Catherine Carey

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Catherine Carey
Lady Knollys
Portrait often identified as Catherine by Steven van der Meulen, 1562
Bornc. 1524
Died15 January 1569 (aged 46-47)
Hampton Court Palace
BuriedSt Edmund's Chapel, Westminster Abbey
Spouse(s)Sir Francis Knollys
FatherWilliam Carey
MotherMary Boleyn
Arms of Carey: Argent, on a bend sable three roses of the field[1]

Catherine Carey, after her marriage Catherine Knollys and later known as both Lady Knollys and Dame Catherine Knollys,[2] (c. 1524 – 15 January 1569), was chief Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I, who was her first cousin.


Catherine Carey was born in 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 thus Elizabeth I's maternal first cousin. Some historians believe that Catherine was an illegitimate child of Henry VIII, which would make her also Elizabeth I's paternal half-sister through their shared father, Henry VIII.[3][4]

Catherine was said to be a witness to the execution of her aunt, Anne Boleyn, in 1536;[5] however, claims that she had stayed overnight to entertain and distract her aunt Anne in the Tower of London before the latter's execution have been dismissed.[5]

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.[6] 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 Elizabeth became queen. 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.[3] 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.[3]

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.[7]

Catherine'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 sixteen children:[3]

In literature[edit]

The possibility that Catherine, and perhaps her brother Henry, were illegitimate children of Henry VIII, appears in many works of fiction, including Wendy J. Dunn's The Light in the Labyrinth and Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. 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 novel Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey by Adrienne Dillard. The Lady Carey by Anne R Bailey.


  1. ^ Vivian, p.150
  2. ^ Doran, J. (1835). "The history and antiquities of ... Reading in Berkshire". John Doran - 1835. Retrieved 30 October 2018. Queen Elizabeth, by her charter, gave 50 oaks out of the park, to the corporation of Reading, and granted the rest of the estate to Sir Francis and Dame Catherine Knollys.....
  3. ^ a b c d Varlow 2007, p. 322.
  4. ^ Weir 2012, p. 200.
  5. ^ a b Weir 2012, p. 286.
  6. ^ Varlow 2007, pp. 315–323.
  7. ^ Guillim 1726, p. 255.
  8. ^ Campbell, H. (28 February 2018). CampbellTree. Harold Campbell - Lulu. p. 202. ISBN 9781387631230. Retrieved 30 October 2018. Lady Elizabeth Knollys ... was born on 15 June 1549 in Rotherfield Peppard Court, Oxfordshire, England
  9. ^ Varlow 2007, p. 317.


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