On All Souls’ Day 1541, Catherine Howard, niece of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and cousin of the late Queen Anne Boleyn, had been queen for just 15 months. She had married Henry VIII as his fifth wife on 28th July 1540, following the annulment of his six month marriage to Anne of Cleves, and the couple appeared to be happy. The young, vivacious Catherine seemed to have restored the king’s youth and his joy in life, little did either of them know that everything was just about to change.

The royal couple had returned to Hampton Court Palace from a four-month-long progress to the north of England on 30th October 1541. Although James V of Scotland had stood up the king in York, the trip had been successful in demonstrating Henry VIII’s authority to the north, a part of the country that had rebelled against him in late 1536 and early 1537, and had been an opportunity for Henry to humiliate his northern subjects and demands displays of submission from them. The king must have been fairly pleased with the progress.

Henry was also pleased with his wife. On All Saints’ Day, 1st November 1541, the king had directed the Bishop of Lincoln at mass “to make prayer and give thanks with him for the good life he led and hoped to [lead with her] […]”. However, his joy and thankfulness was to be shortlived, for on 2nd November 1541, as the king arrived for mass in the Holy Day Closet at Hampton Court Palace, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer gave him a letter. The archbishop asked the king to read it in private, for it concerned a matter that he “had not the heart to tell it by word of mouth”. The letter outlined allegations that had been made by John Lassells, brother of Mary Hall, who’d been a member of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household with Catherine Howard. Mary had told her brother things about Catherine’s past, information that Lassells felt needed to be passed on to the king’s council.

A report from the king’s council to William Paget, the English ambassador in France, gives details about Lassells’ claims:

“Are commanded to signify to him a most miserable case lately revealed. The King, on sentence given of the [invalidity] of his marriage with Anne of Cleves, being solicited by his Council to marry again, took to wife Katharine, daughter to the late lord Edmund Howard, thinking [now in his old] age to have obtained [a jewel] for womanhood, But this joy is turned to [extreme sorrow; for] after receiving his Maker on [All Hallows Day last] and directing the bp. of Lincoln, his [ghostly father], to make prayer and give thanks with him for the good life he led and hoped to [lead with her], on All Souls Day at mass the abp. [of Canterbury] having heard that she was not a woman of [such purity] as was esteemed, sorrowfully revealed it to the King, and how it came to his knowledge.

While the King was in his progress, one John [Lossels] came to the Abp. and told him that he had been with a sister of his, married, in [Sussex], who had been servant with the old duchess of [Norfolk] who brought up the said Katharine, and he had recommended her to sue for service with [the Queen]. She said she would not, but [was very sorry for the Queen]. “Why? quoth Lossels. Marry, quoth she, for she is [light, both in living] and conditions. How so? quoth Lossels.” [She replied] that one Fras. Derham had lain in bed[with her, in his doublet] and hose, between the sheets an hundr[ed nights], and a maid in the house had said she would lie no longer with her because [she knew not what ma]trimony was. Moreover [one] Mannock, a servant of the [Duchess, knew a] privy mark on her body. The Abp., being much perplexed, consulted the lord Chancellor and the [earl of Hertford], and by their advice reported the matter to the King in writing, as he had not the heart to tell it by word of mouth.”

The king didn’t believe these claims about his wife’s past, he believed “the matter forged”, but ordered a full investigation into the matter. Lassells and his sister were to be examined by William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton and Lord Privy Seal, while Thomas Wriothesley, one of the king’s principal secretaries, was to examine Henry Manox, Catherine’s former music tutor, and to apprehend Francis Dereham “on a pretence of piracy”. The king must have hoped that this was all a storm in a teacup, tall tales and gossip, but Southampton and Wriothesley were to bring him bad news:

“Wriothesley found from Mannock’s confession that he used to feel the [secret parts] of her body before Derrham [was familiar] with her; and Derrham confessed that he had k[nown her car]nally many times, both in his doublet and [hose between] the sheets and in naked bed, alleging three women [as witnesses].”

Henry VIII was heartbroken:

“On learning this the King’s heart was pierced with pe[nsiveness, so that it was long] before he could [utter his sorrow]; “and finally, with plenty [of tears, (which was strange] in his courage), opened the same.”

The report goes on to say that “[Katharine was spoken] to by the abp. of [Canterbury, the lord] Chancellor, the duke of Norfolk, [the lord Great Chamberlain], and the bp. of [Winchester]. She at first constantly denied it, but at last disclosed everything [to the abp.] of Canterbury, who took her confession [in writing] subscribed by her hand. Then [the rest of the witnesses], eight or nine men and women, were examined, and agreed in one [tale].”

Just over a month later, after it had come out that the queen had also been having secret meetings with Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman of the king’s privy chamber, the king’s grief had turned to anger and hatred. Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador, reported:

“this King has changed his love for the Queen into hatred, and taken such grief at being deceived that of late it was thought he had gone mad, for he called for a sword to slay her he had loved so much. Sitting in Council he suddenly called for horses without saving where he would go. Sometimes he said irrelevantly (hors de propoz) that that wicked woman had never such delight in her incontinency as she should have torture in her death. And finally he took to tears regretting his ill luck in meeting with such ill-conditioned wives, and blaming his Council for this last mischief.”

Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper were executed for treason at Tyburn on 10th December 1541. Catherine, and her lady, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, were executed at the Tower of London on 13th February 1542.

