Book Review: “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

51M3PWFQLjLThe children of Henry VIII have been the center of historical studies for centuries. Edward VI, Mary I,  and Elizabeth I were all considered Henry’s “legitimate” children and were able to obtain the crown of England. Henry Fitzroy was the illegitimate son of the king, but he was still able to gain titles and a good marriage before he died. They all had something in common; they were all recognized by their father, Henry VIII. However, there was another child who many believed to have been the daughter of the king. The name of this intriguing lady was Lady Katherine Knollys and her story comes to life in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII”.

I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this great book. I have never read a biography on Lady Katherine Knollys and I found this a delight to read.

Katherine’s mother was the sister of Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn. For a time before Anne came into the picture, Mary was Henry VIII’s mistress. Henry VIII did have a child by another mistress, which he did declare as his own, so why did he not acknowledge Katherine as his child? Watkins offers an explanation on why Katherine was not acknowledged by the king and what her life was like:

Katherine would grow up never to be acknowledged as King Henry VIII’s daughter. Henry had every reason not to acknowledge her. He has his daughters, one already born when Katherine came into the world, and he needed no more. His denial of his affair with Katherine’s mother, Mary, would be something that would always position Katherine as a bastard. Yet Katherine joined the Tudor court as maid of honour to Queen Anne of Cleves and she went on to serve Catherine Howard as well as becoming one of Elizabeth I’s closest confidantes- cousins for definite, more likely half-sisters. Katherine lived through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and on into Elizabeth I’s. Never far from court, she lived in a world where she would never be a princess but a lady she was born to be. (Watkins, 1).

Watkins begins her book by exploring Mary Boleyn’s life and her relationship with Henry VIII and the birth of Katherine. As Mary fell out of favor with the king, we see the rise and fall of her sister, Anne Boleyn. As Katherine grows up, we see her becoming a maid of honour for Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, until she marries Francis Knollys at the age of 16. Katherine and Francis went on to have quite a large family. Their children included Lettice Knollys, who scandalously married Elizabeth I’s favorite, Sir Robert Dudley. Katherine spent a lot of her life serving others, never flaunting who her father might have been. The only time that Katherine’s life was in danger was when Mary I came to the throne. Katherine and Francis decided to take their family and flee abroad since they were Protestants, but they did return when Elizabeth returned. Elizabeth came to rely on Katherine as a close confidante and when Katherine did die, Elizabeth gave her an elaborate funeral.

This was my first time reading a biography about Lady Katherine Knollys and I really enjoyed it. I go back and forth whether I believe she was the daughter of Henry VIII or not, but I found it interesting to learn more about this fascinating woman. Watkins does a superb job of balancing letters, facts and an easy to understand writing style to tell the story of Lady Katherine Knollys, her family, and the life inside the Tudor court. If you want to learn more about the life of the remarkable daughter of Mary Boleyn, I highly recommend you read, “Lady Katherine Knollys- The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.  

Book Review: “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” by Adrienne Dillard

51LQDgS2-bLThe Boleyn family is one of the most notable families during the reign of the Tudors. When one thinks about this family, people like Anne Boleyn, Thomas Boleyn, and George Boleyn come to mind. However, another Boleyn and her family story have been emerging from the shadows of history in recent years. That is the story of Mary Boleyn, a mistress of King Henry VIII. Mary Boleyn had a daughter named Catherine Carey, who married Sir Francis Knollys and was the mother of 14 children, including Lettice Knollys. Since Catherine Carey was a direct relation to the Tudors, what might have her life have been like? Adrienne Dillard wanted to give readers a possible view of Catherine Carey’s life in her book, “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey”.

Adrienne Dillard chooses to start her fabulous novel in a unique dream sequence:

The dream was always the same. My feet were filthy. To most children my age this would be expected, something they dealt with every day of their lives as they toiled alongside their parents in the field, usually too poor to afford proper footwear. But to me it spelled disaster. I knew that soon my grandfather would be home and would be very displeased. Instead of swinging me in the air, plying me with affection as he usually did when he returned from Court, he would stare at my dirt-caked toes and say disdainfully, “You are a Boleyn and you should know your place. No Boleyn will ever live like a beggar child, I have worked hard my whole life to make sure of it.” With those scornful words, my heart would be cut in two. I knew I had to find my brother Henry, get back to the house and clean up before our grandfather arrived….I burst through the apple trees into a clearing and saw the scaffold before me. “No!” I shrieked, feet rooted to the ground, I stared on in horror as the sword sliced the head from my aunt’s swan-like neck. The executioner raised her severed head into the air by its long chestnut locks. Anne’s eyes were wide in shock, her lips still moving, the blood formed a river in the dirt. The last thing I remembered before my world turned black was my own scream. (Dillard, 2).

