Katherine Grey: Life Story

Chapter 14 : House Arrest

The summer of 1563 saw an outbreak of plague. By August, the number of deaths had increased to such a level that Elizabeth was begged to send Katherine, her children and Hertford out of London for their own safety. She agreed, and Katherine, together with her younger son, was released to the custody of her uncle, Lord John Grey, at Pirgo in Essex. Lord John was warned Katherine was only being released from the Tower for fear of illness, not to be free.

Hertford was permitted to live with his mother at Hanworth House. Katherine’s oldest son went with his father, to be brought up by Anne, Duchess of Somerset.

Once Katherine had arrived at his home, Grey wrote again to Cecil, assuring him of Katherine’s penitence. In a rather ironic testament, both to Elizabeth’s fears in regard to naming a successor, and her parsimony, Hertford was obliged to defray the costs of Katherine’s household, despite the validity of their marriage being denied. Her household consisted of three ladies, three man-servants, a ‘lackey’, a nurse for the baby, and a two women to wash both her and the baby’s linen.

In addition she had a quantity of furniture, including five pieces of tapestry, a ‘changeable’ (presumably what we would call ‘shot’) silk damask bedspread, a red and gold-striped silk quilt, numerous pillows of different levels of softness, footstools and cupboards. Whilst this sounds rather grand, apparently the furniture was largely worn out and shabby. It had also been damaged by Katherine’s own monkeys and dogs during her time in the Tower.

In November, Katherine wrote a humble letter to the Queen, begging her pardon and mercy. It was forwarded by Grey to Cecil, with a view to having it first approved and then forwarded by Robert Dudley – this would be Katherine’s best hope of forgiveness.

Elizabeth remained adamantine in the face of Katherine’s pleading. Katherine then seems to have fallen into depression. Lord John informed Cecil in December 1563, that she was constantly weeping, would not leave her room, and was not eating properly.

Katherine wrote yet another humble letter to Cecil, but, perhaps rather tactlessly, signed it Katheryne Hartford. She also wrote to her husband, in a letter recently brought back into the light by her biographer, Leanda de Lisle, it having lain hidden after its original Victorian compiler declined to publish its unusually explicit content. Katherine wrote that she

‘long[s] to be merry with [him] as when [their] little sweet boy in the Tower was gotten…’