Modern history



Following the execution of Lady Rochford, there were no Boleyn women at court. While some of Queen Anne Boleyn’s aunts, as well as the daughters of Sir Edward Boleyn, remained living, the Boleyn line that had sprung from Geoffrey Boleyn of Salle at the beginning of the fifteenth century was all but extinct, with the last remaining male-line descendant, Sir James Boleyn, dying in 1561. This was not quite the end of the story and, while not strictly speaking ‘Boleyn women’ themselves, the daughters of Boleyn women still continued to have a major impact in England for decades after the fall of Queen Anne Boleyn and her family.

Mary Boleyn’s daughter, who may have been the child of Henry VIII, reached maturity in the late 1530s. Catherine Carey’s whereabouts during her childhood are unknown. Her aunt, Anne Boleyn, took the wardship of her brother, Henry, following their father’s death. It has been suggested that Anne placed Henry with her daughter, Princess Elizabeth, after her birth in 1533, something that is indeed possible.1 Certainly, Elizabeth later created her cousin Baron Hunsdon, the name of one of her childhood residences, and he also married the granddaughter of Lady Herbert of Troy, who was lady mistress of her household between 1537 and 1546. Elizabeth’s household accounts survive for the period between October 1551 and September 1552 and include evidence of her continuing relationship with Henry Carey. In December 1551, for example, she paid 40 shillings ‘at the christening of Mr Carey’s child’, something that suggests that she was godmother.2 She later paid 20 shillings to Henry himself as a reward for some service.3Finally, in April 1552 she received a visit at Hatfield from a Mrs Carey, who can probably be identified as Henry Carey’s wife.4 That this visit was a social call can be seen from the payment made on the same day that Mrs Carey left for some boys who played music to the princess and, presumably, also her guest.

If Henry was indeed placed with Elizabeth then it is possible that Catherine was also raised with her younger cousin. Until her banishment from court in 1534, Mary Boleyn had duties that would have kept her regularly at court. In addition to this, a position with Princess Elizabeth would have been a desirable one for her daughter, something that may well have persuaded Catherine’s mother to allow her to live with her niece. Catherine and Elizabeth were very close in later life. For example, a letter from Elizabeth to her cousin survives dating to the1550s when Catherine was preparing to leave England. The letter is one of the most affectionate that Elizabeth would write, testifying to the close relationship between the pair:

Relieve your sorrow for your far journey with joy of your short return, and think this pilgrimage rather a proof of your friends, than a leaving of your country. The length of time, and distance of place, separates not the love of friends, nor deprives not the show of good-will. An old saying, when bale is lowest boot is nearest: when your need shall be most you shall find my friendship greatest. Let others promise, and I will do, in words not more, in deeds as much. My power but small, my love as great as them whose gifts may tell their friendship’s tale, let will supply all other want, and oft sending take the lieu of often sights. Your messengers shall not return empty, nor yet your desires unaccomplished. Lethe’s flood hath here no course, goof memory hath greatest stream. And to conclude, a word that hardly I can say, I am driven by need to write, farewell, it is which in the sense one way I wish, the other way I grieve.
Your loving cousin and ready friend, Cor Rotto [i.e. Broken Heart]5

That Elizabeth wrote of her grief and referred to herself as ‘Broken Heart’ at a parting from Catherine suggests that the two were close and used to spending time together, which testifies to a relationship likely to have developed in childhood and due to their shared Boleyn kinship. There is also very considerable evidence for their close relationship from the facts of their lives. Legend states that Catherine attended her aunt, Queen Anne Boleyn, for some of her time in the Tower, which would have further endeared her to Anne’s daughter. Elizabeth was kind to her Boleyn and Howard kin, with her accounts from the early 1550s making it clear that she was in contact with her great-uncle, Edward Boleyn, for example.6

