Catherine Willoughby, 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby

Catherine Willoughby, 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby bigraphy, stories - English Baroness

Catherine Willoughby, 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby : biography

22 March 1519 – 19 September 1580

Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, suo jure 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby (22 March 1519 – 19 September 1580), was an English noblewoman living at the royal courts of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI and later, Queen Elizabeth I. She was the fourth wife of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, who acted as her legal guardian during his third marriage to Mary Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII. Her second husband was Richard Bertie, a member of her household. Following Charles Brandon’s death in 1545, it was rumoured that King Henry had considered marrying Catherine as his seventh wife, while he was still married to his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, who was Catherine’s close friend.

An outspoken supporter of the English Reformation, she fled abroad to Wesel and later Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth during the reign of Queen Mary I, to avoid persecution.


Catherine Willoughby, born at Parham Old Hall, Suffolk, on 22 March 1519 and christened in the church there four days later, was the daughter of William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby, and his second wife, Maria de Salinas. Lord Willoughby’s first wife, Mary Hussey, the daughter of William Hussey, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, had died childless before 1512, and in June 1516 he married Maria de Salinas, she was cousin of Don Juan de Salinas, Pariente Mayor of Vizcaya of the House of La Vinuela and Lord Mayorazgo of the House of Salinas in Salinas de Rosio in 1517, from whom come the dukes of Salinas Spanish Grandees in 1814, today represented by His Excellence Don Rodrigo de Villamor Salinas VII Duke of Salinas de Rosio XVI Mayorazgo of the House of Salinas, knight of justice of the Constantinian Order of Saint Georges. Dona Maria de Salinas had come to the English court with Henry VIII’s Queen consort, Catherine of Aragon, and was one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting and closest friends. The King favoured another match bolstering his own marital alliance with Spain, and even named one of his warships the Mary Willoughby. It seems clear that Catherine was named for the Queen, but her mother’s lifelong friendship with Catherine of Aragon did not prevent her daughter from becoming one of England’s Marian exiles later in life.

Catherine had two brothers, Henry and Francis, who died as infants.


  1. Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk (18 September 1534 – 14 July 1551) died of the sweating sickness
  2. Charles Brandon, 3rd Duke of Suffolk (15 March 1535 – 14 July 1551) died of the sweating sickness an hour after his older brother.
  3. Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent (1554 -) Married firstly in 1570, Reginald Grey of Wrest, 5th Earl of Kent and secondly on 30 September 1581, John Wingfield by whom she had two sons Peregrine Wingfield and Robert Wingfield.
  4. Peregrine Bertie, 13th Baron Willoughby de Eresby (12 October 1555 – 1601). Married 1577 Mary de Vere, daughter of John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford and Margery Golding.The They had seven children.

After Henry VIII’s death

Upon Catherine Parr’s death in childbirth, the Duchess of Suffolk took custody of her child, Mary Seymour. But the Duchess’s letter to her friend, Sir William Cecil, asking for funds to support the Queen’s infant daughter, is the last definite record of this child. Years later, the Duchess also became the custodian of one of her Brandon step-granddaughters, Lady Mary Grey, when the latter was placed under house arrest after marrying without royal consent.

In 1551 both the Duchess’s sons, already students at Cambridge, died within an hour of each other of the sweating sickness. Four months afterwards, attempting to reconcile herself to this personal tragedy, Catherine wrote to Sir William Cecil that ‘truly I take this [God’s] last (and to the first sight most sharp and bitter) punishment not for the least of his benefits, in as much as I have never been so well taught by any other before to know his power, his love, and mercy, my own wickedness, and that wretched state that without him I should endure here’. In recovering from this misfortune and its severe test to her faith, Catherine built a new life. In this period she employed Hugh Latimer as her chaplain. She married her second husband, Richard Bertie (25 December 1516 – 9 April 1582), a member of her household, out of love and shared religious beliefs, but she continued to be known as the Duchess of Suffolk, and her efforts to have her husband named Lord Willoughby de Eresby were unsuccessful. In 1555, during the reign of Queen Mary I, the Berties were among the Marian exiles who left for the Continent. Their persecution by Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor, and subsequent wanderings were recounted in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, in an account probably written by Richard Bertie himself for the 1570 edition. After their return to England, they lived at Catherine’s estate, Grimsthorpe in Lincolnshire, and at court. By Richard Bertie, Catherine was the mother of Peregrine Bertie, who married Mary de Vere, only sister of the whole blood of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and of Susan Bertie, who married firstly, Reginald Grey, 5th Earl of Kent, and secondly, Sir John Wingfield, a nephew of Catherine’s friend, Bess of Hardwick.