No, I am not talking about that “Duchess Kate,” the former Catherine Middleton who is married to Prince William and in line to become Queen of England one day. The Duchess Kate of this posting was born Katherine Woodville in the mid-fifteenth century. She is the sixth and final subject from my series on the women in The Protector.
First a confession: For better or worse, I have taken more liberties with this historical figure than any other in my novel. The first of these liberties involves her age. When I wrote The Protector back in the 1970s, there was little information to indicate when she was born, and even today the exact year is unknown. Today, Wikipedia, that fount of all knowledge, gives it as c. 1458. For reasons I will explain later, I made her older. My version of Kate was born around 1450 and was thus in her early 30s in 1483, the year The Protector takes place.
Katherine was one of fourteen children of Richard Woodville, who was later to become the first Earl Rivers, and his wife, Jacquetta of Luxembourg. She was a younger sister (perhaps the youngest sister) of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, the subject of one of my previous posts. In 1465, Kate was married off to the queen’s ward, nine-year-old Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Using a birth year of 1458, she was only six or seven. This alliance was intended, as were many others at the time, to enhance the wealth, prestige and power of the queen’s family. Despite her royal connections, Buckingham openly resented having a wife he considered beneath his station in life. It is difficult not to feel some sympathy for him because he had no choice in the matter, but then neither did Kate.
We do not know a great deal about their marriage, but I portray it as a most unhappy one. With Buckingham’s character, it could hardly have been otherwise. It did eventually produce four children, and again I have taken liberty with their ages. I have given the couple two older children: young Harry, who is twelve in the book, and Anne, who is nine of ten. Why did I do this? The honest answer is that after blackening Buckingham’s character and portraying him as vain, pompous, and power-hungry, I needed a way to humanize him, to give him something or someone to care about beyond himself so that my readers would care about him. I did this in the person of a fictional son who had to be old enough in 1483 to go off to war with his father. And I made my character Kate older than her real-life counterpart so that she could comfortably have a 12-year-old son in 1483.
Real or not, I came to be very fond of the version of Kate I had created. I depict her as a mature woman, full of sad poignancy and hard-earned wisdom. Her position as Elizabeth Woodville’s sister and Buckingham’s wife made her an important character in the final part of my story. After placing her in a horrible marriage, perhaps in compensation I gave her a fictional lover, Robin Vaughn, and a role in revealing Buckingham’s plots to Richard along with her suspicions about the fate of the two princes. All of this is the product of my imagination. As I recall now, I didn’t plan any of it when I first sat down to write the book, but the character of Kate seemed to write her own story and to lead me to places I hadn’t contemplated in the beginning.
The real-life Katherine Woodville would survive Buckingham by almost fourteen years. She would remarry twice. Her second husband was Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford, who had been instrumental in helping his nephew, Henry Tudor, seize the throne from Richard. Their marriage took place in November 1485, less than three months after the battle of Bosworth Field. Jasper was almost thirty years older than she and as far as we know, had never been married before. It is likely she didn’t have much say in this marriage either, and like her first it served a purely political purpose. Her estates in Wales, restored to her by King Henry, solidified Jasper’s authority in that part of the realm. In return, she became a duchess once again and had a place of high rank in Henry’s court where her niece, Elizabeth of York, was queen.
After Jasper died in December 1495, she quickly remarried Sir Richard Wingfield in February 1496. Her new husband was twelve years younger than she and came from a family that was struggling financially. Possibly, he had been employed in her household before Jasper Tudor’s death. Since the marriage had taken place without royal license, the couple was fined the then-enormous sum of two thousand pounds by King Henry, a fine that was not paid until much later. We can only hope for her sake that her third marriage was a true love match, but even if it was, she didn’t have much time to enjoy it. She passed away in May of the following year at the probable age of 38 or 39. The reason for her death is not recorded.