Its hard to imagine a real link to the people and events of the past but Josh Widdicombe got exactly that (and far more) on the latest episode of BBC’s “Who do you think you are”. The headline is his link to Henry VIII, through his 13x great-grandmother Lady Catherine Knollys (allegedly a lovechild of Henry and Anne Boleyn’s sister), and thereby all the way back to Edward 1st. Probably not what Josh was expecting when he signed up for the show!
However from a Kenilworth perspective things get really interesting with Catherine’s daughter Lettice Knollys. Born in 1543 Lettice was introduced early to court and spent her younger years in the household of Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I – her first cousin once removed). Lettice married Walter Devereux in 1560 with whom she had five children.
Things get a little spicy in 1565 when Lettice attended court and was reported to have flirted with Robert Dudley, earning Elizabeth’s displeasure. The situation intensified in 1573 when her husband left for a two year trip to Ireland. At this time there were numerous rumours of an affair between Lettice and the master of Kenilworth Castle. Records show Lettice certainly visited Kenilworth in 1574 and 1576 for hunting in the chase. We also know that she was in attendance during Elizabeth’s 19 day visit to Kenilworth in 1575. How this all played out over those 19 days is certainly intriguing. Its clear Dudley was vying for Elizabeth’s hand but appears to have been also lavishing attentions on Lettice in secret!
Lettice’s husband died in 1576 which left her in financial difficulties. She took the rather radical step of marrying Robert Dudley in 1578 ( after two years mourning as a widow). The marriage was small and discreet yet Elizabeth found out within two months. The queen banished Lettice from court and Dudley was in Elizabeth’s bad graces for the rest of his life. Lettice remained with Dudley until his death in 1588, at which time she remarried to Sir Christopher Blount (Dudley’s Gentleman of the Horse and a trusted friend of his).
Lettice Knollys died aged 91 in 1634 and was buried in St Mary’s Church Warwick alongside Robert Dudley. I think we can honestly say Josh never anticipated having a family stake in such tale of royal intrigue and gossip! Do check out the the entire episode on the BBC iPlayer.
Intrigued? Well why not visit Kenilworth Castle? The seat of Robert Dudley provides plenty of background and information on the Earl of Leicester and the famous visit of Elizabeth in 1575. You be able to wander the halls and staircases their feet trod and imagine the illicit goings on yourself! For a further insight into the story, take the Castle and Abbey Trail, the route of which takes you out through “The Chase” – where we can imagine Lettice and Dudley shared a moment or two on their hunting trips! Of course if you like the sensational version of events then seek out a copy of Walter Scott’s “Kenilworth” at Kenilworth Books or Treehouse Bookshop!