The prospect of becoming Henry VIII’s seventh wife cannot have been cheering, but it seems possible it was the fate of Katherine Willoughby, who was the widow of Henry’s great friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. It seems she’d been ‘in the wings’ so to speak since marrying Brandon, who was well over thirty years her senior (she’d been 14 on their marriage in 1533 and was his fourth wife). Brandon being such a close friend of the king meant that Katherine always had many meetings with Henry. They got on well, although it isn’t known whether it was a closer friendship than it should have been. Certainly he sought her company constantly after the death of Jane Seymour in 1537, when the Brandons had been married for three or four years.
Whether or not the Brandons were happy together isn’t really known (they had two sons) nor is it known whether he suspected/knew anything untoward in his wife’s relationship with the king. Because he owed everything to Henry, perhaps he saw the wisdom of turning the proverbial blind eye. Whatever, Katherine became the lady-in-waiting of Henry’s succession of queens—Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katherine Parr. This meant that she was always around for Henry. But she was married, and thus beyond his reach as his next queen.
When Katherine Parr, his last queen, was still alive, the rumours began that her failure to produce children meant that Henry was beginning to look around for Queen No. 7. It seems that Henry and Katherine Parr had a scratchy relationship, although I confess to not knowing, having always believed she was what he needed….a glorified nurse. She had a raw deal, because she too had always been in love with another man, Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Jane Seymour.
The court rumour machine was busy, linking Henry with the now-widowed Duchess of Suffolk (Charles Brandon died in 1545). If Katherine Willoughby was indeed the Tudor king’s real interest, she remained out of reach because Brandon was still alive when Henry contracted the Parr match in 1543. How galling then that two years later, when Queen Katherine Parr was well ensconced, Brandon died and Katherine Willoughby became free at last.
But Henry was reaching the end of his life and passed away in January 1547. Katherine Willoughby married again and lived until today, 19th September, in 1580.
To learn more about this interesting suggestion of a seventh wife, go to this article.