Women who Married for Love

Chapter 6 : Katherine Willoughby


Suffolk lost no time in marrying his 14 year old ward, Katherine, Baroness Willoughby d’Eresby, previously betrothed to his son. As Duchess of Suffolk, Katherine was an important court figure in the later years of Henry VIII’s reign - it was even rumoured that Henry VIII might make her his seventh wife, when she was widowed in 1545. A close friend of Katherine Parr, she was known as a follower of the reforming party in religion, and also for her wit, saucily naming her spaniel “Gardiner”, after Bishop Gardiner, the leading conservative cleric.

In around 1553, Katherine married Richard Bertie, who was of vastly inferior rank – son of a Master Mason. Bertie was employed in Katherine’s household as Gentleman Usher, and Master of the Horse, a role which gave many opportunities for developing a relationship, as he would be present on every occasion when Katherine rode out, and probably helped her mount.

The Berties’ religious views became more radically Protestant over time, and they left England during Mary I’s reign. They returned when Elizabeth I became Queen, but the new monarch did not like Katherine, or her radical views, and the Duchess was not welcome at court, nor was her low-born husband recognised as Baron Willoughby d’Eresby, as was customary.