Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard

:"For other Catherine Howards, see Catherine Howard (disambiguation)"Infobox British Royalty|majesty|consort
name =Katherine Howard
title =Queen consort of England

imgw =200
caption =Portrait miniature of Catherine Howard, by Hans Holbein the Younger. The manner of dress and jewellery suggest the subject's identity as Catherine.
reign =28 July 1540 – 13 February 1542
spouse =Henry VIII
father =Lord Edmund Howard
mother =Joyce Culpeper
date of birth =between 1520 and 1525
place of birth =
date of death =death date|1542|2|13|df=y
place of death =|

Catherine Howard (between 1520 and 1525 – 13 February 1542), also called Katherine Howard or Katheryn Howard [There are several different spellings of "Catherine" that were in use during the 16th century and by historians today. Her one surviving signature spells her name "Katheryn" but this archaic spelling is no longer used. Her chief biographer, Lacey Baldwin Smith, uses the common modern spelling "Catherine"; other historians, Antonia Fraser, for example, use the traditional English spelling of "Katherine".] was the fifth wife of Henry VIII of England (1540-1542), and sometimes known by his reference to her as "the rose without a thorn".

Catherine's birth date and place of birth are unknown (but occasionally cited as 1521, probably in London). She was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, a younger son of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Catherine married Henry VIII on 28 July 1540, at Oatlands Palace in Surrey, almost immediately after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves was arranged. However, Catherine's past history and, eventually, her marital conduct were known to be unchaste. She was beheaded after less than two years of marriage to Henry on the grounds of treason, meaning adultery committed while married to the King.


Early life

Catherine Howard was the tenth child of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper. Her older siblings (not in chronological order) were as follows:Ralph, George, Henry, Charles, Mary, Thomas, Isabel, Joyce and Margaret.

Catherine's exact date of birth is unknown, although the year has been estimated as being between 1520 and 1525. She was the niece of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and therefore a first cousin to Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn, and to Anne's sister Mary, Henry's one-time mistress.

Catherine's family, therefore, had an aristocratic pedigree. But her father, a younger son, was not well-off owing to primogeniture and the large size of his family, and he often begged for handouts from his more powerful relatives. His niece, Anne Boleyn, Catherine's cousin, got him a government job working for the King in Calais in 1531.Fact|date=February 2007

At this point, young Catherine was sent to live with her step-grandmother, Agnes Tilney, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.

At Lambeth Palace, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk ran a large household that included numerous female and male attendants, along with her many wards, usually the children of aristocratic but poor relatives who could not afford to support their families. 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 lax. The Dowager Duchess was often at Court and took little interest in the upbringing and education of her wards and young female attendants.

Consequently, Catherine became the least educated of Henry's wives, although she could apparently read and write, unlike many less well-born English women of her time. Her character is often described as vivacious, but never scholarly or devout. The casual upbringing in the licentious atmosphere of the Duchess' household led to Catherine's music teacher, Henry Manox, starting a sexual relationship with her around 1536, when she was between the ages of 11 and 16. When she became Queen, Manox was appointed as a musician in her household. He later gave evidence in the inquiry against her.

Manox and Catherine both confessed during her adultery trial that they had engaged in sexual contact without intercourse: "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," she said. "And I do also admit that I enjoyed his relationship with me; though I shall never regret loving him, I do now love Henry."

This adolescent affair came to an end in 1538, when Catherine was pursued by a secretary of the duchess's 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 duchess's maids of honor and attendants knew of the relationship, which was 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. Henryviiiwives

Arrival at court

Catherine's uncle found her a place at Henry's court. As a young and attractive lady-in-waiting to Henry's new German wife, Queen Anne of Cleves, Catherine quickly caught the eye of the King, who had displayed little interest in Anne from the start. Catherine's relatives privately doubted that the young woman was mature and intelligent enough to handle the responsibilities of being the King's mistress, as she had arrived at Court a few months earlier and was minimally educated and not particularly bright; but other factors were at play. The memory of Anne Boleyn's execution for supposed adultery had marred the standing of the Norfolks (a family proud of their grand lineage) in Henry VIII's court, and this Catholic family saw Catherine as a figurehead for their determination to restore the faith to England. As the King's interest in their relative 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 July 9, 1540, rumours swirled that Catherine was pregnant with his child. Their quick marriage just a few weeks after the divorce from Anne, on July 28, 1540, reflected Henry's lifelong urgency to secure the Tudor succession by begetting healthy, legitimate sons, since he had only one,Edward VI. Henry, nearing 50 and expanding in girth, showered his young bride with wealth, jewels, and fantastically expensive gifts. War with France and the English Reformation had cost Henry the goodwill of his people, and he was suffering from a number of ailments. The presence of a young and seemingly virtuous wife in his life brought him great happiness. Her motto, "Non autre volonte que la sienne" or "No other wish (will) but his", supposedly reflected her desire to keep Henry, an ailing man 30 years her senior, content.

