Katherine Grey: Life Story

Chapter 15 : The Succession Question

Katherine was a figure of sympathy for many – why should she not marry at her pleasure? But others considered the behaviour of the young couple as foolish at best, and treasonable at worst. Whilst the country outside London was still, in the early 1560s, traditional in religious practice, London was at the forefront of Protestant thought. Katherine’s sister, Lady Jane Grey, was considered a Protestant martyr, and there were several publications, including John Foxe’s Book of Acts and Monuments (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) that capitalised on the Grey adherence to the new faith. Katherine, now with two sons, was their prime candidate for the succession.

Title-page-of-John-Foxes-Book-of-Acts-and-Monuments-known-as-Foxes-Book-of-Martyrs
Title page of John Foxe's Book of Acts and Monuments

Her claims were tabulated in a book by the MP John Hales, possibly aided by Cecil (certainly Lord Robert thought so, and Nicholas Bacon, Keeper of the Great Seal). Hales, who was the Member of Parliament for Lancaster, had been a member of Edward VI’s Government, and was an associate of the more Protestant leaning of Elizabeth’s ministers. He not only espoused Katherine as heir, but also declared that her marriage was legal, despite the findings of the Archbishop’s Court. Not content with writing his book, he brought the matter up in the House of Commons – this led to a speedy dispatch to the Fleet prison, followed by a sojourn in the Tower, and then house arrest for almost the rest of his life. Such was the danger of meddling with the succession, and Katherine and Hertford too, continued to face the consequences.

Whatever Elizabeth might have wanted to do (and there is no evidence that she had anything but dislike for her Grey cousins), to free Katherine would have undermined her strategy to keep the succession in abeyance, or if she couldn’t avoid specifying an heir, settle it on Mary, Queen of Scots, whom she hoped to neutralise by arranging a marriage for her with her own favourite, Robert Dudley. Hertford was returned to the Tower on 26 th May 1564, and Katherine moved to even stricter supervision under Sir William Petre at Ingatestone Hall. Her uncle was too partisan, and was sent to the Tower himself to contemplate the Queen’s displeasure.

More pleas were made – from the Duchess of Somerset to Cecil, and Hertford to Dudley, who counselled patience. Sometime during the summer, Hertford was released to the custody of Sir John Mason, who heartily disliked him, and Katherine remained at Ingatestone.

Despite her imprisonment, she was still seen as a possible heir. In 1565, Philip of Spain thought it possible that she would be named as successor as an act of revenge by Elizabeth and the English Parliament following the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots to Lord Darnley, who was the nearest male heir to Elizabeth. However, it did not happen.