A portrait of Catherine depicting her in the later stages of pregnancy and dating to 1562, when she was thirty-eight, shows that, even in maturity, she was a pleasing-looking woman with auburn hair and the pointed features characteristic of many of the Boleyn women. Facially she resembles Elizabeth I, her cousin and, possibly, also her half-sister. Although her gown in the picture is black, something that hints at her staunchly Protestant beliefs, her inner gown is silver, with furs and gold embroidery adorning her clothing. Clearly, like her cousin the queen, she was not so pious that she was prepared to always wear the drab clothes for which Elizabeth had been so praised during her half-brother’s reign. A second depiction of Catherine, from a memorial placed in Rotherfield Greys church by her son, shows a woman of very similar appearance although more austerely dressed. Clearly Catherine cared about her appearance and was considered good-looking by her peers. She married young, at the age of only around fifteen or sixteen, a few months after being appointed as a maid of honour in November 1539 in anticipation of the arrival of Anne of Cleves.

Catherine’s husband, Francis Knollys, was the heir to an old family who could trace their descent back to Sir Robert Knollys, a soldier during the reign of Edward III.7 Francis’s father, another Sir Robert, was a gentleman of the Privy Chamber to Henry VIII, receiving a lease of the manor of Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire from the king, which became the family’s principal seat. He had earlier served Prince Arthur.8 Sir Robert Knollys married Lettice Peniston and Francis was their eldest surviving son, being born in 1514. Francis’s first public office was in 1534 when he sat in parliament. He was also one of the gentlemen chosen to welcome Anne of Cleves to England, something which would have facilitated a first meeting with Catherine. Francis proved a reliable royal servant to Henry VIII, for example providing troops for a royal army to be sent to the Netherlands in 1543.9 He served the king as a gentleman pensioner, as well as holding office under Edward VI. Ideologically, Francis was suited to government under Henry VIII’s son, serving as Edward VI’s master of horse and taking part in the jousts held to celebrate the young king’s Coronation in 1547. He and Catherine resided at Rotherfield Greys after their marriage, which was settled on them jointly by Act of Parliament shortly after their marriage.10

It seems likely that Catherine and Francis met at court and, given the very close relationship that they established after their marriage, the suspicion must be that they made a love match. A letter survives from Francis to Catherine, written towards the end of her life, in which he addressed her as ‘his loving wife’.11 Sir Francis’s Latin dictionary also survives, into which were inserted the names and dates of birth of twelve of the couple’s children.12 The births, which ranged from Easter 1541 until May 1562, indicate that the couple must have been frequently together, with only eight years without a recorded birth. It is also possible that two daughters were not recorded in the dictionary, perhaps due to them being stillbirths and not something that their grieving father chose to recall. While the dictionary lists eight sons and six daughters, a memorial plaque in Westminster Abbey which was in place before 1600 states that Catherine bore eight sons and eight daughters, something which is likely to be correct given that Francis died in 1596.13

Clearly the marriage was very regularly consummated and most of Catherine’s time during her first twenty years of marriage was taken up with childbearing and childrearing, with Catherine paying particular care to the education of her six daughters, Mary, Lettice, Maud, Elizabeth, Anne and Catherine. Catherine probably played a decisive role in naming these daughters. While the second, Lettice, was named for Francis’s mother, the first, Mary, was named for Mary Boleyn. Elizabeth may have been chosen for Catherine’s royal cousin, with Anne perhaps for her executed aunt. Clearly the Boleyn women were still remembered and of importance to Catherine Carey. The couple were blessed in the health of their children. Only the youngest, Dudley, is known to have died in infancy, surviving only between 9 May and June 1562. Their daughters Mary and Maud are nowhere recorded as adults but, given that they are depicted as adults on the family memorial in Rotherfield Greys church while Dudley is an infant, it would seem likely that they survived to adulthood, albeit remaining unmarried. As set out above, the couple may also have lost two further daughters but, even if this is the case, the loss of only three infants out of sixteen was a remarkable achievement. The love between the couple is also suggested by the fact that, although he outlived her by nearly thirty years, Francis never remarried, remaining a prominent government servant until the end.

