Lady Catherine Gordon was born around the year 1470 in Scotland to her parents; George Gordon Earl of Huntly and his wife - either Princess Annabella, the daughter of King James and Joan Beaufort, or his third wife Elizabeth Hay whom he married after he and Annabella divorced in 1471. Catherine had been described by several contemporary sources as being very beautiful. Lady Catherine grew up at the Scottish royal court, and therefore was aware that 'Richard, Duke of York' had reappeared.
It was in November 1495 that the 'Duke of York' arrived in Scotland looking for support to help claim his right to the English crown. King James IV of Scotland received the young 'Duke' with full honours at Stirling Castle - fully believing him to be the said Duke of York - and then decided to marry the 'Duke' into the Scottish royal family in the belief that if he succeeded, Scotland and England would be allies.
King James chose as the bride, his cousin Lady Catherine Gordon; it appears that the 'Duke' had been courting the Lady Catherine since 1495 when he arrived in Scotland as a love letter he wrote to her remains;
"Most noble lady, it is not without reason that all turn their eyes to you; that all admire love and obey you. For they see your two-fold virtues by which you are so much distinguished above all other mortals. Whilst on the one hand, they admire your riches and immutable prosperity, which secure to you the nobility of your lineage and the loftiness of your rank, they are, on the other hand, struck by your rather divine than human beauty, and believe that you are not born in our days but descended from Heaven.
All look at your face so bright and serene that it gives splendour to the cloudy sky; all look at your eyes so brilliant as stars which make all pain to be forgotten, and turn despair into delight; all look at your neck which outshines pearls; all look at your fine forehead. Your purple light of youth, your fair hair; in one word at the splendid perfection of your person:—and looking at they cannot choose but admire you; admiring they cannot choose love but you; loving they cannot choose but obey you.
I shall, perhaps, be the happiest of all your admirers, and the happiest man on earth, since I have reason to hope you will think me worthy of your love. If I represent to my mind all your perfections, I am not only compelled to love, to adore and to worship you, but love makes me your slave. Whether I was waking or sleeping I cannot find rest or happiness except in your affection. All my hopes rest in you, and in you alone.
Most noble lady, my soul, look mercifully down upon me your slave, who has ever been devoted to you from the first hour he saw you, Love is not an earthly thing, it is heaven born. Do not think it below yourself to obey love's dictates. Not only kings, but also gods and goddesses have bent their necks beneath its yoke.
I beseech you most noble lady to accept for ever one who in all things will cheerfully do as your will as long as his days shall last. Farewell, my soul and consolation. You, the brightest ornament in Scotland, farewell, farewell."
When the 'Duke' and his wife landed at Whitesand Bay in Cornwall, he proclaimed himself 'King Richard IV of England' and his wife was now 'Queen Catherine of England'. 'Queen' Catherine set up a royal household at the castle on St Michael's Mount. Not long after, it was here that she was taken prisoner by King Henry VII's forces when her husband fled to Hampshire and later surrendered to the king. As the 'Duke', or the newly confessed 'Perkin Warbeck of Belgium' was therefore not an English subject, he could not be executed by the King of England.
It is unknown what happened to the two children of Lady Catherine and Perkin Warbeck, however there is rumour and speculation that they were sent to Wales to be raised - as there are Perkins families in Wales who claim descent from Perkin Warbeck.
|St Michael's Mount Castle, Cornwall|
After Warbeck's execution, Catherine reverted back to her maiden name of Gordon, and her position at court changed from that of prisoner to the daughter of an earl. She received a pension and her wardrobe expenses were paid for by the king, as well as there being also other occasional payments being made to her.
In January 1503 Catherine was at the betrothal ceremony for Princess Margaret to King James IV of Scotland, and was later in February the chief mourner at Queen Elizabeth's funeral.
There has been speculation that after Queen Elizabeth died, King Henry took Catherine Gordon as his mistress, or he at least held a special fondness for her which he had held since meeting her in 1497 - if Catherine's mother had indeed been Princess Annabella who was the daughter of Joan Beaufort, this would have made her a relation of King Henry VII through his mother Margaret Beaufort. It is most often noted that King Henry saw Catherine as an innocent victim of Warbeck's who had tricked her into marrying him. Francis Bacon's History of King Henry VII includes the statement that;
"When she was brought to the king, it was commonly said, that the king received her not only with compassion, but with affection; pity giving more impression to her excellent beauty. Wherefore comforting her, to serve his eye as well as his fame, he sent her to his Queen"
In 1510 Lady Catherine was granted papers of denization, which meant that she was now an English subject.
In August 1510 King Henry VIII gave to Lady Catherine several land grants in Berkshire, however these came with the condition that she would not leave England without Royal License, this included returning home to Scotland.
It was around 1512 that Lady Catherine married for a second time to James Strangeways who was a Gentleman Usher of the King's Chamber. At this time there were more Berkshire land grants given to Lady Catherine appear to have been a wedding gift, as they included the fact that her husband would inherit them in the case of her death. The couple lived at Fyfield Manor, but this was short lived as by 1517 James Strangeways had died.
|Fyfield Manor in Berkshire|
In July 1517 Catherine married for a third time, to Matthew Craddock, Steward of Gower, a gentleman who was later knighted. The couple went to live in Glamorganshire in Wales, where Craddock was from. Craddock took part in the French War of 1513 when he was given a vessel and a crew. The couple spent their life at court where Catherine was the head of Princess Mary's privy chamber until 1530. Craddock died in July 1531. In his will, he lists the jewels owned by Catherine before their marriage; including a girdle with a pomander, a heart of gold, a fleur-de-lys of diamonds and a gold cross with nine diamonds. In his will he left her an income from the lands of Dinas Powys and Llanedeyrn.
Catherine then married for a fourth time to Christopher Ashton (b.1493), a Gentleman Usher of the Chamber, and the couple went to live at Fyfield Manor. Ashton had two children from a previous marriage, to whom Lady Catherine was now stepmother.
Lady Catherine died in October 1537 at her Fyfield home in Berkshire, she made her will on the 12th October and died shortly after. She was buried in the parish church of St Nicholas at Fyfield in a tomb still called 'Lady Gordon's monument'. Also, there is an effigial monument to her and her third husband Matthew Craddock in St Mary's Church in Swansea. Her last husband survived her by at least twenty years. Lady Catherine never returned to her home country of Scotland, despite the efforts of King James and Perkin Warbeck. However, it appears she had a happy life in England; the last three of her husbands, and even potentially the first, were all love matches which would have been unusual for this era.