Catherine’s life was full of heartache, in fact, Princess Elizabeth was the one who signed a letter to Catherine with Cor Rotto, which is Latin for “broken-hearted”. With as many deaths that Catherine experienced in her lifetime, including the death of two of her children, she also found a lot of love. Although her marriage to Sir Francis Knollys was an arranged marriage, like so many were back in the time of the Tudors, Catherine and Francis fell in love with one another. It was that love that helped Catherine, Francis, and their family navigates the ever-changing political and religious environment of the royal court.

In this book, Catherine is portrayed as the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII. This has been a rumor ever since she was born since her mother was the mistress of Henry VIII, yet it has never been proven. It adds an interesting twist to her story since she was one of the ladies who served Elizabeth I, who if these rumors were true, was her half-sister. Catherine tends to be someone who enjoyed a normal, drama free life, and so she never tells anyone outside her immediate family the truth. Another unique aspect of this book is how Adrienne Dillard portrays when Catherine and Francis took part of their family to Germany during the reign of Mary I, to escape religious persecution. Not much is known about this time so it was rather interesting to read how different their lives could have been like while on the run.

Adrienne Dillard’s book is beautifully written and tells the story of such a remarkable woman. She stayed on the sideline and was able to have a good relationship with every Tudor monarch, which was actually quite a rarity. Dillard was able to portray the love that Catherine had as a mother and wife in a simple and humble way that it felt like Catherine could be a friend. This was my first time reading a book by Adrienne Dillard and I absolutely loved it. She was able to bring the life of a royal and a mother of 14 to life in such a respectful and dignified way. She made you believe that Catherine Carey could have been the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII. After reading this book, I want to learn even more about Catherine Carey and her extraordinary family.

If you want a gorgeous book about a wonderful woman who lived during the time of the Tudors, I highly recommend you read “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” by Adrienne Dillard.

Biography: Catherine Carey

800px-Steven_van_der_Meulen_Catherine_Carey_Lady_KnollysAlso known as Catherine Knollys or Lady Knollys.
(Born around 1524- Died January 15, 1569)
Daughter of Mary Boleyn and William Carey.
Married to Sir Francis Knollys.
Mother of Mary Stalker, Sir Henry Knollys, Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex, William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury, Edward Knollys, MP, Sir Robert Knollys, MP, Richard Knollys, MP, Elizabeth Leighton, Lady Leighton, Sir Thomas Knollys, Sir Francis Knollys, MP, Anne West, Lady De La Warr, Catherine, Baroness Offaly, Lady Butler, Maud Knollys and Dudley Knollys.

Catherine Carey was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn, and William Carey. She was the mother of Lettice Knollys and the Chief Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I.

Catherine Carey was born around 1524 to Mary Boleyn and William Carey. William Carey was from Aldenham in Hertfordshire. He was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Esquire of the Body to Henry VIII. Her parents were married in 1520 and soon after, it is believed that Mary Boleyn started her affair with Henry VIII. Contemporaries have claimed that Catherine Carey was in fact an illegitimate child of Henry VIII, but there is no evidence to support this claim and Henry VIII never acknowledged her as his own child. It is said that Catherine was a witness to Anne Boleyn’s execution, but that is simply not true.

Catherine would become a Maid of Honour for both Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. It is believed that Catherine met her future husband Francis Knollys when he was part of the group that welcomed Anne of Cleves to England in November 1539. We do not know if their families arranged the marriage or if the king had a hand in the match, but Catherine and Francis were married on April 26, 1540. The couple had fourteen children, including Lettice Knollys. Francis Knollys was knighted in 1547 and Catherine was called Lady Knollys. During the reign of Mary I, Francis and Catherine took part of their large family and fled to Germany because they were very staunt Protestants.

