This tiny portrait by the Tudor court miniaturist Levina Teerlinc appears to be a charming image of a mother and child, a memento or a keepsake perhaps; but behind it lies a highly political tragedy, inextricably linked to the struggle for the Tudor succession. The mother and child are lady Katherine Grey and her son Lord Beauchamp.
Lady Katherine was the sister of Lady Jane Grey who famously inhabited the throne for less than two weeks and was executed by her cousin Mary I. By the time Elizabeth I came to the throne Katherine became the focus of plots by those who hoped to oust the Queen and place Katherine on the throne in her stead. None of these came to anything but when Katherine married in secret, to Edward Seymour who had Plantagenet bloodlines, the son they produced in 1561 might have been a real threat to the throne, given he was the first boy to be born in the close line of succession since Edward VI who had died in 1553.
Elizabeth took harsh action against this potential pretender by incarcerating the heavily pregnant Katherine and her husband in the Tower of London and convened an ecclesiastical council to judge their secret marriage invalid. So the baby born a few weeks later, rather than celebrated as a male heir to the English throne, was deemed illegitimate.
Sadly Katherine’s story ended in tragedy, as was the case for many of those born too close to the throne. I know of a number of versions of this miniature, some contemporary copies and some later ones. This suggests that they were owned by not only family members but also those who affiliated themselves with Beauchamp’s claim to the throne; so rather than simply keepsakes they may also have been badges indicating a covert and dangerous political allegiance.
I have explored the story of Katherine Grey, her disabled sister Mary and the portrait artist Levina Teerlinc in my novel Sisters of Treason.
Elizabeth Fremantle is the author of QUEEN’S GAMBIT a novel about Katherine Parr and SISTERS OF TREASON, which tells the story of Lady Jane Grey’s tragic younger sisters. WATCH THE LADY, telling of Penelope Devereux, sister of the doomed Earl of Essex and muse to Sir Philip Sidney, will be published on June 18th.