While Catherine Carey was first settling down as a wife and mother, her cousin, Princess Elizabeth, also began to take her first steps towards adult life, finally returning to a more acknowledged place within the royal family. On 12 July 1543 the nine-year-old princess was present at the wedding of her father to his sixth bride, Catherine Parr, who was a friend and near contemporary of Princess Mary.14 Catherine, who had been twice widowed before her marriage to the king, was an experienced stepmother and quickly took the two youngest royal children under her wing, as well as continuing her friendship with her adult stepdaughter. The king and queen kept all three royal children with them in the summer following their wedding, with the Regent of the Netherlands asking in December 1543 whether the five ‘continued still in one household’.15 The answer was unfortunately no, as Elizabeth had displeased her father in some way and been banished from court by the end of the year. That this exile was not permanent was down to the good offices of her stepmother, who continued to speak on her behalf and was able to persuade Henry to allow her to return when he went on campaign in France the following summer.

By the summer of 1544, Elizabeth had grown into a very promising child, as her half-sister, Mary, had predicted. A letter written by the princess to her stepmother survives from that July, demonstrating the girl’s erudition and her desire for approval from the woman who was to take the place of her own mother:

Inimical fortune, envious of all good and ever resolving human affairs, has deprived me for a whole year of your most illustrious presence, and not thus content, has yet again robbed me of the same good, which thing would be intolerable to me, did I not hope to enjoy it very soon. And in my exile, I well know that the clemency of your highness has had as much care and solicitude for my health as the king’s majesty himself. By which thing I am not only bound to serve you, but also to revere you with filial love, since I understand that your most illustrious highness has not forgotten me every time you have written to the king’s majesty, which, indeed, it was my duty to have requested from you. For heretofore I have not dared to write to him. Wherefore I now humbly pray your most excellent highness, that, when you write to is majesty, you will condescend to recommend me to him, praying ever for his sweet benediction, and similarly entreating our Lord God to send him best success, and the obtaining of victory over his enemies, so that your highness and I may, as soon as possible, rejoice together with him on his happy return. No less pray I God, that he would preserve your most illustrious highness, to whose grace, humbly kissing your hands, I offer and recommend myself.16

Elizabeth signed her letter ‘your most obedient daughter, and most faithful servant, Elizabeth’ and it is clear that she already held her stepmother in affection. She spent the summer with Catherine at court. Elizabeth could not, in any event, have been entirely out of favour with her father. In February 1544 Parliament passed the third Act of Succession, on Henry’s instructions, which bequeathed the crown first to his son, Prince Edward, and then to any child born to Catherine Parr or a subsequent wife.17 In default of any such issue, the crown was to pass instead first to Princess Mary and then to Princess Elizabeth, both of whom remained legally illegitimate. Soon afterwards, Henry also commissioned a great painting in which he sat centrally flanked by his third wife, Jane Seymour, and their son, Edward. Standing some distance away but very much included in the picture were the king’s two daughters, demonstrating that both Elizabeth and her elder half-sister were once again part of the royal family. The king remained firm to this change of heart for the rest of his life, reiterating the new order of succession in his will, as well as leaving both his daughters wealthy with substantial marriage portions. Elizabeth continued to flourish under the care of her royal stepmother and, with the death of Henry VIII in January 1547, joined the queen’s establishment at Chelsea permanently.

The queen dowager had intended to marry Jane Seymour’s brother, Thomas Seymour, before the king had first declared an interest in her back in 1543 and, with her husband’s death, the two quickly renewed their relationship.18 Seymour was consumed by a deep hatred for his elder brother, Edward Seymour, who had become Edward VI’s protector and had been created Duke of Somerset. He was determined to obtain a royal bride, although it does not appear that his choice first fell on his former love. Within weeks of Henry VIII’s death there were rumours that he intended to marry Princess Mary, with the Imperial ambassador going so far as to raise the matter with the princess.19 Elizabeth’s elder half-sister certainly had no intention of marrying an English commoner, laughing when the rumours were mentioned and declaring that ‘she had never spoken to him in her life, and had only seen him once’. The king himself wanted his uncle to marry his former stepmother, Anne of Cleves, who was an expensive burden on the government.20Thomas Seymour never countenanced marrying Anne of Cleves and there is little evidence that he truly looked upon Princess Mary. There is, however, a suggestion that he was interested in taking Elizabeth as his bride.

