Monday, July 06, 2015

Question from Nan - Catherine Willoughby and Anne Boleyn


I've been reading about Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk. Something I haven't been able to find is any reference to her feelings about Anne Boleyn. I know Willoughby's mother was Maria de Salinas (dear friend of Catherine of Aragon), but that Catherine Willoughby's religious attitudes came to be much closer to those of Anne than the Catholic Catherine of Aragon.

This question was sparked for me by Wendy Dunn's novel The Light in the Labyrinth, which poses Willoughby as one of Anne's supporters. Yet the version of her in The Tudors series is very anti-Anne. While I know that historical facts cannot always be gleaned by fiction, I am wondering if there is any information about Catherine Willoughby's actual feelings regarding Anne Boleyn.

Thank you!


PhD Historian said...

My apologies if my response is a bit aggressive, but one can NEVER ... and indeed SHOULD NEVER ... "glean historical facts from fiction." Yes, some historical fiction does make a passing attempt at following actual documented chronologies and events. But it is exceedingly rare for dialogue, and especially "feelings," to be documented in the historical record. For female historical actors, it is even rarer. So any time you read a book that purports to reveal what a character said in a given situation or how a character "felt" about some other character or event, please assume that the writer used his/her imagination and simply invented it. And when it comes to Hollywood versions (e.g.: Showtime's "The Tudors," "Wolf Hall," etc), assume from the outset that virtually everything about it is entirely false ... as was actually very nearly the case with "The Tudors" in particular.

The simple fact is that no written record attesting to Katherine Willoughby Brandon's "feelings" toward or about Anne Boleyn has survived. Absent such a written record, we can only speculate. But consider the facts: Katherine Willoughby Brandon was only 16 when Boleyn fell from favor. And once Boleyn was removed from the political scene in May 1536, Henry VIII seems to have set about expunging any memory of her from the Court. Boleyn became a cipher after early 1536. It would therefore have been in Katherine Willoughby Brandon's best interests to toe the line and to follow the lead set by her husband Charles in regard to Boleyn (see SJ Gunn's bio of Brandon for his attitude to Boleyn after January 1536) and, after May 1536, simply to forget that Boleyn had ever existed.

Foose said...

Genealogically, it appears in some sources that Catherine Willoughby was related to Anne Boleyn through her aunt (also Catherine Willoughby) who married John Heydon, a grandson of Geoffrey Boleyn (and son of another Anne Boleyn).

That wouldn't automatically make the Queen and the Duchess bosom friends, but might go some way to offsetting the politically sensitive Salinas connection - if Brandon and his fourth wife were minded to seek an opening with the Boleyn faction during the early 1530s. Just a thought. If the author was aware of the relationship, she might have liberally embroidered upon it.

The Brandons' eldest son seems to have been born in 1535, which may point to a teenage Catherine being pregnant in 1534, and during those two years perhaps not inclined to involve herself in courtly strife or religious enthusiasms.