Portrait of an unknown woman, possibly Catherine Howard
Portrait of an unknown woman, possibly Catherine Howard
On 10th February 1542, Queen Catherine Howard was taken from Syon House, where she’d been kept since November 1541, to the Tower of London in preparation for her execution.

Lady Rochford (Jane Boleyn), who was accused of helping Catherine with her treachery, had been taken to the Tower the previous night, having been nursed back to health from “symptoms of madness”. She had been nursed at Russell House on the Strand, the London residence of Sir John Russell, Lord Admiral, and his wife Anne, under the supervision of the King’s own doctors.1

Chronicler Charles Wriothesley records Catherine’s move to the Tower:

“The 10th of February the Quene was had by water from Sion to the Tower of London, the Duke of Suffolke, the Lord Privie Seale, and the Lord Great Chamberlaine having the coveyance of her.”2

Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, also recorded Catherine’s journey:

“Some days after, that is to say on the afternoon of the 10th, the Queen after some difficulty and resistance was conducted to the Tower by the river. The Lord Privy Seal, with a number of privy councillors and a large retinue of servants, went first in a large oared barge; then came a small covered boat with the Queen and four ladies of her suite, besides four sailors to man the boat. Then followed the duke of Suffolk in a big and well-manned barge, with plenty of armed men inside. On their arrival at the Tower stairs the Lord Privy Seal and the duke of Suffolk landed first; then the Queen herself, dressed in black velvet, with the same honors and ceremonies as if she were still reigning.”3

So, Catherine was escorted by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk; William Fitzwilliam, 1st Earl of Southampton and the Lord Privy Seal; and Robert Radcliffe, 1st Earl of Sussex and Lord Great Chamberlain.

A bill of attainder against Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Rochford was introduced into the House of Lords on 21st January 1542 and received royal assent on 11th February. According to this bill, the women were guilty of treason and could be punished without there being any need for a trial.4 Something else which received royal assent in the House of Lord on 11th February was an act “for due process to be had in high treason in cases of lunacy or madness”.5 This meant that “a person becoming insane after the supposed commission of treason, might be tried; or losing his rational faculties after attainder, might be executed”, so even if Lady Rochford didn’t recover her faculties she could still be executed.6 Henry VIII was determined to punish these women. The legislation regarding insane people and high treason was repealed in Mary I’s reign, by the Treason Act of 1554.7

Also on this day in history, 10th February 1567, the murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. Click here to read more about his murder.

Notes and Sources

Image: Portrait of an unknown woman thought by some to be Catherine Howard, workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

  1. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume XVI, 1401.
  2. Wriothesley, Charles (1875 edition) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Volume 1, Camden Society, p. 133.
  3. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 6 Part 1, 1538-1542, 232.
  4. LP xvii. 28 ii Acts printed in the Statutes at Large, but not entered on the Parliament Roll, C21.
  5. LP xvii. 28 xv c. 20, o.n. 33 of the year 37 Hen. VIII.
  6. ed. Wharton, Thomas I., Esq (1842) The Law Library, Volume 38, John S. Littell, p.230.
  7. The Treason Act 1554 (1 & 2 Ph & M c. 10), mentioned in “History of Insanity as a Defence to Crime in English Criminal Law” by Homer D. Crotty, in California Law Review, Volume 12, Issue 2, Article 3, January 1924, p. 111.

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13 thoughts on “10 February 1542 – Queen Catherine Howard is moved from Syon to the Tower”
  1. Again, a dreadful fact .
    No need to put on trial a girl hardly 20 (who, being soon left an orphan was not prepared at all to become a queen) and a lady having got mad .
    I can but hope there were some audience for their execution to see how cruel and unfair .
    What is the likelihood the girl on the painting above should be Catherine Howard ?
    I mean, I was told that there were many portraits suggested in the past, but nothing convincing, nothing “fitting” .
    This one is rather different : it does show a young lady and, even if it is not by the hand of Hans Holbein (might be his workshop, but the style is quite different), the sitter is rather attractive – even of course if not enough to make Catherine Howard deserve so much praise for her good looks .
    Just a question .