Two letters exist which imply that Thomas Seymour showed an interest in marriage to Elizabeth. Both letters are highly debatable as they survive only as Italian copies in a seventeenth-century work. It is indeed possible that they are genuine but, without the originals, they must be treated with caution. According to the first letter, supposedly written by Seymour on 25 February 1547 and addressed to the princess,

I have so much respect for you my Princess, that I dare not tell you of the fire which consumes me, and the impatience with which I yearn to show you my devotion. If it is my good fortune to inspire in you feelings of kindness, and you will consent to a marriage you may assure yourself of having made the happiness of a man who will adore you till death.21

Elizabeth’s response stated,

The letter you have written to me is the most obliging, and at the same time the most eloquent in the world. And as I do not feel myself competent to reply to so many courteous expressions, I shall content myself with unfolding to you, in few words, my real sentiments. I confess to you that your letter, all elegant as it is has very much surprised me; for, besides that neither my age nor my inclination allows me to think of marriage, I never would have believed that any one would have spoken to me of nuptials, at a time when I ought to think of nothing but sorrow for the death of my father. And to him I owe so much, that I must have two years at least to mourn his loss. And how can I make up my mind to become a wife before I shall have enjoyed some years my virgin state, and arrived at years of discretion?22

The letter ends saying that ‘though I decline the happiness of becoming your wife, I shall never cease to interest myself in all that can crown your merit with glory, and shall ever feel the greatest pleasure in being your servant, and good friend’.

In spite of the doubts over the letters, there is strong evidence that Seymour did at least make enquiries into the possibility of a marriage with Anne Boleyn’s daughter. On 17 January 1549 the Privy Council reported of Seymour that ‘notwithstanding the good advice given to the contrary as well by the said lord protector as others his friends of the Council, practised to have in marriage the Lady Elizabeth, one of his Majesty’s sisters and the second inheritor after his Majesty to the crown’.23 One of the charges later laid against Seymour was that in the early months of 1547 he had sought to marry Elizabeth and that he had resurrected these attempts after Catherine Parr’s death ‘by secret and crafty means’.24 Elizabeth’s governess also later referred to Seymour as her ‘old suitor’. Whether the thirteen-year-old princess had any involvement or knowledge in Seymour’s machinations is unclear. In any event, when it became evident that the council would never sanction a marriage between Seymour and the princess he turned his attentions back to Catherine, with the pair marrying in secret within a few months of Henry VIII’s death.

With Catherine Parr’s marriage, Thomas Seymour effectively became Elizabeth’s stepfather and joined her stepmother’s household. Although he had been frustrated in his attempts to marry her, he was still interested in his young charge, who in the autumn of 1547 reached the age of fourteen, which was generally considered to be the earliest age for a girl to consummate a marriage in the sixteenth century. The first evidence of an attraction between Elizabeth and Seymour appeared innocent enough to the members of Catherine Parr’s household.25

