Katherine Grey: Heir to Elizabeth

According to the will of Henry VIII, it was the younger sister of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey who would follow Elizabeth I to the throne of England. Yet few now know of the short, passionate and dangerous life of Katherine Grey, writes Leanda de Lisle.

Imagine you are 18. Your home is lost, your sister and father executed, but you have survived the reign of Mary Tudor to emerge as Queen Elizabeth’s heir and rival. In November 1558 such was the position of Lady Katherine Grey, sister of Jane, the Nine Days Queen. But Katherine’s dramatic life has been all but erased from national memory, along with one of the great love stories of English history.

To recover Katherine’s remarkable story, we must return to the dying months of the reign of Queen Mary, in the summer of 1558. Katherine was living in the royal household as a Maid of the Privy Chamber. An influenza outbreak was killing thousands across the country and a number of the queen’s ladies fell ill. When her friend Jane Seymour, niece and namesake of Henry VIII’s third wife, developed a fever, Katherine was permitted briefly to nurse her at the country house of Jane’s mother, Anne, Duchess of Somerset. Jane’s 19-year-old brother, ‘Ned’ Seymour, Earl of Hertford, was also there and, during that summer, a romance developed.

Hertford’s mother warned him that his attraction to Katherine was potentially dangerous. Queen Mary was ill and any match between Ned Hertford and Kath-erine posed a threat to her successor, Elizabeth. Under the will of Katherine’s great-uncle, Henry VIII, backed by statute, Katherine followed Elizabeth in line to the throne. This is not, of course, how history remembers it. Mary Queen of Scots is the cousin we recall as Elizabeth’s heir. But Henry VIII had excluded from the succession the entire Stuart line of his elder sister, Margaret of Scotland, and in their stead placed the heirs of his younger sister, Mary Rose Tudor, Katherine’s grandmother.

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