Maiden name: Katherine Champernowne
(Born around 1502- Died around 1565)
Believed to have been the daughter of Sir John Champernowne and Margaret Courtenay.
Married to John Ashley.
Kat Ashley was the governess of the young Elizabeth Tudor, who would become Queen Elizabeth I and they would be close friends later in life.
Not much is known at Kat Ashley’s early life. We do know that she was born Katherine Champernowne and that she may have been born around 1502. We are not quite sure who her parents were, but we believe that they were Sir John Champernowne and Margaret Courtenay.
When Edward VI was born, Elizabeth lost her governess Lady Bryan, who became Edward VI’s governess and Elizabeth went into the care of Blanche Herbert, Lady Troy. Lady Troy was Elizabeth’s Lady Mistress until she retired in either 1545 or 1546. Katherine Champernowne was appointed as a waiting gentlewoman in July 1536 and when Elizabeth was four years old, in 1537, Kat became Elizabeth’s governess. Kat must have been well educated since she taught Elizabeth astronomy, geography, history, mathematics, French, Flemish, Italian and Spanish.
In 1545, Katherine Champernowne, at the age of 40, married Sir John Ashley, Elizabeth’s senior gentleman attendant. Sir John Ashley was a distant cousin of Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn. Life would drastically change for Kat and Elizabeth. In 1543, Henry VIII married his last wife Katherine Parr, who allowed Elizabeth to stay at court. In 1547, Henry VIII died, leaving the the throne to his young son Edward VI. Kat and Elizabeth went to live with Katherine Parr at Chelsea, with her new husband Sir Thomas Seymour, the brother of the Lord Protector Edward Seymour and uncle to King Edward VI.
Thomas is reported to have gone into the Princess Elizabeth’s bedroom repeatedly in the mornings to tickle her and playfully wake her. One time, it is said that Thomas tore Elizabeth’s gown to shreds while in a garden. At first, it is said, that Kat thought it was amusing, but she then saw this as extremely concerning. Despite Kat’s desperate attempts to make him leave, he would not leave. But, at the time Katherine Parr got upset and instead of being angry at her husband, she was mad at Elizabeth and Elizabeth was sent away. Elizabeth and Kat would never see Katherine Parr again.
Katherine Parr died soon after due to childbirth in 1548 and that is when rumors began to spread about the inappropriate relationship between Elizabeth and Thomas. In order to get down to the truth of the matter, Kat Ashley was arrested on January 21, 1549, along with Sir Thomas Parry, and they were interviewed by Sir Robert Tyrwhitt. He found that Kat Ashley had done nothing treasonous and she was released 13 days before Thomas Seymour’s execution. During the time that Kat was in prison, Blanche Parry became Elizabeth’s Chief Gentlewoman.
Kat was able to be reunited with Elizabeth until Elizabeth was sent to the Tower under the orders of Mary I in 1554. Kat was able to be reunited with Elizabeth again in October 1555, but Kat was arrested again in May 1556 for owning seditious books and she was thrown into Fleet Prison for three months. After her release, Mary forbade Kat from seeing Elizabeth ever again.
In 1558 after Mary I’s death, Elizabeth overturned this order and Kat became the First Lady of the Bedchamber. In the summer of 1565, Kat Ashley died, which was a horrible loss for Elizabeth.