Notes and Sources

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20 thoughts on “2 November 1541 – The beginning of the end for Queen Catherine Howard”
  1. Whether Katherine and Dereham were actually pre-contracted is unknown because Katherine herself proclaimed that she had not consented to Dereham’s advances, and the early modern Church decreed that both partners had to consent for a marriage to be valid. So her testimony indicated that they hadn’t been married in reality, although Dereham appears to have believed that Katherine was his wife. When he arrived at court, his behaviour was reckless and stupid; he placed both himself and the queen in danger. Almost certainly his boastful remarks in the spring of 1541 came to the attention of Thomas Culpeper, at around about the exact time that Culpeper began meeting with Katherine in secret.

    It seems unlikely that John Lascelles and his sister conspired against the Howards in the autumn of 1541, in a desperate bid to bring the conservatives down as a result of the queen’s indiscretions, but John’s reformist beliefs probably would have meant that he was pleased with discovering scandalous reports of Katherine. When Henry learned of his wife’s past, he may initially have considered annulling the marriage and sending Katherine into exile, as he had done with both Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves. However, when it emerged that the queen had been secretly meeting Culpeper, Henry’s councillors became suspicious that Katherine had committed adultery during her marriage, certainly with Culpeper and possibly also with Dereham.

    I personally am inclined to think it is a myth that Henry would have spared Katherine’s life if she had admitted to the precontract, There is no evidence that she committed adultery with any man, especially Culpeper, but her actions were certainly reckless and the king was furious that his wife had deceived him about her lack of virginity. As Kyra Kramer has pointed out on this website, she had made Henry appear to be a fool. You might wonder how a fifty-year-old king who had had four previous wives and several mistresses could not ascertain that his teenage bride was not a virgin on their wedding day. Henry probably believed that this was the question that would have been in the minds of his councillors, courtiers and ambassadors, and he was enraged to think that a seventeen-year-old girl could make him appear a fool and a laughing stock to the world.

    It is in this light that I think we can read Henry’s outburst that he wished to slay Katherine himself; he felt betrayed, angry, embarrassed and humiliated. I believe that his subsequent marriage to Katherine Parr, a twice-widowed woman of thirty-one, was a conscious decision; she was the opposite of Katherine Howard in almost every way. Never again could he trust himself with a teenager. His anger and sense of betrayal did not fade for some time afterwards, and his relentless punishing of both Katherine and her supposed lovers shows Henry’s vindictiveness and cruel streak. As Gareth Russell has noted, in every stage of the process from November 1541 to February 1542 we can sense Henry effectively guiding his wife into the grave. He would never forgive her, he would treat her with the brutality and cruelty that he had treated Anne Boleyn. Neither she nor her associates had a chance.

    1. Do you not think Connor, that he also felt hurt by what he had found out too, not just by Catherine, but Culpepper too, did he not have a soft spot for him?! Your wife and ” a friend’ going behind your back, secret meetings…what it was leading too,

      1. Hi Dawn, I believe he was very very upset when Culpeper was discovered to have been meeting with his wife secretly, he was a groom of the stool which was a highly favoured position as he tended to his most intimate needs, he was fond of the young man it was true, he was handsome and could have seen himself in him when he was younger, it couldn’t have been easy for him, he was aware he was no spring chicken, he was in ill health and in order to free himself of his second wife he had allowed himself to be paraded like a cuckold on the world stage, now he was in that role again but with a difference, her infidelity was not a stitch up, he did not want to lose his wife, he loved her and he was heartbroken at her infidelity, Catherine Howard is known as the wife who played Henry at his own game, the girl queen who made a fool of Henry V111, all of his wives are known for something or other, Anne Boleyn for refusing to become his mistress which eventually won her the crown and ultimately cost her her head, Jane Seymour for giving him his only surviving legitimate son, Katherine the Spanish princess who nobly refused to bow to his demand for a divorce and Anne Of Cleves the ugly one he never slept with, Catherine Parr is famous for being the one who got away but out of all of them it was only Catherine who dared cheat on him, and she was the one he absolutely adored.

  2. I believe Henry was genuinely in love with Katherine Howard, in spite of her youth. I disagree that he had any intention of killing Katherine at first, but he couldn’t excuse adultery and treason. At this stage he was very clearly distraught. How could Henry be leading Katherine to her grave during the progress as he was not aware of her night time exploits and if Katherine was behaving recklessly, that is herself being foolish? Henry’s actions on their return to London, that is giving thanks for his perfect wife and his happiness are not that of a man “leading his wife to her grave”. In hindsight we can see that Henry had a problem on the progress, a wife who was bored once the party ended and everyone went to bed, but as a Queen it was her duty to be chaste and act chaste, to do stuff with her ladies, pray and prepare herself to provide children. It is a pity Katherine wasn’t pregnant or already a mother at this point as this would have occupied her. She would also have been looking forward to a coronation in this case, at least if she had a son. Henry thought he had the perfect wife and Katherine behaved with dignity in public throughout. He doesn’t seem to have had any problems with her and was in very high spirits. When he heard about her former life Henry thought it was a joke or a plot against her. He ordered an investigation but he also acted with caution concerning Katherine, confining her to her rooms a few days later.

    1. Sorry if that wasn’t clear – Russell said that in November 1541, once Henry knew of the full extent of what had been going on, he was determined that all of those involved should be killed. No chances for Katherine or the other accused. She was going to die and that was that, and we can see her husband’s involvement at every stage of the process.

      So yes, I think in late 1541, Henry VIII was most certainly pressing for his wife to die, just as he masterminded Anne Boleyn’s downfall and death. I don’t know why some people continue to praise or laud him when he was a wife-murderer and capable of vindictiveness, cruelty and hatred towards those who he felt had betrayed him, not just his queens but also Cromwell, Wolsey, More, Fisher etc.