In January 1559, Catherine and Francis returned to England after the death of Mary I and the succession of Elizabeth I. Sir Francis Knollys was appointed Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household and Catherine was made Chief Lady of the Bedchamber. Elizabeth never supported the claim that Catherine was her half sister, but for the ten years that Catherine served Elizabeth, she was seen as one of Elizabeth’s favorites at court and her favorite first cousin. Catherine Carey would die on January 15, 1569 at Hampton Court Palace and she was buried in St. Edmund’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_Carey
https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/26-april-1540-the-marriage-of-catherine-carey-and-francis-knollys/

Biography: Lettice Knollys

Lettice_Knollys1(Born November 8, 1543- Died December 25, 1634)
Daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey.
Married to Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, and Christopher Blount.
Mother of Penelope Rich, Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, Walter Devereux, Francis Devereux, and Robert Dudley, Lord Denbigh.
Lettice Knollys was one of Elizabeth I’s favorites at court, but when she married Elizabeth’s favorite Robert Dudley, she was banished from court.

Lettice Knollys was born on November 8, 1543 at Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire to Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey. Sir Francis Knollys was a member of Parliament and Master of the Horse under King Edward VI. Her mother, Catherine Carey, was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, which made Lettice Knollys and Elizabeth I first cousins once removed. The Knollys were Protestants and in 1556, during the reign of Mary I, they fled with five of their children to Frankfurt, Germany. We do not know if Lettice was in Germany with her family or if she spent the years her family was in exile with her cousin Elizabeth. Lettice’s family returned to England in January 1559, after the death of Mary I and the accession of Elizabeth I. Sir Francis Knollys was appointed Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household, Catherine was made a senior Lady of the Bedchamber, and Lettice was made a Maid of the Privy Chamber.

In the early 1560’s Lettice married her first husband Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford. They lived at Chartley in Staffordshire, where the two eldest of their five children, Penelope and Dorothy, were born in 1563 and 1564. It is said that when Lettice was pregnant with her first son that she flirted with Robert Dudley at court, but there is no proof to support this rumor. In November 1565, Lettice gave birth to her first son Robert Devereux. In 1569, she gave birth to her son Walter Devereux and her son Francis shortly after, but Francis would die shortly after his birth.

Walter held no position at court, but following the outbreak of the Northern Rebellion in 1569, he became known for his loyal military service to Elizabeth I. Elizabeth rewarded this loyalty by making Walter Devereux the Earl of Essex in 1572. In 1573, Walter Devereux successfully convinced Elizabeth to send him to Ulster so that he could colonize it for England. He was gone for two years, leaving Lettice alone to take care of her five children. Lettice during this time visited friends at court and at Kenilworth Castle, where Robert Dudley lived. Rumors began to spread that Robert Dudley and Lettice were having an affair while her husband was away. In December 1575, Walter Devereux returned to England, but he would leave again for Ireland in July 1576. Walter died of dysentery on September 22, 1576 in Dublin, but rumors began to swirl that Robert Dudley had him poisoned so that he could marry Lettice. Walter’s death left Lettice deep in debt and she had to move in with her friends and into her family home. She tried to convince the crown to lower the debt for her son, the new earl of Essex, but Elizabeth did not agree to this agreement.

Lettice did marry again in secret, to Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, on September 21, 1578. There were only a few witnesses to this ceremony. When Elizabeth found out about the marriage the following year, in July 1579, she was absolutely furious. Elizabeth focused all her anger on Lettice and banished her forever from court and Robert fled from court in disgrace. Lettice continued to style herself Countess of Essex for several years into her new marriage. She lived very discreetly, often with her relatives at the Knollys family home in Oxfordshire. Lettice’s son with Leicester, Robert, Lord Denbigh, was born in June 6, 1581, at Leicester House. Three years later, on July 18, 1584, Lord Denbigh tragically died. Lettice and Robert would not have any more children.

In 1585 Leicester led an English expedition to assist the rebellious Netherlands against Spain. He incurred Elizabeth’s wrath when he accepted the title of Governor-General in January 1586. At this same time the Earl was giving his wife authority to handle certain land issues during his absence, implying they had no plans to meet in Holland.

The Earl returned to England in December 1586, but was sent again to the Netherlands in the following June. Leicester eventually resigned his post in December 1587. Lettice was with him when he died unexpectedly, possibly of malaria, on 4 September 1588 at Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire. Leicester’s death left Lettice deeper in debt and she had to marry again in order to repay her two deceased husbands’ debts.

