Love or Treachery? The Secret Marriage of Katherine Grey and Edward Seymour

Janet Wertman

Love matches during the Tudor era were uncommon

Love matches during the Tudor era were uncommon: most people chose spouses for dynastic reasons. Of course, exceptions prove the rule so let’s examine the marriage in 1560 of Katherine Grey and Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford. You decide whether it was a love match or not. Katherine was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary, confirmed by Parliament as the successor to the English throne after Elizabeth, who had become queen in 1558. Katherine was also one of Elizabeth’s ladies, along with Hertford’s sister – which is how Katherine and Hertford became better acquainted…and decided to marry. Now, it was treason to ‘meddle with’ anyone of royal blood without the monarch’s permission. Unfortunately, the still-unmarried Elizabeth was unlikely to consent since the new couple would provide a stunning alternative to her rule. Therefore, the couple decided neither to seek Elizabeth’s permission nor to publish the banns required by the Book of Common Prayer. Instead, they followed a beefed-up version of the old Common Law rules, where all you needed was an intent to marry followed by consummation. Thus, one November day, Katherine snuck off to Hertford’s home on Cannon Row. Hertford found a random priest to pronounce the service with his sister as a witness, and the newlyweds consummated the marriage before returning to court. There, they snuck around enough that the rumor mill suspected something, and Elizabeth decided to remove temptation by sending Hertford abroad, ‘for the improvement of his education’. After Hertford left, Katherine soon realized she was pregnant…but by that point she could not prove she was actually married: she could not find the priest and her witness had died. An enraged Elizabeth sent Katherine straight to the Tower and recalled Hertford from France to send him there too. The storm might have passed if the child had been a girl – but instead Katherine bore a son, fulfilling Elizabeth’s nightmare of a popular couple with a healthy male heir. The easy solution: invalidate the marriage and bastardize the child. After all, Katherine and Hertford hadn’t published banns, they had neither priest nor witness, and neither could even remember the exact date of the marriage. For good measure, Hertford was fined £15,000 (about $9.8 million today) for seducing a virgin of the royal blood.
<strong>Love or Treachery? The Secret Marriage of Katherine Grey and Edward Seymour</strong>
Lady Katherine Grey and her son Lord Edward Beauchamp

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<strong>Love or Treachery? The Secret Marriage of Katherine Grey and Edward Seymour</strong>
Queen Elizabeth I

The couple were left in the Tower

The couple were left in the Tower, where compassionate guards secretly allowed them at least one conjugal visit…which led to a second son being born in captivity. Life was tougher after the guards learned their lesson – until an outbreak of the plague in 1563 got them released to house arrest, though still separated: Katherine and their younger son were placed with a succession of trusted lords, while Hertford and their firstborn were confined at his mom’s. After 4-5 years of unanswered pleas of mercy, Katherine fell into a major depression and wasted away, dying in 1568. With the benefit of hindsight, it was a love match that had gone sadly wrong, not a bid for power. But Elizabeth would have seen it differently. She would have seen in Hertford the nephew of the woman who had supplanted Anne Boleyn as Henry VIII’s wife – and the son of the executed Duke of Somerset, the former Lord Protector who was beloved for his anti-enclosure stance. She would have looked to her own youth, when every rebel’s plan included the intention to marry her because of the expectation that only men should be rulers. She would have been spooked by the timing of the marriage, made while the country was reeling over Amy Robsart’s ‘accidental’ death and fearing that Elizabeth would marry Robert Dudley (whom they hated). Perhaps Elizabeth also knew that Katherine had always deeply resented Elizabeth’s refusal to recognize her as heir to the throne – and had even discussed potential foreign matches with the Spanish Ambassador. And Elizabeth likely would have felt vindicated (though furious) that Hertford, allowed to reappear at court once Katherine had died, went on to make a second clandestine marriage – and then a third…In all, who are we to judge?
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<strong>Love or Treachery? The Secret Marriage of Katherine Grey and Edward Seymour</strong>

Janet Wertman

By day, Janet Wertman is a freelance grantwriter for impactful nonprofits. By night, she indulges a passion for the Tudor era she has harbored since she was eight years old and her parents let her stay up late to watch The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Her critically-acclaimed Seymour Saga trilogy took her deep into one of the era’s central families – and now she is exploring Elizabeth’s journey from bastard to icon in her upcoming Regina trilogy. Janet also runs a blog ( where she posts interesting takes on the Tudors and what it’s like to write about them.
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