Love and Loss: Lady Katherine Grey

Chapter 2 : Love Affairs

At the time of Queen Mary’s death in November 1558 Elizabeth was blissfully ignorant of Katherine’s romance. But one of her first actions was to demote Katherine from the Privy Chamber, whose members served the Queen in her most private rooms. Instead Katherine was placed in the Presence Chamber, to which all the gentry had access. It sent out a clear message that those who wanted royal favour should not be friendly with Katherine Grey.

Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford (1539 - 1621), attributed to Hans Eworth

Elizabeth remained too busy, however, pursuing her own passion for her married Master of the Horse, Robert Dudley, to notice the affair between Katherine and Ned. The young couple later remembered the royal progress of 1559 with its summer banquets and garden walks as the time when they fell in love. It was, however, Elizabeth’s devotion to Robert Dudley that was the talk of the court. It seemed she only had eyes for him.

By the summer of 1560 many believed Elizabeth’s affection for Dudley would lead to her overthrow, and ambassadors and Privy Councillors were discussing the arrangement of a suitable future marriage for Katherine, as her heir. The Spanish hoped to see Katherine married to a Hapsburg. Elizabeth’s Councillors talked instead of marrying Katherine to the Earl of Arran, leader of the Scottish Protestants. But Katherine had her own way - and married Ned in secret.

The transcripts of later interviews in the Tower describe Katherine and Ned’s wedding night in intimate detail. The service took place in his bedroom at a house on the Thames, with only his sister as witness. They toasted their wedding quickly and rushed to bed. They made love twice, with Katherine naked save for her headdress. Then they dashed back to court so they wouldn’t be missed. Over the following months the couple had sex in all the Queen’s palaces as well as at Hertford’s London house.

Katherine became pregnant, but terrified how Elizabeth would react she couldn’t accept what was happening. With Hertford anxious to leave England on a trip around Europe, she ignored what her body was telling her and agreed he could go. She was eight months pregnant when she at last confessed to the Queen’s love, Robert Dudley, that she was to have a child.

Katherine hoped Dudley would protect her. But Elizabeth promptly threw Katherine in the Tower and Ned, recalled from Europe, was also imprisoned. The fact that Ned’s mother had royal blood and his father was Edward VI’s uncle, the Protector Somerset, who had brought Protestantism to England, made Katherine’s marriage all the more threatening to Elizabeth.