Catherine Howard (c. 1518-1524 – 13 February 1542), also spelled Katherine, Katheryn orKathryn, was the fifth wife of Henry VIII of England, and sometimes known by his reference to her as his "rose without a thorn".
Catherine's birth date and place of birth are unknown, but are occasionally cited as 1521 or 1525, possibly in Wingate, County Durham. The new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gives her date of birth as anywhere between 1518-1524. Catherine married Henry VIII on 28 July 1540, atOatlands Palace, in Surrey, almost immediately after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves was arranged. However, she was beheaded after less than two years of marriage to Henry on the grounds of treason for committing adultery while married to the King. Catherine was the third of Henry's consorts to have been a commoner.
Catherine Howard was a child of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper. Catherine's exact date of birth is unknown, although the year has been estimated as being after 1520, but before 1527. She was the niece of Elizabeth Howard, who was the mother of Queen Anne Boleyn. As a granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, Catherine had an aristocratic pedigree, but her father, who was a younger son, was not well-off owing to primogeniture and the large size of his family. As a result, he was often reduced to begging for handouts from his more powerful relatives. In 1531, he was appointed Controller of Calais. He was dismissed from his post in 1539, and died in March of the same year.
During her early childhood, Catherine was sent to live in the household of her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The Dowager Duchess presided over households at Chesworth House, near Horsham, and Norfolk House, at Lambeth, comprising numerous male and female attendants along with her many wards, usually the children of aristocratic but poor relatives. 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 Lambeth was apparently lax. The Dowager Duchess was often at Court and seems to have taken little interest in the education and upbringing of her wards and young female attendants.
As a result of the Dowager Duchess' lack of attention, Catherine was not as well educated as some of Henry's other wives, though her ability to read and write alone was impressive enough for the time period. Her character has often been described as vivacious, beautiful, and buxom, but never scholarly or devout. The casual upbringing in the licentious atmosphere of the Duchess' household led to Catherine's music teacher, Henry Mannox, to start a sexual relationship with her around 1536, when she was between the ages of eleven and sixteen. He later gave evidence in the inquiry against her. Mannox and Catherine both confessed during her adultery trial that they had engaged in sexual contact, but not intercourse. Catherine was even 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."
This adolescent affair came to an end in 1538, when Catherine was pursued by a secretary of the Dowager Duchess' household, Francis Dereham. 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' maids of honour and attendants knew of the relationship, which apparently ended in 1539 when the Dowager Duchess caught wind of the matter. Despite this disapproval, Catherine and Dereham may have parted with intentions to marry upon his return from Ireland, agreeing to a precontract, as it was then known. If indeed they had exchanged vows of their intention to marry 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, theGerman Anne of Cleves. As a young and attractive lady-in-waiting, Catherine quickly caught Henry's eye, who had displayed little interest in Anne from the beginning. The Howards may have sought to recreate the influence they gained during the reign of Anne Boleyn, and the mostly religiously conservative Howard family may have seen Catherine as a figurehead for their determination to restore Catholicism to England. As the King's interest in Catherine grew, so did their influence. Within months of her arrival at Court, Henry bestowed gifts of land and expensive cloth upon Catherine.
When Henry had his marriage to Anne of Cleves annulled on 9 July 1540, rumours swirled that Catherine waspregnant with his child.Their quick marriage a mere three weeks after the annulment, reflected Henry's lifelong urgency to secure the Tudor succession by fathering healthy, legitimate sons, especially since he only had one, Edward. Henry, nearing fifty and expanding in girth, showered his young bride with wealth, jewels, and other expensive gifts. War with France and the English Reformation had cost Henry much of his people's goodwill, and he suffered from a number of ailments. Catherine's motto, "Non autre volonté que la sienne", or, "No other will but his", supposedly reflected her desire to keep Henry, an ailing man three decades her senior, content. At this point in his life, the King weighed around twenty-one stone (about 140 kilograms, or 300 pounds), and had a foul-smelling, festering ulcer on his thigh that had to be drained daily.
Early in 1541, Catherine embarked upon a romance with Henry's favorite male courtier, Thomas Culpeper, a young man who, according to Dereham's testimony 'had succeeded [him] in the Queen's affections', and who Catherine had considered marrying 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, Lady Rochford, the widow of Catherine's cousin, George Boleyn, the brother of Anne Boleyn.
Catherine and Henry toured England together in the summer of 1541, and preparations for any signs of pregnancy, which would have led to a coronation, were in place, indicating that the royal couple were sexually active with each other. During this time, however, a crisis began to loom over Catherine. People who had witnessed her indiscretions at Lambeth began to contact her for favours in return for their silence, and many of them were appointed to her household. Most disastrously, Catherine appointed Francis Dereham as her personal secretary, at the urging of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. This miscalculation led to the charges of treason and adultery against her two years after her marriage to the King.
