Katherine Grey: Life Story

Chapter 13 : Punishment

Despite the judgement, Katherine and Hertford themselves stuck to their belief in the validity of their marriage. Still languishing in the Tower (although in all the comfort appropriate to her status, with her pets) Katherine clearly inspired sympathy for her plight. On at least two occasions, the gaolers turned a blind eye to a couple of unlocked doors that led to meetings. These meetings led to Katherine falling pregnant again. It would be difficult for the illegitimacy of this child to be impugned, as both parents had stated their belief in their marriage in front of no less a witness than the Archbishop of Canterbury himself!

Lady-Katherine-Grey-Countess-of-Hertford-1540-1568-with-her-son-Viscount-Beauchamp-1561-–-1612-by-Levina-Teerlinc
Lady Katherine Grey, Countess of Hertford (1540 - 1568), with her son, Viscount Beauchamp (1561 - 1612) by Levina Teerlinc

In the summer of 1562, the succession question became urgent as Elizabeth fell ill with small-pox. Katherine’s claims were pressed by some of the Council, but others preferred Mary, Queen of Scots, the Earl of Huntingdon, or the Countess of Lennox (who in strict primogeniture would follow Mary of Scotland and had the advantage of being born in England). Elizabeth recovered, but the new Parliament (carefully managed to ensure a Protestant majority) pushed her to name a successor.

Elizabeth refused. She assured the Commons that she had every intention of marrying and begetting an heir – she just wasn’t able to say exactly when. Into this tense situation, Katherine’s pregnancy was announced. The scale of Elizabeth’s fury was beyond measure. The Lieutenant of the Tower was to be imprisoned for enabling the meetings to take place, and on the day the child (another boy, named Thomas) was christened in February 1563, Hertford was brought before the Star Chamber for further interrogation. The story of how he had bribed the warders was revealed, together with details of his visits to Katherine.

Hertford was found guilty on three counts – deflowering a royal virgin, breaking out of his prison, and repeating his criminal behaviour. He was fined £15,000 in total and ordered back to the Tower to remain there at the Queen’s pleasure.

They both remained in the Tower, and now, there was no hope of meeting. Hertford wrote importunate letters to Dudley, asking him to intercede with the Queen, even sending her a pair of gloves as a sweetener, but to no avail.

Katherine’s relatives also pleaded on her behalf. In March 1563, Lord John Grey, her uncle, wrote a strongly worded letter to Cecil, expatiating on Katherine’s misery and condemning the Queen’s hard-heartedness:

‘In faithe, I wolde I were the Queene’s Confessor this Lent, that I might joine her in penancunce to forgeve and forget; or otherwise able to steppe into the pulpett, to tell her Highnes, that God will not forgeve her, unleast she felye forgeve all the worlde…

It is unlikely that Cecil shared these sentiments with the Queen!