Katherine Woodville, Duchess of Buckingham and Bedford

Undated sketch of a family by Hans Holbein

Katherine was a member of the sizable Woodville or Wydeville family who came to prominence when King Edward IV of England married her sister Elizabeth Woodville. Although the family would suffer many adversities during the time of great upheaval which would later be named the Wars of the Roses, Katherine managed to survive and live well into the reign of the new Tudor king Henry VII. She married three times and had several prominent children.

Katherine was born c. 1458. Her father was Sir Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers and her mother was Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford. Sir Richard was from a prominent family of the landed gentry and Jacquetta was of the nobility of Luxembourg. The Woodville family was large and Katherine appears to have been one of the youngest if not the youngest child. Little is known of her childhood but she would have been given an education worthy of a child of her rank.

The Woodville family lived a quiet life in their home of Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire until their fortunes changed dramatically sometime in 1464. King Edward IV married Katherine’s eldest sister Elizabeth, the widow of a Lancastrian knight. From that point on, many of the Woodvilles found positions at court and were married into the nobility of England.

Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England

Shortly before the new Queen’s coronation, Katherine was married to Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. He was about four years older than Katherine. The couple attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on May 26, 1465. Because of their youth, both were carried on the shoulders of unnamed persons in the procession for the ceremony. Katherine dined at the feast afterwards. There is some evidence that Katherine served in the household of the Queen in the mid-to-late 1460’s. Her husband was in the custody of the Queen during these years and lived in her household.

In 1472, Katherine was present for the great festivities at court during the visit of the Flemish courtier and nobleman Louis de Gruthuyse. Around the time of the readeption of King Henry VI, her husband was in the custody of his grandmother. In 1474, he finally had most of his inheritance in hand. It is presumed Katherine and Henry would have been living together at this time. In 1475, Henry participated in the invasion of France with King Edward but he returned before the peace talks at Picquigny in August.

After this, Henry was noticeably out of public life, living quietly with Katherine on his estates in Brecon, Wales. Katherine attended the wedding and banquet of her nephew Richard Duke of York to Anne Mowbray in January 1478. About a month later, Katherine’s first child Edward was born and King Edward IV served as his godfather. Katherine would have both a daughter Elizabeth and a son Henry in 1479 and a daughter Anne in 1483. There may have been another son Humphrey who died young.

King Edward IV died unexpectedly in April of 1483. He was succeeded by his young son Edward V. But Edward IV’s brother Richard Duke of Gloucester usurped the throne from his nephew with the help of Katherine’s husband and Edward V and his brother Richard Duke of York were imprisoned in the Tower of London upon the suggestion of Buckingham. Buckingham was richly rewarded by Richard III for his help. Because of Richard’s hostilities towards Katherine’s family, she did not attend his coronation.

By the fall of 1483, the two princes had disappeared from the Tower and were never seen again. Buckingham, for whatever reasons, made the fateful decision to rebel against King Richard III and joined the men who backed Henry Tudor for the throne. Katherine was with her husband when he moved from the family home in Brecon to Weobley, leaving her daughters at Brecon. The rebellion was a failure and Buckingham fled, entrusting his eldest son to a reliable knight for protection. He was eventually captured and beheaded on November 2, 1483. Buckingham’s will granted Katherine a one thousand mark jointure but she was attainted by Parliament and deprived of this money.

The king sent men to hunt for Katherine and her children. Her eldest son evaded capture but Katherine and Henry were discovered and taken to London by Christopher Wellesbourne and Richard Huddleston. By December 1483, Katherine had permission to bring her remaining children and servants from Wales to London. But her actual whereabouts during the rest of the reign of Richard III are unknown. It is possible she joined her sister Queen Elizabeth in sanctuary in Westminster Abbey or she may have been detained somewhere in London in a religious establishment or in the household of a trusted nobleman of the king which was a common custom at the time. We do know on April 24, 1484, King Richard granted her £200 per annum from revenues of Tonbridge in Kent.

Katherine’s fortunes took another about face turn in August 1485. Henry Tudor invaded England with an army and forced a showdown with Richard III at Bosworth Field on August 22. Richard III was killed during the battle and Henry Tudor gained the throne by right of conquest as King Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs. Just before Henry’s coronation, Katherine’s eldest son Edward, who was seven years old, was created a Knight of the Bath. The wardship of her two eldest sons was given to the king’s mother, Margaret Beaufort and they grew up in her household.

An Act of Parliament reversed her attainder and Katherine was awarded her dower and the one thousand mark jointure from her husband’s will was restored. The dower lands included thirty-five lordships and manors, about half of the Buckingham estates in England and Wales. They included extensive properties in Kent, Surrey, London, Norfolk, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Hereford and the Marches of Wales. Her annual revenue was a generous £2500, making her a very wealthy woman.

All of this was in anticipation of Katherine’s marriage to King Henry’s fifty-five year old uncle Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford. The marriage was acknowledged by Parliament on November 7, 1485 and was meant to bolster Bedford’s position as the king’s representative in Wales as well as bring him increased wealth. Katherine’s estates were kept under separate administration by her husband.

Portrait of Elizabeth of York, Queen of England

Katherine and Jasper joined the court for Christmas in 1485. King Henry gave Katherine a gold goblet as a gift. The following March, Jasper returned to Wales but Katherine remained at the abbey of Stratford near London. King Henry married Katherine’s niece Elizabeth of York on January 18, 1486. Katherine attended Queen Elizabeth’s coronation on November 25, 1487. She rode in the first chariot behind the queen during the procession from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey and sat on the left side of the queen at the subsequent banquet.

Katherine spent most of her time in Bedford’s castle at Thornbury in Gloucestershire. There were no children born to Katherine during this marriage. Her sister, the dowager queen died on June 8, 1492 and she may or may not have attended the simple funeral four days later. Her husband Jasper died on December 21, 1495. Katherine was not named in his will.

On February 25, 1496, Katherine married Richard Wingfield who was twelve years her junior. He was apparently a younger son in a large family and was struggling financially. Two of his brothers, John and Edmund, were serving in Katherine’s household and perhaps Richard was also. The couple had no children but Richard gained the use of Kimbolton Castle and a jointure income during her lifetime of £1000 from revenues of the Stafford estates.

This marriage had been made without royal license and Henry VII fined them the enormous sum of £2000. The fine would not be paid until Katherine’s eldest son came into his inheritance as the third Duke of Buckingham. Katherine died on May 18, 1497 having been married a little over a year. Her place of burial is unknown. Wingfield would become an influential courtier and diplomat in the early years of the Tudor dynasty. He was inducted into the Order of the Garter and remarried sometime before 1513. He died in Toledo while on a diplomatic mission. Before his death in July of 1525, he drew up his will and in remembrance of Katherine, ordered masses be said for her soul.

Further reading: “Jasper Tudor: Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty” by Debra Bayani, entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on Henry Stafford, second Duke of Buckingham written by C.S.L. Davies, “The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family” by Susan Higginbotham