13 February 1542 – Lady Rochford and Queen Catherine Howard died repentant

Katherine HowardOn this day in history, 13th February 1542, Queen Catherine Howard and her lady-in-waiting, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, “died repentaunt” at the executioner’s hands within the confines of the Tower of London.

Catherine Howard was the fifth wife of King Henry VIII, having married him on 28th July 1540, and Lady Rochford was the widow of George Boleyn, brother of Queen Anne Boleyn. The two women had been found guilty of treason by a bill of attainder and condemned to death. Catherine was found to have led a “dissolute life previous to her marriage” and then Lady Rochford had helped her to have secret meetings with Thomas Culpeper, a member of the King’s Privy Chamber, while she was married to the King.

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11 thoughts on “13 February 1542 – Lady Rochford and Queen Catherine Howard died repentant”
  1. Over 450 years ago today, a young woman went to the scaffold. The downfall of Katherine Howard was one of the most infamous scandals of the Tudor period and led to the deaths of four people. Irrespective of how we assess Katherine’s personality or her actions, it cannot be denied that she went to her death with dignity, courage and composure. She was aged between seventeen and nineteen when she died, and it is to her credit that she admitted her mistakes and praised her husband, before submitting to the axe.

    Lady Rochford may not have been sane when she was executed, but Henry clearly wanted her dead; it did not matter if she was sane or not. I feel sorry for Francis Dereham, too, who was cruelly tortured for weeks on end, while Robert Damport may have lost all his teeth as part of his torture. By contrast, Thomas Culpeper had the ‘easier’ death of beheading.

    Katherine’s downfall does not portray Henry VIII in a good light. No, it portrays him as vengeful, sadistic and cruel. He did not have to execute his wife, nor did he have to execute a woman who was perhaps not sane, nor did he have to torture a young man almost to death, nor did he have to imprison most of the Howards and seize their property. I want to point out that Katherine’s actions were not even crimes when they were committed: having a premarital affair is not treason, it is not punishable by the death penalty. Nor is meeting someone alone at night in her rooms.

    Katherine’s actions were foolish, reckless, but they were not treasonable. Did she intend to commit adultery with Culpeper? Well, the jury is out on that one, but if she was pre-contracted to Dereham, then she was not even Henry’s wife in the first place and he could have had her expelled from court and made to live with Dereham. Lady Rochford could have been banished in disgrace, her property seized.

    The bloody scene on the scaffold in February 1542 could have been avoided. But Katherine and Lady Rochford had accepted the justice of their sentences and met their deaths calmly, meekly and with composure. They were mercifully executed with one stroke of the axe and were buried at the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, a lovely and peaceful setting. I hope that they have found peace in death.

    1. The problem was Culpeper admitted that he intended to do unto the queen and she likewise thus the intention was considered treasonous which did put Catherine right in it, I don’t understand Culpeper making that remark at all because after saying it he knew nothing could save them then, I have a theory she had maybe angered him by ending it and he was so put out it made him rather vindictive and reckless, in fact knowing what we do of his character( if it’s true about the rape of the park keepers wife) then it ties in exactly with his disgusting treatment of women, low born or high born, yet he was the one who got off with a lighter sentence and Derham suffered the full awful fate of the traitor.

  2. I believe that Katherine was foolish and probably guilty of adultery, but adultery was still a sin, not a crime, I believe. I think this was charged soon afterwards. The rest of what was called presumption of treason was clearly intended to make the charges punishable by death. Yes, they all indicated that they intended to go further and one of them said they would be lovers if the King wasn’t around, or so we are told, which is imagination of the Kings death, but really how serious were they? Garath Russell believes that torture was used on the men, as the term for their interrogation was extreme interrogation, a term that indicates torture. Torture or threat of it could be anything from thumb screws or some other smaller painful device to the rack and all sorts of other horrors inbetween. It normally needed an order from the King, but Henry had told the council to dig deeper. It was under duress that Dereham caved and blurted out that he had been replaced by Culpeper. Who knows what rubbish they may have splurged under duress? However, Katherine was condemned mainly for her life before marriage to the King and Henry hasn’t even given the ladies a trial.

    Jane and Katherine had been condemned by an act of parliament which was unique and for that reason their execution is particularly unfair, guilty or not. Both women were almost hysterical when they were questioned and nobody had admitted to adultery. Basically they died for thought crimes, their intentions. Jane was only nursed to get her ready for her execution in case she died of fright in the Tower (see Fox notes on chapter 31) and Katherine was a mess of tears every time someone came to question her. It is a wonder either of them kept it together on the scaffold and Jane still appears to have been away with the fairys.

    Katherine was a Catholic and with most people feared the after life unless repentance was true. I am certain her expression of sorrow and faith was genuine and the same of Jane, who confessed to every sin from the ‘creation of the world ‘, probably because she was still unwell. Both ladies died with dignity, although I wish Katherine had have expressed a wish to be with Culpeper. The Tudors treated this scene shamefully. Katherine was young and had been reckless. But she had also made Henry a decent Queen and that makes this all the more tragic.