      1. Sorry, Conor, my fault, I misread your post. I thought I read progress and not process. I don’t believe Henry knew how he felt at first, but as it becomes clear that he has been deceived he most certainly manipulated the process from that point. Within a few days he will abandon Katherine and the poor lass was confined to her apartments, with attendance for a time, without knowing why and then she was even more restricted. Henry ran off. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when he set up outside to eat, rather than face what was happening. Henry’s behaviour was always weird, but when he had these crises with his wives, as with Anne, it’s almost as if from the moment they are accused, they don’t exist. With Anne he took himself of to be with the Seymour clan and friends, with Katherine he went to another palace and left his council to sort out the mess. Yes, I too think Henry felt like a fool, although I am not convinced he didn’t know if his wives were virgins or not, not unless they were sexually clever. That she had been presented as chaste, even if her sexual encounters may not have been her fault, and with Mannox she was abused, is what I believe Henry was most angry about. He had been deceived in the sense that nobody told him before he married Katherine about her past and she was most probably told to keep quiet. Henry assumed she was a virgin and he had no reason to assume otherwise, given her status, age and that she came from a noble family and what should have been a sheltered background. It is also possible that the Howards didn’t think it was that important, given the reality of having a Catholic Queen again. It certainly would have put the marriage plans off but then again, Henry did as he wished and he was well into Katherine for months before the marriage in July 1540.

        I am not entirely convinced that Henry wanted to kill Katherine because of her pre marriage relationship, but once the mention of Thomas Culpepper came up, time was up for all concerned. Henry’s anger is very clear from this point, but he still took his time. That was deliberate because nothing was very certain. What more had Francis Dereham been involved in with Katherine was the next question and he was questioned or perhaps sent for special interrogation (some kind of torture or high pressure interrogation). Even under pressure, Dereham denied all sexual contact with Katherine after marriage, as Culpepper had taken his place. He did insist on the pre contract with Katherine and I am convinced that on his return to England, in his mind at least, Francis intended to claim her as his wife, but she was already wed to the King.

        There are contradictory statements in Katherine’s confession, which didn’t help. In one part she said not only that she didn’t see him as her promised husband, but that he forced her sexually. This doesn’t tie into the rest of the confession, in which Katherine also described a full, consensual relationship with gifts, strawberries, parties and consenting sex. She called him husband. Now, I don’t believe she thought of him as her husband, but that doesn’t mean he raped her. This evidence is contradicted by several other women and partly due to the attitude of how women should be chaste nuns before and during marriage, unfortunately for Katherine meant her story was not believed. There was no actual evidence that Katherine and Thomas Culpepper had sexual relations, but she behaved in a dangerous and guilty manner. She was aided in her reckless night time meetings by the even more foolish, Lady Jane Rochford, who as a senior matron of the court should have known better. Jane may have thought she was acting as a chaperone and the poor woman must have been worn out by the young Queens late night chatter. At the end of the day, did Lady Rochford have much choice but to obey, whether it was her idea or not? She too, although she became mentally ill, was to suffer the full revenge of a King, who believed he was wronged. She should have been spared but Henry cruelly had a new law made to allow for a mad person to be executed.

        Henry’s anger fell everywhere. The whole Howard family and relatives found themselves questioned and placed in the Tower or custody. The poor sick old Duchess was severely questioned and all of their chests were locked and confiscated. They were there for months. All were found guilty of misprison of treason and it all probably had to do with Henry thinking some conspiracy was afoot in the marriage of Katherine to him when she was not chaste. His anger fell on other ladies but in return for their testimony they received eventually a pardon.

        Katherine was condemned by the trial and execution of the men accused with her and it is very clear that Francis Dereham faced the full weight of the law, rather than his sentence reduced to beheading because Henry blamed him for the entire situation with his perfect wife. As Katherine had been deflowered, even willingly by Dereham he had spoilt his bride and now it came back to haunt them all. It was also suspected that he intended to renew his relationship with Katherine, which is why he bribed his way into her service. However, he didn’t hold a particular position in the Queens household but made himself a nuisance and had to be corrected for being disrespectful and overly familiar. Dereham is not a loveable character but that is not relevant as it is doubtful that Katherine renewed this relationship because it could threaten her position as Queen.

        Thomas Culpepper showed her some degree of understanding when Henry was ill for several weeks and she found someone to talk to. Whether he bribed her into seeing him or not, Katherine could have dismissed him. He was close to the King, his personal attendant, he was with Henry in his chambers and he was trusted. He was related to Katherine and she found him attractive. Henry sent him with numerous expensive gifts to Katherine and then she began to see him privately herself. Russell dismissed the idea that he held power over Katherine. As he had no right to be in her room, unless sent by Henry, if she really didn’t want him there, scream. The only evidence of a love affair is a controversial love sick note Katherine wrote, which is disputed in it’s authentication and meaning. The charges against them were that they agreed that they intended to go further and so on presumption of treason, they were condemned. Both denied adultery, all parties blamed each other and much was inferred from their answers. It has also been alleged that Culpepper was guilty of murder and rape, but pardoned. However, there were two Thomas Culpeppers at court and we don’t know which one did this. He was allowed a lesser sentence due to his status and place in the King’s service.

