A Woman of Noble Wit: Coffee Pot Blog Tour
Few women of her time lived to see their name in print. But Katherine was no ordinary woman. She was Sir Walter Raleigh’s mother. This is her story.
Set against the turbulent background of a Devon rocked by the religious and social changes that shaped Tudor England; a Devon of privateers and pirates; a Devon riven by rebellions and plots, A Woman of Noble Wit tells how Katherine became the woman who would inspire her famous sons to follow their dreams. It is Tudor history seen though a woman’s eyes.
As the daughter of a gentry family with close connections to the glittering court of King Henry VIII, Katherine’s duty is clear. She must put aside her dreams and accept the husband chosen for her. Still a girl, she starts a new life at Greenway Court, overlooking the River Dart, relieved that her husband is not the ageing monster of her nightmares. She settles into the life of a dutiful wife and mother until a chance shipboard encounter with a handsome privateer, turns her world upside down.…..
Years later a courageous act will set Katherine’s name in print and her youngest son will fly high.
Trigger Warnings: Rape.
It is October 1544. Katherine’s husband Otho has gone to France to fight in the King’s war.
She often rose early. With Otho away there was much to do. September had slipped into October and the temperature had dropped sharply. It was time to strip the apples from the trees.
As Bessie helped her dress and the sky grew lighter in that chilly dawn, Katherine’s thoughts were all of her children. John, almost nine years old, attended well to his lessons, and had a good head for figures, and a sharp wit. In looks he didn’t favour Otho’s uncle, his long-departed friend, though she often saw in him echoes of the old man’s ways. Soon John must leave her and go to some other household, or to study law, or some such. Humphrey was another clever boy, with an imagination that knew no bounds and a confident, questioning mind. Too confident, perhaps; too full of his own ability, with that worrying tendency to cruelty. Only last week she’d had to reprimand him for capturing spiders in the dark recesses of the kitchen and pulling off their legs. The thought of Adrian brought a smile to her face. Such a droll little figure toddling along behind her when she picked the fragrant herbs needed for the kitchen and the stillroom. Her boys were all doing well in their way, and she could be proud of them.
But the same could not be said of Katie. Katherine frowned as Bessie offered her a headdress. Now turned eleven, Katie was as wilful and difficult as ever, often missing for hours, having gone to some secret place of her own. Her temper had been even worse since Otho had gone to join the King’s army in France. The pity of it was that she would be such a pretty girl if she didn’t scowl so much.
Katherine glanced from the window and saw that a heavy morning mist was clothing the river in a thick veil of white. She screwed up her eyes and peered out. A dark shape emerged from the ghostly tendrils for an instant, only to be quickly swallowed up in the swirling mist. There it was again; a masthead drawing near the deepwater anchorage down by the Greenway Quay. “Please, dear God, don’t let it be the French come to plunder and pillage Devon while King Henry’s army is across the sea,” she muttered.
With a brisk shake of her head, she dismissed the thought. She would have heard the guns from the batteries in Dartmouth if any foreign vessel had tried to slip into the Dart under cover of darkness. The chain would have been stretched across from Dartmouth Castle to keep them out. No, it was not the French. Nor was it Edward; he’d taken the Trinity up to London and beyond, thinking to pick up some business ferrying troops and supplies to Calais for the King’s army. The Charity and the George were both out on charter; the Hope laid up for a refit. Intrigued, she took a thick woollen cloak from its hook in the garderobe and ran down the steps, through the courtyard and out along the path. Hoary spiders’ webs glinted and sparkled on the clipped hedges as a weak shaft of sunlight broke through the fog. The boatmen’s calls echoed eerily in the cold, still air.
She slowed her pace on the wet and slippery path, littered with new-fallen leaves. She could barely make out the outline of the carrack, much less see its flag or the name that must be emblazoned on its prow, as it steadily approached the Dart’s bank. Otho had enlarged the gun emplacement on the quay, and the black shape of one of his prized possessions stood stark against the grey stones. The guards were standing straight and tall, ready to challenge those on board the boat.
The mist parted and, from the top of the steps, she saw a tall figure standing at the wheel, his back toward her as he looked to his crew to secure their position at the wharf. Katherine paused to catch her breath and started to descend the steps so that she could hail him and find out his business. On the third step down she stopped abruptly, almost losing her footing. Something about the set of those broad shoulders had set her heart a-racing. And then, as he turned, recognition came so swiftly. A surge of joy pulsed through her body from the top of her head to her feet, to her very fingertips, as she felt his presence. Her eyes sought his. There, standing on the deck before her, was the man she had dreamed of in the darkest hours of many a lonely night.
Rosemary Griggs is a retired Whitehall Senior Civil Servant with a lifelong passion for history. She is now a speaker on Devon’s sixteenth century history and costume. She leads heritage tours at Dartington Hall, has made regular costumed appearances at National Trust houses and helps local museums bring history to life.
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