On Sunday 12th February 1542, Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, was informed that she should “dispose her soul and prepare for death, for she was to be beheaded next day”.
Clergyman Dr John White, later Bishop of Lincoln then Winchester, visited Catherine to hear her last confession. Catherine “confessed the miscarriages of her former life, before the King married her”, i.e. her behaviour while she was in her step-grandmother’s household and her relationship with Francis Dereham, “but stood absolutely to her denial as to any thing after that.” Gilbert Burnet records in his “The History of the Reformation of the Church of England”:
“she took God and his angels to be her witnesses, upon the salvation of her soul, that she was guiltless of that act of defiling her Sovereign’s bed, for which she was condemned.”
Catherine was adamant that she had been faithful to her husband, the king.
Then, according to Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, she prepared for her execution by requesting the block:
“In the same evening she asked to see the block, pretending that she wanted to know how she was to place her head on it. This was granted, and the block being brought in, she herself tried and placed her head on it by way of experiment.”
It is hard to imagine how it must have felt knowing that you had just hours to live and that your end would be a brutal and public one.
Notes and Sources
- Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 6 Part 1, 232, Eustace Chapuys to the Emperor.
- Burnet, Gilbert (1643-1715), ed. Pocock, Nicholas (1814-1897) The History of the Reformation of the Church of England, Volume 1, Clarendon Press, 1865, p. 496.
- Russell, Gareth (2017) Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII, William Collins.