This is an article by Lauren Goodall.
On 29 February 1484, the earl of Huntingdon ‘set his signet’ on an indenture, promising to ‘take to wife Dame Katherine Plantagenet, daughter to our said sovereign lord’. This extant legal agreement is one of the only late-fifteenth-century documents to explicitly state that King Richard III, who ruled England between June 1483 and August 1485, had a daughter.
Unsurprisingly, very little is known about ‘Dame Katherine’; her birth and death dates cannot be found in any surviving Ricardian documents and, although she was recognised as the king’s bastard, her mother’s identity remains obscure. What the brief and infrequent references to Katherine which appear in the historical record do indicate is that her fortunes were inextricably linked with her father’s: she began life as a Duke’s bastard, lived her adolescence as a king’s daughter and went to the grave as a tyrant’s spawn.
In 1477, a woman named Katherine Haute was granted an annuity of £5 from the Duke of Gloucester’s East Anglian estates (Richard was created Duke of Gloucester in 1461). The establishment of this annual payment, along with Katherine’s connection to the Haute family, has led several historians to suggest that she was the mother of Richard’s illegitimate daughter. Katherine was married to James Haute whose mother, Joan, was a member of the infamous Woodville family. The Woodvilles had risen to prominence when Elizabeth Woodville, Joan’s niece (and James’ cousin), wed King Edward IV in a clandestine ceremony in 1464. It is therefore possible that, upon discovering he had fathered a child, Richard approached the queen (his sister-in-law) for help in arranging a marriage for the unwed mother. Elizabeth may then have quickly married Katherine off to her cousin while Richard established the £5 annuity to ensure his mistress and bastard daughter would be provided for. Of course, this is merely speculation based on circumstantial evidence; other scholars favour alternative candidates such as Alice Burgh (who received a £20 annuity from Richard in 1474) and Anne Harrington (who was at Hornby Castle in 1470 at the same time as the duke of Gloucester). Unfortunately, unless new evidence comes to light, it is likely that Katherine’s mother will remain anonymous to posterity.
A fact we can be more certain of is that once seated on the throne of England, Richard was able to arrange an advantageous marriage for his bastard daughter. In February 1484 William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, ‘promiseth and granteth’ to marry Katherine in return for ‘manors, lordships, lands and tenements… to the yearly value of 1000 marks’. It is likely that this was Herbert’s reward for his loyalty during the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion; indeed, the Earl had already replaced Buckingham as Chief Justice of South Wales, and his betrothal to Katherine (or, more specifically, the promise of land that would more than double his annual income) would ensure his continued cooperation. A series of extant grants dating between March 1484 and March 1485 indicate that Katherine’s wedding had taken place within three months of her betrothal. The initial indenture had stipulated that the couple should be married before 29 September 1484 and had also laid out exactly when she and her husband would receive the ‘lordships, lands and tenements’ they were owed. Land worth 600 marks would be conveyed on them on the day of their wedding, but they would not receive the remaining lands until the death of Lord Thomas Stanley. In the meantime, Richard agreed to establish an annuity of 400 marks to make up the 1000-mark total he had promised. The annuity was granted on 3 March 1484 (only three days after the indenture was signed), the 400 marks were to be taken from the lordships of Newport, Brecknock and Hay.
By May, Katherine was being styled as the ‘wif’ of ‘William Erle of Huntingdon’, and the couple began receiving additional grants not mentioned in the indenture. The proceeds of various manors in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset were conveyed on ‘William Erle of Huntingdon and Kateryn his wif’ in the spring and, on 8 March 1485, a further grant for an annuity of £152 was made to Katherine and her husband. Richard’s generosity does not appear to have inspired much loyalty in his son-in-law. When the Earl of Richmond (the future Henry VII) landed in south Wales in August 1485 Herbert made no attempt to impede his progress into England and, two weeks later, when the battle raged on Bosworth Field, the Earl was nowhere to be seen. Despite his decision not to support Richard, William did not receive a formal pardon from the new King until 22 September 1485, and this delay may have had something to do with his marriage. Herbert is listed as one of the Earls in attendance at Elizabeth of York’s coronation on 25 November 1487 and, interestingly, he is described as a ‘widower’. It could be that, at some point between March 1485 and November 1487, Katherine had died (possibly during childbirth).
Alternatively, the repudiation of his marriage to Richard’s daughter may have been one of the conditions of Herbert’s pardon. Before his union with Katherine, the Earl had been married to Mary Woodville, but she had died in 1481. This means it is possible that Katherine was still alive at the time of Elizabeth’s coronation; indeed, had her husband repudiated their marriage, his status would be that of ‘widower’ because his only legally recognised spouse had died. Katherine’s grave may help shed further light on her status after her father’s death. The Countess was buried in the London church of St James Garlickhythe, which, along with its chantries and tombs, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Fortunately, a sixteenth-century herald named Thomas Benolt compiled a list of the people buried in the church before the fire and, interestingly, the manuscript contains a reference to ‘the countesse of huntyngdon ladie Herbert without a stone’. Benolt’s entry reveals that William Herbert neglected to provide his dead wife with a permanent monument and this, combined with the fact that, when the Earl died in 1491, he was buried alongside his first wife in Tintern Abbey, perhaps provides further evidence that he was made to repudiate his marriage to Katherine Plantagenet. However, it is also possible that this was not the case.
The fact that the Countess retained her title suggests that her marriage to Herbert continued to be legally recognised. Moreover, Worcester House in the parish of St James Garlickhythe was part of the Herbert inheritance. Katherine may, therefore, have been living in her husband’s London property when the sweating sickness swept through the city in 1485. She may have succumbed to the disease and been buried in the local church alongside a number of other nobles, including members of the Stanley family. Once again, this is merely speculation, the details of Katherine’s death, along with those of her birth, remain obscure. Given that she is not mentioned in the historical record after March 1485, she may have died before the Battle of Bosworth Field and been spared the news of her father’s death. Alternatively, Katherine may have lived for another year or two before contracting a fatal illness or dying in childbirth, having witnessed the downfall of the Yorkist dynasty.