Despite her newly acquired wealth and power, however, Catherine found her marital relations unappealing. She was not pregnant upon marriage and was repulsed by her husband's obesity. (He weighed 300 pounds, about 136 kilograms, at the time, and had a foul-smelling, festering ulcer on his thigh that had to be drained daily.) Early in 1541, she embarked upon a light-hearted romance with Henry's favourite male courtier, Thomas Culpeper, whom she had initially desired on her arrival at court two years earlier. The couple's meetings were arranged by one of Catherine's older ladies-in-waiting, Lady Rochford, the widow of George Boleyn, brother of Anne Boleyn and Mary Boleyn.

Henry and Catherine 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 married couple were sexually active with each other. However, as Catherine's extramarital liaison progressed, people who had witnessed her indiscretions at Lambeth Palace began to contact her for favours. In order to buy their silence, she appointed many of them to her household. Most disastrously, she appointed Henry Mannox as one of her musicians and Francis Dereham as her personal secretary. This miscalculation led to the charges of treason and adultery against her two years after her marriage to the King.


and one of Henry's closest advisors.

Cranmer, aware that any precontract with Dereham would invalidate Catherine's marriage to Henry, gave Henry a letter with the accusations against his wife on November 2, 1541, as they attended an All Souls' Day Mass. Henry at first refused to believe the allegations, thinking the letter was a forgery, and requested that Cranmer should further investigate the matter. Within a few days, corroborative proof was found, including the confessions of Dereham and Culpeper after they were tortured in the Tower of London, as well as a love letter to Culpeper in Catherine's distinctive handwriting.

Catherine was charged with treason, but she never, even to her confessor just hours before her death, admitted to cheating on the King with Culpeper. She did, however, admit that her behaviour prior to her marriage had been unbecoming of a lady of her rank, let alone a Queen of England.

Catherine was arrested on 12 November 1541. According to legend, she briefly escaped her guard's clutches to run to the chapel where Henry was taking Mass. She banged on the doors and screamed Henry's name. Eventually, she was arrested by the guards and taken to her rooms in Hampton Court, where she was confined, accompanied only by Lady Rochford. Her pleas to see Henry were ignored, and Cranmer interrogated her regarding the charges. Even the staunch Cranmer found Catherine's frantic, incoherent state pitiable, saying, "I found her in such lamentation and heavyness as I never saw no creature, so that it would have pitied any man's heart to have looked upon her." [Eleanor Herman, "Sex with the Queen," William Morrow, 2006. ISBN 0-06-084673-9. See pages 81-82.] 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 marriage, 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 spared the grisly fate of Anne Boleyn. However, she steadfastly denied any precontract, stating that Dereham had forced himself upon her.

Imprisonment and death

Catherine was stripped of her title as queen on 22 November and imprisoned in Syon House, Middlesex, through the winter of 1541. Culpeper and Dereham were executed at Tyburn on 10 December 1541 — the former beheaded, the latter hanged, drawn and quartered — for treasonous conduct. [ [ Primary Sources: The fall of Catherine Howard, 1541 ] ] As was customary, their heads were placed atop London Bridge. Catherine's relatives were also detained in the Tower, except her uncle Thomas, the Duke of Norfolk, who had sufficiently detached himself from the scandal. 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 suspension until Parliament passed a bill of attainder, on 21 January 1542, that made the intent to commit treason punishable by death. This solved the matter of Catherine's supposed precontract and made her unequivocally guilty, as adultery by a queen was de facto treason. Catherine was taken to the Tower of London on 10 February 1542. On 11 February, Henry signed the bill of attainder into law, and Catherine's execution was scheduled for 0700 on 13 February.

