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Catherine Howard’s Ladies-in-Waiting

This blog post first appeared on my blog tour on but I’d like to share it here, too.

Hope you enjoy it!


Lady Isabel Baynton

One of the most enjoyable things about writing an historical novel is discovering the tiny details that make the period real on the page. While I was researching The Catherine Howard Conspiracy, I spent a great deal of time hunting out the life stories of the women who surrounded the young queen in order to create a group of realistic friends and confidants.

There are some well-known names linked with Catherine and her downfall: Lady Jane Boleyn, Thomas Culpeper, Katherine Tilney, Joan Bulmer and Mary Lascelles, but I wanted to find the other women, the friends and family members who were there and gave Catherine help and support at this strange, glorious, wonderful yet terrifying time.

After checking a list of her ladies-in-waiting (thank you,, I discovered Catherine had at least two of her sisters within her ladies-in-waiting: Lady Isabel Baynton and Margaret Howard, Lady Arundell. For some reason, I was drawn to Lady Isabel and she became an important character in The Catherine Howard Conspiracy. I would like to share a very brief outline of this fascinating woman’s story.

Isabel and Catherine were half-sisters through their mother, Jocasta or Joyce Culpeper. Jocasta was first married to Sir Ralph Leigh, Treasurer of the Inner Temple and Isabel’s birth date is given in the few pieces of information I have managed to find about her as around 1496. However, I doubt if this is the case and my reasoning for this statement revolves around her marriage to Sir Edward Baynton in 1531. If Isabel’s birth date is correct this would make her 35 on her wedding day, which would have been highly unusual. Girls married young and if a woman was married for the first time in her mid-30s there would have been records of her as a spinster or comments about her age. As neither topic is ever raised, I suspect her birth age is incorrect.

Despite this, Isabel was one of five children: John, Ralph, Margaret, Joyce and Isabel, although which order they were born in is unclear. Her father, Sir Ralph Leigh, died in 1509 and, four years later in 1513, Jocasta married Lord Edmund Howard. Edmund had numerous siblings including Elizabeth Boleyn – mother of Anne – and Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk. Jocasta and Edmund had six children, including the future bride of Henry VIII: Catherine Howard.

There are very few records concerning Isabel’s early life, but by 1533 she was at court, where Anne Boleyn had become Henry VIII’s second wife. Isabel’s step-father, Lord Edmund Howard, was uncle to the new queen and, Isabel, now married to Sir Edward Baynton, the Vice Chamberlain to the queen, was enjoying life at the heart of the glamorous Tudor court. In the vast, sumptuous and bejewelled procession for Anne’s coronation, Isabel is listed as one of the twelve ladies who rode on horseback dressed in crimson velvet. Waving to the crowd and relishing in the excitement of life, she had the luxury of watching and taking part in the spectacle that was Henry VIII’s court but with none of the danger or intrigue.

Isabel was Edward Baynton’s second wife. He had previously been married to Elizabeth Sulyard and they had seven children: Bridget, Andrew, Edward, Henry, Anne, Jane and Ursula. When he married Isabel on 18 January 1531 Isabel became their stepmother. Edward owned the manors of Bromham in Wiltshire and Faulston in Salisbury, which he had inherited from his father, Sir John Baynton, giving Isabel a number of properties to choose from when she wished to escape from the tumult of court.

For three years, the court of Henry and Anne was the centre of Isabel’s world but in 1536, things began to go wrong for Anne Boleyn. She was accused of adultery with a string of men, including her brother, George Boleyn, viscount Rochford. Sir Edward Baynton was given the task of obtaining confessions from the accused men. Family ties to Anne aside, Edward must have done a good job because he was at Henry’s next wedding, to the king’s third wife Jane Seymour and was given the prestigious position of her Master of the Horse. It is likely Isabel was with him, particularly as they both attended the christening of baby Edward, the future King Edward VI, a year later.

Meanwhile, Isabel was building a family with Edward and gave birth to her first child, a boy named Henry in 1536, the year of Anne’s fall. The following year, a second son, Francis arrived and at some point, a daughter, Anne. Sadly, there is no recorded date of birth for Anne and as there are no records of her later in life either, it is assumed she died young.