        Henry may have taken his time over Katherine but there are good reasons for this. The holidays had to be observed and Parliament had to meet to consider new legislation and a Bill of Attainment against Katherine Howard and Jane Rochford, who were denied a public trial. Although the council and Parliament were not content to condemn Katherine without speaking with her or her coming to Parliament, in the end they were thwarted by Henry and sent to Katherine only to read to her the reasons for her condemnation after passing the said Bill. Three days later both ladies were executed on 13th February 1542.

        While I believe Katherine acted in a reckless way, there is nothing which can point to her guilt and she certainly should have had a trial, but Henry is believed to have been afraid of such a trial as Anne Boleyn had embarrassed him at hers and gained significant sympathy and support.

    2. I believe he loved her too…Henry sees to be a man that was passionate about most things, in love, and in revenge

  3. The case against Katherine Howard was never proven. There was no reason to execute her, and I don’t believe other English kings would have done. Stephen, Henry II, Edward II, Henry V, Edward IV – all of these kings were acquainted with queens who were accused of adultery, murder, treason, fomenting rebellion, witchcraft; I’m referring specifically to Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Joan of Navarre, and Margaret of Anjou here; but not one of them was executed. Perhaps this was on account of their royal birth, they were not English subjects, but I also believe it lies in the character and personality of Henry VIII and the circumstances of the breaking with the Roman Catholic Church. In Henry’s mind, he was God’s anointed on Earth and anyone who disobeyed him was disobeying God. He had a duty to imprison, condemn and execute those who betrayed him and who, by extension, betrayed God.

    The execution of Anne Boleyn was a watershed, because no English queen had been executed prior to that date. Contemporaries might have argued that Edward IV had a very strong case for executing Margaret of Anjou, who effectively led the rival house of Lancaster, and they might also have believed that Henry II had good reason to execute his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine for rebelling against him, as Isabella of France also was to do during her marriage to Edward II. But none of these kings resorted to execution, and instead the women were imprisoned and exiled. I personally believe that a lot of Anne Boleyn’s downfall comes down to Henry VIII’s hatred for her, it’s as simple as that, but it’s also true that the legal, religious and administrative developments that accompanied the break with Rome and the establishment of the king as Supreme Head of the Church made such an execution possible. No-one was safe, as Mary Queen of Scots also found to her cost in 1587 when she was executed for supposedly committing treason against Elizabeth I.

    1. Yes I agree about Henry 11, his queen openly led a rebellion against him and anyone else would have been executed, but in Eleanor’s favour she was Duchess Of Aquitaine and had many sons including her favourite, the fearless Richard who no doubt would have caused plenty of trouble for Henry had he killed his mother, and King Johns relationship with Isabella was as equally toxic as Henry V111’s was with Anne Boleyn yet here also, although having the reputation of the worse King in English history and being described as cruel and and given over to lusts of the flesh, never had her executed, but then we also have to remember her brother was the King Of France, both these queens were powerful in their own right with powerful relations where poor Anne was completely vulnerable and her position rested entirely on her husband, it was something she learnt tragically to her own cost.

      1. The Supremacy of Henry Viii gave him more power and more idea of power than any other English Monarch and yet he used Parliament more than any other monarch so as he could argue he was given the power lawfully, but he really made certain he was granted it by humiliating the clergy. Now the King was to decide everything, including what heresy was. It went to his head and as his power grew yes, he was determined nothing and nobody would challenge this or his honour. Indeed, no, the execution of a Queen was unprecedented. I agree these others were foreign Princesses or had vast wealth and not the subject of the King. In the case of Margaret of Anjou, she may not have wealthy relatives, but as a distant relative to the King of France she represented peace and her execution could still lead to a war nobody could afford. She would have seen Edward iv as the traitor, however, as she was an anointed Queen of England, howbeit a defeated and disgraced one. If their positions had have been reversed, Margaret would have put Edward’s head on a spike just as she had done with his father and brother, but there was something more chivalrous about Edward. He wanted this battling all over and he had good reason to be generous. Margaret had nothing left. She had lost her son in battle and Edward had ordered her husband killed in the Tower. The conflict was over so he probably accepted Margaret had suffered enough and could cause no more trouble. The Plantagenet King’s in general appear to have given female traitors of high birth merciful treatment. They may lose land and be imprisoned but rarely if ever their life. They didn’t go around beheading their wives. Henry ii certainly could have executed Eleanor and his sons for that matter, for rebellion and treason, but he put her into confinement instead. Her wealth and family power protected her. Henry Viii took on too much power and his wives suffered because of this. The Supremacy was not meant to be inherited, but it was and more powerful meaning was added to it, to the extent that when mixed with the Stuart notion of the Divine Right of Kings, under James I and Charles I, led to the downfall of Kings.

    2. Different people behave in different ways. We can’t suppose that in the exact same situation on all accounts that another King would not have done the same.
      When Anne was executed it was a complete whitewash, and l personally believe that there was more than one person wanting this outcome. But Anne was innocent of what she was accused, Catherine wasn’t. She was meeting a man behind her husband’s back, he was a King, and she knew what happened to her cousin Anne. She also had other discrepancies in her past.
      Catherine was naive in the machinations of a cut-throat court, but not so naïve in other ways, she must have had some idea of the severity of the repercussions if caught.

