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Catherine Howard

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Catherine Howard


Catherine Howard Catherine Howard Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

28 July 1540 – 23 November 1541

Church of Englandprev. Roman Catholic

February 13, 1542, Tower of London, London, United Kingdom

Henry VIII of England (m. 1540–1541)

Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn, George Boleyn - 2nd Visco, Henry Howard - Earl of Su, Mary Howard - Duchess

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Catherine Howard (c. 1523 – 13 February 1542) was Queen of England from 1540 until 1541, as the fifth wife of Henry VIII. She (then 16 or 17) married him (then 49) on 28 July 1540, at Oatlands Palace, in Surrey, almost immediately after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves was arranged.


Catherine Howard Katherine Howard

Catherine was stripped of her title as queen within 16 months, in November 1541. She was beheaded three months later, on the grounds of treason for committing adultery while married to Henry.

Catherine Howard The mysterious Catherine Howard Madame Guillotine

The Tragic Life of Catherine Howard

Family life

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Catherine was one of the daughters of Lord Edmund Howard (c. 1478 – 1539) and Joyce Culpeper (c. 1480 – c. 1528). Her father's sister, Elizabeth Howard, was the mother of Anne Boleyn. Therefore, Catherine Howard was the first cousin of Anne Boleyn, and the first cousin once removed of Lady Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I), King Henry VIII and Anne's daughter. As a granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443–1524), Catherine had an aristocratic pedigree. Her father was not wealthy, being a younger son among 21 children and disfavoured in the custom of primogeniture, in which the eldest son inherits all his father's estate.

Catherine Howard On this day in 1542 Henry VIIIs 18yearold wife Katherine Howard

When Catherine's parents married, her mother already had five children from her first husband, Ralph Leigh (c. 1476 – 1509); she went on to have another six with Catherine's father, Catherine being about her mother's tenth child. With little to sustain the family, her father was often reduced to begging for handouts from his more affluent relatives. After Catherine's mother died in 1528, her father married twice more. In 1531 he was appointed Controller of Calais. He was dismissed from his post in 1539, and died in March 1539. Catherine was the third of Henry VIII's wives to have been a member of the English nobility or gentry; Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were of Continental royalty.

Early life

Catherine Howard The relationship of Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard Olivia

Catherine was probably born in Lambeth in about 1523, but the exact date of her birth remains uncertain. Soon after the death of her mother (in about 1528), when Catherine was aged about five, she was sent with some of her siblings to live in the care of her father's stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The Dowager Duchess presided over large households at Chesworth House in Horsham in Sussex, and at Norfolk House in Lambeth where dozens of attendants, along with her many wards—usually the children of aristocratic but poor relatives—resided. While sending young children to be educated and trained in aristocratic households other than their own was common for centuries among European nobles, supervision at both Chesworth House and Lambeth was apparently lax. The Dowager Duchess was often at Court and seems to have had little direct involvement in the upbringing of her wards and young female attendants.

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As a result of the Dowager Duchess's lack of discipline, Catherine became influenced by some older girls who candidly allowed men into the sleeping areas at night for entertainment. The girls were rewarded with food and wine and gifts. Catherine was not as well educated as some of Henry's other wives, although, on its own, her ability to read and write was impressive enough at the time. Her character has often been described as vivacious, giggly and brisk, but never scholarly or devout. She displayed great interest in her dance lessons, but would often be distracted during them and make jokes. She also had a nurturing side for animals, particularly dogs.

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In the Duchess's household at Horsham, in around 1536, Catherine (then aged 13) was repeatedly molested by her music teacher, Henry Mannox (aged 36). He later gave evidence in the inquiry against her. Mannox and Catherine both confessed during her adultery inquisitions that they had engaged in sexual contact, but not actual coitus. When questioned Catherine was quoted as saying, "At the flattering and fair persuasions of Mannox, being but a young girl, I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body, which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require."

The interferences by Mannox came to an end in 1538, when Catherine, now aged 15, moved to the Dowager Duchess's household in Lambeth. There she was pursued by Francis Dereham, a secretary of the Dowager Duchess. They became lovers, addressing each other as "husband" and "wife". Dereham also entrusted Catherine with various wifely duties, such as keeping his money when he was away on business. Many of Catherine's roommates among the Dowager Duchess's maids of honour and attendants knew of the relationship, which apparently ended in 1539 when the Dowager Duchess found out. Despite this, Catherine and Dereham may have parted with intentions to marry upon his return from Ireland, agreeing to a precontract of marriage. If indeed they exchanged vows before having sexual intercourse, they would have been considered married in the eyes of the Church.

