16 November 2010

Life with Suzie – You can’t stop love

While I was working on our family tree recently the poignant love story of Lady Catherine Grey captured my imagination. She is one of Suzie’s ancestors in the line from Henry VII King of England. What struck me about Catherine Grey was that she must have been a strong character with an indomitable spirit and a mind of her own, but because of her family position and the politics of the time she was subjected to a life of tragedy, isolation and sadness - all because of a choice she made in love.

Catherine was born on 25 August 1540. She was the daughter of Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, the younger sister of Lady Jane Grey and a cousin of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Her grandmother was Mary Tudor and her great grandfather was Henry VII, King of England.

To understand what she was faced with, one needs to understand the politics and intrigues of the 1500’s. It was a time when monarchs had absolute power and would do whatever it took, to hang onto it. It was also an era when marriages were arranged to forge allegiances and when women had little or no rights.

During her early years Henry VIII was King of England and what is most remembered about him was that he had gone through six wives, in his obsession to produce a suitable heir. In his will he left the succession of the throne to three of his children, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth. In the event that none of his three children left heirs, he provided for the throne to pass on to heirs of his younger sister, Mary Tudor.
This meant that Catherine and her sister Jane and their heirs would be in the line of ascendency to the English throne. It sounds good, but it carried a price.

After his death in 1547, Henry VIII’s son Edward VI inherited the crown. He was 9 years of age, but because he was too young to exercise power, a council of regency was appointed to rule until he reached 18 years of age. Sadly, Edward contracted tuberculosis and before he died at the age of 15, he named Lady Jane Grey as his successor, because he did not want his catholic sister Mary to assume the throne. This decision was questionable, because he was not in a position to legally exclude his two sisters from succession.

Four days after King Edward’s death on 6 July 1553, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England and moved into the Tower of London. There was a lot of jockeying for position at the time and Mary was not going to bow out, without a fight and the Privy Council decided to switch their allegiance from Jane to Mary, and proclaimed her queen on 19 July 1553. Jane then became a prisoner in the Tower of London.
At the time this precipitated a protestant rebellion in England, in which Henry Grey, the Duke of Suffolk (Catherine’s father) participated. The rebellion did not succeed and as a result Lady Jane Grey was executed on 12 February 1554 for treason. Her father was executed 7 days later.

It seems inconceivable now, as she was only twelve years old at the time, but Catherine Grey had been married off to Henry Herbert on 21 May 1553. However, after the failed attempt to put Jane Grey on the throne, Henry Herbert decided to distance himself from the Grey family and cast out Catherine from his home and had their marriage annulled.

After her sister’s death Catherine Grey became a serious contender for the succession. Queen Mary was still unmarried and Princess Elizabeth was regarded as illegitimate and a heretic by the Catholic powers. Also as a granddaughter of Mary Tudor and great-granddaughter of Henry VII, Catherine had a better claim to the throne of England than Mary, Queen of Scots, since Henry VIII's will had expressly excluded the Scottish line from succession.

When Elizabeth I came to the throne in November 1558, Catherine Grey's availability as a possible heir came to the fore again. It seemed that the Queen was warming to her as a potential Protestant heir, and it was rumoured that she was considering adopting her.

But this is where Catherine’s indomitable spirit came to the fore and she was to make a decision that was to change her life and the path she walked forever. She had met and fallen in love with Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, and in December 1560 they were secretly married.

Catherine did not have the Queen's official permission to marry and as it turned out Queen Elizabeth did not take kindly to this decision. She did not think Edward was a suitable partner and it had been intended that Catherine marry a Scottish nobleman, who had a claim to the Scottish throne, so as to strengthen relations between the two nations. Catherine’s marriage effectively scuppered those plans.

When Queen Elizabeth found out about the marriage she promptly imprisoned Catherine, who was pregnant at the time, in the Tower of London. She then sent Edward Seymour to Europe to improve his education. If Queen Elizabeth thought this would keep them apart, she was mistaken, because she obviously did not understand the power of love. When Edward returned to England, the couple were reunited, as the Lieutenant of the Tower allowed secret visits between them.

Blinded by the intrigues of the time, or maybe it was just old fashioned paranoia, Queen Elizabeth became convinced that the marriage was part of a wider conspiracy against her.

In 1562, the marriage was annulled and the Seymour’s were censured as fornicators for their "carnal copulation" by the Archbishop of Canterbury's commission. The effect of this action was to make her children illegitimate and thus ineligible to succeed to the throne.

This did not stop Catherine and Edward from seeing each other and after the birth of her second son in 1563, the enraged Queen ordered her permanent separation from her husband and younger son. Catherine was moved from the Tower and placed in the care of an uncle and spent the next five years under what can only be termed house arrest at various estates, until her death on 26 January 1568, at the age of 27.

Maybe it is because I live in a different time with different values that I cannot come to terms with that level of subjugation and the way Catherine was isolated from the people she loved.

So what has this got to do with Suzie? Two things really.

Firstly, had Catherine bowed to the dictates of the time and not chosen to follow her heart, there would be no life with Suzie. My life would have taken a different turn but instead I have a very special person in my life.

Secondly, I think Suzie has inherited something of the spirit of Catherine Grey. She is strong, feisty and has a mind of her own. Shortly after we had met it was suggested to her that maybe she should rather find someone from a similar social standing. We came from very different backgrounds. I was the typical country boy with no social graces and came from a family who measured the worth of people by their character, rather than position and title.

Like Catherine, Suzie followed her heart and chose love and I found a soul mate, who has been the love of my life for close on thirty five years.

The moral of the story is that you can’t stop love.


Paty said...

An intriguing background has your bride. And your loving words that describe your feelings for her make a tear come to my eye. She is truly lucky to have found a wonderful husband as you are lucky to have found a wonderful wife. I surely hope you have many more years of wedded bliss.

Thanks so much for this tender and moving post.

Firefly said...

I have an interest in my own family tree and is slowly starting to find more and more information, but I am seriously impressed that Suzie can trace her's back this far.

katney said...

Lovely story and a great retelling of the history. We visited the Tower of London this summer. I remember the guide telling us about Lady Jane Grey, but not much sank in. I need to read more history.

Nox Mafu said...

ahhh, I love you Max for embracing your Suzie so much. This is one of the moving pieces of yours about her. I doubt if without your loving and cherishment of her and her spirit, her spirit would have spread afar as it does and reached mine. You just never trouble it [her spirit].

Shirley said...

Genealogy can be so fascinating! A fantastic love story. Thank you for sharing.

Karen said...

well said Dad! (o: (and I like what Nox said too). You'll have to tell a story or two of your own ancestors oneday!! I have inherited a stubborn streak from both sides (o:

Marmsk said...


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, great ))