Love and Loss: Lady Katherine Grey

Chapter 4 : Despair

That summer the couple were moved from the Tower and separated. Each was sent to a different country house, where they remained under guard. Katherine, parted not only from her husband, but also her elder child, fell into a depression. She stopped eating and wrote desperate, passionate letters to her Ned.Katherine recollections of their lovemaking are a very rare example of intimacy to be written during this period:

I long to be merry with you, as I know you do with me, as we were when our sweet little boy was begotten in the Tower, the 25th or 29th of May.I wish you to be as happy as I was sad when you came to my door for the third time, and it was locked. Do you think I can forget what passed between us? No, I cannot. I remember it more often than you know. I have good reason to, when I reflect what a husband I have in you. It is a hard fate to be deprived of so good a man. Well, I say good, although you have been naughty. Could you have found it in your heart not to give me a second child so hard on the heels of the first? No - but while I would have liked to rest my weary bones… I don’t doubt, also that I would willingly bear the pain of further childbirth such is my boundless love for my sweet bedfellow, that I once lay beside with joyful heart, and shall again.….. Your most loving and faithful wife during life, Katherine ’.

Katherine pleaded with Elizabeth for forgiveness, but none came. A miniature of Katherine with the infant Lord Beauchamp, painted at around this time by the female court artist Levina Teerlinc, remains the earliest known portrait of an English mother with her baby: a sad reminder for Katherine of all she had lost. But for others it represented the future: an icon of a Madonna carrying the Lord’s anointed, the next King of England, English and Protestant unlike the Scottish, Catholic, Mary Stuart. Copies were made and even after 450 years several still survive.

Katherine and Ned had many friends who hoped that the queen could yet be pressured into naming Katherine, or one of her sons, as her heir. Yet Katherine never would lie beside her ‘sweet bedfellow’ again. The unmarried Virgin Queen left her fertile cousin to rot.

As the years passed Katherine began to despair. In January 1568 her warder sent a letter asking for the royal doctor, warning that Katherine was ill, and worse, that she seemed to welcome death. The doctor that arrived from the court found he could do nothing for Katherine. She wanted to die.

On the night of 26 January 1568, those at her bedside tried their best to raise her spirits, telling her that

With God’s help you shall live and do well many years.’ Katherine replied firmly, ‘No, no. No life in this world.’

At about six or seven the next morning Katherine gave her warder her last messages. She begged Elizabeth to

be good to my children and . . . to my Lord [Ned], for I know this my death will be heavy news to him’.

She sent Ned the pointed diamond he had given her on their betrothal, her gold wedding band, and a memento mori ring, engraved with the words

While I lived, yours’.