  4. I was very lucky to be able to purchase Josephine Wilkinsons biography of Catherine at one of my local charity shops for just a £, being only a year old it’s in excellent condition, Josephine suggests that John Lascelles felt duty bound to inform Cranmer of the information his sister had given him because had the truth come out later by some means or other, and it had been known he had kept it to himself, he would be guilty of misprision of treason, on the other hand maybe he did see it as an opportunity to bring down the queen and her Howard relations, but whatever the reason he took a grave risk for to speak against the queen was in fact committing treason if it were proved to be just slander, and he would certainly have lost his life, what made Mary speak to her brother about Catherine in the first place, maybe as siblings do it was just idle chit chat passing the time away but her words were to have serious consequences for Catherine, and wether it was said in naive innocence or maybe a touch of vindictiveness set of the path to her ruin and ultimately led to her tragic death, had she been friends with Catherine whilst in the service of her grandmother or like many young girls maybe she was jealous of her, Catherine was gay and pretty and popular, perhaps Mary was rather plain and Catherine had two young men arguaing over her, Manox and Dereham, maybe Catherine had slighted her in the past and when she married the King old grievances surfaced, she must have known how dangerous it was to speak about Henrys wife in that way, queens had to be above reproach, they were chosen for their excellent lineage, for their purity, they had to be virgins unless of course they had been previously married, I agree with Conor in that Henry felt like an old fool, he had been married four times and had mistresses in the past, he was supposed to be experienced and worldy wise not a callow youth, when he first read the letter he felt bemused and yes possibly thought it was just a joke, but he ordered an inquiry as King he had to, as we have seen joke or no, it was serious to slander the queen, he must have hoped that after probing Cranmer would find nothing against her, the same way ballads were often put up in the streets like when Anne Boleyn was imprisoned in the Tower and some one wrote a deragotory piece about the King and Jane Seymour Henry was furious and tried in vain to have the person found and brought before him but he never was, and therefore he was hoping that all this would just blow over it was just malicious gossip about his darling, but sadly that wasn’t to be, and the admirable Dereham was arrested and then bought Culpeper into the equation, as what happens a whole can of worms was opened, would Henry have pardoned Catherine had she confessed her relationship with Dereham like he said, we do not know as she was guilty of not disclosing this to the King before she accepted his offer of marriage, it could be that they had just played at being husband and wife as many children do today, or maybe Catherine had not taken it seriously but Dereham had seen it as a chance to become a member of the noble house of Howard, he was possibly a bully and Wilkinson said he manipulated Catherine into sleeping with him by calling themselves husband and wife, Catherine in her youth I believe had had the misfortune to be surrounded by people of rather loose living, as it was called then, from when she arrived at her grandmother’s house she shared a dormitory with much older ladies than her and they all indulged in affairs with the men of the same household, she had not her mother to guide her and her grandmother thought she was running a well ordered household, Manox was a bit of a rogue like Dereham and they both took advantage of this young girl who was possibly rather too trusting for her own good and did not see the wrong in people, she was very young and that was not her fault, the duchess had her taught the skills what a young noblewoman should be taught but she was lax in the moral standards of her household, however in all fairness she did not know about the nightly visits in the dormitory and Catherine’s uncle did not know either, the duchess by then was an old woman and possibly did not bother overmuch with her young charge, when she found her granddaughter with Manox in a clinch one day she gave her a beating but possibly thought it was just a romp, had she know she wasn’t a virgin she would have been horrified, Catherine’s tragedy lay in her past and in those who should have protected her more, she was unsuitable to be queen as she had really no idea of what being queen was, like her cousin Anne who once crowned and married thought she could continue to behave as she used to, so Catherine did not realise the danger of meeting with another man in secret, or did she? Her first mistake was in allowing Dereham into her service, a thoroughly dislikeable immature and stupid man, a pirate no less and someone who boasted about his past with the queen, Culpeper also who when questioned said he although never having slept with the queen intended to do so and she with him, did they have a death wish, the pair of them seemed to have no idea of the seriousness of their own and Catherine’s situation, Culpeper could well have been guilty of the rape of a gamekeepers wife or it could have been a relation of his with the same name but if it was him, it says a lot about his character, had Catherine’s only crime been to have had a marriage contract with Dereham she could have walked away with her life but it was then found he was the same man who she had given a post to after her marriage and then the meetings with Culpeper was discovered, Henry was devastated and after Culpeper had said he meant to do ill with the queen and she likewise he had sealed both their fate, Henrys wife was little more than a tavern slut, she was queen of England yet had shown she was not worthy of that high office, Henry like the unsuspecting husband or wife felt that everyone was sniggering at him and he was the last to know, it was completely unacceptable for the King to be in that position, he had adored his young wife and had treated her always with love and respect and consideration, yet she and her lovers had laughed at him, the whole world was laughing at him, no wonder in his blackest moment he called for a sword to slay her himself, he had beheaded his second wife on the charges of adultery and high treason, he could not excuse his fifth wife’s behaviour and pardon her, I am so sympathetic towards both Catherine because I believe she had been ill used and had no guidance when she should have, yet she knew it was wrong to meet another man at night behind her husband’s back and she had her own cousins fate as a warning, yet I do feel sorry for her as she was too young to marry the King and had no say when he proposed to her, here I also feel for Henry to who was the injured party, although he treated his previous first two wives callously he genuinely cared for his child queen and hoped to have sons with her, maybe those who believe in karma felt he had it coming for falsely killing his second wife on jumped up charges of adultery, but here his grief was genuine and it further added to his depression, the toxic letter given to him in the chapel so soon after he had just given thanks to God for giving him his perfect Jewel of womanhood must have been horrible, no wonder as Conor says his sixth and final queen was a twice married much older woman who had all the commonsense and wisdom of the mature, at least he was happy with her.

