Portrait miniature by
|Queen consort of England|
|Tenure||28 July 1540 - 23 November 1541|
|Died||13 February 1542 (aged about 18/19)|
Tower of London, London
|Burial||13 February 1542|
Church of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London, London
Henry VIII of England
|Father||Lord Edmund Howard|
Catherine Howard (c. 1523 - 13 February 1542) was queen consort of England from 1540 until 1541 as the fifth wife of Henry VIII.[a] She was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper, cousin to Anne Boleyn (the second wife of Henry VIII), and niece to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Howard was a prominent politician at Henry's court, and he secured her a place in the household of Henry's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, where she caught the king's interest. She married him on 28 July 1540 at Oatlands Palace in Surrey, almost immediately after the annulment of his marriage to Anne. He was 49 and she was 16 or 17.
Catherine was stripped of her title as queen in November 1541. She was beheaded three months later on the grounds of treason for committing adultery with her distant cousin Thomas Culpeper.
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), Anne's daughter by Henry VIII. As a granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443-1524), Catherine had an aristocratic pedigree. Her father was not wealthy, being the third son among 21 children and disfavoured in the custom of primogeniture, by which the eldest son inherits all his father's estate.
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 from continental Europe.
Catherine was probably born in Lambeth in about 1523, but the exact date of her birth is unknown. 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.
As a result of the Dowager Duchess's lack of discipline, Catherine became influenced by some older girls who allowed men into the sleeping areas at night for entertainment. The girls were rewarded with food, 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.
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 allegedly 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.
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 Thomas 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 Anne Boleyn's reign as queen consort. 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 'very jewel of womanhood' (that he called her his 'rose without a thorn' is likely a myth). 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. She was 16 or 17 and he was 49. 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 will but his/hers), 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.
Catherine may have been involved during her marriage to the King 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. She had considered marrying Culpeper during her time as a maid-of-honour to Anne of Cleves. Culpeper called Catherine "my little, sweet fool" in a love letter. It has been alleged that in the spring of 1541 the pair were meeting secretly. Their meetings were allegedly 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 17-year-old Catherine's conduct. People who claimed to have witnessed her earlier sexual behaviour while still a ward at Lambeth reportedly contacted her for favours in return for their silence, and some of these blackmailers may have been appointed to her royal household. John Lascelles, the brother of Mary Lascelles, claimed that he tried to persuade his sister to find a place within the Queen's royal chamber. However Mary allegedly refused, stating she had witnessed the "light" ways of Queen Catherine while living together at Lambeth. Supposedly after hearing this John Lascelles reported such news to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who then interrogated Lascelles's sister. Under the archbishop's interrogation, Mary alleged that Catherine had had sexual relations while under the Duchess's care, before her relationship with the King.
Cranmer immediately took up the case to be made to topple his rivals--the Roman Catholic Norfolk family. Lady Rochford was interrogated and from fear of being tortured agreed to talk. 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 survives (other than her later "confession").
It is unlikely that King Henry was unaware of the allegations against his wife when on All Saints' Day, 1 November 1541, he arranged to be found praying in the Chapel Royal, where he received 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 the teenage 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.
Establishing the existence of a precontract between Catherine and Dereham would have had the effect of terminating Catherine's royal union, but it would also have allowed Henry to annul their marriage and banish her from Court in poverty and disgrace instead of executing her, though there is no indication that Henry would have chosen that alternative. Yet Catherine 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 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.
The Duke of Norfolk's son Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, a poet, remained a favourite of the King. The Duke, knowing 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 further into morbidity and indulged his appetite for food and women.
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 retroactively solved the matter of Catherine's supposed precontract and made her unequivocally guilty. No formal trial was held.
When the Lords of the Council came for her she allegedly panicked and screamed aloud as they manhandled her into the 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 last 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. This was typical of the speeches given by those executed during that period, most likely in an effort to protect their families, since the condemned's last words would be relayed to the King. Catherine was beheaded with a single stroke of the executioner's axe.
Lady Rochford was executed immediately thereafter on Tower Green. Both 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", as did Francis Hackett in his 1929 biography of Henry. 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.
Buccleuch version of the Holbein miniature
Unknown woman formerly known as 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. Debate continues about the identity of the sitter(s) for these portraits, and there is no portrait conclusively known to be of Henry's fifth queen.
Susan James, Jamie Franco, and Conor Byrne have identified the "Portrait of a Young Woman" in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art as a likely portrait of the queen. The painting is attributed to the workshop of Hans Holbein.
Most historians believe that a round 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.
The contemporary Hans Holbein the Younger portrait of a woman in black (Toledo Museum of Art), was identified by Sir Lionel Cust in 1909 as Catherine Two copies of Holbein's original are extant: one at Hever Castle and another owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London. The portrait has long been associated with Henry VIII's young queen; however, the identification of the portrait as Catherine Howard is widely but not universally discounted.
The text on the portrait, ETATIS SVA 21, indicates that the sitter was 21 years old, an age Catherine Howard never reached. Herbert Norris notes that the sitter is wearing a sleeve which follows a style set by Anne of Cleves, which would date the portrait to after 6 January 1540, when Anne's marriage to Henry VIII took place. The original Holbein is dated to 1535-1540, but the National Portrait Gallery dates their copy to the late 1600s. This would seem to indicate a sitter who was still a connection to be commemorated over a century later (unlike Catherine).
Historians Antonia Fraser and Derek Wilson believe that the portrait is far more likely to depict Elizabeth Seymour. Antonia Fraser has argued that the sitter is Jane Seymour's sister, Elizabeth, the widow of Sir Anthony Ughtred, on the grounds that the lady bears a resemblance to Jane, especially around the nose and chin, and wears widow's black. Black clothing, however, was expensive, and did not necessarily signify mourning: it was an indication of wealth and status. Derek Wilson observed that "In August 1537 Cromwell succeeded in marrying his son, Gregory, to Elizabeth Seymour", the queen's younger sister. He was therefore related by marriage to the king, "an event worth recording for posterity, by a portrait of his daughter-in-law." The painting was in the possession of the Cromwell family for centuries.
The portrait shown on this page, attributed to Hans Holbein, dated circa 1535-1540, is exhibited at the Toledo Museum of Art as Portrait of a Lady, Probably a Member of the Cromwell Family (1926.57). Another version of the portrait, now located at Hever Castle, dating from the 16th century, is exhibited as Queen Catherine Howard. The National Portrait Gallery exhibits a similar painting, Unknown Woman, Formerly Known as Catherine Howard (NPG 1119), which has been dated to the late 17th century. The National Portrait Gallery remains undecided about the sitter's identity.