Boyle Fenton, Catherine (c.1588–1630), countess of Cork , was the only daughter of Sir Geoffrey Fenton (qv), secretary of state for Ireland 1580–1608, and his wife Alice, daughter of Dr Robert Weston (qv) (lord chancellor of Ireland 1567–73) and widow of Dr Hugh Brady (qv), bishop of Meath. Catherine had one brother, Sir William Fenton. She married (25 July 1603) Richard Boyle (qv), afterwards 1st earl of Cork, who was knighted on the day of their marriage. Although Boyle was already wealthy, Catherine's dowry of £1,000 allowed him to purchase the vast estates of Sir Walter Raleigh (qv) in east Cork. Catherine may have been as young as 15 when she married, while Boyle was 37: she bore their first child three years later. The disparity in their ages perhaps contributed to Boyle's paternalistic attitude towards Catherine, who was allowed unusually little latitude, even in domestic affairs. Cork supervised the household accounts, chose his wife's clothes, forbade her to borrow money and showed little consideration for her views on the education and marriages of their children. In Cork's estimation, she was ‘most religious, virtuous, loving and obedient’ (Canny, Upstart earl, 85). In 1605 Catherine and her husband went to live in Youghal, where Boyle bought the lease on the old college and converted it into a gracious home overlooking the town, the long strand, and the estuary. He also purchased the Chantry of our Blessed Saviour and made it into a mortuary chapel for his family. Boyle was buried here but not Catherine, although she is represented in one of the marble effigies kneeling at the head of her husband in the state robes of a countess, while at his feet kneels his first wife, Joan Apsley, who died in childbirth.
From Youghal the Boyles moved to Lismore, where Boyle rebuilt the ruined castle. Later, they divided their time between Lismore and Cork House in Dublin, where Catherine died on 16 February 1630. She was buried with her father and grandfather in St Patrick's cathedral. Boyle subsequently erected an ostentatious marble tomb in their honour at the upper end of the chancel of St Patrick's. However, it was no sooner completed than it attracted the attention of the new lord deputy, Thomas, Viscount Wentworth (qv), who forced him to dismantle the tomb and remove it to the side of the cathedral. Boyle remained constant to Catherine's memory, never marrying again and annually dedicating the day of her death to mourning. After her death a book of elegies, Musarum Lachrymae, composed by the fellows of Trinity College Dublin, was printed in her honour.
Catherine had fifteen children, twelve of whom survived to adulthood and some of whom were remarkable for their exceptional talents. Roger (qv), a playwright as well as an important political figure, became Baron Broghill and later earl of Orrery; Robert (qv) was an eminent scientist; Richard (qv), Viscount Dungarvan and eventually 2nd earl of Cork, was elevated to the English peerage first as Baron Clifford and later as earl of Burlington; Lewis, Viscount Kinalmeaky (killed in battle, 1642), was noted for his military prowess even by the Gaelic poets of the seventeenth century; and Francis, Viscount Shannon, achieved recognition in restoration England as a moralist and social counsellor. Of the daughters, Katherine (qv), Lady Ranelagh, was the most renowned female intellectual of her generation; Mary (qv), countess of Warwick, was noted for her independence and devotion to the protestant religion; and the remaining daughters – Joan, Dorothy, Sarah, Alice, and Lettice – contributed to their family's status by marrying into prominent Anglo-Irish and English families.