The queen dowager loved dancing, often employing musicians to entertain her household. According to Elizabeth’s governess, Katherine Ashley, the princess would often choose Seymour as her partner and then ‘laugh and pale at it’ with embarrassment. Alternatively, she would shyly choose her stepfather before she ‘chased him away’, too embarrassed to actually step out and dance with him. For Seymour, this was probably the first indication that his wife’s young charge was attracted to him and he took full advantage of the situation. Shortly after his marriage he began coming into Elizabeth’s bedchamber early in the morning, often before she was even out of bed, ‘and if she were up, he would bid her good morrow, and ask how she did, and strike her upon the back or on the buttocks familiarly’. Worse was to happen if the princess was still in bed, with Seymour throwing open the curtains and attempting to step into the bed himself, as Elizabeth shrank back under the covers away from him. It was only when he actually attempted to kiss the girl while she lay in her bed that her governess chased him away, leaving the princess, who appears to have had a crush on her dashing guardian, giggling in her bed. Catherine Parr chose to ignore much of what was happening, but she was not ignorant of her husband’s actions. It is significant that, when the household moved to Hanworth, Catherine took to joining him on his morning romps, although she took no part in actually curtailing Seymour’s behaviour, merely chaperoning him. On two occasions, the queen and her husband tickled Elizabeth as she lay in her bed. On another occasion, in the gardens, Seymour cut Elizabeth’s black dress to shreds while the queen held her still, laughing.

The involvement of his wife in the romps seems only to emboldened Seymour. When the household returned to Chelsea, later in 1547, he renewed his morning visits to Elizabeth’s bedchamber, with the young girl often jumping out of bed and hiding when she heard the door being unlocked. The fact that Seymour had a key to Elizabeth’s bedroom was, in itself, a lapse in propriety on the part of the queen and does suggest that she was completely under the thrall of her husband and unable to see that the slight young girl that she had originally taken under her wing was growing into a woman. When the family moved to Seymour Place in London the visits continued, with Seymour visiting Elizabeth in the morning ‘in his night-gown, barelegged in his slippers’. By this time, Elizabeth was anxious about her reputation and would ensure that she was always up and reading, leaving Seymour to go away disappointed.

Elizabeth was right to be concerned about her reputation. From a modern viewpoint, Seymour’s conduct with a fourteen-year-old under his care would be considered to be child abuse but this was not how it was viewed by contemporaries, particularly those that remembered Elizabeth’s mother and the blackening of her name at her arrest. One contemporary, for example, the hostile Jane Dormer, who was a friend of Princess Mary, recalled to her biographer one of the stories that was current at the time of the Seymour affair. According to Dormer’s recollections of Elizabeth,

a great lady, who knew her very well, being a girl of twelve or thirteen, told me that she was proud and disdainful, and related to me some particulars of her scornful behaviour, which much blemished the handsomeness and beauty of her person. In King Edward’s time what passed between the Lord Admiral, Sir Thomas Seymour, and her Dr Latimer preached in a sermon, and was a chief cause that the Parliament condemned the Admiral. There was a bruit of a child born and miserably destroyed, but could not be discovered whose it was; only the report of the midwife, who was brought from her house blindfold thither, and so returned, saw nothing in the house while she was there, but candle light; only she said, it was the child of a very fair young lady. There was a muttering of the Admiral and this lady, who was between fifteen and sixteen years of age.26

Rumours that Elizabeth bore Seymour a child persisted, and even in the nineteenth century, one writer was able to report with certainty that such a child existed and that Elizabeth was largely to blame for all that happened.27 It is certain that Elizabeth had feelings for Seymour, but there is no evidence of a sexual relationship. If anything, there was little that Elizabeth could do to avoid her stepmother’s husband, with both her governess and the queen encouraging Seymour in his outrageous behaviour. Katherine Ashley later admitted that she had spoken to Seymour in the park at St James’s Palace, commenting, ‘I have heard ever said that he should have married my lady.’ To her credit, Ashley did seek to turn Seymour away from the princess’s bedchamber, speaking ‘ugly’ words to him and eventually complaining to Catherine Parr. The queen again made a ‘small matter of it’, but even she was growing worried. Finally, early in 1548, Catherine complained to Mistress Ashley that Seymour had informed her that he had ‘looked in at the gallery window, and seen my lady Elizabeth cast her arms about a man’s neck’. Elizabeth, weeping, denied this charge and Ashley believed her, considering that the accusation had been invented by the jealous queen in order to ensure that the governess would watch her charge more closely. When, in May 1548, Catherine herself caught the pair embracing, Elizabeth was sent away. She never saw the woman who had been a mother to her again, with Catherine dying in childbirth later that year.

