13 February 1542 – Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford make the most godly and Christian’s end

Lynne Frederick as Catherine HowardOn 13th February 1542, Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, and her lady, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, were executed by beheading within the confines of the Tower of London.

Chronicler Edward Hall recorded:

“And so on the thirtene daie, these twoo ladies were behedded on the Grene, within the Tower with an axe, and confessed their offences, and died repentaunt.”1

And chronicler and Windsor Herald Charles Wriothesley wrote:

“And the 13th of February, beinge Monday, the sayd Quene, otherwise Lady Katharine Haward, was beheaded within the Tower on the grene, and my Lady of Rochforde allso; the Lordes of the Counsell, with other noblemen, and certaine commoners, beinge there present at the execution, she beinge afore condempned by the body of the whole Parliament of high treason.”2

An eye-witness, London merchant Otwell Johnson, wrote an account of the executions in a letter to his brother, John Johnson, a merchant of the Staple at Calais, dated 15th February 1541:3

“[…] and for news from hens, know ye, that even according to my writing on Sonday last, I se the Quene and the Lady Retcheford suffer within the Tower, the day following, whos sowles (I doubt not) be with God, for thay made the moost godly and christyan’s end, that ever was hard tell of (I thinke) since the worlds creation; uttering thayer lively faeth in the blode of Christe onely, and with goodly words and stedfast countenances thay desyred all christen people to take regard unto thayer worthy and just punnishment with death for thayer offences, and agenst God hainously from thayer youth upward, in breaking all his commandements, and also agenst the King’s royall Majesty very daungeriously: wherfore thay being justly condempned (as thay sayed) by the Lawes of the Realme and Parlement, to dye, required the people (I say) to take example at them, for amendement of thayer ungodly lyves, and gladdly to obey the King in all things, for whos preservation they did hartely pray; and willed all people so to do: commending thayer sowles to God, and ernestly calling for mercy upon him: whom I besieche to geve us grace, with such faeth, hope, and charite at our departing owt of this miserable world, to come to the fruytion of his godhed in joy everlasting. Amen.
Your loving brother
Otwell Johnson”4

None of these accounts back up that of The Spanish Chronicle, which has Catherine saying, “I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpeper. God have mercy on my soul. Good people, I beg you pray for me.”5 Click here to read more about this.

Notes and Sources

Image: Lynne Frederick as Catherine Howard in “Henry VIII and His Six Wives”.

  1. Hall, Edward (1809) Hall’s chronicle: containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, printed for J. Johnson; F.C. and J. Rivington; T. Payne; Wilkie and Robinson; Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme; Cadell and Davies; and J. Mawman; London. p.843.
  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. 134.
  3. The Tudor calendar year didn’t start until Lady Day on 25th March so what Johnson called “February 1541” is what we’d call “February 1542”.
  4. ed. Ellis, Henry (1825) Original letters, illustrative of English history, Volume II, p.128.
  5. transl. Hume, Martin A. Sharp, The Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England (The Spanish Chronicle), p.86.

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9 thoughts on “13 February 1542 – Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford make the most godly and Christian’s end”
  1. I think that drama and theatre like to take the most controversial or dramatic sources and romantic legends about tragic queens because they make for just that good drama. Tudor executions were dramatic and full of colour and imagination anyway, so why not add some tragic romance. Who would not go ah at a young woman proffessing her love and devotion for her decapitated lover on the scaffold? Perhaps the author of the Spanish Chronicle is trying to spice things up with romantic and dramatic license.

    The information on the different things said may vary and may not include the famous wife of Culpeper, but we do get the impression that both ladies died with dignity, even though to be fair, Lady Rochford may have been disconnected to reality of her immediate death. Henry Viii was cruelest in her case as she was not of sound mind and he changed the law so as she could be executed.

    1. I do agree with all your comments and, by the way, I was just taken with disgust at how “The Tudors” treated Katherine Howard’s end.
      She is shown as a young pervert devoid of intelligence as well as of deep feelings.
      I take for certain she was not a learned lady – how could it have been different when sent to her grandfather’s second wife, the dowager duchess of Norfolk soon after her own mother’death ?
      By then , she was about 5 – and as Jane pointed it out under another post she even might have been less …
      I’d rather guess this was because this movie’s hero mr Rhys-Meyer is the main actor.
      As such, he is something of a blameless hero, always candid and loving.
      Even when seized with wrath, it is legitimate one so that he can play the victim.
      So another commonly dramatical part
      I have to admit that this fictional work made me just hate K H.
      A hatred that sometimes stains my thoughts – of what I keep being conscious on the other hand.
      I am fully convinced that Catherine Howard never publicly showed any regret for not dying as Culpeper’s wife – sounds like a tall story an explanation for her faults and so on .
      All the more if she had been informed of the way this man tried to escape his punishment by charging his cousin and queen of having harassed him .
      You are right again about lady Rochford’s cruel death. How dreadful, his cynism and this change of penal law were probably linked with his willing to shut up any witness …