  2. The portrait definitely shows an attractive young woman, and could easily have been Catherine Howard. It’s a pity that there were never any official ones done of her when she was Queen.

    1. Maybe some day a painting of Catherine will show up that can be identified as definitely being one of her. The above portrait could very well have been Catherine Howard, since it shows a younger woman than the painting that for years was dubbed to be her. I never could believe it, as to me it looked like a woman older than what Catherine would have been. Even the coloring of that lady did not fit in that well with what we know of Catherine. This one shows a young, attractive lady; one which Henry would not be likely to pass up. The other, earlier proposed one, while not unattractive, did not really look like Henry’s “type”.

  3. On the subject of Ash Wednesday by the way, many Anglican churches (I am Catholic myself but have many C of E friends) do still burn the Palm Crosses and impose the ashes. They even still use the same words as we Catholics do “Remember thou art dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent, and believe the Gospel”

    Poor little Catherine, at the mercy of all those scheming elderly men – estimates of her age vary but many believe she may have been no more than 17 – whether and to what degree she did dally with other men when married to the King is debatable – but who could have blamed her? A harmless, giddy teenager losing her head, tragic.

  4. Henry had already beheaded one wife and wether or not he ever felt remorse for that only he knew and it’s something he took with him to the grave, but in the case of Catherine I find it hard to believe he wouldn’t show her any mercy, Cranmer said that she was in such a state that it moved him to pity, I’m sure if Henry had only seen her tears of sorrow he wouldn’t have been so harsh, but he was the King and she’d made a fool of him, however meting out the extreme penalty wasn’t needed and banishment to a nunnery would have been punishment enough, Henrys personality had changed by this time in his life though from the jovial person he used to be and for any King to even consider executing two let alone one wife shows he was capable of being utterly merciless.

  5. Catherine Howard was held at Syon Abbey for months while she was investigated, members of her family put in prison and questioned, several times, their homes searched and her fate unclear. At first she was merely investigated over her alleged colourful past, but as the name Culpeper cropped up, she was soon under suspicion of adultery and treason. Henry Viii had gone from being willing to forgive her and be lenient, not wanting to believe that the young wife he adored was anything but pure and totally his, to wanting to kill her with his own hand, on learning of her alleged adultery.

    Catherine was still housed here after the alleged lovers were found guilty and executed; this must have given her false hope of pardon and divorce. Remember Anne Boleyn was railroaded through the system within nineteen days. She was killed two days after her alleged lovers. The delay could only be because of the need to collect or find evidence. The method of finding Catherine guilty by Act of Attainer was not a straightforward one. Parliament had to clear the Bill as an Act. The Act was actually sent back four times as the members wanted the queen to have the opportunity to come to the Parliament and make her case. The members were not easy with this one and. Henry had to put his foot down. The Act was granted, the warrant prepared and Suffolk sent to escort the demoted queen to the Tower.

    What I am disturbed by now is how Catherine becomes so upset and hysterical that she was manhandled to the barge and a large troop of soldiers escorted her. She again became upset and hysterical at seeing the heads of Culpeper and Dereham on the spiles as she approached Old London Bridge. Suffolk sounds as if he had little sympathy, clinically doing his job, delivering his prisoner to the Tower. It was only there that Catherine, told she was about to die, finally found some digity and prepared to meet death composed.

    1. Thank you Bandit queen for this further information.
      Even if the real end you are depicting happens to be still worse than what I feared …
      The sight of Culpeper’s and Dereham’s heads was clearly a terrible shock
      I am not that surprised with Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk’ s behavior.
      His whole life seems to be marked by his cynism – the only matter of surprise would rather be how, among his many wives, a royal princess could have fallen in love with such a man, enough to make him the honor of becoming K H’s brother-in-law.
      As he was nearly 60 at the time of Catherine Howard’s death, we can see how hartless when faced with such a young human creature’s execution.
      Thank you again for you noticing the work of the Parliament about this very unfair Act.
      Queen Catherine would not be heard pleading, but the law was applied – even if we know how K H’s men used to collect suspects’ confessions.
      Parliamentarians’ pride against K H’s tyrannical way of clearing up what he considered his own honor – regardless to his nation’s – is something comforting in these cruel circumstances, isn’t it ?

