Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of History

Document Type



This dissertation uses the lives of Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk; Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset; and Jane Guildford, Duchess of Northumberland to examine various aspects of their experiences as noblewomen and as members of privileged family groups. By focusing on these three women, whose lives and careers spanned eight decades, this dissertation demonstrates the centrality of such women to Tudor politics. Catherine, Anne, and Jane were born into powerful, landowning families. Their successful marriages allowed them to climb the ranks of the Tudor aristocracy and paved the way for their entry into the Tudor political arena. They served as ladies-in-waiting to Henry VIII’s queens and turned their years of court service into careers. All three women used their positions and influence to further the interests of their family and their faith, particularly as supporters of religious reform during the early years of the English Reformation. They also drew upon personal and political connections – largely built at court – in order to protect their families’ interests at key moments throughout their lives. This dissertation explores the myriad ways in which noblewomen like Catherine, Anne, and Jane could construct and utilize their networks and embrace their roles as public, political actors and as essential figures within influential families.

By participating publicly in the Tudor political arena, Catherine, Anne, and Jane acquired enduring historical reputations based more in myth than reality. Anne and Jane fell prey to both contemporary and later criticism of their perceived use of power and influence over their husbands during and after the reign of Edward VI. In contrast, Catherine’s decision to become a religious exile under Mary I established her own reputation as a Protestant heroine. This dissertation examines the origins and impact of these reputations, which have persisted within historical and literary accounts through the centuries. In doing so, it identifies the ways in which women have been stereotyped, both in the early modern era and in our own. While Catherine, Anne, and Jane’s lives were unique in many respects, they can be used to determine many universal characteristics among Tudor aristocratic women.



Committee Chair

Stater, Victor