For Elizabeth, the loss of her stepmother must have been devastating. In her delirium as she lay dying, Catherine complained that ‘I am not well handled, for those that be about me care not for me, but stand laughing at my grief, and the more good I will to them the less good they will to me’. When Seymour attempted to soothe her, she accused him of giving her ‘many shrewd taunts’.28 Elizabeth, who is likely to have heard of Catherine’s words from the queen’s attendant, Lady Tyrwhit, would have known that they referred to her own relationship with Seymour. Quite apart from her grief at the queen’s death, Elizabeth soon learned that it was dangerous to associate with Thomas Seymour. He had continued to plot against his brother following his marriage and, in January 1549 was arrested on suspicion of treason.29 During the investigations Elizabeth was interrogated, with some of her servants sent to the Tower. She conducted herself well and revealed nothing, but her reputation was damaged. Seymour was executed on 20 March 1549. The incident terrified the princess who, at the age of only fifteen, found herself involved in treason and facing arrest as her mother had done. She spent the rest of her brother’s reign conducting herself as a good Protestant maiden and wearing sober black.

Following the death of Edward VI in July 1553, Elizabeth played no role in the attempt to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne, instead riding to congratulate Mary I in London once she had safely attained the throne. Elizabeth had been removed from the succession by her half-brother in favour of Jane and her interests clearly lay with her childless half-sister who was, by then, in her late thirties. She was prominent at the festivities surrounding Mary’s Coronation, riding with her former stepmother, Anne of Cleves, in the chariot after the queen’s. While, politically, it was prudent for Elizabeth to ally herself with Mary, the relationship between the sisters was often fraught. Mary was determined to see her sister convert to Catholicism and Elizabeth, who favoured Protestantism, finally agreed to attend Mass. She attended Mass for the first time on 8 September 1553 but complained loudly throughout the service that her stomach hurt, disrupting the service and angering the queen. It was a relief to both women when Elizabeth finally left court in December 1553.

Mary I was unmarried when she came to the throne and soon accepted a proposal from her cousin, Philip of Spain. The news of the queen’s marriage caused consternation in many parts of England, with a group of gentlemen, led by Sir Thomas Wyatt, who was the son of Anne Boleyn’s former suitor, forming a conspiracy to place Elizabeth on the throne. On 25 January 1554, Wyatt rode into the marketplace in Maidstone and issued a proclamation, denouncing the queen’s marriage. It was a call to arms that was heeded by many of the men of Kent and Wyatt’s force swept towards London. Wyatt refused all of Mary’s attempts to negotiate and, by 31 January, the queen had decided to take decisive action herself, going in person to the Guildhall in London to rally the population. Mary, who was so often overshadowed by her younger half-sister, made the speech of her life, declaring that her marriage to Philip was only arranged with the consent and approval of her council, before adding that it would, in any event, only be her second marriage, since

I am already married to the Common Weal and the faithful members of the same; the spousal ring whereof I have on my finger: which never hitherto was, nor hereafter shall be, left off. Protesting unto you nothing to be more acceptable to my heart, nor more answerable to my will, than your advancement in wealth and welfare, with the furtherance of God’s glory.30

With Mary’s powerful words, spoken with her deep, mannish voice, the Londoners rallied and, when Wyatt reached Southwark on 3 February, he found the bridge defended against him. He spent the next two days trying to cross the Thames before marching his troops to Kingston and making his crossing at the bridge there. When Mary heard of Wyatt’s crossing, she panicked and was unable to sleep. By the morning she had composed herself and, when urged to flee, she stood firm, declaring that her army and God would not abandon her.31 She was right to be confident and Wyatt was quickly captured and his rebellion dispersed. Dangerously for Elizabeth, when Wyatt was tried for treason on 15 March 1554 he implicated her, turning the queen’s suspicion firmly towards her half-sister.

