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Katherine Knollys was Mary Boleyn's first child, born in 1524 when Mary was having an affair with King Henry VIII. Katherine spent her life unacknowledged as the king's daughter, yet she was given prime appointments at court as maid of honour to both Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. She married Francis Knollys when she was 16 and went on to become mother to many successful men and women at court including Lettice Knollys who created a scandal when she married Sir Robert Dudley, the queen's favourite. This fascinating book studies Katherine's life and times, including her intriguing relationship with Elizabeth I.
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Lady Katherine's Knollys
The Unacknowledged Daughter of Henry VIII
By Sarah-Beth Watkins
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Sarah-Beth Watkins
All rights reserved.
Mary Boleyn placed her hand on her stomach. It was time to shut herself away from the world and enter her darkened chambers. Richly embroidered tapestries lined the room, shutting out the light and keeping in the warmth from the banked-up fire. Mary was going to give birth to her first child; born of lust and passion, a child whose father was not the man she had married, a child whose father was secretly the King. A child she named Katherine.
Katherine would grow up never to be acknowledged as King Henry VIII's daughter. Henry had every reason not to acknowledge her. He had his daughters, one already born when Katherine came into the world, and he needed no more. His denial of his affair with Katherine's mother, Mary, would be something that would always position Katherine as a bastard. Yet Katherine joined the Tudor court as maid of honour to Queen Anne of Cleves and she went on to serve Catherine Howard as well as becoming one of Elizabeth I's closest confidantes - cousins for definite, more likely half-sisters. Katherine lived through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and on into Elizabeth I's. Never far from court, she lived in a world where she would never be a princess but a lady she was born to be.
As a young girl, Katherine's mother, Mary journeyed to France in Mary Tudor's entourage, travelling in the same ship. At fourteen years old, it was a great adventure and her first time away from England. Her father had arranged for her to become a chamberer for the King's sister, a step down from a lady-in-waiting but her first position away from home. She must have looked up to the red-haired, delicately featured Mary who was being sent to marry the ageing King of France, Louis XII, with awe and respect. Here was a princess who was doing her duty for England by becoming Louis' third wife and Queen Consort of France.
They set sail on 2nd October 1514 crossing the Channel to Boulogne in a flotilla of 14 ships but a fierce storm made their journey last four days. Mary Tudor's ship ran aground and the women had to be carried to shore to meet the French ambassadors that were awaiting their arrival. All the women were windswept, soggy and seasick as they landed on the beach in such an unceremonious fashion. Not a good start to Mary's time in France.
From there, they travelled on to Abbeville where, on 9th October, the feast day of St Denis, Mary Tudor wed King Louis XII in the Hotel de la Gruthuse. The couple wore matching costumes of gold and ermine as they took part in the ceremony officiated over by the Bishop of Bayeux and Mary was bedecked in jewels that Henry had given her to show off England's wealth and riches.
The Venetian ambassador commented, 'The mass by the Cardinal de Bayeux being ended, he gave the consecrated wafer, one half to the King and the other to the Queen, who kissed and then swallowed it; and after making a graceful curtsey she departed, the King and Queen going each to their own apartments to dine. In the evening the Queen arrayed herself in the French fashion, and there was dancing; the whole Court banqueting, dancing, and making good cheer; and thus, at the eighth hour before midnight, the Queen was taken away from the entertainment by Madame to go and sleep with the King.
... She appears to me rather pale, though this I believe proceeds from the tossing of the sea and from her fright. She does not seem a whit more than 16 years old, and looks very well in the French costume. She is extremely courteous and well mannered, and has come in very sumptuous array ...'
When the fuss of the wedding had died down, King Louis decided to rid Mary Tudor of most of her entourage, fearing that amongst them were spies who would report back to Henry VIII. When other servants were sent home, Mary Boleyn stayed on with the newly crowned Queen as she adjusted to her new life at the French court. King Louis had allowed Mary Tudor to retain only her six youngest maids but his control over Mary's household was short-lived. The King died just three months after Mary Tudor had arrived in France - some said from the exertions of his marriage bed - but not by being smothered to death by his new wife as a popular historical TV series would have us believe. Still the new Queen Consort Mary was not allowed home. Mary Boleyn stayed with her through the forty days of traditional mourning as all eyes were on Henry's sister waiting to see if she carried King Louis' child. When no pregnancy showed, Mary was allowed to return to England and Louis' son, François, was crowned King of France. But the ending of Mary Tudor's time in France was not without scandal. Knowing her brother, the King, would marry her off to the next politically advantageous suitor, she married his friend and confidant, Charles Brandon, whilst still in France thus enraging her brother, the King of England.
During this time, while Mary was attending Mary Tudor, her sister, Anne, who was yet to become the most infamous of the Boleyn family, was sent to the French court in service to François' wife, Claude, and is noted in records of the time but we lose sight of Mary for while her sister stayed at court, Mary's whereabouts are unknown. She may have travelled back to England and joined her mother in service to Queen Catherine of Aragon or she may have been sent to consider her actions if the rumours about her conduct were true.
