Katherine Willoughby was born on 22nd March 1519 to William Willoughby and his wife Maria de Salinas. She was born at Parham Old Hall in Suffolk. Her mother Maria was of Spanish origin that came to England in the service of the future queen, Katherine of Aragon.
Katherine was raised at Parham whilst her mother attended on the Queen but when she was only seven, in 1526, her father died and Katherine as their only child inherited her father’s barony and all his property, making her a very wealthy child. However, Katherine’s inheritance was fought over within her family due to doubt over which land was left to male heirs and which to heirs general. It would be an ongoing battle.
Due to the death of Katherine’s father she was now the ward of King Henry VIII. Wards were often granted to the king if a father had died to take the financial strain off the mother in her times of need. As a result of this the King sold his ward to his closest friend and brother in law, Charles Brandon. Brandon acting for his ward soon became involved in her ongoing struggle to claim her inheritance by writing a letter to Cardinal Wolsey.
Katherine was betrothed to Brandon’s son, Henry but when Brandon’s wife and the king’s sister, Mary Tudor died in 1533 Brandon, aged 49 began showing an interest in his 14 year old ward. The betrothal between his son and Katherine was broken and six weeks after his wife’s death Brandon married Katherine. Katherine bore two sons to Brandon, one called Henry and the other Charles. She also raised Brandon’s first son from his previous marriage, the boy Katherine was originally intended to marry.
Brandon died in 1545 with Katherine only in her mid 20’s. It is believed that following the death of his friend the king viewed Katherine as a potential seventh wife. However, nothing came of this and the king remained married to Catherine Parr until his death in 1547.
Following Henry’s death and that of the dowager Queen Catherine, she was awarded the wardship of Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour’s daughter and in later years also Lady Mary Grey. Tragedy struck Katherine in 1551 when both her sons caught the sweating sickness and died within an hour of each other.
Katherine married for a second time to Richard Bertie, this appears to be a love match as he was a member of her household. They also shared the same religious beliefs, their beliefs would cause them to flee to the continent during the reign of Queen Mary I. They returned to England in 1559 and continued living at Katherine’s estate, Grimsthorpe. Katherine and Richard had two children Peregrine and Susan.
Katherine’s battle over her estates were not resolved until Queen Elizabeth I took the throne.
Katherine died on 19th September 1580 and is buried with her second husband, Richard, in Spilsby, Lincolnshire.