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The Fate of Lady Catherine Grey

Lady Catherine Grey

The Tragic Lives of
Lady Jane Grey
and her younger sister: Part II

by Gael Stirler

Summary of the story so far (part1):

Lady Jane Grey became Queen of England after the death of Edward VI but she only served for nine short days. Mary Tudor also had a claim to the throne and she had the people on her side. Jane and her family were imprisoned in the Tower of London. John Dudley, the mastermind of the plot, Lady Jane, her husband Guilford Dudley, and her father, Henry Grey, were all executed in less than one year of the death of King Edward.

Edward Seymore
Edward Seymour's father,
Edward, who served as
Lord Protector of the Realm
under Edward VI, until
discredited and executed
in 1552

After Jane's death

Though Lady Jane had been executed, Lady Catherine, her mother Lady Frances, and her little sister Lady Mary, were still in the royal line of succession, and thusly still in jeopardy. Queen Mary kept them close to her as ladies-in-waiting to make sure they didn't fall into the hands of those who would attempt another rebellion. But she couldn't keep them from falling in love.

Secrets and Lies

Lady Frances only waited three weeks after Henry's execution before she married her steward, Adrian Stokes, a young man only two years older than Lady Jane. Catherine fell in love with Edward Seymour the younger, son of Edward Seymour, who was the brother of Henry VIII's third wife, and the first Protector of the late King Edward VI. The young couple had a lot in common. Both had powerful fathers who were betrayed by John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, and executed for treason. They themselves had been imprisoned as teenagers and threatened with death because of their family ties. They understood the precariousness of their positions at court and the humiliation of constantly having to fawn over those who had killed their family members. Edward and Catherine were both in their late teens and physically attractive. He was tall and dark, and she was petite and red-headed like her sister, Lady Jane, and her cousin, Princess Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth Pelican Portrait 1575
Queen Elizabeth I, 1575

Edward planned to ask Queen Mary for permission to wed Catherine, but the queen died before he could. Elizabeth ascended to the throne, but she didn't favor the idea of this marriage—she had her own plans to use her pretty cousins to gain political advantage by marrying them to foreign princes. Lady Frances promised her daughter she would write the queen about the marriage but she, too, died before her letter could be sent. Edward's sister, Lady Jane Seymour, the niece (not the wife) of Henry VIII, was determined to see her brother, Edward, wedded to his true love before she died. Like Edward VI she had tuberculosis. She tried entreating the Queen, yet could not get permission, but neither was permission denied.

Edward's sister's health was failing rapidly when she suggested that the pair marry secretly as Catherine's grandparents had done, and seek permission later. So, in early December 1560, Edward and Catherine secretly wed while Queen Elizabeth was on a hunting trip. They told no one about the marriage and continued with their duties at court, stealing an hour or two at a time for love. They were never able to spend a whole night together. The next March, Lady Jane Seymour passed away and Queen Elizabeth decided to send the grieving Edward on a tour of the continent to finish his education. It couldn't have been a worse time for Catherine to learn that she was going to have a baby! There she was, without the support of her husband and all the people she trusted—her mother, her sister, her sister-in-law, her father, and her cousin—were all dead. She knew that the Queen would be furious if she found out that she had been deceived and lied to. She was caught like a bird in a trap and all she could think of was her sister's execution on the chopping block.

Robert Dudley
Robert Dudley, the Queen's

The secret marriage investigated

Catherine wrote to Edward, begging him to return, but the letters were intercepted and read by a government informer. He immediately turned her in to the queen. The Queen sent Robert Dudley, the son of John Dudley, to ascertain if it were true. Queen Elizabeth and Dudley were themselves in love, but the Queen had decided not to marry or have children in order to better govern England. Queen Elizabeth was deeply concerned with this girl's pregnancy since the child would be the presumptive heir to the throne and a possible threat to her own claim. You can only imagine the fear Catherine felt when she came face to face with another powerful and amibitious Dudley, knowing what all of their families had suffered.

During the formal investigation into the marriage on September 21, 1561, Catherine went into labor and delivered a healthy baby boy. The young couple's joy was sharply curtailed when they could not prove to the court that they were legally married. They had taken so many precautions to keep the wedding secret that there was no proof that it had ever taken place. Lady Jane Seymour, the only witness, was dead; the clergyman had moved; and, no one knew where he was anymore. Decades would pass before he was located.

Catherine and son Thomas
Catherine and son Thomas

Love imprisoned

The archbishop found that there was no marriage, the child was pronounced a bastard, and the young lovers were pronounced fornicators. Disgraced again, they were forced to pay fines and sent to the Tower as prisoners. The next fall, Queen Elizabeth fell ill with smallpox and people began to talk of succession. When Elizabeth recovered, she realized what a threat a fertile Lady Catherine was to her reign. Catherine made matters worse by arranging more secret meetings with her husband while they were imprisoned, and she became pregnant again!

The queen was furious. Edward was fined a tremendous sum for deflowering a royal virgin and for engaging in more carnal relations. She split up the lovers and their babies and sent them to live with relatives as prisoners. Edward and the toddler went to his mother's house in Hanworth, while Catherine and the baby were sent to live with her uncle in Essex. She wept all the time and made herself ill with worry. She wrote that she was in "continual agony" and begged the Queen for forgiveness, which was never granted.

By mid 1564, the Protestant establishment was beginning to back the Grey/Seymour wedding claim and embrace Catherine and her sons as rightful heirs. Pamphlets and sermons circulated throughout country that troubled the Queen a great deal. To make matters worse, Catherine's youngest sister, Mary, also was secretly married. When Elizabeth learned of this most recent insult she had Mary and her husband imprisoned as well.

James I
James I of England, son of
Mary Queen of Scots

The death of Lady Catherine

Catherine suffered with tuberculosis and finally died on January 27, 1568, at the age of only 27. Edward was heartbroken when he heard the news. One of the last things Catherine did before she died was send him a letter with the wedding ring he gave her enclosed inside. The seemingly plain gold ring that the groom had commissioned so long ago had a secret latch that released five hidden links inscribed with a poem he wrote for her─

As circles five by art compact
     show but one ring in sight,
So trust uniteth faithful minds
     with knot of secret might,
Whose force to break (but greedy Death)
     no wight possesseth power,
As time and sequels well shall prove;
     my ring can say no more.


Edward was released from house arrest two years later. He remarried eighteen years after Catherine's death, when his boys were all grown. He never stopped petitioning the courts to recognize his first marriage and to legitimize his sons. Fifty years after the trial that branded Catherine and Edward fornicators, the clergyman that performed the ceremony was found and he still remembered the day he wed the young lovers. A new trial was held in common law court and the grown sons of Catherine and Edward Seymour were pronounced legitimate. By that time, Elizabeth I had been dead three years and James I of England was on the throne. Edward Seymour outlived his sons and died in 1621 at the age of 81. He still had Catherine's ring with him when he died.

Lady Jane Grey
Mary Queen of Scots

See links below for more information on Lady Catherine Grey and other Tudors.


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