After Queen Jane’s death on 24 October 1537, Isabel was one of the 29 women who walked in succession to mark each year of her life. For a short time after this, Edward and Isabel were guardians to Henry’s daughters, the princesses Mary and Elizabeth from the king’s marriages to Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, respectively. Although the exact amount of time they held these roles is not recorded, it appears they remained close to the royal children and were regulars in their households throughout their youth.

Two years later, when the king announced he was to be married to the German princess, Anne of Cleves, Isabel and Edward returned to court. Edward, to once again take up the position of Vice-Chamberlain to the new queen and Isabel to be a lady-in-waiting. It probably never occurred to either of them that they would soon be drawn even deeper into the beating political heart of the Tudor England. As Henry turned from wife number four, to the wife number five, Isabel must have felt some misgivings as the king’s roving eye landed on the pretty face of the young Catherine Howard, Isabel’s half-sister. Isabel could only stand and watch as her younger sister became queen of England.

How would she have felt? Jealous, perhaps, although I think this is unlikely, having witnessed what other women had suffered at the hands of the king. Excited; she would be half-sister to the queen which would mean a rise in status, or terrified? Aware from her experience as lady-in-waiting to his previous wives how his mercurial mood could shift in a moment. We will never know but for Catherine it must have been a comfort to have an older sibling there to help her in this strange new world.

Catherine’s rise to the throne gave increased prestige to her family, including Isabel who, with her children, was granted ‘100 marks’, while Edward was granted the manor Semleigh, Wiltshire.

Once again though, the marriage was brief. Catherine was accused of lewd behaviour with men before she was queen, which she had not disclosed. While it looked as though this scandal might pass, another followed on its heels and a letter was found suggesting she was involved with Thomas Culpeper, a member of Henry’s bedchamber. Horrified, Henry stripped Catherine of her titles and refused to speak to her. She was removed to Syon Abbey in Isleworth, Middlesex to be questioned, with four women accompanying her, one of whom, was her elder sister, Isabel.

Some historians claim Isabel was a spy, passing information back to Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury and his investigators. Others that Isabel and Edward talked to Catherine at length trying to make her understand the danger she was in and to suggest that the affair with Culpeper had been rape. In the meantime, Jane Boleyn, who was supposed to have facilitated the affair, went insane with fear. How must Isabel have felt? She had already lived through the scandal of watching her step-aunt, Anne Boleyn, lose her life to Henry’s violence, now her younger sister was in a similar position.

In January 1542, the Bill of Attainder against Catherine and Jane was introduced to Parliament and on its third reading was passed. In the eyes of the law, they were already dead. On 10 February 1542, the dukes of Suffolk and Southampton escorted Catherine and Jane to the Tower of London. It is likely Isabel was with them. On 11 February 1542, the bill against Catherine and Jane became law and on the evening of 12 February, they were told they would be executed the next morning.

Records do not say who was with Catherine but it is possible Isabel stayed with her until the end. After this, Isabel vanishes from the lists of ladies-in-waiting. After such an experience, she must have left court, returning instead to one of the manors owned by her husband, either in disgrace because of her family tie to Catherine or because she could not bear to remain in such a violent and dangerous environment.

Two years later, Edward died. He was in France on campaign for Henry and died from his wounds. Although he had requested that he be buried in the family tomb at his manor in Bromham, Wiltshire, his body was never returned from France. After his death, Isabel was granted £6, 2s, 6d, as his widow.

It seems Isabel never returned to court. After Edward’s death, she married, James Stumpe. It was an odd union, as well as a little confusing, because James had first been married to Bridget Baynton, Isabel’s step-daughter. However, Bridget had died in 1545 and these two decided to keep things in the family. They were together until James’s death in 1563. Two years after James’s death, in 1565, she married a man called Thomas Stafford.

Isabel died on 16 February 1573, by which time she would have witnessed all three of Henry’s children take the throne in turn. Her life had spanned the reigns of five monarchs, she had seen her sister beheaded, she had survived scandals at court, married three times and ended her life in a comfortable manner. Isabel Baynton stood on the sidelines as history unfolded around her, on occasions drawing her to the very centre of events, yet, she is unknown to the majority of people except as a passing footnote in the story of other people’s lives. I hope that by including her in my novel, I’ve given Isabel her voice back.


The Catherine Howard Conspiracy is available from Amazon  and The Elizabeth Howard Conspiracy, which is the second part of The Marquess House Trilogy, will be available on Kindle and in paperback from Sunday 2 June 2019.