  5. I think a good visual representation of how highly Henry considered himself is the illustration in the Great Bible where he is shown much larger than the image of Jesus. He may not have created this but nothing got printed in his realm without his approval. Humble he was not.

  6. I am not into conspiracy theories but if conspiracy existed it was in the Royal Court everywhere and certainly Anne Boleyn was the victim of those who hated her and probably of a conspiracy. It has been suggested that Katherine Howard was as well by Elizabeth Wheeler. It is not that obvious that any direct conspiracy was intended here by the Evangelical Reformers at Henry’s Court and Thomas Cranmer seems to have accepted Katherine as Queen and been quite content to serve her. However, there was every reason for such reformers to be delighted by this discovery of Katherine Howard’s alleged past as they could at least hope it would upset the apple cart.

    John Lassels having been told this information by his sister Mary Hall had a few choices, none of them good in English Law. He could gossip and find himself up on treason charges for slandering the Queen or he could say nothing, someone else found out and he could face misprison charges. He could keep quiet and deny all knowledge and hope he was believed and the person who accused him charged with perjury. Finally, he could seek out help and advice and bring what he knew or believed he knew to someone in authority who would handle the situation with discretion. That was the Archbishop of Canterbury who made discrete enquiries and then put his fears and findings in a letter. It was still all very risky because Henry was so wrapped in Katherine that he could easily have dismissed everything as slander and Cranmer and his sources would be in dire trouble. Instead, possibly because of his trust in Cranmer and his integrity Henry ordered an investigation which “scrapping the bottom of the pot” uncovered more than it was intended to do.

    On the note of factions and conspiracy, Henry made a rod for his own back by marriage to four women who had powerful families at the English Court and were his subjects. There was always going to be someone with an axe to grind to attempt and ultimately succeed in bringing three of them down. The religious differences made those factions sharper and more dangerous. Everyone wanted their daughter on the throne. O.K maybe not everyone for certainly the King’s hunt for a new wife and heirs opened up opportunities that are very rare in English history. This was not a county or small kingdom in the middle of Europe where you may need to marry the daughter of a powerful Duke from the same national region in order to expand your power base. This was an island that needed allies. England was politically mature, yes, growing more and more important, yes, but she still relied upon political alliances with other nations like France or Spain. Marriage to an English rose accomplished nothing. Henry may have fallen deeply in love with Anne Boleyn, but she was still a representative of one of the growing factions at his court. Anne may have remained Catholic but she represented reform. She also had French interest at heart and her very existence threatened the traditional support for Princess Mary and Queen Katherine of Aragon. Without a son and heir to protect her it was only a matter of time before Henry looked elsewhere and her rivals took advantage of his changing moods to help him concoct a plot to destroy her. Jane may have faced the same had she not had the son which gained her the glory as the mother of Henry’s heir. With the birth of Edward she was safe and even if she lived, those opposed to the more Conservative elements which she represented could never touch her. Without a son, they may well have tried. The Howards were certain their time had come again with Katherine Howard, but gossip from her reformation supporting servants and old acquaintances succeeded in her betrayal and downfall and death. Henry’s last wife representative of the more extreme reform party was almost destroyed by strong adherents off the old faith in Stephen Gardiner and faced heresy charges as she was open in her work for the new learning and her loud opinions. She argued Henry into allowing her to be arrested and Katherine Parr almost became the third Queen to be executed. Fortunately she saw the warrant, was lucky enough to get to see Henry and told him she was a stupid woman and her opinion didn’t count, but that he was her head and teacher and she wanted to learn from Henry. The Conservative faction was thrown out.

    Marriage to a subject opened them up to jealousy, to bitterness if they had a large family, as with Elizabeth Woodville, whose sisters married all over the reluctant nobility and whose brothers were given positions at court normally reserved for the highest blood in the land and of course to danger. Elizabeth Woodville had sons and Edward would do almost anything to please her, so while he lived she was unassailable. However, her marriage caused a breach with the King’s Uncle, the Kingmaker Earl of Warwick and more civil wars followed. Edward had no doubt hoped marriage to a member of the opposition, serving the House of Lancaster would bring peace, but after several other quarrels it had the opposite effect. Edward and his brother Richard were forced to flee while his other brother George joined Warwick who knelt to Margaret of Anjou and briefly restored Henry vi. Warwick and Margaret were eventually defeated, with the former being killed and latter imprisoned, but it illustrates just what a risky adventure marriage to a mistress or courtiers daughter could be.

    Katherine Howard may or may not have committed adultery, the evidence does not exist so we don’t know, but her behaviour made it easy to make a case, even if all parties denied it. She may well have been only looking for companionship but her meetings took place in the middle of the night in odd bedrooms, closets and her chambers. It was not going to be hard to make her appear guilty. Unfairly, however, she never got the opportunity to speak in her own defence. Even Anne Boleyn, with everything stacked against her had the appearance of a trial, howbeit a rigged one. Guilty or not, however, her execution was brutal and unnecessary. Yes, it was the law, but royal women had been shown mercy before. Henry was too far gone in the entrenchment of supreme power and self pity to understand that.

