A seventh wife for Henry VIII?

David Baldwin tells the story of Katherine Willoughby, a great friend of the Tudor king, who seemed set to replace Katherine Parr as his bride...

Katherine Willoughby in an 18th-century engraving after a Hans Holbein the Younger portrait. In 1546 the prospect of her marrying England's ageing king was causing tongues to wag in diplomatic circles. (Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the March 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine

In February 1546, the imperial ambassador François van der Delft wrote to his master, Holy Roman emperor Charles V, to acquaint him with a story he had heard circulating in aristocratic and diplomatic circles. “Sire, I am confused and apprehensive to inform your majesty,” he began apologetically, “that there are rumours here of a new queen, although I do not know why, or how true it may be. Some people attribute it to the sterility of the present queen [Katherine Parr] whilst others say that there will be no change whilst the present war [with France] lasts. Madame Suffolk is much talked about, and is in great favour; but the king shows no alteration in his demeanour towards the queen, though the latter, as I am informed, is somewhat annoyed at the rumours.”

The speculation had reached Europe by early March when Stephen Vaughan, the king’s agent in Antwerp, advised lord chancellor Thomas Wriothesley and diplomat William Paget that: “This day came to my lodging a… merchant of this town, saying that he had dined with certain friends, one of whom offered to lay a wager with him that the king’s majesty would have another wife; and he prayed me to show him the truth. He would not tell me who offered the wager, and I said that I never heard of any such thing, and that there was no such thing. Many folks talk of this matter, and from whence it comes I cannot learn.”

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