This is the time in Mary's life where historians have surmised that she became the mistress of the new King François, giving her historical notoriety for being the sexual plaything of Kings. It is true she spent time at the court of King Louis but the suggestion she was a great and infamous whore came not from François but from Rodolfo Pio, the Bishop of Faenza, who wrote "per una grandissima ribald et infame sopre tutte" - 'for a very great whore, and infamous above all'. Pio was the Papal Nuncio in Paris and as such would have been extremely biased against the Boleyns when he wrote this some twenty years after Mary's time in France. Mary was at the court of the King Louis XII from around 1514 - 1515 and she may well have been his son's mistress for a time but there is no other evidence for it or that she was passed on to his companions as a sexual plaything as some writers have indicated.
Wherever she was, Mary next appears at the English court of King Henry and she might have caught his eye by being in service to the Queen as many of Henry's other women did. Henry was not the notorious womaniser he has been made out to be at this time but he had just come out of a relationship with Elizabeth Blount, or Bessie, as she was known, the daughter of Sir John Blount and Catherine Pershall of Kinlet near Bridgnorth in Shropshire, who was one of Queen Catherine's maids-of-honour.
In 1519 Bessie was sent to 'Jericho' to give birth to the King's illegitimate son. This was an affair that had lasted some time and resulted in the birth of a child that Henry did acknowledge, unlike Katherine. Jericho was a private, moated house leased by the King from St Lawrence's Priory at Blackmore, Essex. It was a house of poor reputation, a meeting place for the King and his lovers where the pages and grooms were warned 'not to hearken or enquire where the King is or goeth, be it early or late'. Bessie gave birth to Henry Fitzroy (Fitzroy meaning son of the king) on 15th June. Henry Fitzroy later became the Duke of Richmond and Somerset and Earl of Nottingham, reaping the rewards of an illegitimate but acknowledged son. Henry may have accepted his first male offspring but he wanted nothing more to do with Bessie and she was married off to Gilbert Tailboys in the same year of Henry's birth. The King had started to look for someone else to warm his bed.
Mary Boleyn was his choice. Her red hair, pert lips and wide eyes suggested innocence and succour at a time when Henry was troubled by his marriage to the Queen and his lack of any legitimate male heirs. Mary represented youth when Catherine was visibly ageing and the strain of several miscarriages and stillbirths were taking their toll on her body. Catherine was heading for the menopause and Henry was beginning to realise that his wife would never give him what he held most dear - a son to follow him to the throne.
Katherine's mother, Mary, became Henry VIII's lover at a time when Henry was in his prime. The life and soul of the Tudor court and England, Henry was a larger than life King, young and virile, enjoying all the pleasures of his sovereignty. He had not yet received the wound that would blight his later years and still enjoyed the pleasures of court; hunting, jousting, playing tennis and admiring women with his notions of courtly love.
In 1522, with all the panache and intrigue of a courtly love affair, Henry made his affections clear towards Mary at a joust held to welcome visiting ambassadors sent by the Emperor Charles V to negotiate a marriage between himself and the Princess Mary, Henry's daughter by Catherine of Aragon. Henry rode a horse whose caparisons were embroidered with the motto Elle mon coeur a navera - she has wounded my heart. Henry was in pursuit of Mary but his motto hints that the love was unrequited. Henry was in pursuit but perhaps Mary wasn't such a pushover as some historians have led us to believe. Certainly if the rumours of Mary and François did have any truth in them and her return to England had been in disgrace, she would hardly have been willing to risk that disgrace again. She was now a married woman and would have her husband's feelings to consider.
In that Easter's Shrove Tuesday celebrations, Mary played the role of Kindness in the pageant The Assault on the Castle of Virtue along with seven other women at court including her sister, Anne, who took the role of Perseverance. The eight ladies of Kindness, Perseverance, Beauty, Honour, Constancy, Bounty, Mercy and Pity were mirrored by women (who were played by boys) of dubious qualities such as Danger, Jealousy, Unkindness, Scorn, Disdain, Malebouche (bad-mouthing), Strangeness and an eighth that is unrecorded. Eight lords had to rescue the women of good virtue from those that were dubious and amongst them was King Henry. The theme of the pageant was unrequited love and leading the lords who rescued the women was Ardent Desire. Although Henry did not take the main role, this was given to William Cornish, the court musician, its meaning was clear. Henry was in love and was pursuing a new mistress while still being married to Catherine of Aragon.
And Mary was married too so perhaps this affair would have less risk than his liaison with Bessie Blount. If any child were to be born, they would take Mary's husband's name and spare the King from having to acknowledge any more illegitimate offspring.