Arrival at court

Catherine's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, found her a place at Court in the household of the King's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. As a young and attractive lady-in-waiting, Catherine quickly caught Henry's eye. The King had displayed little interest in Anne from the beginning, but on Cromwell's failure to find a new match for Henry, Norfolk saw an opportunity. The Howards may have sought to recreate the influence gained during Queen Anne's reign. According to Nicholas Sander, the religiously conservative Howard family may have seen Catherine as a figurehead for their fight by expressed determination to restore Roman Catholicism to England. Catholic Bishop Stephen Gardiner entertained the couple at Winchester Palace with "feastings".

As the King's interest in Catherine grew, so did the house of Norfolk's influence. Her youth, prettiness and vivacity were captivating for the middle-aged sovereign, who claimed he had never known "the like to any woman". Within months of her arrival at court, Henry bestowed gifts of land and expensive cloth upon Catherine. Henry called her his 'rose without a thorn' and the 'very jewel of womanhood'. The French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, thought her "delightful". Holbein's portrait showed a young auburn-haired girl with a characteristically hooked Howard nose; Catherine was said to have a "gentle, earnest face."


King Henry and Catherine were married by Bishop Bonner of London at Oatlands Palace on 28 July 1540, the same day Cromwell was executed. The marriage was made public on 8 August, and prayers were said in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. Henry "indulged her every whim" thanks to her "caprice".

Catherine was young, joyous and carefree; Mannox had taught her to play the virginals. She was too young to take part in administrative matters of State. Nevertheless, every night Sir Thomas Heneage, Groom of the Stool, came to her chamber to report on the King's well-being. No plans were made for a coronation, yet she still travelled downriver in the royal barge into the City of London to a gun salute and some acclamation. She was settled by jointure at Baynard Castle: little changed at court, other than the arrival of many Howards. Every day she dressed with new clothes in the French fashion bedecked with precious jewels. With ominous foresight the motto adopted read Non autre volonte que la sienne (No other wish but his), decorated in gold around her sleeves.

The Queen escaped plague-ridden London in August 1540 when on progress. The royal couple's entourage travelled on honeymoon through Reading and Buckingham. On 29 August the Duke of Grafton arrived for a Council meeting. After the Queen's Chamberlain got drunk and misbehaved, the King was in a bad mood when they moved on to Woking, when his health improved. The King embarked on a lavish spending spree to celebrate his marriage, with extensive refurbishments and developments at the Palace of Whitehall. This was followed by more expensive gifts for Christmas at Hampton Court Palace.

That winter the King's bad moods deepened and grew more furious. Undoubtedly the pain from his ulcerous legs was agony, but did not make relations any easier at court. He accused councillors of being "lying time-servers", and began to regret losing Cromwell. After a dark depressed March, his mood lifted at Easter.

Preparations were in place for any signs of a royal pregnancy, reported by Marillac on 15 April as "if it be found true, to have her crowned at Whitsuntide." At the same time Henry wanted the last of the Yorkists found out.


It was alleged that, in spring 1541, Catherine had already embarked upon a romance with Henry's favourite male courtier, Thomas Culpeper, a young man who "had succeeded [him] in the Queen's affections", according to Dereham's later testimony. Culpeper called Catherine "my little, sweet fool" in a love letter; she considered marrying him during her time as a maid-of-honour to Anne of Cleves. The couple's meetings were arranged by one of Catherine's older ladies-in-waiting, Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford (Lady Rochford), the widow of Catherine's executed cousin, George Boleyn, Anne Boleyn's brother.

During the autumn Northern Progress, a crisis began to loom over Catherine's conduct. People who had witnessed her earlier indiscretions while still a ward at Lambeth contacted her for favours in return for their silence, and many of them were appointed to her royal household. The brother of Mary Lascelles, John Lascelles, tried to convince his sister to find a place within the Queen's royal chamber, however, Mary refused stating she had witnessed the "light" ways of Queen Catherine while living together at Lambeth. After hearing this John Lascelles reported such news to Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer who then interrogated Lascelles' sister and upon doing so; became informed of Catherine's previous illicit sexual relations while under the Duchess' care.

The reformist Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, immediately took up the case to be made to topple his rivals—the Roman Catholic Norfolk family. While Lady Rochford was under interrogation, and from fear of being tortured, agreed to tell all. She told how she had watched for Catherine backstairs as Culpeper had made his escapes from the Queen's room.

