Sunday, March 29, 2015

Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk

The marriage of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, to his ward, Catherine Willoughby. To quote:
According to Chapuys, Katherine and Charles Brandon were married on 7 September, almost certainly in London and very probably in the presence of the king. We can be reasonably certain of this because only three days later Brandon ‘supported’ the old Duchess of Norfolk when she stood godmother to the infant Princess Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s baptism would have been Katherine’s first formal appearance as Duchess of Suffolk, and marks the beginning of what was to be a long and not always easy relationship with the future sovereign. But no one, least of all Katherine, would have guessed this on a late summer’s day in 1533.

No detailed account of the wedding has come down to us but we may assume that, in accordance with tradition, the couple exchanged vows and the groom placed a ring on the fourth finger of the bride’s left hand ‘in plain sight’ at the church door. They then entered the building where their marriage was blessed and wine – a symbol of the new bond between the two families – was served to the assembled guests. The ceremony was followed by a feast – usually at the bride’s home but perhaps on this occasion at Suffolk Place – and then by consummation. There was frequently much horseplay as the newly-wed couple were put to bed, but such revelries were part of the occasion. Katherine would not have been surprised or alarmed.

How Katherine coped with her new role and responsibilities can only be imagined, but she cannot have found it easy. Until very recently she had been the heiress to a barony and the ward of one of the most powerful men in England; now she was his wife, a duchess, and the mistress of his household. At court she could allow her husband to take the lead while she basked in his evident pride in her, but she could not expect him to shield her when they were ‘at home’ in London or at Westhorpe. The servants would have been used to treating her with the respect due to a girl in her former position, but how did they respond to this abrupt change in their relationship? Some, no doubt, laughed behind their hands when she made mistakes (as she was almost bound to do in the early days), but they knew their places and Katherine would have learned fast. (Read more.)

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