By late 1541, the northern progress of England had ended, and Catherine's indiscretions had become known to John Lascelles, a Protestantreformer whose sister, Mary Hall, had been a member of the Dowager Duchess' household; Mary had been a witness to Catherine's sexual liaisons. Lascelles presented the information to Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and one of Henry's closest advisors.
Cranmer, aware that any precontract with Dereham would invalidate Catherine's marriage to the king, gave Henry a letter with the accusations against his wife on 1 November 1541, as they attended a service of thanksgiving at Hampton Court. At first, Henry disbelieved the allegations, thinking them fabrications made by Lascelles and his sister. Nonetheless, he requested that Cranmer should investigate the matter further. Within a few days, corroborative proof was found, including the confessions of Dereham and Culpeper after they were likelytortured in the Tower of London. Cranmer also discovered a love letter to Culpeper in Catherine's distinctive handwriting, which is the only letter of hers that still survives, other than her confession.
Catherine was subsequently charged with treason, but she never admitted to infidelity. She did however, admit that she was "most unworthy to be called [Henry's] wife or subject." Such wording was typical of the time period, but it appears to have been sincere.
After being ordered to keep to her rooms, Catherine briefly escaped her guards to run to the chapel where Henry was hearing Mass.According to legend, she banged on the doors and screamed Henry's name, and her ghost is still believed to re-enact this scene.[ Eventually, she was recaptured by her guards and confined to her rooms at Hampton Court, accompanied only by Lady Rochford. However, there is considerable doubt as to the story's authenticity, since Catherine was not fully aware of the charges against her until Cranmer and a delegation of councillors were sent to question her on 7 November 1541. 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.
While a precontract between Catherine and Dereham would have had the effect of terminating Catherine's royal union, it also would have allowed Henry to annul their marriage and banish her from Court. Catherine would have been disgraced, impoverished, and exiled, but, ultimately, she would have been spared execution. However, she steadfastly denied any precontract, maintaining that Dereham had raped her.
Imprisonment and death (1541–1542)
Catherine Howard's arms as Queen consort
Catherine was stripped of her title as queen on 23 November and imprisoned in Syon Abbey,Middlesex, throughout the winter of 1541. Culpeper and Dereham 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 atop 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 writing a letter 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, however, they were released with their goods restored.
Catherine herself remained in limbo until Parliament passed a bill of attainder on 7 February 1542. The bill 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. She was subsequently taken to the Tower on 10 February. The next day, the bill of attainder received the Royal Assent, and Catherine's execution was scheduled for seven a.m. on 13 February.
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 and required assistance to climb thescaffold. 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," although this is widely discredited. Catherine was beheaded with a single stroke, and her body was buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where the bodies of her cousins, Anne and George Boleyn, also lay. Henry did not attend.
Catherine's body was not one of those identified during restorations of the chapel during Queen Victoria's reign, but 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] behavior of the Queen" and advising him that "the lightness of women cannot bend the honour of men".
Catherine is not regarded as particularly important in terms of long-lasting historical significance. Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch
of theUniversity of Oxford
compared her with her cousin, Anne Boleyn, in a 2004 review: "Katherine Howard, another royal wife to die on adultery charges, mattered only a little longer than it took Henry to cheer up after he had her beheaded; by contrast, Anne triggered the English Reformation."
Catherine has been the subject of two modern biographies, A Tudor Tragedy by Lacey Baldwin Smith (1967) and Katherine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy by Joanna Denny (2006). Both are more or less sympathetic, although they disagree on various important points, involving Catherine's motivations, date of birth, and overall character. Treatments of her life have also been given in the five collective studies of Henry's queens which have appeared since the publication of Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991), such as David Starkey's Six Wives(2004). Several of these writers have been highly critical of Catherine's conduct, if sympathetic to her eventual fate. Smith described Catherine's life as one of "hedonism" and characterized her as a "juvenile delinquent". Weir had much the same judgment, describing her as an "empty-headed wanton". The general trend, however, has been more generous, particularly in the works of Lady Antonia Fraser, Karen Lindsey, David Loades, and Joanna Denny.
Portraits of Catherine Howard
The Windsor version of the Holbein miniature
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 one 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.
A portrait miniature (shown here) existing in two versions by Holbein (Royal Collection and Duke of Buccleuch) is now believed by most historians to be the only image of Catherine painted from life (in the case of the Windsor version). It has been dated (from details of her dress and the technique of the miniature) to the short period when Catherine was Queen by the historian David Starkey. In it she is wearing the same large jewel as Jane Seymour in Holbein's panel portrait in Vienna. These were jewels the records show belonged to the Crown, not to any Queen personally, and there is no record of their having been 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 known as of Catherine Howard, and are so documented since 1736 (Buccleuch) and 1739? or at least 1840s for the Windsor version.
For centuries, a picture by Holbein was believed to be a portrait of Catherine, which is now in the Toledo Museum of Art. The portrait was identified on the basis of the very close likeness to Holbein's miniature. The image is also known in a number of other versions, including oneNPG 1119 owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London, titled as "Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard". 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 the most 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.