    1. Also It’s only natural that a young woman of around eighteen to twenty would prefer the company of people her own age, the duties she had to perform she may well have found stifling and it was in the evenings we can presume when she could let her hair down and dance and really enjoy herself, Henry was old enough to be her grandfather and was not sprightly though he still thought of himself as the handsome King he once was, men never look in the mirror themselves but find fault with women, some men are young at heart and keep themselves in pretty good condition, but Henry had let himself go and was prematurely aged, he was fat and verging on the obese, balding and prone to bouts of ill health his infected leg for one, it was said that the stench from it was so bad he could be smelt before he came into the room, he walked with a limp, Catherine had wanted to come to court yet she must have dreamed of making a grand match with a handsome young man, instead she found herself being wooed by the King, they were ill suited and the marriage was doomed to failure because of the discrepancies in Catherine’s past, she must have thought it was all in the past and safely hidden and maybe told herself she was not to blame, she must have thought rather naively that had Henry known about it, he would not mind so much either as she was young and misused as she explained later in her frantic letter to him, yes she was not found guilty of actually committing adultery but Culpeper had stated they both intended to do it, which under the treason act was just as bad, also yes the fact they met alone at night implied wrongdoing, had their meetings been innocent why the need to meet at night and not during the daytime? There were the statements her women told about her behaviour at her grans house when Dereham visited her in the dormitory and one of the women said she had to move beds as she was fed up with the noise they made, all this made Catherine’s meetings with Culpeper look very black indeed even had he not stupidily said they wanted to sleep together, the picture painted of her was that of an immoral girl who by her wicked wiles charmed the King into marrying her, of course that was far from the truth, Henry wanted to marry her she was pretty and lively and made him feel young again, the tragedy for Henry was that after he found after about her he must have felt much much older, he must have then really compared himself with Culpeper and saw how old and infirm he was compared to his groom of the stool who was handsome and much younger than himself, he must then have seen himself how he appeared to others, perhaps then for the first time ever he realised how Katherine Of Aragon felt when he left her for the much younger vivacious Anne Boleyn, Catherine was escorted from Syon house where she had been detained and taken to the Thames where a barge was waiting to take her to the Tower, she knew than that her days were numbered and became hysterical again, refusing to get into the barge and had to be forced into it, for a young woman who really was just a girl still it was a terrifying ordeal, there had been the hope at the beginning that Henry would pardon her and he may well have done so, but too much had come out and he could not forgive her for making him look such a fool, she too must have felt betrayed by Culpeper as it appears she did have strong feelings for him, she could have picked a more decent man more worthy of her.

      1. A young woman of Catherine’s age would have more expected of her then than in our time.
        So in that context her ‘teenage’ behaviour as a married woman, and Queen to boot wouldn’t have been the norm.
        Was she was mentally immature, uneducated… It seems she was completely unaware of what being a wife and Queen meant. And as l have said, she was well aware what happened to those that fell out of Henry’s favour in the wife department at least. What was going through her mind when she had secret rendezvous with Culpepper is anyone’s guess, but it certainly wasn’t wise, even thinking it could be treason in those times.
        Her premarital behaviour may have been forgiven, annulment perhaps, imprisonment, was this building relationship with Culpepper that led her to her death alone, because she did this willingly, even though her past experiences may have been forced upon her.
        And before anyone thinks otherwise, no l don’t think she deserved to die, no one should die for their past sexual experiences or for thinking about committing adultery, Queen or commoner, or that Henry is without culpability either. But l do think Catherine was badly served by those around her, family and friends alike, and herself too

        1. No she did not deserve to die she was foolish and heedless, but then what teenager isn’t and it was sheer bad luck she was sent to her grandmother’s house and was led astray by people who should have known better, had her mother not died no doubt her life would have been very different, she would have had the proper upbringing of a noblewoman of her age and status and there would have been no romping with undesirable men who manipulated her for their own purpose, it was her past that let her down and sowed the seeds for her tragic yet brilliant future, the love affair between Henry V111 and Catherine Howard is so very sad as their marriage was successful and Henry was genuinely in love with his charming wife, Catherine had shown herself to be a good wife and queen consort and her only sin was to meet with another young man in secret and although she always stated their relationship was platonic it seems highly unlikely, her past added fuel to the fire, she was also cajoled into meeting with Culpeper by Lady Rochford a woman with no common sense whatsoever, and here we see parallels with her past, then she had been surrounded by young women whose behaviour left little to be desired, and looking through her young eyes Catherine thought it was ok to invite young men into your room at night, now years later she was being led astray again by another woman who should have known a lot better, she was twice Catherine’s age and had seen her own husband and sister in law lose their heads, she more than anyone should have known how incredibly dangerous it was for a queen to meet a young man alone at night, I find Lady Rochfords willingness in arranging Catherines and Culpepers meetings difficult to understand, she had survived the downfall of the Boleyns and after was back at court in the service of Jane Seymour and Anne Of Cleve’s, she had done quite well for herself yet now she was according to the law guilty of assisting the queen in her criminal acts, it was sheer folly and this time she would not be so lucky, she had effectively laid her own head on the block, in her terror she had a mental abbération and had to be nursed back to health at the home of one of the kings courtiers, she had recovered well enough to die as Henry wanted and had a bill passed that it was ok to execute mad persons, these two unfortunate women both died one chilly February morning, Catherine was said to be so weak she had to be helped up onto the scaffold and Jane then had to succumb her head to the axe, they both said little and it was noted that they were both calm and there were no sign of hysterics, they died well it was said and another chapter in the reign of Henry V111 had come to pass.

        2. I completely agree that Anne Boleyn was innocent and personally I suspect Katherine and Culpepper did have a sexual relationship, but the problem is there was no proof, but her reckless behaviour made them appear guilty and I believe it was called “presumption of treason” because they admitted they intended to go further. Anne Boleyn was definitely set up and my main suspect is Cromwell and his party on the orders of King Henry. The same cannot be said of Katherine Howard even though the information of her past was initiated by two people who were of the reformed party. However, neither was powerful enough to bring her down and took a risk in reporting gossip which could have been denied if those questioned had have conspired to hide the truth. Katherine was not intended for the crown, but the King went over the top and fell in love with a pretty young woman.

