The Ladies Catherine (1540-1568) and Mary (1545-1578) Grey

When King Edward VII lay dying, he nominated his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor to prevent his catholic sister, Mary, becoming queen. Jane ruled for nine days in July 1553 before Queen Mary I seized the throne that was rightfully hers according to Henry VIII's will. Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed, along with her father and husband in 1554. The ladies Catherine and Mary Grey were the younger sisters of Lady Jane Grey and cousins to Queen Elizabeth I. After Jane's execution they both had claims to the throne as granddaughters of Mary Tudor, the younger sister of King Henry VIII. (Their parents were Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Lady Frances Brandon.) Neither Catherine nor Mary were as religious as the fervently Protestant Jane and this probably saved them from becoming the focus of Protestant plots whilst Mary I was on the throne.

Lady Catherine Grey was born in 1540. She was married to Henry Herbert, in 1553 (on the same day her sister Jane married Guilford Dudley). When Elizabeth I came to the throne, in November 1558, Catherine's availability as a possible heir came to the fore. At one point the Queen seemed to be warming to Catherine and it was rumoured that she was considering adopting her. As Catherine was a possible heir to the throne, Elizabeth had to consider a suitable marriage for her. The best match would have been one that would not threaten her reign, but could bring some political advantages to England if Catherine were indeed to succeed her. A union between Catherine and the Earl of Arran (a young nobleman with a strong claim to the Scottish throne) was envisaged.

In December 1560, Catherine secretly married Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford. Not having the Queen's official permission to wed proved disastrous. Elizabeth had decided to send Edward on an educational tour of Europe. Catherine, who had fallen pregnant before Edward left, managed to conceal the marriage from everyone. However, in her eighth month of pregnancy she knew she would have to ask someone to plead for her with the Queen. She first confided in Bess of Hardwick, who was frightened about the consequences of knowing such a secret and refused to listen. Catherine then secretly visited Lord Robert Dudley, in his bedroom in the middle of the night and told him her story, but the next day he reported everything to Elizabeth. Elizabeth was furious that her cousin had married without her permission and thus thwarted plans for her to marry the Earl of Arran.

Portrait of Lady Catherine and her son, Edward Seymour The unmarried Elizabeth feared that Catherine would give birth to a son and start a rebellion. Thus Catherine was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where Edward joined her on his return to England. The Lieutenant of the Tower permitted husband and wife to secretly visit one another and, as a result, they had two sons: Edward Seymour, Lord Beauchamp, born in 1561 and Thomas Seymour, born in 1563. In 1562 their marriage was declared invalid and their sons illegitimate. After the birth of their second child, the Queen ordered their permanent separation. Catherine was moved from one location to another under house arrest, eventually ending up at Cockfield Hall in Yoxford, Suffolk. There, she died in 1568, at the age of twenty seven, from consumption.

Lady Mary Grey was born in 1545. She was reportedly slightly deformed and was described by her contemporaries as the smallest person at court. Like her sister Catherine, Mary angered Queen Elizabeth I by marrying without royal consent. Her marriage to Thomas Keyes, the Sergeant Porter, in 1563 resulted, two years later, in her imprisonment in the Tower of London. (The marriage had surprised many since Keyes was an unusually large man whose height contrasted with that of the tiny Mary.) It is possible Mary thought that by marrying someone of such lowly rank, Elizabeth would see her as no threat.

When Catherine died, Mary was brought to prominence as the last surviving grandchild of Mary Tudor. Since Catherine's children were considered to be illegitimate, some people regarded Mary as heiress presumptive to the English throne. She remained under house arrest until 1572 and was permitted to attend Court occasionally. In spite of the intrigue surrounding her, it does not appear that Mary ever made a serious claim to the throne. Rather, it seems her life was ruined by her royal blood. She died childless and in some poverty, in 1578, at the age of thirty three.

 

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