During the investigation, a love letter written in the Queen's distinctive handwriting was found in Culpeper's chambers. This is the only letter of hers that still survives (other than her later confession).

On All Saints' Day, 1 November 1541, the King was to be found in the Chapel Royal, praying as usual for this "jewel of womanhood". He received there a warrant of the queen's arrest that described her crimes. On 7 November 1541, Archbishop Cranmer led a delegation of councillors to Winchester Palace, Southwark, to question her. Even the staunch Cranmer found Catherine's frantic, incoherent state pitiable, saying, "I found her in such lamentation and heaviness as I never saw no creature, so that it would have pitied any man's heart to have looked upon her." He ordered the guards to remove any objects that she might use to commit suicide.

Imprisonment and death

Establishing the existence of a precontract between Catherine and Dereham would have had the effect of terminating Catherine's royal union, but it also would have allowed Henry to annul their marriage and banish her from Court, in poverty and disgrace, without having to execute her. Yet still she steadfastly denied any precontract, maintaining that Dereham had raped her.

Catherine was stripped of her title as queen on 23 November 1541, and imprisoned in the new Syon Abbey, Middlesex, formerly a convent, where she remained throughout the winter of 1541. She was forced by a Privy Councillor to return Anne of Cleves' ring that the King had given her; it was a symbol of her regal and lawful rights. The King would be at Hampton Court, but she would not see him again. Despite these actions taken against her, her marriage to Henry was never formally annulled.

Culpeper and Dereham were arraigned at Guildhall on 1 December 1541 for high treason. They were executed at Tyburn on 10 December 1541, Culpeper being beheaded and Dereham being hanged, drawn and quartered. According to custom, their heads were placed on spikes atop of London Bridge. Many of Catherine's relatives were also detained in the Tower with the exception of her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, who had sufficiently distanced himself from the scandal by retreating to Kenninghall to write a grovelling letter of apology.

His son Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, the poet, remained a favourite of the King. The duke knew his family had fallen from grace, wrote an apology on 14 December to the King, excusing himself and laying all the blame on his niece and stepmother. All of the Howard prisoners were tried, found guilty of concealing treason, and sentenced to life imprisonment and forfeiture of goods. In time, they were released with their goods restored. The King sank into morbidity and indulged his appetite for food.

Catherine herself remained in limbo until Parliament introduced a bill of attainder on 29 January 1542, which was passed on 7 February 1542. The Royal Assent by Commission Act 1541 made it treason, and punishable by death, for a queen consort to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within twenty days of their marriage, or to incite someone to commit adultery with her. This solved the matter of Catherine's supposed precontract and made her unequivocally guilty.

When the Lords of the Council came for her, she panicked and screamed aloud, as they manhandled her into the waiting barge that would escort her to the Tower on Friday 10 February 1542, her flotilla passing under London Bridge where the heads of Culpeper and Dereham were impaled (and remained until 1546). Entering through the Traitors' Gate she was led to her prison cell. The next day, the bill of attainder received Royal Assent, and Catherine's execution was scheduled for 7:00 am on Monday, 13 February 1542. Arrangements for the execution were supervised by Sir John Gage in his role as Constable of the Tower.

The night before her execution, Catherine is believed to have spent many hours practising how to lay her head upon the block, which had been brought to her at her request. She died with relative composure, but looked pale and terrified; she required assistance to climb the scaffold. She made a speech describing her punishment as "worthy and just" and asked for mercy for her family and prayers for her soul. According to popular folklore, her final words were, "I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper", however no eyewitness accounts support this. Instead, reporting that she stuck to traditional final words, asking for forgiveness for her sins and acknowledging that she deserved to die 'a thousand deaths' for betraying the king; who had always treated her so graciously. Catherine was beheaded with a single stroke of the executioner's axe.

Lady Rochford was executed immediately thereafter on Tower Green. Both their bodies were buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where the bodies of Catherine's cousins Anne and George Boleyn also lay. Other cousins were also in the crowd, including the Earl of Surrey. King Henry did not attend. Catherine's body was not one of those identified during restorations of the chapel during Queen Victoria's reign. She is commemorated on a plaque on the west wall dedicated to all those who died in the Tower. Upon hearing news of Catherine's execution, Francis I of France wrote a letter to Henry, regretting the "lewd and naughty [evil] behaviour of the Queen" and advising him that "the lightness of women cannot bend the honour of men".


