Women, Reform and Community in Early Modern England: Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and Lincolnshire's Godly Aristocracy, 1519-1580

By Skeeters, Martha Clayton | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2009 | Go to article overview
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Women, Reform and Community in Early Modern England: Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and Lincolnshire's Godly Aristocracy, 1519-1580


Skeeters, Martha Clayton, Anglican and Episcopal History


Women, Reform and Community in Early Modern England: Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and Lincolnshire's Godly Aristocracy, 1519-1580. By Melissa Franklin Harkrider. (Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: The Boydell Press, 2008, Pp. xii, 174. $90.00.)

In this monograph Melissa Franklin Harkrider explores the intersections of aristocracy, women, and religious reform, using Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, as a case study. While this is not a traditional biography, a chronological narrative does emerge in chapters which trace the development of her religious belief and action from her girlhood to her death. Although the emphasis on the whole is what her case teaches us about the aristocracy, one less well-integrated chapter gives attention to women and the evangelical church during the early English reformation.

Harkrider emphasizes the changes in Willoughby's beliefs that led to the ultimate development of her mature Protestant views. She notes the conservative influence of Willoughby's parents, especially her mother, Maria de Salinas, a Spanish lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, and of Willoughby's first husband, widower Charles Brandon, whom she married in 1533 at age fourteen and in whose relatively conservative-but-tolerant household she also first encountered evangelical ideas. In the 1540s she learned caution at the court of the reformist queen Katherine Parr, and under the tutelage of Hugh Latimer she accepted the doctrines of dependence on Scripture and justification by faith alone, and rejected transubstantiation. In the 1550s she adopted Reformed doctrines on predestination and anti-ceremonialism, and in her second marriage in 1552 to a reformist social inferior, Richard Bertie, she remained an activist in control of presentations to sixteen clerical livings. Willoughby spent the reign of the Catholic Mary I in exile on the continent, and joined the "hotter sort" of Protestants in pushing for further reform under Elizabeth I. It was during this latter period that she focused on spreading reform in her own household and the local community of Lincolnshire. There is no doubt that Katherine Willoughby's religious views changed over time before culminating in an activist Reformed Protestantism.

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