The extent of Elizabeth’s involvement is not clear but she almost certainly knew of plans for the uprising, perhaps intending to await the outcome of events. On 17 March, Elizabeth was informed that a barge was waiting to take her to the Tower. Terrified, she was determined to delay her departure, begging leave to write to the queen. Elizabeth wrote,

If any ever did try this old saying, that a king’s word was more than another man’s oath, I beseech your majesty to verify it in me, and to remember your last promise and my last demand that I be not condemned without answer and proof; which it seems now I am, for without cause proved I am by your council from you commanded to go to the Tower. I know I deserve it not, yet it appears proved. I protest before God I never practised, counselled or consented to anything prejudicial to you or dangerous to the state. Let me answer before you, before I go to the Tower (if possible) – if not, before I am further condemned. Pardon my boldness. I have heard of many cast away for want of coming to their prince. I heard Somerset say that if his brother [Thomas Seymour] had been allowed to speak with him, he would never have suffered, but he was persuaded he could not live safely if the admiral lived. I pray evil persuades not one sister against the other. Wyatt might write me a letter, but I never received any from him. As for the copy of my letter to the French king, God confound me if I ever sent him word, token or letter by any means. I crave but one word of answer.32

Elizabeth’s letter did not change the queen’s decision and she was taken by water to the Tower early the next morning. According to the Chronicle of Queen Jane and Two Years of Queen Mary, when she entered, Elizabeth declared, ‘Oh Lord! I never thought to have come in here as prisoner; and I pray you all good friends and fellows, bear me witness, that I come in no traitor, but as true a woman to the queens majesty as any is now living, and thereon will I take my death.’33 She went a little further into the Tower and, on seeing the guards, asked the Lord Chamberlain if they were for her. When he denied it, she said, ‘I know it is so; it needed not for me, being, alas! but a weak woman.’ Even in times of great stress, Elizabeth knew how to win the hearts of those around her. When she had entered the Tower, the Earl of Sussex, who was present, warned the gaolers not to treat her too harshly. For Elizabeth, the terror must have been very real and she cannot have failed to recall the fact that her mother had never left the ancient fortress once taken inside.

Elizabeth was not severely treated in the Tower, although she must have been terrified. She was interrogated, but did not incriminate herself. Wyatt, who was executed on 11 April, denied on the scaffold that Elizabeth was involved in the plot. Eventually, Mary and her council were forced to admit that there was little evidence against the princess and, in May 1554, she was moved from the Tower to Woodstock. Elizabeth spent a dull and uncomfortable year imprisoned there but, with her release from the Tower, she knew the danger had passed.

The queen believed that she had conceived a child following her marriage to Philip and, on 17 April 1555, Elizabeth received a summons to London to attend Mary in her confinement. She arrived at court on 30 April but her half-sister would not see her for several weeks. The queen was still furious with her half-sister who she, by this stage, entirely disliked. She was also preoccupied in awaiting the birth of her child, with midwives, rockers and nurses engaged to care for the expected prince. Sadly for Mary, her labour pains never began and, as the days turned into weeks, her physicians hastily began to recalculate the estimated due date for the baby. By late May Mary’s stomach, which had swelled to give every appearance of pregnancy, had begun to decline. The queen was the last person to continue to believe in the existence of her child, but even she was finally forced to admit defeat. In early August the court abruptly left Hampton Court, something which was a tacit announcement of the failure of Mary’s ‘pregnancy’; it was probably a phantom pregnancy brought about by her desperate desire for a child. On 29 August Mary’s grief was increased with the departure of her husband to Flanders. Her failure to produce a child that summer made Elizabeth’s accession a virtual certainty and she returned to her estates, spending her time consolidating support.