In March or April of 1589, Lettice married her third husband Sir Christopher Blount. Blount was a man who came from a lowly gentry family and he served in the Leicester household. Lettice’s son the Earl of Essex was not thrilled about her choice of husband, however Blount would prove extremely loyal to Essex. Blount was so loyal to his stepson, that he became one of the key conspirators in Essex’s rebellion in February 1601. The rebellion, which aimed to depose the Queen’s government, was a disaster ,and both Essex and Blount were imprisoned. Though Blount begged for mercy he was condemned for treason. Essex was executed in February 1601 and Blount was executed on March 18, 1601.

When Elizabeth I died in 1603, King James I decided to cancel all of the debts that Lettice owned through her husbands and restore her grandson, the third Earl of Essex, to his father’s title and estate. Also in 1603, Ambrose Dudley, the son of Robert Dudley and Douglas Sheffield, claimed that he was the legitimate son of his parents and thus the heir to the earldoms of Warwick and Leicester. If successful, this claim would not only have implied that Lettice Knollys’ union with Leicester had been bigamous, but would also have nullified her jointure rights. In February 1604, Lettice filed a complaint against Dudley in the Star Chamber, accusing him of defamation. The other side was unable to cite clear evidence and the King’s chief minister, Robert Cecil, thought it unwise to rake up the existing property settlement, so the outcome was in favour of Lettice. Lettice would die at the age of 91 on December 25, 1634. She was buried next to Robert Dudley at St Mary’s Church, Warwick.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lettice_Knollys
http://tudortimes.co.uk/guest-articles/lettices-men
http://www.berkshirehistory.com/bios/lknollys.html

Book Review: “Elizabeth’s Rival” by Nicola Tallis

61RyJJYKwfL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_When we think of Lettice Knollys, we often think about the kinswoman who made Elizabeth I really mad when she married Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s favorite. These two women were once best of friends, but that one event torn then apart forever.  However, there is more to Lettice Knollys than this one event. She was married three times, survived seven different monarchs, and lived well into her nineties. Her story has always been hidden, until now. Lettice Knollys story is finally being told in “Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Life of the Countess of Leicester: The Romance and the Conspiracy that Threatened Queen Elizabeth’s Court” by Nicola Tallis.

Lettice Knollys was born on November 6, 1543 to Sir Francis Knollys and Katherine Carey; her mother was the Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn and mistress to Henry VIII. Lettice was one of sixteen children. Her family was solely devoted to their Protestant faith and to their service to the crown. Two of Lettice’s brothers, Robert and William, would later become favorites in Elizabeth’s court. Katherine Carey would be one of the ladies in Elizabeth’s court alongside Katherine Knollys and Lettice; Lettice and Elizabeth became very good companions very quickly. Lettice caught the eye of one Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford, and sometime between 1560 and 1562, they were married, much to the chagrin of the queen who wanted her ladies to remain single. They would have four children: Dorothy, Penelope, Robert and Walter (named after his father).

Both Sir Francis Knollys and Walter Devereux would travel towards Scotland to deal with rebellion for Elizabeth, but Walter would also travel to Ireland for Elizabeth as well. While Walter was away, it is rumored that Robert Dudley had an affair with Lettice after his wife Amy died in 1560, but in 1574, Robert was having an affair with Douglas Sheffield. When Walter died on September 22, 1576, Lettice was  left to deal with the copious amount of debt her husband left her. It wasn’t until September 21, 1578 when Robert Dudley and Lettice Knollys would marry in secret.

Elizabeth would banish Lettice from court forever, but Lettice’s story does not end there. In fact, this is where her story picks up the pace. After Robert Dudley died on September 4, 1588, he left Lettice with yet again a copious amount of debt to pay off so in July 1589, she married Sir Christopher Blount, thinking that he would help alleviate some of the debt; he did not. On top of all of this, her children were having their own martial difficulties and her son Robert Devereux, the 3rd Earl of Essex, would launch an unsuccessful rebellion against Elizabeth and would be executed February 25, 1601; Sir Christopher Blount would also be executed on March 18, 1601. After Elizabeth I died on March 24, 1603, Lettice thought her problems would be solved after James I cleared all of her debt, but Dudley’s illegitimate son by Douglas Sheffield, Robin Sheffield, would file a suit against her, which Lettice would win. On December 25, 1634, Lettice Knollys would die after living well into her 90’s.

Nicola Tallis does an excellent job in navigating Lettice’s life and times. With the amount of research and care Tallis took in portraying this woman who was once hidden in history behind her husband Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I. Her story is one of survival and strength. With this fabulous book, “Elizabeth’s Rival” by Nicola Tallis, Lettice Knollys will not be hidden in the past anymore.