          I also agree that her youth is all too often used as an excuse but it can’t be ignored. She was no ninny, certainly, she was raised in a large household, taught enough to run her own large household, dance, sing, act with grace and publicly at least she seems to have been a successful Queen. Privately, there are worrying signs of immaturity and lack of training. She had only been in the service of a real Queen from a royal house for six months and at court for about eight before her marriage, so unlike Anne she didn’t have the privileged upbringing in France serving the French Queen, Claude or the many years in the service of Queen Katherine of Aragon. She was bored when Henry was ill, demanding, concerned that she had been left, didn’t occupy herself in a quiet, Queenly manner and sought sympathy and companionship.

          Anne appears to have carved out her own role politically and while that was never going to be allowed again, Katherine should have been taught more discretion. She was in fact encouraged in her escapades and she welcomed the visits from Culpepper, taking full advantage of any free time given her by the King’s long withdrawal in March 1541 and his early retirement during the progress. Katherine showed the excitement of youth, she lit up the place and she was adored and spoilt by her husband. Henry indulged her, perhaps a bit too much. Katherine could be both sensitive and manipulative. She could be generous and sly and Russell gives plenty of examples of both. She could give generous gifts and intercede for the condemned, as her role as Queen demanded, she was genuinely concerned for others, but she could also stamp her foot like a child and act with dangerous spite. She wanted and needed the attention being Queen gave her, but as a young woman who was less mature than her age demanded of her, she probably didn’t know how to curve those cravings and went too far. Her letter to Thomas Culpepper isn’t a sophisticated, heart felt love letter but that of a love sick teenager, missing someone who has lavished attention on her as a companion every day. She would have known more was expected of her and it certainly would have been told to her to prepare for marriage and keep yourself chaste from a young age as she could have been packed off to marry an Earl, even one Henry’s age, at some point during her teenage years. Marriage was expected from the age of twelve for a woman and fourteen for a man, and I use these adult terms because this was how they were legally viewed in the sixteenth century. Katherine Howard was no child and yes, technically should have known what she was doing, but I also believe that because her time in her step grandmother’s household had been somewhat lax with late night parties and romps, she was immature, even by the standards of the day. She was young as Queen, even by Henry’s standards. Every other woman he married was at least twenty-three or twenty four. Anne of Cleves was this age and so was Catherine of Aragon. This partly contributed to her reckless behaviour. It was also partly why she became hysterical, although this is also a natural reaction to fear or guilt.

          Could Katherine Howard have been dealt with differently? Yes, if Henry chose to accept the evidence of Francis Dereham that she was promised to him as his wife. However, given who we are talking about, I don’t actually believe it is realistic to assume that Henry could have or even should have treated two women he felt had seriously betrayed him any differently than he did. Henry Viii was not other Kings, he was himself and there is the possibility that he may not have been capable of rational thinking in 1541, given his medical conditions and his paranoid mind. He killed Anne Boleyn because he had turned into a man who hated her and she threatened the new start he needed with Jane Seymour. He was the first English King to execute his wife, but not the only European ruler to do so. Maria of Naples, having provided her husband with two healthy children, one a son was executed because he suddenly in a fit of paranoid rage believed she had slept with members of his court. She was also quite young, in her early twenties. Her case is virtually unknown but other rulers made threats, but Henry was a different kettle of fish and I agree we cannot expect the same behaviour from every King. Henry had taken on a tremendous amount of power and adultery was the betrayal of his honour as a man and that power. Just why Henry executed two Queens, innocent or not, remains more of a mystery than something we can answer with any if the many theories which try to explain him. I don t believe Katherine deserved to die, nor did she even get the benefit of a trial, but Henry decided he had no choice and this was the sixteenth century when people were executed for far less, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. There was no conclusive proof, but running around with a man in your rooms, even with someone outside watching, was never going to be the best start for defence against a system which believed women were full of temptation and needed to be controlled in the first place.

  7. Goodness, I’m sure you’ll all agree this has been such an interesting exploration and discussion of Claire’s posting and will join with me in thanking the contributors. So well done!

  8. Catherine could be quite imperious also, even when she was confined to her quarters at Hampton court and after when she was at Syon it was noted she still continued to behave as if she was the queen, giving orders and such like, maybe she thought by doing so it would bring a touch of reality to her dreadful situation, I do think it was wrong that the bill of attainder was passed allowing her to be executed without a trial, that goes against every shred of English justice, the poorest peasant in Henrys kingdom was allowed a fair trial and a chance to speak for himself, why was Catherine so different? For a queen the highest lady in the land to be condemned without a trial was shocking and yes, here was Henry acting all omnipotent the King who had declared himself head of the church and was all powerful, he had bills passed when he liked and woe betide anyone who said otherwise, to condemn Lady Rochford to death he had a bill passed allowing the execution of insane people, he showed no mercy towards her either, I rather think Henry believed her to be a meddlesome woman certainly she enjoyed the intrigue of it all, secret messages and whispered conversations in the dead of night, I reckon she got a thrill out of it, there was her and the queen and Culpeper alone together in this big secret oh my! Certainly she was an incredibly silly woman but not wicked and there never was any proof that she told Cromwell that her husband and sister in law were indulging in an incestous relationship, Catherine couldn’t have believed it either as she appeared to trust her, but as we have seen her affections were misplaced.

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