The Tudor Society

15 November – A Princess of York

On this day in Tudor history, 15th November 1527, a woman who called herself "“the excellent Princess Katherine, Countess of Devon, daughter, sister and aunt of kings”, died at Tiverton Castle in Devon.

Katherine of York, Countess of Devon, daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, was just forty-nine when she died and had taken a vow of chastity after her husband's death.

In today's talk, I give an overview of Henry VIII's aunt's life and explain why she took her vow of chastity. Find out all about her.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 15th November 1532, a rather cross Pope Clement VII threatened King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn with excommunication. The English king had angered the pope by defying his instructions and previous threats, and going his own way by setting aside Catherine of Aragon and living with Anne Boleyn. The pope was not impressed with this disobedient king. In last year’s video, I shared excerpts of the pope’s letter, as well as explaining the context and what happened next.

Also on this day in history:

  • 1555 – Death of Robert Holgate, former Bishop of Llandaff and then Archbishop of York, in London. He was buried at St Sepulchre. Holgate was imprisoned for a time during the reign of Mary I for being married, but was released when he renounced his marriage in his “Apology”.
  • 1592 – Burial of Sir Thomas Cokayne, soldier, huntsman and author of “A Short Treatise of Hunting” (1591), at Ashbourne church in Derbyshire. Cokayne attended Mary, Queen of Scots on her journey to Fotheringhay in 1587, and helped found Ashbourne Grammar School.
  • 1597 – Death of Robert Bowes, member of Parliament and Elizabeth I's English Ambassador in Scotland, at Berwick. He was buried at Berwick on the 16th November.


On this day in Tudor history, 15th November 1527, Katherine of York, Countess of Devon and daughter of King Edward IV, died at Tiverton Castle in Devon. She was aged forty-nine. She was buried at St Peter's Church, Tiverton, in funeral ceremonies on 2nd and 3rd December.

Let me tell you a bit more about the woman who signed herself “the excellent Princess Katherine, Countess of Devon, daughter, sister and aunt of kings”.

• Katherine was the sixth daughter and ninth child of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, and was born in 1479, probably at Eltham Palace.
• She was the sister of the famous Princes in the Tower and also Elizabeth of York, who married King Henry VII following his defeat of her uncle, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.
• During her childhood, there had been negotiations for her to marry John of Asturias, eldest son of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, then early in the reign of her brother-in-law, Henry VII, there were negotiations for her to marry James Stewart, Marquess of Ormond and Duke of Ross, the second son of King James III of Scotland. However, Katherine didn’t marry until 1495, when she married Sir William Courtenay, son and heir of Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon. William was a loyal supporter of Henry VII, being created Knight Bachelor at Elizabeth of York’s coronation in 1487 and helping the king to put down the rebellion of pretender Perkin Warbeck in 1497.
• Katherine had two sons by William: Edward, who died in 1502, and Henry. They also had a daughter, Margaret.
• William fell from favour in 1502 when he was implicated in the plot of Edmund de la Pole, 3rd Duke of Suffolk. He was attainted and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Katherine managed to keep in favour, serving as chief mourner at the funeral of her sister, Elizabeth of York, in 1503.
• In 1509, following the accession of Katherine’s nephew, Henry VIII, William was released from the Tower and he acted as a sword bearer at the new king’s coronation in June 1509. His father died that same year and William became Earl of Devon. William was restored to his lands and title on the understanding that Katherine would renounce her claim to her Mortimer inheritance, the lands of the earldom of March. William died before negotiations were complete, dying in June 1511, just a month after being made earl.
• In July 1511, thirty-seven-year-old Katherine transferred her Mortimer inheritance to King Henry VIII. Knowing that the king may arrange another marriage for her, Katherine prevented this by taking a vow of chastity in the presence of the Bishop of London.
• In 1512, the king granted the estates of the earldom of Devon to her for life, and a few months later made Katherine’s ten-year-old son, Henry, Earl of Devon.
• Katherine chose to spend her time at her home, Tiverton Castle, rather than at court, but she did stand as godmother to Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, the future Mary I, in 1516.
• Katherine was a wealthy woman, with an annual income of nearly £3,000. She enjoyed hunting and employed three fools to entertain her. They were called Dick, Mug and Kit.
• On 2 May 1527, Katherine made her will, leaving money for three masses to be said daily for her by three priests at St Peter’s Church, Tiverton, in the presence of three poor men, who were paid. A weekly requiem was also to be held. Her household were each to receive a year’s wages and a black gown. She also left provision for 8,000 poor people to be paid two-pence to pray for her soul.
• She died on this day in 1527 and at her funeral a few weeks later, a canon of Exeter Cathedral preached.
• Katherine was survived by her son, Henry Courtenay, Earl of Devon and Marquess of Exeter, came to a sticky end. He was executed in 1538 as a traitor after being accused of treasonous correspondence with Cardinal Reginald Pole.
• Katherine’s daughter, Margaret, had married Henry Somerset, son and heir of Charles Somerset, 1st Earl of Worcester, but had died before 1526.

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15 November – A Princess of York