Katherine Vaux and Her Children: From the Lancastrians to the Tudors

In researching Margaret of Anjou, I came across something that I hadn’t expected–a happy ending of sorts. Not to Margaret’s own story, but to that of her faithful lady-in-waiting, Katherine Vaux.

When Margaret of Anjou was taken into custody after the Battle of Tewkesbury, Katherine Vaux, along with the Countess of Devon and Margaret’s daughter-in-law Anne Neville (future queen to Richard III), were with her. The death of Edward of Lancaster at the battle meant that Margaret had lost her only son and Anne her first husband. Katherine too was widowed: her husband, William Vaux, fell at Tewkesbury.

Born in Provence as Katherine Peniston, Katherine was the daughter of Gregory Peniston of Piedmont, said by some to have been an English exile. Katherine may have accompanied Margaret when she came to England in 1445 as its new queen. Under her maiden name, she is listed as one of the queen’s damsels in the 1452-53 household records, which also list as one of Margaret’s ladies a certain “Dame Isabel Grey,” who depending on which historian one reads might or might not be Elizabeth Woodville. Margaret’s jewel accounts for the same period show that Katherine received a gift of a “chopin,” a drinking vessel.

On December 22, 1456, Katherine and three other people were granted letters of denization, a process that made them English subjects but that did not give them all of the rights of an English citizen. By this time, Katherine had married William Vaux, who was born in 1437. Vaux owned the manor of Great Harrowden in Northamptonshire. A loyal Lancastrian, he was attainted in 1461 and shared Queen Margaret’s exile abroad before returning to England to meet his death at Tewkesbury.

Despite their political difficulties, William and Katherine had found time to start a family: they had two children, Nicholas (born in around 1460) and Joan (also called Jane). Nicholas is said to have been raised in Margaret Beaufort’s household, and Joan might have been there as well.

Following the defeat at Tewkesbury, the widowed Katherine appears to have shared Margaret’s imprisonment and to have accompanied her back to France in 1476 when she was returned to that country as part of the Treaty of Picquigny. In 1478, Edward IV granted her a life interest in the manors of Stanton in Buckinghamshire and Markham (Marcham) in Berkshire, which she had held jointly with her husband and should have received upon his death.

Margaret of Anjou died in 1482. Katherine was one of the witnesses to her will, made on August 2, 1482. She returned to England, where Richard III later granted her an annuity of 20 marks. Perhaps this kind gift was made at the request of Queen Anne, who would have known Katherine from Anne’s days as Margaret of Anjou’s daughter-in-law.

It was the defeat of Richard III, however, that signaled a new life for Katherine and her two children. Henry VII’s 1485 Parliament reversed the attainder of William Vaux, allowing Nicholas to inherit his father’s lands. Nicholas was also given the stewardships of Olney and Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire. It was the beginning of a long career in Tudor service for Nicholas.

Katherine Vaux was present at Prince Arthur’s christening in 1486, and Nicholas was knighted the following year after the Battle of Stoke, where he fought for Henry VII. Katherine attended Elizabeth of York’s coronation ceremonies in 1487, where Nicholas was one of the men who bore a canopy over the queen’s litter as she proceeded to Westminster. A “Dame Johanna Gilforde” was also present at the coronation: this was probably Katherine’s daughter Joan, who had married Richard Guildford by 1489. Guildford had participated in the October 1483 rebellion against Richard III and had fled abroad to join Henry Tudor in exile.

According to the Complete Peerage, which lists a source I haven’t been yet able to check, Katherine Vaux was still alive on June 28, 1509, when the new king, Henry VIII, granted her an annuity of 20 marks. She had lived to see six kings on the throne of England: Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III, Henry VII, and Henry VIII. Meanwhile, her son Nicholas had a distinguished career. He was made Baron Vaux of Harrowden in 1523, but did not have much time to enjoy his new status, for he died about three weeks later on May 14, 1523, having married twice and had a number of children. His heir, Thomas Vaux, was painted by Hans Holbein. Thomas Vaux was a poet as well as a courtier: George Puttenham in The Arte of English Poesie wrote that “his commendation lyeth chiefly in the facillitie of his meetre, and the aptnesse of his descriptions such as he taketh upon him to make, namely in sundry of his Songs, wherein he sheweth the counterfait action very lively & pleasantly.”

