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Knollys [née Carey], Katherine, Lady Knollys (c.1523–1569), courtier, was undoubtedly the daughter of Mary Boleyn [see ], but although she and her brother were recognized as the children of Mary's first husband , their mother's affair with Henry VIII, between about 1522 and 1525, has always raised questions about the paternity of her children. Henry Carey's date of birth (4 March 1526) suggests that his conception may have postdated the affair; but Katherine was probably the elder of the two and the king's daughter. Her surviving portrait, which was painted early in 1562 and records her age as thirty-eight, suggests a birth date of 1523/4, and this is in keeping with the known facts of her early adulthood. In November 1539 she was appointed a maid of honour to Anne of Cleves, and on 26 April 1540 she married . According to a note in Francis's Latin dictionary their first child, Henry, was born ‘the Tuesday before Easter Day [12 April] 1541’. Since maids to an adult queen were usually aged sixteen or more, and marriage at thirteen or less did not usually involve cohabitation, this evidence, too, suggests that Katherine was older than her brother and born before 1525.

In 1540 an act of parliament assured the newly-weds of their right to inherit the Knollys family manor of Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire. In the following thirteen years, while Francis rose steadily at court (he was knighted in 1547), Katherine bore the first ten of their sixteen children and evidently maintained a close friendship—one probably begun in childhood—with Princess Elizabeth, who sent her a farewell letter signed cor rotto (‘broken heart’) when she and her husband went abroad. Their departure, among the more prominent Marian exiles, has traditionally been dated to 1553 but is more likely to have occurred in spring 1556, possibly as a result of the discovery of the Dudley conspiracy. The following winter Sir Francis, at least, was recorded in Basel, and by June 1557 Katherine and five of their children were with him in Frankfurt am Main. The date of their return to England is uncertain. The initial privy seal warrant of 3 January 1559 appointing Katherine one of the four waged ladies of the bedchamber may have anticipated her arrival, but they were certainly back by 14 January. Although the cor rotto letter may be the only firm surviving evidence of Katherine's earlier relations with Elizabeth, from 1559 it was often noted that Katherine was, in the words of Thomas Newton's verse epitaph on her, ‘In favour with our noble queen, above the common sort’, possibly reflecting the inadmissible fact that they were half-sisters.

Lady Knollys retained her post in the bedchamber until she died, despite the needs of her many children and Elizabeth's demanding nature, which made Katherine ‘often weep for unkindness’ (Knollys, ‘Papers’, 65). There were compensations. Her children, notably , gained places in the household, and her eldest son's wedding in 1565 was honoured with a court tournament. But the queen remained exigent. When Katherine died at Hampton Court Palace Sir Francis was at Bolton Castle supervising the captivity of Mary, queen of Scots. He had repeatedly asked both Elizabeth and Sir William Cecil to let him return, and he fumed at the queen's ‘ungrateful denial of my coming to the court this Christmas’ (ibid., 60), particularly as Katherine had been ill with a fever. A letter from Cecil assuring him that Katherine was ‘well amended’ prompted Sir Francis to write to her at the end of December, pouring out his frustrations and suggesting they retire from court and live ‘a country poor life’ (ibid., 65). But Katherine's recovery was short-lived, for she died barely a fortnight later, on 15 January 1569, ‘lying in a princes court … very often visited by her majesty's own comfortable presence’ (Salisbury MSS, 1.400). The queen was so grief-stricken that she became ‘forgetful of her own health’ (ibid.), and she spent £640 2s. 11d. on a lavish funeral ceremony for Katherine, complete with interment in Westminster Abbey. It was considerably more than Elizabeth paid towards the exequies of the duchess of Suffolk (d. 1559) and the countess of Lennox (d. 1578), two cousins who shared her descent from Henry VII; and Katherine's funeral furniture was valuable enough to cause a dispute between the abbey and the college of heralds.

Sally Varlow


LP Henry VIII, 3, 4, 8, 14, 15, 17 · Sir Francis' Latin dictionary, 1555–62, priv. coll. · S. Varlow, ‘Sir Francis Knolly's Latin dictionary’, HJ, 80 [forthcoming] · Calendar of the manuscripts of the most hon. the marquis of Salisbury, 1, HMC, 9 (1883) · W. Knollys, ‘Papers relating to Mary, Queen of Scots’, Philobiblon Society Miscellanies, 14 (1872–6), 14–69 · W. Dugdale, The baronage of England, 2 (1676), 397, 413 ff. · A. Hoskins, ‘Mary Boleyn's Carey children and offspring of Henry VIII’, The Genealogist, 25 (March 1997), 345–52 · F. J. Malpas, ‘Sir Francis Knollys and family’, 1993, Berkshire County Library · C. Merton, ‘The women who served Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth: ladies, gentlewomen and maids of the privy chamber, 1553–1603’, PhD diss., U. Cam., 1992 · Westminster Abbey Muniment Room, London, 6414, 6415, 6416, 6417; index of monuments and inscriptions · T. Newton, An epitaphe upon the worthy and honorable lady, the Lady Knowles (1569) · P. Croft and K. Hearn, ‘Only matrimony maketh children to be certain: two Elizabethan pregnancy portraits’, British Art Journal, 3 (2002), 19 · CSP dom.


S. van der Meulen, oils on panel, 1562 (Katherine Knollys?), Yale U. CBA; repro. in Croft and Hearn, ‘Only matrimony’ · marble and alabaster effigy on family tomb, 1605, St Nicholas's Church, Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire; repro. in Croft and Hearn, ‘Only matrimony’