The night before her execution, Catherine is said to have spent many hours practicing how to lay her head upon the block. She died with relative composure but looked pale and very terrified, and 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 last words were, "I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper." [ [ Primary Sources - Letter of Queen Catherine Howard to Master Thomas Culpeper, spring 1541 ] ] She was beheaded with one stroke, and her body was buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where the body of her cousin, Anne Boleyn, also lay. Henry did not attend.

Catherine's body was one of those identified during restorations of the chapel during the reign of Queen Victoria, and she is commemorated on a plaque on the west wall dedicated to all those who died in the Tower.

Francis I of France wrote a letter to Henry upon news of Catherine's death, regretting the "lewd and naughty behaviour of the Queen" and advising him that "The lightness of women cannot bend the honour of men". When Sir William Paget informed Francis of Catherine's misconduct, he exclaimed "She hath done wondrous naughty!" [B Alison Weir, "Six Wives of Henry VIII," Grove Presws, 2000. ISBN 0-8021-3683-4. See page 475.]


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1= 1. Catherine Howard (1520/25-1542)
2= 2. Lord Edmund Howard (1472/97-1539)Lord Edmund Howard, Catherine Howard's father, was the brother of Lady Elizabeth Howard, mother of Anne Boleyn (second wife of Henry VIII of England), making Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn first cousins.]
3= 3. Joyce Culpeper (before 1507-?)Citation | last = Lundy | first = Darryl | title = thePeerage
accessdate = 2007-10-28
4= 4. Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443-1524)Citation | last = Lundy | first = Darryl | title = thePeerage
accessdate = 2007-10-28
5= 5. Elizabeth Tilney (before 1462-1497)Citation | last = Lundy | first = Darryl | title = thePeerage
accessdate = 2007-10-28
6= 6. Sir Richard Culpeper (?-c. 1507)Citation | last = Lundy | first = Darryl | title = thePeerage
accessdate = 2007-10-28
7= 7. Joyce Worsley (before 1493-?)Citation | last = Lundy | first = Darryl | title = thePeerage
accessdate = 2007-10-28
8= 8. John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk (before 1428-1485)
9= 9. Catherine Moleyns (?-1465)
10= 10. Sir Frederick Tylney
11= 11. Elizabeth Cheney
12= 12. Sir William Culpepper
13= 13. Philippa Ferrers
14= 14. Ottwell Worsley (before 1477-?)
15= 15. Rose Trevor (before 1477-?)
16= 16. Robert Howard (before 1407-1436)
17= 17. Lady Margaret Mowbray (before 1400-after 1437)
18= 18. Sir William de Moleyns (1378-1425)
19= 19. Marjery Whalesborough (?-1439)
20= 20. Sir Philip Tilney (before 1437-c. 1453)
21= 21. Isabel Thorp (?-1436)
22= 22. Sir Lawrence Cheney (c. 1396-1461)
23= 23. Elizabeth Cokayn
24= 24. Sir John Culpepper
25= 25. Catherine Charles
26= 26. Robert Ferrers, 5th Lord Ferrers (of Chartley) (before 1387-c. 1413)
27= 27. Margaret Despenser (before 1375-1415)
28= 28. Richard Worsley (before 1461-?)
29= 29. Catherine Clark (before 1461-?)
30= 30. Edward Trevor (before 1461-?)
31= 31. Angharad Puleston


Catherine is not regarded as a particularly important character, in terms of long-lasting historical significance. Dr. Diarmaid MacCulloch of the University of Oxford compared her to 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." [ "Daily Telegraph" review of E.W. Ives's "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn" (18/07/2004) ( ]

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 of them are more-or-less sympathetic, although they disagree on various important points - including 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) to David Starkey's "Six Wives" (2004.)

Several of these writers have been highly critical of Catherine's conduct, if sympathetic to her eventual fate. Lacey Baldwin Smith described Catherine's life as one of "hedonism" and characterized her as a "juvenile delinquent". Alison Weir, in her 1991 book "The Six Wives of Henry VIII", 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 Lady 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 years after she was dead, because Henry continued to look back on her with favour as the one wife who gave him a son; most of them 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, because Henry never forgave her for her perfidy. Nobody dared make another portrait of her after she was dead.

