The death of Charles Brandon in 1545 could have left Katherine in a precarious position, but the wealth he left her, along with her intelligence, fiery temper and powerful friends made her a force to be reckoned with. Just two years after Charles’ death, Katherine was said to rule Lincolnshire, where the majority of the Brandon estates were.
Following Charles’ death, there were rumours that Henry was eyeing Katherine up as his seventh wife, but although they were given currency at the time (worrying the conservative faction at court and angering Catherine Parr) there is no evidence that this was ever a real option.
Her friendship with Catherine remained strong: she was one of the first people to know when the Dowager Queen secretly married Thomas Seymour, even jokingly naming her new stallion and mare “Seymour” and “Parr” after the couple. Following Catherine’s death and Thomas’ execution, their daughter Mary was placed under Katherine’s care. However Katherine found the financial burden of supporting this young girl arduous, writing to William Cecil that if she did not receive a pension soon, she would not be able to support Mary any further.
Her own sons with Charles Brandon died in 1551: both victims of the sweating sickness and dying within an hour of each other. Katherine was devastated but in the coming years found happiness again with her second husband. It was a love match; her husband, Richard Bertie, had served for several years as her Master of Horse. Together they faced a hard few years when Mary I came to the throne. Rather than conform to the return to the Catholic church, Katherine left for Europe as a religious exile, ignoring commands to return to England until Elizabeth I was crowned and she felt it was safe to do so.
The remainder of Katherine’s life saw her happy, with a growing family, but the perils of the Tudor court were never far away. In 1567, her step-granddaughter, Lady Mary Grey, was sent to live with her in disgrace, following her secret marriage to a man far beneath her in her station – a reminder of how precarious the choice to marry for love could be in the 16th century.
47 years after her first scandalous marriage, in September 1580, Katherine Brandon died aged 61. She had lived a long and full life, in touching distance of some of the greatest scandals and changes within the Tudor court, but managed to survive them all and come out on top as a rich, safe woman, with a family and loving husband – no mean feat for a 16th century woman.