On May 12, 1562, the marriage of Catherine and Edward was declared invalid by the archbishop of Canterbury, and the couple were both sentenced to prison for life for "carnal copulation." Each time Elizabeth's stance began to soften, events intervened. The sympathy of the public was on the side of the young lovers, and while in prison Edward and Catherine were allowed by their jailers to reunite from time to time. By July 1562, Catherine was once again pregnant, and the following year gave birth to another son. Then, two English rebels, without Catherine's assent, took up her cause for succession, further jeopardizing Elizabeth's position as queen.

Elizabeth had Catherine removed from the Tower and put under arrest in Essex at the home of Lord John Grey, an uncle who had always disliked Catherine. There, Catherine could not eat and wept continuously. She began to waste away, a victim of her fate and tuberculosis. By 1566, in advanced stages of consumption, Catherine Grey was in custody at the home of Sir Owen Hopton at Cockfield Hall in Yoxford. She died there, on January 22, 1568, age 28.

suggested reading:

Chapman, Hester W. Two Tudor Portraits. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1960.

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Grey, Catherine (c. 1540–1568)

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