Mary had become the wife of William Carey on 4th February 1520. William Carey was the second son of Sir Thomas Carey of Chilton Foliat in Wiltshire, and his wife, Margaret Spencer, daughter of Sir Robert Spencer and Eleanor Beaufort. His aunt on the maternal side was Katherine Spencer, Countess of Northumberland, and through her, he was first cousin to Henry Percy, the 6th Earl of Northumberland, a former suitor of his sister-in-law Anne Boleyn. Katherine took William Carey's surname and William might never even have known of his wife's affair with the King but given his closeness to Henry he must surely have had his suspicions. It has been suggested that Henry VIII picked William as a compliant courtier to marry his mistress. He attended their wedding and gave the couple a gift of 6s 8d but William although compliant was not just an ordinary courtier. He had joined the King's household in 1519 and became close to the King through his role as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Esquire of the Body to the King. As Mary's husband was a courtier in his own right, William was awarded grants from 1522 -1526 and this payment could have been for Mary's services. Whether through Mary's liaison with the King or because of his own merits, William did well out of the whole affair. In 1522, he was made keeper of the manor and estate of New Hall in Essex, a year later he was made chief steward and bailiff of the manor of Writtell and Writtell Park in Essex. The last grant William received came at around the time of the birth of Mary's second child, Henry Carey, in 1526 when William was made keeper of the manor, gardens and tower of Pleasance in Greenwich and granted the keepership of Ditton manor and park.
William may have just received grants because he was favoured by the King. Alternatively, he may have received them for being an obliging husband and to nurture his acquiescence while the King made love to his wife. Whatever the reason, both William and Mary were players in the King's game. They could not have refused him even had they have wanted to. Mary might well have endured the King's attentions but felt nothing for him or could she have felt genuine affection and been love-struck by such a king who at the time was in his magnificence? Either way she was left with two children who were rumoured to be the offspring of King Henry VIII.
Henry kept his affair with Mary a secret but his closest companions and men of his chambers knew what was happening. They collected Mary and took her to his rooms or arranged for their love trysts elsewhere. They may have met at Hever, Mary's family home, but that seems unlikely and there is no recorded evidence of him visiting her there although in 1521, Henry took possession of Penshurst Place which lay close to Hever and would have made a possible rendezvous point. Penshurst was a crenellated manor house set in idyllic surroundings. Built in the 14th century, beautiful countryside and surrounding parklands made it an impressive residence just a day's ride from London and the Tudor court. Mary may also have met Henry at Jericho where Bessie Blount had had her son and where he was known to meet with other women or Mary could have just been escorted to the King's rooms when he called for her. If Mary was travelling with the court and her husband, she would have been available wherever the King resided.
Henry not only failed to acknowledge Katherine, he also never once admitted to having an affair with Mary, but it is in his omission that we see his guilt. In 1533, a Catholic MP, George Throckmorton, in conversation with the King accused him of meddling with both Mary and her mother, Lady Boleyn. Henry replied, 'Never with the mother'. It took Thomas Cromwell to add 'Nor never with the sister either, and therefore put that out of your mind'. But this came at a time when Anne Boleyn was made Queen of England and to admit to relations with her sister would have had serious implications for their marriage. Henry had divorced Catherine of Aragon based on her previous relationship with his brother, Arthur. To admit that he had had close relationships with Mary would make his marriage to Anne incestuous. As we shall see later, this is why Katherine was never acknowledged as Henry's child as to do so was to jeopardise his marriage to her aunt.
Mary was sleeping with the King but surely she was aware of the risks. Did she try to do anything to prevent her pregnancy? Contraception in Tudor times was illegal and methods for preventing pregnancy were not reliable. Women sometimes used pessaries made from wool and soaked in vinegar, herbs, beeswax or even stones and wooden blocks to prevent conception. Essences of mint, rue or savin (a type of juniper) were drunk as abortants but could be deadly in high doses. Failing that, amulets were worn to ward off fertility and were as bizarre as the testicles of a weasel or the liver of a cat. If Mary had tried any of these, they had failed and with her belly extended before her, she entered the birthing chamber.
Mary took to her chamber four to six weeks before Katherine's birth and surrounded herself with good luck charms and she may even have used an eagle stone. This was a time when superstition was rife and anything that could be done to ward off evil spirits and ensure a safe birth was done. An eagle stone - a hollow stone which has sand, a pebble or other noisy substance within it - was believed to help relieve labour pains during childbirth. As soon as her labour started, Mary's closest companions and the midwife were called. Men were not permitted in the birth chamber and there were no doctors as such to help with the birth.
Excerpted from Lady Katherine's Knollys by Sarah-Beth Watkins. Copyright © 2014 Sarah-Beth Watkins. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Mother Mary 1
Chapter 2 Aunty Anne 15
Chapter 3 Growing Up with Elizabeth and Mary 33
Chapter 4 Maid of Honour 43
Chapter 5 The Two Henrys 60
Chapter 6 Bloody Mary and the Exiles 76
Chapter 7 Queen Elizabeth's Lady 93
Appendix Of Her Blood 111