Katherine Grey: Life Story

Chapter 9 : Politics

Wider European politics now came into play. With Mary’s death, England’s alignment with Hapsburg Spain and Empire was weakened, but the French (who previously had intrigued to overthrow Mary in the Wyatt Rebellion with the ostensible goal of putting Elizabeth on the throne) were now promoting the claims of Mary, Queen of Scots. The Hapsburg interest would be best served by a marriage between Elizabeth, and her former brother-in-law, Philip II, or with one of his Imperial cousins. If that could not be achieved, then the Hapsburgs needed a viable alternative to Mary, Queen of Scots to support. Katherine Grey might be the very one!

Feria courted Katherine’s support. He suggested that a Spanish or Imperial husband might suit her, and she agreed that she would not marry without his agreement, nor change her religion – Katherine had conformed to the reintroduced Catholic practices of Mary’s reign. There were rumours that Feria even went so far as to arrange an abduction of Katherine with a view to smuggling her to Spain. From the extant records, it is impossible to tell whether Katherine was privy to this plan. It was abandoned when Henri II of France died, the Spanish believing that his heir, the young Francois II, was much less likely to consider invasions of England – he was too young and untried to begin his reign with extravagant military ventures, even in favour of his young wife, the Queen of Scots.

Katherine’s statement that she would not change her religion without consulting Feria (if his remarks are to be believed) is unlikely to have been a genuine declaration of Katherine’s religious views. So far as is recorded, she complied with the Act of Uniformity, and all of the support for her position as heir was grounded on the belief that she was a Protestant. Katherine may have made this comment to leave open the idea of a Spanish match. She probably warmed to the idea, as during the summer of 1559, Hertford seemed to have lost interest in her.

He initially excused himself from attending the Queen’s progress that set out from London on 17 th July 1559. They met again, however, at Eltham, and were soon deeply in love. It was an enchanted summer for the young couple – masques, banquets, hunting parties and dancing filled the days and the fragrant summer evenings at Eltham and Nonsuch. Hertford’s intentions were strictly honourable, and later in the year, probably in September or October, he formally requested Lady Frances to sanction his marriage to her daughter.

Lady Frances and her second husband, Adrian Stokes, were pleased with the plans, but they were well aware that the Queen might not approve. Their advice to Hertford was to persuade as many of Elizabeth’s advisors and Privy Councillors as possible of the benefits of the match. A letter was drafted for Frances to send to the Queen, once there was sufficient support for the match, asking the Queen’s consent. Frances also confirmed with Katherine that she wished the marriage to take place – the fashion for arranging marriages for young people without consulting them was beginning to fade.

Hertford’s initial feelers met with the advice that he should not attempt to rush matters. Whilst Katherine was waiting to formalise the betrothal, her mother, who had been ailing for several years, died. The funeral, paid for by Elizabeth, in an unusual access of generosity, took place in Westminster Abbey. Katherine, her eldest surviving child, was chief mourner, following the coffin. The funeral was conducted according to the rites and ceremonies laid down in Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity, which, although Protestant, was not so radical as the faith that had been espoused by Frances’ husband and her daughter, Jane.