    2. Yes Anne was arrested condemned and executed all within just under three weeks, it was done with such haste that for this very reason historians and the people at the time thought she was framed, there was no real evidence of her guilt and only one confession that may have been extracted under torture, the farce of the trial was just that, a farce yet Henry was genuinely shocked at Catherine’s betrayal and his behaviour which was so different from his second wife’s so called adultery proves he was hurting very much, and that the so called horror at Anne’s betrayal was just an act, one observer said he wore his horns lightly and was dining with his courtiers as Anne languished in the Tower, yet with Catherine he wept in front of his council when the proof of her adultery was brought home to him, I find this quite poignant yet he condemned his second wife and five men one of whom was his friend of many years to death therefore I can’t say I feel sorry for him, he had the power of life and death over so many and could have deployed some mercy, blinding fury soon replaced his tears however when he saw how he’d been cuckolded, his rage must have been terrifying to behold, it was the fury that condemned Catherine and Dereham and Culpeper, after her death it was said he sunk into a depression that I think was the onset of his decline, he then met his sixth wife and she was so much more suitable, mature and able to nurse him when he was in pain, was intelligent and was able to engage with him in matters of theology and religion, he must have realised he had been foolish to have married such a young girl like Catherine, Henry was at his pipe and slippers stage and she was about thirty years younger, of course the Howards were good at breeding so fertility was possibly what Henry was thinking of, he needed another son therefore the younger the better, yet at terms of suitability it was a no go, marriage is all about companionship to so out of all his wives I think his sixth and last wife was the better suited for Henry, although of course Katherine of Aragon was married to him for the longest.

      1. Christine, it is all quite convincing .
        At the time of Anne’s trial, K H had just got fed up with her, so showed no regret at sending her to death .
        But when he had young Catherine Howard beheaded, he was certainly aware that this tragic end by his hand meant he would probably not get further sons with any other woman .
        There were some doubts about his sexuality/fertility raised from then (might be in his own mind?)
        So if it was a matter of having a quiet companion in order to spend his old age with, why not someone like Katherine Parr indeed ?
        I don’t know if his last wife was or not the best one – the one he should have sought from the start.
        Because through years himself had grown sour, disillusioned.
        I am not sure the myth of a young and loveable K H ever existed for real – I cant forget he began his reign by making his father’s coworkers executed (we can’t even imagine he had the same scruples as a young Nero, by then, because it was just his own will ).
        But at 50 K H had certainly thrown up his will to prove he was godly blessed and could father other princes

  6. What surprised me is that even in the 1500s mental disorders/illnesses were recognized as such and taken into consideration when executing someone. The irony is that when and if that person recovered (as Lady Rochford apparently did) he/she could then be executed. It’s as if they wanted people to be fully aware and understanding of the misdeeds that brought them to the scaffold. Not ironic, really, but to me it brings an additional element of cruelty to the situation. If you get well, you die. 🙁

      1. Henry Viii knew she was ill and insane but he made a change to the law to allow an insane person to die. She was nursed back to health to a certain point but was probably still depressed and psychotic. She was in and out of reason but had a real breakdown. Henry couldn’t execute her so he ordered Parliament to change the law. Now that’s ruthless and insane. She probably wondered what on earth she was doing back at the Tower.

        Kathryn herself was so hysterical when the soldiers came to arrest her that the Duke of Suffolk literally had to man handle her into the barge. It’s incredible how she then regained her composure and spent time preparing for death and had the block brought so as she could practice and die with dignity.

        Cruel times indeed.

  7. Jane Rochford and Catherine Howard played a silly game and it ended with deadly consequences. Like the computer in the movie “War Games” said, “What a strange game. The only way to win is to not play at all.”

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