  2. I have been watching The Tudors again on Netflix recently and I agree with Bruno that the programme does tend to portray Henry as a tormented hero and poor Catherine Howard as a nymphomaniac bimbo. I feel that these days we would consider her to have been a victim of child sexual abuse, I know that in times gone by they thought it was perfectly OK to marry at age 12 – Margaret Beaufort was only 13 when she gave birth to Henry VII – but with the lax regime at the Dowager Duchess’ establishment, Catherine may well have been exposed to abuse even younger than that. And she was shamefully betrayed by Culpeper attempting to save his own neck. I very much liked Conor Byrnes book on Catherine where he moves away from the stereotypical view of this poor girl, who was no sillier than many teenagers today, but lost her head anyway. Lady Rochford is an enigmatic figure, but there is no escaping the fact that it was disgraceful to execute someone who was insane.

    1. I fear you are accurate . Who cared about such an orphan bon to a younger Howard ?
      I just read a biography by the french historian Jeanine Huas about the marchioness of Brinvillier (courtesy title in fact), the famous (well, in France…) poisoner.
      Mrs Huas clearly shows – with letters never used before – that this lady, also an orphan (mother’s side), had been raped by one or some servant(s) when aged only seven .
      And that, later her (often estranged) father, on return of one of his numerous detached services caught his daughter “perverting” her brother
      I of course don’t mean poor young Catherine Howard would have become a criminal and not even that she would be pervert
      Just to point how incomplete her education, how unbelievable her being chosen by her powerful family as a bride for K H.

  3. It shows the depth of a persons character when they are faced with a dangerous situation and then start blaming the other party, both Catherine and Jane Rochford were guilty of this, each woman desperately trying to save their own lives by pointing the finger at the other. Jane although foolish wasn’t to blame for Catherine’s meeting with Culpeper, though she possibly encouraged it as Jane was known to delight in intrigue, yet at the end of the day it was Catherine who decided to meet with him, although we find it cruel to execute an insane person Henrys reasoning was that she was perfectly normal when she arranged the trysts for the Queen therefore she shouldn’t be spared, she too was guilty of treason which was a serious crime, the shock and terrifying situation she found herself in led her to having a complete mental collapse and really Henry was quite merciful in letting her reside in the household of his courtier where she was slowly nursed back to a certain level of sanity, they were both extremely foolish silly women to think they could deceive Henry for so long and get away with it, Catherine’s youth and naivety was to blame primarily I think, but Jane was an older mature woman and she had already been in a terrifying situation before therefore she should have known better, she appears to have had a death wish, all these people Culpeper included knew that what they were doing was punishable by death yet still they did it, it was a cruel intolerant age where life was cheap and yet they risked their lives was it because of the age in which they lived in – did the fact that death was just around the corner from the minute they were born make them more foolhardy, more reckless than us? It was an age when if you survived your first formative years without being carried of by mumps or chicken pox, and then you had the risk of catching the plague if you got to your twenties you could expect to live till you were thirty or more, the risk of childbirth was there for women of all classes, richer people were better fed and possibly had more chance of survival then the lower classes, for the people in Henrys court it was all about power and petty jealousies, the spectre of the axe or the gallows must have always been there and so they were so used to it maybe they ceased to fear it, an ill chosen word was enough to send a man or a woman to the Tower, Culpeper was guilty of the rape of a woman of the lower classes and had got away with it, possibly because of his connections so he probably thought he was invincible, I’m not sure if Catherine knew of this but it shows he was of dubious character, he however was mercifully beheaded instead of suffering the full horror of hanging drawing and quartering, both the Queen and Jane at their executions showed dignity, yet poor Catherine was so weak she seemed as if in a daze, no doubt she hadn’t slept or eaten well for days and Jane was very calm, the story of wether or not Catherine said she would rather die the wife of Culpeper is just that a story, no doubt embellished by later writers to add a touch of drama to the scene, as if more drama were needed.

  4. Is it true that Henry VIII had a party that night or the next night, Valantine Day as he had already aranged this because it was a traditional celebration that happened every year and court ceremonials went on regardless; or did he have a party because he felt like it? I read somewhere that Henry had a Valantine feast with all the dishes in pink or read, all the costumes were pink, all the decorations were pink and that many ladies were invited, but that all looked at the King who was dressed in black and that it became a funeral feast. I also read somewhere that he saw the ghost of Katherine Howard and started at the air, as if shock and amazement, as nonbody else saw the spirit. I am not sure where, but a variety of places most probably and I know there is an imaginary account in the Autobiography of Henry VIII novel. I also recall some scenes from the Tudors, but wonder if this is reflected in the sources or true in any way. Thanks.

  5. The true end of Kathryn Howard and Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford proves they found some dignity at the end. I do wonder at the state of mind of Jane, however, who had been mentally incompetent and nursed back to health so as Henry could execute her. I believe she was still unwell. I believe Kathryn was very frightened but summoned up courage within herself to make a brave and repentant end. It is a tragedy because of her age and her foolishness had brought her to this sad end. May both ladies rest in peace.

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