Katherine Grey: Life Story

Chapter 3 : Unrest

In September 1548, following the death of Katherine Parr in childbed, Jane returned home. Seymour’s initial attempts to have her returned to his care, to a household to be presided over by his mother, were rejected by both Dorset and Lady Frances. He persisted, however, and Jane went back to Sudeley. Seymour was becoming more and more reckless in his plotting to obtain power by undermining his brother, Somerset, and Dorset supported him. By March 1549, Seymour had over-reached himself and was executed. Katherine was reunited with her sister again when Seymour’s household was broken up.

Thomas-Seymour-Baron-Sudeley
Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley (c. 1509 - 1549)

During the summer of 1548, the rituals of the old religion had been swept away. Use of the rosary was forbidden and a wave of iconoclasm smashed images and stained glass. Prayers for the dead were abandoned, and the chantries, where priests had been paid to pray for souls for all eternity, were closed. For Katherine, brought up in a household that had already eschewed these rituals, little would have changed, but for the vast majority of the population, these changes were not welcome. Katherine, now nine, would probably have been old enough to be aware of the state of the country.

In the west, in the summer of 1549, the Prayer Book rebellion attempted to overturn the new Protestant Communion service. In the east, where Protestantism was more popular, there were uprisings against the enclosure of land – near Bradgate various enclosures had had the fences torn down. Matters were compounded by the declaration of war by the French on 17 th August, in support of their Scottish allies. The country was in uproar.

Both rebellions were harshly crushed, and, in the fighting, Katherine’s uncle, Sir Henry Willoughby, was killed, leaving her cousins as orphans. The oldest, Thomas, came to Bradgate as Dorset’s ward and he and his younger siblings, Margaret and Francis, spent a good deal of time with the Grey sisters.

Lady-Mary-c.-1544
Lady Mary, later Mary I (1516 - 1558), c. 1544

As well as gentry cousins, the Greys had far more impressive relatives, and in November 1549 the Greys travelled to Beaulieu in Essex for a visit to their cousin, the Lady Mary, sister of the King.

Lady Mary and Lady Frances had been close friends although religious differences were beginning to drive a wedge between them. Lady Mary was a staunch conservative, and objected strongly to the religious changes of 1549, whilst the Greys had embraced them – according to Spanish reports, Dorset was ‘ entirely won over to the new sect.’ Nevertheless, Lady Mary showered gifts upon the three girls.