Spotlight – Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk

Name: Catherine Brandon nee Willoughby

Title/s: 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby / Duchess of Suffolk / Lady Bertie

Birth / Death: 22 March 1519 – 19 September 1580

Spouse: Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk c.1484-1545 / Richard Bertie c.1517-1582

Children: Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk 1535-1551 / Charles Brandon, 3rd Duke of Suffolk 1537-1551 / Susan Grey, Countess of Kent 1554-? / Peregrine Bertie, 13th Baron Willoughby de Eresby 1555-1601

Parents: Maria de Salinas c.1490-1539 & William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby 1482-1526

Siblings: None

Noble Connections: She married Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, having been his ward for several years. Brandon was the brother-in-law of the king. She was one of Katherine Parr’s inner circle, and came close to being accused of heresy with her. Katherine was also friendly with Bess of Hardwick, the creator of Hardwick Hall and Countess of Shrewsbury. Her mother was a close friend of Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon.

Events of their Lifetime: Field of the Cloth of Gold 1520 / Death of Cardinal Wolsey 1530 / Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and Birth of Elizabeth I 1533 / Execution of Thomas More and Bishop Fisher 1535 / Execution of Anne Boleyn 1536 / Birth of Edward VI 1537 / Accession of Edward VI and Death of Henry VIII 1547 / Accession of Mary I and Death of Edward VI 1553 / Accession of Elizabeth I and Death of Mary I 1558

Controversy: It was considered controversial after the death of the Duke of Suffolk that Catherine married one of her servants – Richard Bertie. Catherine had been promised to Brandon’s son, but on the death of his wife, Brandon decided to marry her himself. It was alleged that Catherine was in line to become Henry VIII’s seventh wife, though the evidence is shaky.

Works of Fiction:

  • Suzannah Dunn, The Sixth Wife (2007)

Portrayals on Screen:

  • Rebekah Wainwright, The Tudors, 2007-2009, 14 episodes

Further Reading:

  • Harkrider, Melissa Franklin, Women, Reform and Community in Early Modern England: Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and Lincolnshire’s Godly Aristocracy 1519-1580 (2008)
  • Martienssen, Anthony, Queen Katherine Parr (1973)
  • Read, Evelyn, My Lady Suffolk: a Portrait of Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk (1963)


Catherine Willoughby by Hans Holbein c.1534
Catherine Willoughby Hans Holbein c.1534
Catherine Willoughby by Hans Holbein c.1541
Catherine Willoughby by Hans Holbein c.1541
Catherine Willoughby Posthumous 18th Century
Catherine Willoughby Posthumous 18th Century Portrait

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