A Triple Wedding at Durham Place: May 1553

Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon

On May 25, 1553–not May 21, as is often reported–a triple wedding took place at Durham Place, the Duke of Northumberland’s London house. The couples were Guildford Dudley and Jane Grey, Henry Herbert and Katherine Grey, and Henry Hastings and Katherine Dudley.  (Note the profusion of Henrys and Katherines and pause for a moment of sympathy for the historical novelist.) Guildford was the son  of the  Duke of Northumberland, John Dudley; Jane was the daughter of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk. Henry Herbert was the heir of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke; Katherine was the Duke of Suffolk’s second daughter. Henry Hastings was the heir of Francis Hastings, the Earl of Huntingdon; Katherine Dudley was Northumberland’s youngest surviving daughter.

The wedding preparations had been underway since at least April 24, 1553, when the master of the king’s wardrobe was ordered to provide parcels of tissues and cloth of gold and silver to the couples, as well as to Frances, Duchess of Suffolk (Jane and Katherine Grey’s mother) and to Jane, Duchess of Northumberland (Guildford and Katherine Dudley’s mother).  Also on the list was Elizabeth Parr (née Brooke), the Marchioness of Northampton.  Her husband, William Parr, the Marquess of Northampton, was the brother of the late queen, Katherine Parr.  As Eric Ives has pointed out, William Cecil credited the marchioness with promoting the match between Guildford and Jane, and her presence on the list of those receiving apparel suggests that Cecil was correct.

In the eerie sort of recycling that was typical of the era, much of the apparel came from the forfeited goods of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, who had been executed in 1551, and his widow Anne, Duchess of Somerset, who was a prisoner in the Tower. A few months later, when Mary I took the throne,  the Duchess of Somerset would be among those allowed to pick from Northumberland’s own forfeited goods.

With the couples properly dressed, the next step was the entertainment. This Northumberland provided for on May 20, 1553, when he wrote a letter to Sir Thomas Cawarden, Master of the Revels.  Northumberland asked Cawarden to arrange two masques, one of men and one of women, for the wedding, which was to take place “Thursday next,” i.e., May 25, 1553. With his usual attention to detail, the duke specified that the costumes be “rich” and “seldom used.”

Edward VI, who was seriously ill, did not attend the wedding, nor is there any indication that his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, were present. The imperial ambassador, Jehan Scheyfve, who described the nuptials as being celebrated with “great magnificence and feasting,” wrote that René de Laval de Boisdauphin, the outgoing French ambassador, was present on both days of the two-day festivities. Claude de L’Aubespine, secretary to the French king, was present on the second day, as was the Venetian ambassador. Giovanni Commendone wrote that the guests included “large number of the common people and the most principal of the Realm.”

Stephen Perlin, a Frenchman, was visiting England at the time of the wedding and later recalled his travels there. (Patriotically, he praised London as “one of the most beautiful, largest and richest places in the whole world”—”after Paris.”) Describing the wedding  between the children of the Dukes of Northumberland and Suffolk as a “great festival,” he added with the benefit of several years’ hindsight, “Who would have thought that fortune would have turned her robe, and exercised her fury upon these two great lords?”

The members of the wedding party were indeed the victims of fortune’s fury. In a few months, the absent king and the Duke of Northumberland would be dead; by the following year, the Duke of Suffolk, Jane Grey, and Guildford Dudley would follow them to the grave. The marriage of Henry Herbert and Katherine Grey would be hastily annulled, and the match-making Marchioness of Northampton would be deprived of a husband by the government of Mary I, which forced the Marquess of Northampton to return to his previous wife, Anne Bouchier, whom he had divorced. (William Parr would be allowed to return to Elizabeth Brooke during Elizabeth I’s reign.)

One of the three couples who wed on May 25, however, kept both their heads and their marriage: Henry Hastings and Katherine Dudley. Though Katherine Dudley, who was probably still a child when she married Henry Hastings, was worthless as a bride after her father was executed on August 22, 1553, the Hastings family seems to have made no attempt to dissolve the marriage. Hastings succeeded to his father’s earldom in 1560. He and his countess, Katherine, were childless, but took charge of a number of young people during their forty-two-year marriage, which ended only with the earl’s death in 1595. Queen Elizabeth herself went to the bereaved countess to comfort her, but Katherine’s grief was such that one observer wrote that “my lady continueth in such sorrow and heaviness as greater cannot be in any creature living, certainly it is such that except the Lord in short time work some alteration, I fear it will endanger her life.” Evidently the Lord did work an alteration, for Katherine lived another twenty-five years, dying in James I’s reign in 1620.


Calendar of State Papers, Spanish.

Claire Cross, The Puritan Earl. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966.

Francis Grose et al., The Antiquarian Repertory, Vol. IV. London: Edward Jeffery, 1809.

Eric Ives, Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery.  Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Diarmaid Macculloch, ed. and trans., The Vita Mariae Angliae Reginae of Robert Wingfield of Brantham. Camden Miscellany, Camden Fourth Series, Vol. 29, 1984.

C. V. Malfatti, trans. and pub., The Accession, Coronation, and Marriage of Mary Tudor as Related in Four Manuscripts of the Escorial. Barcelona, 1956.

Surrey History Centre, Record  6729/9/113

7 thoughts on “A Triple Wedding at Durham Place: May 1553”

  1. Henry of Huntingdon served as Lord President of the Council of the North for a quarter of a century. As the son of Catherine Pole, he was also the senior “Yorkist” claimant and may have succeeded had Elizabeth succumbed to smallpox in 1562.

    1. boswellbaxter

      Yes, very true! Interesting that he didn’t take after his Catholic great-uncle, Reginald Pole.

    2. Quite apart from the fact that Margaret Pole and her descendants were barred from the throne by attainder Mary Queen of Scots who had been laying claim to the English throne since the death of Mary Tudor was the more favoured candidate particuarly by English Catholics who regarded her as their legitimate monarch.

  2. There’s nothing like a story like this to make me grateful to be born post 1900. These poor people! I’m lifted though at least by the last story of the long and happy marriage of the countess and her husband. Living happily would have been a rarity! I think these poor people went through life only surviving through their enduring faith that heaven awaited if they only lived by the rules and never questioned.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top