Highborn, beautiful and rich, Lady Katherine Gordon was an ideal wife for any young man. The daughter of George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly. There is some dispute if her mother was Princess Annabella, daughter of King James and Joan Beaufort, or the Earl’s third wife Elizabeth Hay. Either way, she was related to the Scottish royal family. The king called her his “tender cousin”. She was a catch. Whose hand did this luscious plum fall into? The answer is surprising.
The end of the 1400s were not an easy time in Great Britain. Henry Tudor defeated Richard III to become Henry VII. Depending on who you asked, his crown was dependent on his victory in battle or his marriage to Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV. But where were her brothers who would precede her claim to the throne? Disappeared into the Tower and the mists of history.
However, with no bodies to cry over, pretenders popped up as fast as Tudor could put them down. In November 1495, a new one attempted invasion, but was driven to Ireland then Scotland and the court of James IV. He was claiming to be Richard of Shrewsbury, the younger son of Edward IV and Elizabeth’s little brother. The Tudors found another name for him- Perkin Warbeck.
The jury is still out as to whether this man was really who he said was. He looked and acted the part enough for Edward’s sister, Margaret of Burgundy, to back him. However, she could have been trying to stir up trouble for the Tudors, who deposed her family and killed her brother Richard at Bosworth. To this day, there are arguments on both sides. However, he was a real enough threat, pretender or not.
Young “Richard” and James IV took to each other, and he offered this engaging young man with a possible claim to the English throne his “tender cousin”, Katherine Gordon. They married in January 1496, and Katherine began styling herself as the Duchess of York. However, the young couple had been courting since his arrival in Scotland. A letter remains where “Richard” refers to her “divine rather than human beauty” and refers to himself as “her slave”.
Living quietly in Scotland for two years, the couple had one, possibly two children. Then in the summer of 1497, they landed in Cornwall, where Warbeck was declared king. Henry marched west and both Warbeck and Katherine were captured and taken into royal custody.
They both lived at King Henry’s court for a year, forbidden to share a bed, but given every courtesy. Katherine was given a place of honor in Queen Elizabeth’s rooms. Henry was much taken with her beauty and wit. There is speculation she was Henry’s mistress. He did seem taken with her, and who knows what lengths a lovely young woman would go to to protect a beloved husband. There is no proof to this, however, there is a certain romance to it that lets the rumors persist.
In 1498, Warbeck tried to escape his cushy digs at court and was taken to the Tower for his attempt. A year later he and the Earl of Warwick were executed for plotting. Katherine reverted back to her maiden name of Gordon, and despite her marriage to three other men wore black for the rest of her days.
There are no records as to what happened to the couple’s children. Some sources say the second pregnancy ended in a stillbirth, but there is agreement on the first child named Richard. Some believe he was taken to Wales for safety. In fact there are some Perkins families who claim descent from this lost child. However, we will never know.
In 1503, Katherine was the chief mourner at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. Supposedly for her ties to the Scottish throne, but maybe….just maybe…she was mourning her sister-in-law.
Source: “Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the War of the Roses” by Sarah Gristwood