Catherine has been the subject of contention for modern biographies, A Tudor Tragedy by Lacey Baldwin Smith (1967), Katherine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy by Joanna Denny (2006), Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne (2014), and Young and Damned and Fair by Gareth Russell (2017). Each is more or less sympathetic, though they disagree on various important points involving Catherine's motivations, date of birth, and overall character.

Her life has also been described in the five collective studies of Henry's queens that have appeared since the publication of Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991) — such as David Starkey's The Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003). Several of these writers have been highly critical of Catherine's conduct, if sympathetic to her eventual fate. Baldwin Smith described Catherine's life as one of hedonism, and characterised her as a "juvenile delinquent". Weir had much the same judgement, describing her as an "empty-headed wanton". The general trend, however, has been more generous, particularly in the works of Antonia Fraser, Karen Lindsey, David Loades and Joanna Denny.

Portraits of Catherine Howard

Painters continued to include Jane Seymour in pictures of King Henry VIII long after she died, mainly because Henry continued to look back on her with favour as the only wife who gave him a son. Most of the artists copied the portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger because it was the only full-sized picture available. After Catherine Howard was executed, even the Howard family removed her picture from their family portrait gallery.

Most historians believe that a portrait miniature (shown here)—which exists in two versions by Holbein (Royal Collection and Duke of Buccleuch)—is the only surviving image of Catherine painted from life (in the case of the Windsor version). The historian David Starkey dated it (from details of her dress and the technique of the miniature) to the short period when Catherine was queen. In it, she wears the same large jewel as Jane Seymour in Holbein's panel portrait in Vienna. Records show that these jewels belonged to the Crown, not to any queen personally, and there is no record that they were removed from the treasury and given to anyone else.

The pearls may tie in with a gift to Catherine from Henry in 1540, and she is the only queen to fit the dating whose appearance is not already known. For female sitters, duplicate versions of miniatures only exist for queens at this period. There are no other plausible likenesses of her to compare to. Both versions have long been documented as of Catherine Howard, since 1736 for the Buccleuch version and 1739 (or at least the 1840s) for the Windsor version.

A portrait by Hans Holbein, for centuries in the possession of the Cromwell family, was identified by Sir Lionel Cust in 1909 as Catherine: Portrait of a Lady, Probably a Member of the Cromwell Family (1926.57) is held by the Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art. Two copies of Holbein's original are extant: one at Hever Castle, exhibited as Catherine Howard and another owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London, Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard (NPG 1119).

Some historians now dispute that the woman in the picture is Catherine. Antonia Fraser has argued that the Toledo portrait is of Jane Seymour's sister, Elizabeth Seymour, on the basis that the woman bears a remarkable resemblance to Jane, especially around the chin, and is wearing the clothes of a widow, which Catherine never had occasion to wear. However, black clothes do not necessarily signify mourning, and, because black was a more expensive dye, were often worn to signify wealth and status.

One other possibility is that the portrait shows Henry's Scottish niece, Lady Margaret Douglas, the mother-in-law of Mary, Queen of Scots. So, whilst debate continues about the identity of the Toledo portrait, the miniature shown above is very likely to be Henry's fifth queen.

On stage

  • In 1998 Emilia Fox played Catherine in Katherine Howard at the Chichester Festival Theatre, in Chichester, Sussex; she would later play Henry's third wife Jane Seymour in the 2003 ITV drama Henry VIII.
  • In film and television

