Katherine Knollys was Mary Boleyn's first child, born in 1524 when Mary was having an affair with King Henry VIII.
Katherine spent her life unacknowledged as the king's daughter, yet she was given prime appointments at court as maid of honour to both Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. She married Francis Knollys when she was 16 and went on to become mother to many successful men and women at court including Lettice Knollys who created a scandal when she married Sir Robert Dudley, the queen's favourite.
This fascinating book studies Katherine's life and times, including her intriguing relationship with Elizabeth I.
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The paternity of Lady Katherine Knollys and her brother Henry Carey have long been discussed and debated by historians and enthusiasts alike. Were they the children of Mary Boleyn’s husband William Carey or were they in fact the illegitimate children of King Henry VIII?
Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of Henry VIII looks at the life of Mary’s daughter and how she grew up in close proximity to the Tudor court and her alleged family.
The book begins with a look at Katherine’s mother, Mary, and her upbringing starting with her time in France in the service of Mary Tudor and her introduction to the Tudor court. It wasn’t long before Mary caught the eye of the King of England and became his mistress at the same time Mary was also married to William Carey. Between being a wife and a mistress to the most powerful man in England any children that were born from her relationship with Henry they would be brought up as her husband’s. Watkins puts forward a strong and easy to understand reason as to why William would be declared their father along with why Katherine would be Henry’s daughter.
If Katherine was Henry’s child then why didn’t he recognise her like he did with his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy? As Watkins so eloquently puts forward Katherine wasn’t a boy and so would have served no purpose for Henry another reason was that it was not long after Katherine’s birth that Henry began pursuing her mother’s sister, Anne. If Katherine was formally recognised as Henry’s daughter then any children he would have with Anne would be illegitimate due to his past relationship so as it is put forward here it was better to not acknowledge her.
Sarah-Beth Watkins talks through the relationship between Henry and Anne but places the Carey children at the centre of it. With Anne providing for Henry Carey and Katherine at home with her mother where she stayed until she was placed in the new household of Princess Elizabeth. This would be the start of a close relationship that would survive until Katherine’s death.
Watkins has done a great job including many letters and diary entries regarding events that were close to Katherine’s life these add great insight into the type of life Katherine would have had.
Watkins continues through Katherine’s adolescence as a companion to Elizabeth, her mother’s marriage to her new husband William Stafford that caused outrage within her own family and the breakdown of Anne’s marriage with Henry that led to Anne’s execution.
Henry declared Elizabeth illegitimate after Anne’s execution and Katherine was sent to court to serve as maid of honour to Anne of Cleves, a position that was highly sought after and an honour to serve the new Queen. Watkins puts forward the suggestion that Henry was always looking after Katherine and placed her in prestigious roles that would allow him to provide for her.
Watkins navigates the reader and Katherine through the ups and downs of Henry’s court until Katherine marries Francis Knollys and begins her family away from court. Upon her marriage her new husband was well rewarded as well, was this again Henry quietly looking after his family?
Watkins also talks about Katherine’s brother Henry as well and his paternity. Anne provided an education for her nephew at the prestigious Syon Abbey, where the young Henry Carey’s paternity was called into question where his likeness to the King was a talking point. Again Watkins reinforces that Henry was potentially the father to both Carey children but also points out that those that spoke about Carey’s resemblance to the King as words from the anti Boleyn faction who were always out to discredit Henry’s second wife.
The last half of Watkins book covers Katherine’s adult life after the death of her mother, Mary. Katherine and Francis had 14 children and mostly lived away from court until Henry’s death in 1547. With Edward VI on the throne Francis Knollys was knighted and Katherine was now able to go by Lady Knollys.
Life was great for Katherine and the Knollys family. That is until Mary took the throne, with Watkins showing how Katherine was brought up in a detailed and easy to follow manner it is easy to see how her later life was influenced by her upbringing as a Protestant. Being a Protestant meant that they were a target for Mary and the persecution that followed. Watkins shows how the Knollys were forced the flee England for the continent. Katherine and Elizabeth remained in constant communication with Elizabeth writing to Katherine before she left the country. By including the letters it gives an insight into the unique relationship the potential sisters had. With that the Knollys left England and fled to Frankfurt.
Watkins really shows how close the future Queen and Katherine were and with that the book moves into Queen Elizabeth’s reign and how she bought the exiled Protestants home including her closest friend, Katherine. Watkins goes on to show just how much Elizabeth relied on Katherine and how valued Katherine was. Watkins goes to explain how Elizabeth surrounded herself with family but that she could still not acknowledge Katherine as her sister as she would be illegitimate so instead Katherine and Henry were cousins and richly rewarded for it.
As Katherine was moving towards the end of her life Watkins talks about a significant event that happened, Sir Francis was asked to be a custodian of Mary Queen of Scots but Elizabeth would not allow Katherine to go with him. Watkins again includes letters from Francis to Lord Cecil asking to visit his wife time and again. These letters that have been included show how much Katherine meant to her husband.
With the death of Katherine Watkins shows how not only Francis dealt with her death but also Elizabeth who had lost possibly her cousin and companion, if not sister.
Watkins could have easily have left the book with Katherine’s death but she talks about Katherine’s children and their life’s particularly focusing on Lettice Knollys and her marriage to Sir Robert Dudley to the anger of the Queen. Each of the Knollys children are talked about even if there is little to know, this is a great inclusion as it shows the legacy of the Carey and Knollys name.
Watkins has put together a clear and concise account of Lady Katherine Knollys and how she fitted into the court around her with her uncertain parentage. If she was the daughter of Henry VIII then she had a life that was a step away from her siblings who were in and out of the succession and legitimacy. Katherine’s life is an interesting one that often gets overlooked so it is great to see a book dedicated to her in an easy to follow way that includes the key events of her lifetime.
~ Emma Wheatley, The Tudor Chronicles
The author's research is spot on and her writing style is more populist than academic. However, a little over a hundred pages of text merely breaks the surface of Katherine's larger impact on history. Given the task of handling a chunk of England's past within the limitations of a single book, Watkins' effort is a commendable overview of the Tudor family feud. The author keeps the pace brisk, especially in the narrative's second half, without sacrificing the emotional overlay of the story. ~ Rich Moreland, 3hattergrindhouse