Like her mother, Joan Guildford served in a queen’s household, in this case Elizabeth of York’s. There she became particularly close to Elizabeth’s daughter Mary. Joan accompanied Mary to her marriage to Louis XII in 1514. Unfortunately, Louis XII found the influx of English ladies, and the overbearing Joan in particular, too much to bear, and sent most of them home. Mary sent off indignant letters to her brother Henry VIII and to Thomas Wolsey begging for the recall of her “Mother Guildford,” but to no avail; later, Louis XII informed an English ambassasor that he did not want “when he would be merry with his wife to have any strange woman with her.” Joan returned to England and was given an annuity of twenty pounds by Henry VIII, who later raised the sum to sixty pounds.

Joan married twice. Her first husband, Richard Guildford, was prominent in Henry VII’s administration, although he eventually had to leave office, perhaps at the instigation of Henry’s unpopular ministers, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. He died in Jerusalem in 1506. Joan’s son with Richard, Henry Guildford, was a favorite of Henry VIII and remained in favor despite the mutual dislike between him and Anne Boleyn; he died in 1532. Joan’s second husband was Anthony Poyntz, whose mother, Margaret, was the illegitimate daughter of Anthony Woodville. Poyntz died in 1533; Joan outlived him. She died in 1538. Though in a letter dated 1535, she had described herself dolefully as a “poor widow,” this should not be taken literally: at the time of her death, her money, plate, and jewels totalled 12,000 marks.

Joan made a rather better impression on Erasmus than she had on Louis XII: on May 15, 1519, the humanist wrote a letter to Joan’s son Henry Guildford in which he sent his compliments to Joan, with whom Erasmus had conversed on “one or two occasions.”


Calendar of Patent Rolls.

The Complete Peerage.

Sean Cunningham, ‘Guildford, Sir Richard (c.1450–1506)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/11723, accessed 12 July 2009]

Keith Dockray, ‘Guildford, Sir Henry (1489–1532)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/11721, accessed 12 July 2009]

Diana E. S. Dunn, ‘Margaret (1430–1482)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18049, accessed 12 July 2009]

Kathy Lynn Emerson, Wives and Daughters: The Women of Sixteenth Century England.

L. L. Ford, ‘Vaux, Nicholas, first Baron Vaux (c.1460–1523)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/28162, accessed 12 July 2009]

Mary Anne Everett Green, Lives of the Princesses of England.

Barbara J. Harris, English Arisstocratic Women: 1450-1550.

Michael Jones and Malcolm Underwood, The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby

John Leland, De rebus Britannicis collectanea.

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII.

A. R. Myers, “The Household of Queen Margaret of Anjou, 1452-3,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library.

A. R. Myers, “The Jewels of Queen Margaret of Anjou.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library.

Maria Perry, The Sisters of Henry VIII.

‘Parishes: Great Harrowden’, A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 4 (1937), pp. 178-185. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=66344 Date accessed: 12 July 2009.

Mary Anne Everett Wood, Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain.

H. R. Woudhuysen, ‘Vaux, Thomas, second Baron Vaux (1509–1556)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/28163, accessed 12 July 2009]

6 thoughts on “Katherine Vaux and Her Children: From the Lancastrians to the Tudors”

  1. What a fascinating life Katherine Vaux must have had – to see 6 kings, and be present at Tewkesbury, the coronation of Elizabeth of York and christening of Prince Arthur. Really enjoyed reading her story – thanks!

  2. Fascinating post!

    Joan Guildford is a major secondary character in Kate Emerson's The Pleasure Palace.

  3. Cool post! Some great digging there, this lady would make a novel in her own right. I wonder if she is an ancestor of mine? One of my lines is Vose which is supposed to come from Vaux…

    Often the obscure characters, just names in most books, turn out to be extra interesting. This is a case in point. Thanks for turning it up!

  4. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, folks! I wasn't aware when I started doing the research that Katherine actually had descendants–I'd assumed that she had just disappeared into obscurity after Margaret of Anjou died. It was neat finding out otherwise!

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