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Catherine Howard (c. 1521 – 13 February 1542), also spelled Katherine or Katheryn, 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 occasionally cited as 1521 or 1524, possibly in Wingate, County Durhammarker). She was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, a younger son of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. This made her a first cousin of the King's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Catherine married Henry VIII on 28 July 1540, at Oatlandsmarker Palace in Surreymarker, 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, meaning adultery committed while married to the King.

Early life

Catherine Howard was the fourth child of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper. Her siblings (not in order) were as follows:Ralph, George,; Henry, Charles, Mary, John, Isabel, Joyce and Margaret.Catherine's exact date of birth is unknown, although the year has been estimated as being between 1521 and 1524. 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 Calaismarker in 1531.

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

At Lambethmarker, 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 was not as well educated as Henry's other wives, though her mere ability to read and write was impressive enough for the 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 Manox, 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.

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.

Arrival at court

Katherine'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, Katherine quickly caught the eye of the King, who had displayed little interest in Anne from the start. Katherine'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 Howards (a family proud of their grand lineage) in Henry VIII's court, and this Catholic family saw Katherine 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 Katherine.

Marriage

[[Image:Catherine Howard Arms.svg|thumb|right|upright|Catherine Howard's arms as queen consort]]When Henry had his marriage to Anne of Cleves annulled on 9 July 1540, rumours swirled that Catherine was pregnant with his child. Their quick marriage just a few weeks after the annulment from Anne, in July 1540, reflected Henry's lifelong urgency to secure the Tudor succession by begetting healthy, legitimate sons, since he had only one, Edward (later Edward VI). Henry, nearing 50 and expanding in girth, showered his young bride with wealth, jewels, and fantastically expensive gifts. War with Francemarker 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 volonté que la sienne" or "No other wish 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 around 21 stone, about 136 kilograms (300 pounds), 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 Catherine's cousin 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 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 Manox 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.

Downfall

Catherine Howard by Hans Holbein the Younger
By late 1541, the "northern progress" of England had ended, and Catherine's indiscretions rapidly became known thanks to John Lascelles , a Protestant reformer whose sister, Mary Hall, was a chambermaid to the Dowager Duchess; she had witnessed Catherine's youthful sexual liaisons. Lascelles presented the information to Thomas Cranmer, then Archbishop of Canterbury 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 2 November 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 Londonmarker, as well as a love letter to Culpeper in Catherine's distinctive handwriting, which is the only letter of hers that still survives.

Catherine was charged with treason, but she never, even to her confessor just hours before her death, admitted to infidelity. 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.

According to legend, after being ordered to keep to her rooms, Catherine briefly escaped her guard's clutches to run to the chapel where Henry was hearing 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 Courtmarker, where she was confined, accompanied only by Lady Rochford. However, this tale has been proven as false, since Catherine was not fully aware of the charges against her until Cranmer and a delegation of councillors were sent to Hampton Court to question her on 7 November. 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." 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 23 November and imprisoned in Syon Housemarker, Middlesexmarker, through the winter of 1541. Culpeper and Dereham were executed at Tyburnmarker on 10 December 1541 — the former beheaded, the latter hanged, drawn and quartered — for treasonous conduct. As was customary, their heads were placed atop London Bridgemarker. Catherine's relatives were also detained in the Tower, except her uncle Thomas, 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 it treason – punishable by death – for a queen consort to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within 20 days of their marriage, or to incite someone to have adultery with her. This solved the matter of Catherine's supposed precontract and made her unequivocally guilty. Catherine was taken to the Tower of Londonmarker on 10 February 1542. On 11 February, the bill of attainder received the Royal Assent, and Catherine's execution was scheduled for 7 a.m. on 13 February.

The night before her execution, Catherine is said to have spent many hours practising how to lay her head upon the block. She died with relative composure but looked pale and 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." However, this final declaration of love did not occur; its invention was an attempt to give Catherine's story some mark of distinction. She was beheaded with one stroke, and her body was buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby chapel of St Peter ad Vinculamarker, 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!"

Lineage




Historiography

Catherine is not regarded as a particularly important character, in terms of long-lasting historical significance. Dr. Diarmaid MacCulloch of the University of Oxfordmarker 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 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

The Windsor version of the Holbein miniature
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.

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 Gallerymarker 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 fifth Queen.

In film



In fiction

  • Catherine's story is fictionalized in the young adult novel The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby.
  • Catherine's story is fictionalized in the novel Murder Most Royal and Rose Without a Thorn by Jean Plaidy.
  • Catherine is a main 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.
  • Catherine's life was told in the new play commissioned by Shakespeare's The Rose marker., Bankside in 'Rose without A Thorn' in 2008 written by Harry Denford.


Notes

  1. 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".
  2. Farquhar, Michael (2001). A Treasure of Royal Scandals, p.77. Penguin Books, New York. ISBN 0739420259.
  3. Eleanor Herman, Sex with the Queen, William Morrow, 2006. ISBN 0-06-084673-9. See pages 81-82.
  4. Primary Sources: The fall of Catherine Howard, 1541
  5. 33 Hen.8 c.21
  6. B Alison Weir, Six Wives of Henry VIII, Grove Presws, 2000. ISBN 0-8021-3683-4. See page 475.
  7. Daily Telegraph review of E.W. Ives's The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (18/07/2004) (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2004/07/18/boive18.xml)
  8. 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.


Bibliography

  • 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)


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