Katherine Grey: Life Story

Chapter 10 : The Queen's Rival

Katherine was now in a sort of limbo – in mourning for her mother, not yet betrothed although she was nearly twenty, by which time most girls of her class were married, and with no formal role at Court.

She was still, however, being courted by the Spanish, who were gleeful at the prospect that Elizabeth’s open infatuation with Lord Robert Dudley was causing murmurs of disquiet. If she were overthrown in favour of an heir over whom they had more influence than on the steely Elizabeth, England might be brought back into the Hapsburg sphere.

In early 1560, rumours had reached the France and the Low Countries about Spanish plans. One of Cecil’s informants, John Middleton, wrote:

‘I am told that there is practising for a marriage to be made betwixt the Prince of Spain and the Lady Katherine Grey, which is not of the best liked for divers respects, and by some hindered.’

Robert-Dudley-Earl-of-Leicester
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (c.1532 - 1588)

Elizabeth, who was having probably the most enjoyable six months of her life pursuing a passionate, if platonic, relationship with Dudley, was not blind to the overtures being made to Katherine by Spain. She decided to out-charm the Spanish Ambassador by suddenly taking Katherine by the hand, restoring her to the Privy Chamber and keeping her at her side – even saying she might adopt her cousin – a scheme as far-fetched as may be imagined!

Meanwhile, Hertford’s sister, Lady Jane, and their brother, Henry, were promoting the marriage – passing billets-doux between the young lovers and facilitating secret meetings. It is clear that at these meetings, nothing more intimate than hand-holding took place.

As another attempt to downplay Katherine’s importance, Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief minister, told the Spanish Ambassador that, in the event of Elizabeth’s untimely demise, a third queen-regnant in a row would be quite unacceptable, and that Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon and great-grandson of Margaret Plantagenet, Countess of Salisbury, would be preferred.

William-Cecil-1st-Baron-Burghley
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (1520 - 1598)

In the light of this cooling of the Queen’s relationship with her favourite, her marriage to a suitable European prince once again moved to the top of the her Council’s agenda. Cecil took the opportunity to warn Hertford that he should back off from plans to marry Katherine.

Huntingdon was a committed Protestant. Known as ‘the Puritan Earl’, he was a brother-in-law of Lord Robert Dudley. It is evident, nevertheless, that Cecil, although he would prefer Elizabeth to marry suitably and beget children, favoured Katherine as her heir. There was talk of marrying her to the son of the Earl of Arran, who was Mary, Queen of Scots’ nearest male heir, although he was also a suitor for the Queen.

Scandal regarding Elizabeth and Dudley reached epic proportions when his wife, Amy Robsart, was found dead in mysterious circumstances. Had the Queen then married him, she would surely have lost her throne, if not her life. Elizabeth might have loved Dudley, but she loved her Crown, her honour and her country more. She soon made it clear that there would be no marriage.

In the light of this cooling of the Queen’s relationship with her favourite, her marriage to a suitable European prince once again moved to the top of the her Council’s agenda. Cecil took the opportunity to warn Hertford that he should back off from plans to marry Katherine.