  • Catherine was first portrayed on screen in 1926, in the silent film Hampton Court Palace, when she was played by Gabrielle Morton.
  • In 1933, in The Private Life of Henry VIII, Catherine was played by Binnie Barnes. In this comedy of manners, Catherine ambitiously sets out to seduce the king, played by Charles Laughton, but ultimately falls in love with the debonair, devoted Thomas Culpeper, played by Robert Donat. Catherine's story dominates the film.
  • In 1970 Angela Pleasence played Catherine in a 90-minute BBC television drama, as part of the series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, opposite Keith Michell as Henry VIII, Patrick Troughton as the Duke of Norfolk and Sheila Burrell as Lady Rochford. In this interpretation, Catherine is characterised as a selfish hedonist who uses the naïve Culpeper to try to get herself pregnant to secure her position.
  • Catherine Howard made a cameo appearance, played by Monika Dietrich, in the 1971 slapstick British comedy Carry On Henry, with Sid James as Henry VIII.
  • In 1972 Lynne Frederick portrayed a deeply sympathetic Queen Catherine in Henry VIII and His Six Wives (a film version made subsequent to the 1970 BBC series) opposite Keith Michell as Henry VIII, in a production that highlighted her youth and positive qualities.
  • In 2001 Michelle Abrahams played Catherine in Dr. David Starkey's television documentary on Henry's queens.
  • In 2003 Emily Blunt gave a more sympathetic portrayal of Catherine in the ITV television drama Henry VIII, which focused on Catherine's sexual escapades. This production, once again, explained her adultery by her relatives' desire for her to get pregnant. It shows Catherine crying and screaming with fear at her execution, although contemporary accounts suggest she died in a more dignified manner.
  • In 2009 and 2010 Tamzin Merchant played Catherine Howard in the third and fourth seasons of the Showtime series The Tudors. Merchant portrays Catherine as being flighty yet sweet, sexually adventurous, fun-loving and unquestionably adulterous. She is willingly seduced into the affair with Culpeper (who nurses a lustful obsession with her) by Lady Rochford, whose motivations are somewhat murky. This interpretation also details Catherine's blackmail at the hands of her former friends from Lambeth, a detail often omitted from modern retellings due to its deficit of historical evidence.
  • Elena Valentine played Catherine in the 2016 Henry VIII and His Six Wives TV mini-series by Oxford Film & Television.
  • In 2015, an episode of Horrible Histories entitled "Horrid Henry VIII" featured Louise Ford, portraying Catherine Howard.
  • In novels

  • A highly fictionalised version of a devoutly Catholic, learned and serious Catherine, who wants to return Henry to the Old Faith, is depicted in the trilogy The Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford, originally published as separate novels in 1906, 1907 and 1908, and reprinted both as a single-volume omnibus edition and in its separate parts numerous times since.
  • The 1967 novel Katheryn, The Wanton Queen by Maureen Peters, written from the perspective of a fictional character, Geraldine Lyle, tells the story of Catherine from young girlhood to her marriage to Henry VIII.
  • Noonday Queen (1988), another novel by Maureen Peters.
  • Catherine appeared as a major character in both the last instalment of Jean Plaidy's "Queens of England" series, Rose Without a Thorn, published the year of her death in 1993; and the much earlier Murder Most Royal, first published in 1949 as part of her "Tudor Saga" series, which also included Anne Boleyn as a protagonist.
  • Catherine is a main character in the 2006 novel The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory.
  • Catherine appears as a character in 2006's Sovereign, the third novel in author C. J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake series.
  • Catherine's story, along with that of Anne Boleyn, is told from the viewpoint of Lady Rochford in the 2007 novel Vengeance Is Mine by Brandy Purdy; this same novel was re-issued under the title The Boleyn Wife in 2009, now under the pen name Emily Purdy.
  • Catherine's life was portrayed in the new play commissioned by restored Elizabethan playhouse The Rose: Rose Without a Thorn, written by Harry Denford in 2008.
  • Catherine's two years at court prior to her death are retold from her point of view in the 2009 novel The Queen's Mistake by Diane Haeger.
  • Catherine's story is fictionalised in the 2009 young adult novel The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby.
  • Catherine appeared as a character in the 2010 novel Secrets of the Tudor Court by D.L. Bogdan.
  • The Confessions of Catherine Howard, a 2010 novel by Suzannah Dunn, includes a fictionalised version of maid-of-honour Katherine Tilney (with her name spelled Catheryn to distinguish her from her cousin who became Queen) as a close confidant of Howard who is torn between loyalty to her friend and to the man she loves.
  • Catherine's story is told in the 2012 novel The Unfaithful Queen by Carolly Erickson.
  • In Gilt, a 2012 young adult novel by Katherine Longshore, Catherine's story is shown side by side with that of "Kitty" Tylney, again fictionalised, this time as Catherine's best friend.
  • Catherine Howard was a major character in Between Two Queens by Kate Emerson, part of the Secrets of the Tudor court series.
  • In music

  • Rick Wakeman recorded the piece "Catherine Howard" for his 1973 album The Six Wives of Henry VIII. On his 2009 live version of the album the spelling is changed to "Kathryn Howard".
  • The song "Marry Me" by Emilie Autumn is about the time period that Catherine was married to King Henry VIII.
  • Catherine's story is related in the song "Catherine Howard's Fate" by the band Blackmore's Night.
  • References

    Catherine Howard Wikipedia