Catherine Carey

For the Clerk of the New York State Assembly, see Catherine A. Carey.
Catherine Carey
Lady Knollys

Portrait thought to be Lady Knollys, by Steven van der Meulen, 1562
Spouse(s) Sir Francis Knollys


Noble family Carey (by birth)
Knollys (by marriage)
Father William Carey
Mother Mary Boleyn
Born c. 1524
Died 15 January 1569
Hampton Court Palace
Buried St Edmund's Chapel, Westminster Abbey
Arms of Cary: Argent, on a bend sable three roses of the field[1]

Catherine Carey, after her marriage Catherine Knollys and later Lady Knollys (c. 1524 – 15 January 1569), was chief Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I, who was her first cousin.

Catherine's mother was Mary Boleyn, a mistress of Henry VIII before he courted and later married her sister Anne Boleyn, Henry's second Queen consort.

Catherine's husband was Sir Francis Knollys, with whom she had 14 children.


Catherine Carey was born in about 1524, the daughter of William Carey of Aldenham in Hertfordshire, Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Esquire of the Body to Henry VIII, and his wife Mary Boleyn, who had once been a mistress of the king. Catherine was Elizabeth I's first cousin. Some contemporaries also asserted that Catherine was an illegitimate child of Henry VIII which would make her Elizabeth's half sister. Although this was never acknowledged by the King, Catherine was given deference by the Court as she aged and came to resemble Henry.[2][3]

Catherine was said to be a witness to the execution of her aunt, Anne Boleyn, in 1536.[4] But according to a biographer of Mary Boleyn, Alison Weir, claims that a young Catherine stayed overnight to entertain and distract her aunt Anne in the Tower the morning before the execution are not correct.[4]

Catherine went on to become Maid of Honour to both Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard, the fourth and fifth wives of Henry VIII. On 26 April 1540 she married Sir Francis Knollys.[5] Her husband was named a Knight of the Garter in 1593, although he had already been knighted in 1547. He was also Treasurer of the Royal Household. From the time of her marriage, Catherine became known as Mistress Knollys, and from 1547 as Lady Knollys. When not in London, the couple lived at Reading in Berkshire and Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire, and because they were staunch Protestants, they fled to Germany during the reign of Queen Mary I.

Princess Elizabeth wrote to her cousin there and Catherine was appointed Chief Lady of the Bedchamber after she became Queen Elizabeth I. For the first ten years of the reign, Lady Catherine combined the most senior post among the ladies-in-waiting with motherhood to more than a dozen children.[2] Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth never recognized Catherine as her half-sister, and it was certainly not a relationship that Catherine or Sir Francis ever openly claimed. At court, Catherine was acknowledged as the queen's favourite among her first cousins, and Elizabeth's lack of other female relatives to whom she felt close may be adequate to explain this favoured position.[2]

She died on 15 January 1569 at Hampton Court Palace, being outlived by her husband and children, and was buried the following April in St Edmund's Chapel in Westminster Abbey. There is a small commemorative plaque in the abbey, although her chief monument is at Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire.

Catherine's epitaph reads:

The Right Honourable Lady Catherine Knollys, chief Lady of the Queen's Majesty's Bedchamber, and Wife to Sir Francis Knollys, Knight, Treasurer of Her Highnesses Houshold, departed this Life the Fifteenth of January, 1568, at Hampton-Court, and was honourably buried in the Floor of this Chapel.

This Lady Knollys, and the Lord Hunsdon her Brother, were the Children of William Caree, Esq; and of the Lady Mary his Wife, one of the Daughters and Heirs to Thomas Bulleyne, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde; which Lady Mary was Sister to Anne Queen of England, Wife to K. Henry the Eighth, Father and Mother to Elizabeth Queen of England.[6]

Katherine's mother, Mary Boleyn, was the sister of Anne Boleyn and a mistress of King Henry VIII of England.


Sir Francis and Lady Knollys produced a number of offspring who survived to maturity. Of the children listed, only the last, Dudley, is known to have died in infancy:[2]

In literature

The possibility that Catherine, and perhaps her brother Henry, were illegitimate children of Henry VIII, appears in many works of fiction, including Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. Catherine Carey is also a character in Gregory's The Boleyn Inheritance, where she is sent to the royal court during the time of Queens Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard, and in The Virgin's Lover, where, as the mother of the seventeen-year-old Lettice Knollys, she is among Elizabeth I's closest companions. In Henry VIII's Wives by Alison Prince, the book's narrator has a friend, Catherine "Kitty" Carey, whose father died of sweating sickness and whose mother is Mary Boleyn. In this book, Catherine was thought to be the king's daughter. Catherine is the featured subject in the recently released novel "Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey" by Adrienne Dillard and the young adult novel, "The Light in the Labyrinth" by Wendy J. Dunn.


  1. Vivian, p.150
  2. 1 2 3 4 Varlow 2007, p. 322.
  3. Weir 2012, p. 200.
  4. 1 2 Weir 2012, p. 286.
  5. Varlow 2007, pp. 315–323.
  6. Guillim 1726, p. 255.
  7. Varlow 2007, p. 317.


External links

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