    RIP Jane Parker Boleyn, Lady Rochford and Katherine Howard, Queen of England. May the Lord send perpetual light to shine upon them and grant them His peace. Amen. YNWA

  3. Rip Queen Katherine Howard and Lady Rochford. Katherine was too young or perhaps too misguided to understand that she was not free to follow her own passions. And payed with her life for that. It seems to me she would have traded the jewels and gowns and the glory for a simple life with the one she loved. When she found out what it was to love and be loved, unfortunately it was too late by the time she was beginning to figuring this out.

  4. I’d give a lot to read even ONE non-coerced statement from Jane Boleyn on just what she thought she was doing with Katherine Howard — especially since Julia Fox’s biography came out and it became clear that Jane wasn’t necessarily some inherently twisted personality.

    1. Sonetka, it is a mystery. There is no evidence that Jane was being rewarded for arranging the trysts during the progress, which to me weakens the theory that she was being blackmailed. Katherine’s ladies later blamed Jane for the affair, but I wonder if they were using her as a scapegoat by this point. I tend to think that Jane and the queen had a shared love of intrigue. Evidence suggests that Katherine eventually grew frightened and asked Jane to stop the meetings with Culpeper, and there is evidence that Jane promised never to betray Katherine’s trust. Who knows? We can debate this till the cows come home, but none of us will ever know.

      1. I agree with the theory that Katherine’s other ladies threw Jane “under the bus” so to say. Katheryn Tynley was actually present at one of the meetings…She said that she was in a side room with one of Jane’s servants while Katherine met with Culpeper. Why she wasn’t charged, I have no idea. My guess is that Henry wanted to get rid of the last remaining reminder of the Boleyns. It appears that Jane continued to wear black long out of her mourning period and she successfully lobbied to get her wedding bed back after the king confiscated it in 1536. My guess is that she wasn’t one to just bury George’s memory and that probably didn’t please the king all that much. Perhaps it occurred to him more than once that he should have lumped her in with the rest of the executions in 1536. I would also assert that he felt particularly wrathful towards Jane because he knew the charges against Anne were fraudulent and it had come round to bite him for real with Katherine. I don’t think Jane was being blackmailed…I think she was vulnerable and got into something she couldn’t get out of.

        1. I was lucky enough to discuss Jane with Julia Fox and to paraphrase, as I can’t remember her exact words, she said that she thought it could well have been a case of Jane agreeing to help the couple once and then, by doing that, already being guilty of misprision of treason. Plus, the person she had been able to talk to in the past and go to for help, Thomas Cromwell, was no longer around. As Adrienne says, she got herself into something she couldn’t get out of, she’d done it once so she might as well do it again, and it kind of snowballed from there.

  5. I feel badly for Katherine as she was in a no win scenario. Growing up in the Dowager’s household, she was a target of what we would call today child molestation or statutory rape. She was used as a pawn by her family for advancement. She was preyed upon by Culpepper, and vulnerable to his flattery based upon her upbringing. And she was forced into a marriage with a narcissistic bully. God speed Katherine.

    1. Hi Mickey, while Catherine certainly had problems with Mannox that could be described today as grooming or abuse, the evidence that she was raped is very much in dispute. When she was married to Henry, she was of an age that was normal for the time. Regardless of whether you accept that she was 15, 16 or 17,_marriage to an older man was not unusual and we can’t put modern ideals towards judging her relationship with Henry. The evidence that she was preyed upon is not supported by most sources or historians, who agree that their relationship was consensual. In addition Katherine was not forced to marry Henry, who treated her very well and loved her. He didn’t bully her. When Henry learned of her alleged affair and earlier behaviour he was devastated.

      It is only in his last few weeks dealing with Katherine that we do see a more ruthless element. First, he denied the two women a trial. Second he seems more determined as time goes on that they are guilty and execution is the only penalty. Third, he puts pressure on Parliament to change the law and allow an insane person to die. It’s this that makes his treatment of Katherine and Jane more like revenge than justice. However, he had been fair with her at first. Katherine was young, 18 or 19 when she was executed and this makes us have more sympathy for her, but Henry would have seen her actions in the light of the treason act. There is evidence that he was convinced that she was plotting to kill him or wished him dead. That made her guilty of presumption of treason, she planned to do something. Under the law, that was enough. That doesn’t change the tragedy of her end and there are also many questions about her guilt. Henry was ruthless and could be a bully, especially when wronged, but he had not bullied Katherine during their marriage, nor had he statuary raped her, she was not forced to marry him and if she did cheat on him, that is her fault, not his. Katherine probably could have been set aside without being executed, Jane certainly was not sane and should not be executed, that was the cruel tragedy of an angry, hurt, vengeful husband.

  6. I feel sympathy for Katherine Howard and Jane Parker. Henry VIII
    wasn’t punished for his crimes. He cheated on almost all of his
    wives. Henry VIII was a murder. The Howard Family and the
    Bolyen Family should have all been exiled. Henry VIII just had the
    executioner to kill so many people during his reign. He hadLady
    Salisbury beheaded. She was a relative. Jane Parker was to.

    He should have been dethroned.

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