|Portrait thought to be Lady Knollys, by Steven van der Meulen, 1562|
|Spouse||Sir Francis Knollys|
Henry Knollys, MP
William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury
Edward Knollys, MP
Sir Robert Knollys, MP
Richard Knollys, MP
Sir Thomas Knollys
Sir Francis Knollys, MP
|Father||Sir William Carey|
|Died||15 January 1569|
|Burial||St Edmund's Chapel, Westminster Abbey|
Catherine Carey, often spelt Katherine Carey, after her marriage Catherine Knollys and later Lady Knollys, pronounced "Noles" (c. 1524 – 15 January 1569), was principal Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I, who was her first cousin.
Catherine Carey was born about 1524, the daughter of Sir William Carey of Aldenham in Hertfordshire, Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Esquire of the Body to King Henry VIII, and his wife Mary Boleyn, who had once been a mistress of King Henry VIII. She was Elizabeth I's first cousin. Some contemporaries also asserted that Catherine was an illegitimate child of the King and so was Elizabeth's half sister, but the relationship is disputed by some modern historians.
At a young age, Catherine was a witness to the execution of her aunt, Anne Boleyn, in 1536. She became Maid of Honour to both Queens Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. On April 26, 1540 she married Sir Francis Knollys. Her husband was named a Knight of the Garter in 1593, although he had already been knighted in 1547. He was also Treasurer of the Royal Household. From the time of her marriage, Catherine became known as Mistress Knollys, and from 1547 as Lady Knollys. When not in London, the couple lived at Reading in Berkshire and Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire, although, as staunch Protestants, they fled to Germany during the reign of Queen Mary. Princess Elizabeth wrote to her cousin there and Catherine was appointed Chief Lady of the Bedchamber after she became Queen Elizabeth I.
She died on 15 January 1569 at Hampton Court Palace, being outlived by her husband and children, and was buried the following April in St Edmund's Chapel in Westminster Abbey. There is a small commemorative plaque in the abbey, although her chief monument is at Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire.
When she was buried, the following was her epitaph –
The Right Honourable Lady Katherine Knollys, chief Lady of the Queen's Majesty's Bedchamber, and Wife to Sir Francis Knollys, Knight, Treasurer of Her Highnesses Houshold, departed this Life the Fifteenth of January, 1568, at Hampton-Court, and was honourably buried in the Floor of this Chapel.
This Lady Knollys, and the Lord Hunsdon her Brother, were the Children of William Caree, Esq; and of the Lady Mary his Wife, one of the Daughters and Heirs to Thomas Bulleyne, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde; which Lady Mary was Sister to Anne Queen of England, Wife to K. Henry the Eighth, Father and Mother to Elizabeth Queen of England.
Sir Francis and Lady Knollys had a total of 15 children:
She should not be confused with her niece, Katherine Carey who became Countess of Nottingham.
The possibility that Catherine, and perhaps her brother Henry, were illegitimate children of King Henry VIII, appears in many works of fiction, including Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. Catherine Carey is also a character in Gregory's The Boleyn Inheritance, where she is sent to the royal court during the time of Queens Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard, and in The Virgin's Lover, where, as the mother of the seventeen-year-old Laetitia Knollys, she is among Queen Elizabeth I's closest companions.