Catherine Willoughby

Lady Catherine Willoughby died on this date in 1580, and she was an amazing woman who lived an amazing life. She was the only child of Maria de Salinas (whom I wrote about in my book; she is the friend who rode through the night in deep winter and lied to Katherina’s jailors in order to be by the deposed Queen’s bedside to ensure she would not die alone) and the 11th Baron of Willoughby de Eresby.  When her father died Henry VIII gave her wardship to his friend and brother-in-law, Charles Brandon (the Duke of Suffolk). When the King’s sister died, the newly widowed Brandon then married his ward, who was barely into her teens at the time.

She and Brandon seem to have been happy together, and when he died in 1545 it was almost a decade before she married again. She and Brandon had two sons, but heartbreakingly both of them died in their teens. Catherine did not let her grief destroy her, but turned increasingly to the Protestant faith to sustain her. She married a fellow Protestant, who happened to be a slightly younger but much lower-born member of her household, named Richard Bertie.

Catherine and Bertie appeared to have had a happy union, even though they had to flee England because of their religious beliefs during the reign of “Bloody” Mary. They had two children, a daughter named Susan and a son named Peregrine, both of whom survived to adulthood and married. Lady Diana Spencer was a descendant of Peregrine Bertie on her father’s side, which that means Catherine Willoughby is a direct ancestress of William, the future king of England.

Catherine was apparently and iron-willed and brave woman who earned the respect of everyone who knew her. She must have been a lot like her mother.

There is a distressing lack of biographies about this incredible Duchess, which I think is a crying shame. She is profiled in books such as Women of the Reformation: France and England by Roland Herbert Bainton and Five Women of the Reformation by Paul F. M. Zahl, but this hardly seems adequate to do justice to her.

May she rest in peace.

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