A portrait miniature (see above) 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. 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. [Strong, Roy: "Artists of the Tudor Court: The Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620",p. 50, Victoria & Albert Museum exhibit catalogue, 1983, ISBN 0905209346 (Strong 1983.]

For centuries, a picture by Hans Holbein was believed to be a portrait of Catherine. (The image, [] NPG 1119, is owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London, titled as "Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard.") Some historians now doubt that the woman in the picture is Catherine. Historian Antonia Fraser has persuasively argued that the above portrait is of Jane Seymour's sister, Elizabeth Seymour. 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. Furthermore, the age of the sitter is given as 21; however, Catherine never reached her 21st birthday. Even if we accept the earliest possible date for her birth 1520/1521, Catherine would not have turned 21 until late 1541 or 1542, by which time she was either imprisoned or dead. The 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 it is almost certain that the portrait is not Catherine Howard, but rather Henry's sister-in-law, Elizabeth Seymour, the miniature shown above right is very likely to be Henry's unfaithful fifth Queen.

In film

*Catherine first appeared on screen in 1926, in the silent film "Hampton Court Palace", played by Gabrielle Morton.
*In 1933, in "The Private Life of Henry VIII", she was played by Binnie Barnes. In this comedy of manners, Catherine ambitiously sets out to seduce the king, but ultimately falls in love with the debonair, devoted Thomas Culpeper. Catherine's story dominates the film.
*American actress Dawn Addams made a 10-second appearance as the doomed Queen in the 1952 romantic film "Young Bess", with Charles Laughton as Henry VIII, Stewart Granger as Thomas Seymour and Jean Simmons as Elizabeth I.
*In 1970, Angela Pleasance 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 characterized as a selfish hedonist who uses the naïve Culpeper to try and get herself pregnant in order 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. Two years later, Lynne Frederick portrayed Queen Catherine in "Henry VIII and his Six Wives" opposite Keith Michell as Henry VIII.
*In 1998 Emilia Fox played Catherine in "Katherine Howard" at the Chichester Festival Theatre, in Chichester, England.
*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. Once again, her adultery was explained by her relatives' desire for her to get pregnant. Catherine is shown crying and screaming with fear at her execution; contemporary accounts suggest she died in a more dignified manner.

In fiction

Catherine's story is fictionalized in the novel "Murder Most Royal" by Jean Plaidy.

Catherine is a character in the book "The Boleyn Inheritance" by Philippa Gregory.

Catherine's story, along with that of Anne Boleyn, is told from the viewpoint of Lady Rochford in the novel "Vengeance Is Mine" by Brandy Purdy.

Catherine is a character in "Sovereign" by C. J. Sansom (the third novel in the Matthew Shardlake series).

Catherine's life at court is told in the trilogy "The Fifth Queen" by Ford Madox Ford.

Catherine's story is related in the song "Catherine Howard's Fate" by the Minstrel band Blackmore's Night.



*"Katherine Howard" by Jessica Smith (1972)
*"Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII" by Karen Lindsey (1995) (ISBN 0-201-40823-6)
*"Six Wives : The Queens of Henry VIII" (reprinted 2004) by David Starkey (ISBN 0-06-000550-5)
*"The Six Wives of Henry VIII" by Alison Weir (1993) (ISBN 0-8021-3683-4)
*"A Tudor tragedy: The life and times of Catherine Howard" by Lacey Baldwin Smith (1961)
* "Katherine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy" by Joanna Denny (2005)
*"Sex with the Queen" by Eleanor Herman (2006) (ISBN 0-06-084673-9)

External links

* [ Geocities site on the Boleyn family, but with a section on Catherine's life]
* [ A very brief overview of Catherine's life, accompanied by a portrait gallery]
* [ English History biography Biography and primary sources]
* [ A geo-biography tour] of the Six Wives of Henry VIII on Google Earth
* [ PBS "Six Wives of Henry VIII", which describes Catherine's death]
* [ "Tales from the Tudor Rose Bar" where Catherine appears as a sexy teenager in a humorous tale of a Tudor Family re-union]

NAME=Howard, Katherine
DATE OF BIRTH=ca. 1520–1525
DATE OF DEATH=February 13, 1542
PLACE OF DEATH=London, England

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