Katherine Grey: Life Story

Chapter 8 : The Queen's Heir

In later years, when quizzed on Mary, Queen of Scots, another possible successor, Elizabeth asked drily ‘..think you.. that I could love my own winding sheet?’ and that dislike of her possible heirs manifested itself within days of her accession. Katherine was demoted from Queen Mary’s Privy Chamber, the inner sanctum of the court, to the Presence Chamber, a place to which any member of the nobility or higher ranks of the gentry had access. She had a part, with other ladies of the court, in the coronation procession through London, but no special treatment.

Elizabeth-I
Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603) in her coronation robes

On the bright side, her lover had had his father’s earlier title of Earl of Hertford resurrected and bestowed on him in a new creation. The Duchy of Somerset, however, was not regranted. It can probably be inferred from this, that no rumour of an attachment between Katherine and Hertford the preceding summer had reached Elizabeth. She certainly wouldn’t have wished to promote a young man who had been sniffing around an heir to the throne.

There was immediate pressure on the new Queen to marry, but Elizabeth prevaricated. With hindsight, her choice not to marry looks like a brilliant decision, but we cannot infer that Elizabeth ever made that deliberate choice – at least, not in the early years of her reign. Mediaeval and Tudor minds just did not consider a state of non-marriage as a possible choice (with the exception in earlier times of entering a religious order). At the lowest levels of society, marriage was more or less an economic necessity, as neither men nor women could function alone as an effective economic unit. Higher up the social scale, it was a duty to marry to beget heirs, and at the top of the hierarchy, it was a self-evident truth that a monarch should beget a legitimate heir as soon as possible.

Elizabeth’s hesitations were around when she ought to marry and to whom, given that both a home-grown consort, and a foreign prince had draw-backs. So long as she did remain unmarried, however, her heir was likely to be courted, as she had been during Mary’s reign. It was thus prudent to treat any pretensions to being her successor that Katherine might have, coldly.

Katherine was well aware of the meaning of her demotion, complaining to Count Feria, the Spanish Ambassador that:

‘the Queen [did] not wish her to succeed in case of her (Elizabeth’s] death without heirs.’

Feria, who knew Katherine well, as he was to marry Jane Dormer, one of Katherine’s former colleagues as maid-of-honour to Queen Mary, described her as ‘dissatisfied’ and ‘offended’ at Elizabeth’s treatment of her. It was also reported that she had spoken disrespectfully to the Queen.