Catherine Carey and her husband had troubles of their own following the accession of the Catholic Mary I to the throne. Sir Francis Knollys had staunchly reformist religious beliefs, which he expected his wife to share. This led to him having a particular prominence under the Protestant Edward VI, with Catherine’s husband taking part in theological discussions with other dignitaries of the reign.34 Both Catherine and Francis were dismayed at the accession of Edward’s Catholic half-sister, Princess Mary. In the nineteenth century one historian, dating the letter from Princess Elizabeth to Catherine to 1553, considered that the couple were ‘compelled to fly from the Marian persecution’.35 However this would seem unlikely given that, at that stage, Mary was very far from deciding to persecute anyone, even going so far as to send Lady Jane Grey word that she had decided to save her life. There is evidence that Francis Knollys and his eldest son, Henry, visited John Calvin at Geneva late in 1553, when Calvin wrote that two English gentlemen had recently visited him.36 Calvin was sufficiently pleased with his visitors to heap praise upon them, declaring that both were of good birth, with the son, in particular, meriting ‘praise for piety and holy zeal’. It has been suggested, from this, that Francis, due to his wife’s relationship with the heir to the throne, may have been chosen by Protestants at court to serve as an emissary to Calvin, particularly since he was certainly back in England in June 1555, something that does not suggest that he was persecuted by the English queen.37

In late 1556 he was once again abroad, at the University of Basle. He spent time in the English colony at Strasbourg during 1557, which was a centre of the religious reform movement.38 The following year he was at Frankfurt, where it was recorded that he was staying in the house of John Welles in June with his wife, five of their children and a maid. His brother Henry was also present in the city, remaining there until early in 1559. The suggestion that Catherine travelled to the Continent with her husband in 1553 rests solely on a dating of Elizabeth’s ‘farewell’ letter to that year, something which is highly debatable. An alternative is that Catherine joined Francis on the Continent later, remaining in England during his visit of 1553–54.39 While she bore children regularly throughout her marriage, there was no recorded child born between Anne on 19 July 1555 and Thomas at Candlemas 1558. Given that the first reference to Catherine outside England was in June 1557, it does seem plausible that she had remained in England until shortly before that date, perhaps travelling directly to Frankfurt with her maid and some of her children. Since the majority of the children were left behind in England, including, apparently, their eldest son Henry after his first visit, it would appear that the family were under no great threat in England, instead simply choosing to live among their co-religionists. The John Welles with whom they stayed was a merchant from London and a burgher of Frankfurt who had first arrived in 1555 with his wife, sons and servants. As a substantial citizen he would have been able to give Catherine and her family a warm welcome.

Mary I fell ill in August 1558. In early November 1558, she was visited by her husband’s ambassador, the Count of Feria, who found her dying.40 Feria summoned the council and told them that King Philip favoured Elizabeth’s succession to the throne. He found the councillors terrified of what Elizabeth would do to them and he resolved to visit her himself to assure her of Philip’s support. Elizabeth received Feria but he did not find her as malleable as he had hoped. According to Feria,

She is a very vain and clever woman. She must have been thoroughly schooled in the manner in which her father conducted his affairs, and I am very much afraid that she will not be well-disposed in matters of religion, for I see her inclined to govern through men who are believed to be heretics and I am told that all the women around her definitely are.

Elizabeth was indignant at her treatment by Mary and in no mood to give any credit to Philip for helping her win the throne, declaring ‘that it was the people who put her in her present position and she will not acknowledge that your majesty or the nobility of this realm had any part in it’. Feria noted that Elizabeth was determined to be ruled by no-one, least of all Philip. The despatch is the first indication of how Elizabeth intended to rule and it is a model which she followed throughout her reign.

On 13 November 1558 the forty-two-year-old queen was given the last rites. She rallied the next day, but it was obvious that her end was near. On 17 November, as her councillors flocked towards Elizabeth at Hatfield, Mary passed quietly away, with bonfires lit and bells rung in some parts of London to celebrate her passing. Catherine Carey and her husband also celebrated Mary’s death, glad of the opportunity to return home. For Elizabeth, the effect of the news was even more profound, with a Boleyn woman, only six generations from a prosperous peasant at Salle, succeeding to the throne in her own right. As Elizabeth herself quoted, on hearing of her accession, ‘It is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.’

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