Seymour, Catherine (DNB00)

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SEYMOUR, Lady CATHERINE, Countess of Hertford (1538?–1568), probably born in 1538, was second of three daughters of Henry Grey, duke of Suffolk [q. v.], and his wife, Frances Brandon, her elder sister being Lady Jane Grey [see Dudley, Lady Jane], and her younger Lady Mary Keys [q. v.] She was thus great-granddaughter of Henry VII, and after the execution of her sister Jane stood, according to Henry VIII's will, next in succession to the crown after Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Catherine received the same elaborate education as her sister Jane, and shared in her graces and accomplishments. On Whit Sunday, 21 May 1553, she was married to Henry Herbert, afterwards second earl of Pembroke [q. v.], whose father was one of the Duke of Northumberland's chief supporters. The marriage does not seem to have been consummated, and, after the execution of Catherine's sister, Lady Jane Grey, and of her father the Duke of Suffolk, Pembroke found it convenient to dissolve the compromising alliance, and Catherine was divorced. On the accession of Elizabeth she was given a place at court, but her misfortunes were soon renewed by her marriage with Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford [q. v.]

The attachment between her and Seymour had begun during Mary's reign, while Catherine was living under the care of the Duchess of Somerset, and both Catherine and her mother, the Duchess of Suffolk, regarded Seymour with favour (Harl. MS. 6286). At first they hoped to obtain Elizabeth's assent to their marriage through the intervention of the Duchess of Suffolk, but the latter died in December 1559, and, despairing probably of the queen's consent, they were secretly married at the bridegroom's house in Cannon Row, Westminster, in November or December 1560. By an act of 1536, it was treason for a person of royal blood to marry without the sovereign's consent. The arrangements for Lady Catherine's marriage were made with the help of the bridegroom's sister, Lady Jane Seymour, and the ceremony was performed by a priest whose identity was never revealed or discovered. During the following summer the countess's condition laid her open to suspicion, and by August the Duchess of Somerset had heard of her marriage with Hertford. In the same month she was sent to the Tower and questioned on the subject, but refused to confess (Parker Corresp. p. 149). Hertford was summoned from Paris, and joined his wife in the Tower on 5 Sept. On the 24th she gave birth to her eldest son, Edward, lord Beauchamp [see under Seymour, Edward, Earl of Hertford]. The news roused Elizabeth to fury, and henceforth she pursued the unhappy countess with vindictive hostility. A commission was appointed, with Parker at its head, to ‘judge’ of her ‘infamous conversation’ and ‘pretended marriage.’ The earl and the countess were examined separately in the Tower; their evidence agreed on all essential points, but they were unable to produce the priest who performed the ceremony, or any documentary evidence to support their statements, and on 12 May 1562 the commission declared that there had been no marriage (see a minute account of its proceedings in Harl. MS. 6286). According to Dugdale, ‘the validity of this marriage being afterwards tried at common law, the minister who married them being present, and other circumstances agreeing, the jury found it a good marriage;’ but this statement lacks corroboration, though Catherine was generally styled Countess of Hertford (see Bedford, Hereditary Right, p. 197; Luders, Right of Succession to the Crown in the Reign of Elizabeth; Bailey, Succession to the English Crown, 1879, pp. 179–82; Hallam, Const. Hist. i. 127–9, 289–92). Meanwhile the orders to keep the pair separate in the Tower were not strictly carried out, and the birth of a second son, Thomas, on 11 Feb. 1562–3, was followed by further measures of severity against Hertford. In August, however, the countess was removed from the Tower to the custody of her uncle, Lord John Grey, at Pirgo, Essex, in consequence of the plague; but all hopes of her complete restoration to liberty were dispelled by a revival of the discussion of her claims to the succession.

Her importance in this regard had been already illustrated in 1560 by a scheme formed by Philip of Spain for carrying off and marrying her, with the object of asserting her claim in preference to Elizabeth's, on the ground that the latter was a bastard (Cal. Hatfield MSS. i. 279; Wright, Elizabeth, i. 7, 8). In 1563 John Hales (d. 1571) [q. v.] wrote a pamphlet (extant in Harl. MS. 537) maintaining the validity of the countess's marriage against the decision of the commission; he also procured ‘sentences and councils of lawyers from beyond seas’ in support of the same opinion. These proceedings came to the knowledge of the government in April 1564, which believed that Hales had been instigated by Francis Newdigate, second husband to the Duchess of Somerset, in whose keeping Hertford then was. The discovery caused some commotion, which became known as the tempestas Halesiana (Ellis, Original Letters, 2nd ser. ii. 285; Hatfield MSS. i. 294–6). On Grey's death, 21 Nov. 1564, the countess was transferred to the custody of Sir William Petre [q. v.] at Ingatestone, Essex. Afterwards she was handed over to the charge of Sir John Wentworth, and on his death to that of Sir Owen Hopton at Cockfield Hall. The fact that Hopton was afterwards lieutenant of the Tower has led to the assumption that the countess was confined there a second time. Her repeated and pathetic appeals to be allowed to join her husband met with no response, and she died at Cockfield on 27 Jan. 1567–8 (see an account of her death in Harl. MS. xxxix. f. 380, printed in Ellis, Original Letters, 2nd ser. vol. ii.). She was buried in Salisbury Cathedral, where there is an inscription to her memory (with a wrong date of death, Epitaphs in Salisbury Cathedral, 1825, p. 36; cf. Wilts Archæological Mag. xv. 153).

[Besides authorities quoted in the text, and under art. Seymour, Edward, Earl of Hertford, see Craik's Romance of the Peerage, ii. 260–300; Ellis's Original Letters, 2nd ser. vol. ii. passim; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. vii. 121, 161, 283, 342, 422.]

A. F. P.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.245
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
296 i 31 Seymour, Catherine, Countess of Hertford: for Catherine read Lady Catherine
297 i 5-7  for and she would probably .... for a revival read but all hope of her complete restoration was dispelled by a revival
32-38  for As a result .... lieutenant of the Tower. read On Grey's death, 21 Nov. 1564, the countess was transferred to the custody of Sir William Petre [q. v.] at Ingatestone, Essex. Afterwards she was handed over to the charge of Sir John Wentworth, and on his death to that of Sir Owen Hopton at Cockfield Hall. The fact that Hopton was subsequently lieutenant of the Tower has led to the erroneous assumption that the countess was confined there a second time.