Love and Loss: Lady Katherine Grey

Chapter 3 : Punishment

On September 24th 1561, Katherine gave birth to a son in the Tower: Edward Seymour, Viscount Beauchamp, heir to Elizabeth under the will of Henry VIII, following his mother in line of succession. Two days later the baby was baptised in the church at the Tower only feet from the decapitated remains of his aunt, Lady Jane Grey. Elizabeth, meanwhile, now ordered a Church Commission to find Katherine’s marriage invalid. As the sole the witness to it – Ned’s sister – had since died and the cleric had vanished it would be a simple task. Their son would then be labeled a bastard. For Elizabeth it was vital, however, that they not have a second son.

Lady Katherine Grey, Countess of Hertford (1540 - 1568) with her son, Viscount Beauchamp (1561 - 1612), by Levina Teerlinc

Under canon law a legal marriage only required a statement of intent to marry before witnesses, followed by intercourse. Katherine and Ned had been interrogated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and senior councillors on their marriage, and told them all they considered themselves man and wife. Any new child would be legitimate – should they ever conceive another.

The lovers’ rooms were only ten feet apart within the mansion house of the Lieutenant, Sir Edward Warner. He was sufficiently sympathetic to Katherine to allow her keep pet dogs and monkeys, even though they damaged the furniture.Warner’s deputy went further and permitted messages to pass between the couple. But Ned also succeeded in bribing two of the Tower guards to unlock his door and those to Katherine’s chambers. On his first visit to her rooms they had an hour together. They spent it on Katherine’s bed of silk shot damask, with its striped quilt of scarlet and gold. There they made love, ‘with joyful heart’.

Four days later Ned was in her bed again. But when Ned visited his wife on a third night he found the door to Katherine’s rooms locked. The guards had cold feet, or perhaps someone senior had got wind of what had occurred. In any event, just when Elizabeth had succeeded in having Katherine’s first son declared a bastard, she discovered the twenty-two year old princess was about to give birth again. Elizabeth promptly had Sir Edward Warner, locked up in his own prison for the lapse of security that had allowed Katherine and Ned to enjoy their conjugal rights.

The public mood was behind the lovers with people demanding to know,

Why should man and wife be [prevented] from coming together’?

This only intensified when at 10.15 on the morning of February 10th 1563 Katherine delivered a second son, Thomas Seymour. Two of the Tower’s warders played godfather at the christening. Elizabeth was so angry it was reported she had refused a priest for the baptism. Certainly there was no time given for celebration at the christening.Ned was hauled before the Star Chamber that same day to face his punishment.

In front of a courtroom packed with his fellow noblemen Ned received ruinous fines: £5,000 for impregnating Katherine with her first child, a further £5,000 for impregnating her again, and another £5,000 for breach of prison. He was also sentenced to jail during the Queen’s pleasure.