28 July 1540 – Henry VIII Marries Catherine Howard, his Rose without a Thorn

Katherine HowardOn 28 July 1540, the same day that Thomas Cromwell was beheaded on Tower Hill, 49 year-old Henry VIII married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, who was somewhere between 16 and 20 years of age, at Oatlands Palace.

Henry VIII’s marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, had been declared null and void on 9 July 1540, “by reason of a precontract between lady Anne and the marquis of Lorraine, that it was unwillingly entered into and never consummated”, so Henry was now free to marry Anne’s former maid-of-honour, the girl he referred to as his “rose without a thorn”.

The wedding was private and low key, due to the recent annulment and Catherine made her first public appearance as Queen on 8th August at Hampton Court Palace. However, her time as queen was to be rather short-lived.

You can read more about the marriage and Catherine’s background in my article The Marriage of Catherine Howard and Henry VIII, and more about the myths surrounding Catherine in Catherine Howard – Material Girl?. MadeGlobal Publishing is releasing Conor Byrne’s book on Catherine Howard next month, Katherine Howard: Rose without a Thorn, and my book The Fall of Catherine Howard: A Countdown should be out by Christmas.

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23 thoughts on “28 July 1540 – Henry VIII Marries Catherine Howard, his Rose without a Thorn”
  1. Ah, Claire, I see now why you wanted to know what became of Norfolk House!! Good luck to both you and Conor – I’m still working intermittently on Katherine and Norfolk House myself, but so much else is going on, they are having to take a back seat right now.

    I have been privileged to have worked for Alison Weir on some of her marvellous tours (www.alisonweirtours.com) and am proud to call her a friend. I had an invitation to the Tower of London last Friday evening to the Historic Royal Palaces event/book launch of ‘The Marriage Game’ Alison’s new novel. A wonderful experience and lovely company, with drinks on the lawn in front of the White Tower at sunset, and Tower Bridge and the Shard sparkling like beacons in the background, while Yeoman Warders were standing by with umbrellas, in case the Heavens decided to open. It doesn’t get much better than that!

    Why I’m sharing this with the Anne Boleyn Files is that the lecture Alison then delivered was in the church of St Peter ad Vincula, the first time such an event has been held there. Afterwards people stood by the altar to pay their respects to Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and the other unfortunates, and Alison said that for her it had been an exceptionally moving experience to stand a few feet from Anne’s memorial tile while extolling the virtues, and some not quite so virtuous tales, of her only child. I have to admit I was a bit emotional myself, and had to wipe away a little tear.

    1. Hi Marilyn,
      It’s lovely to hear from you. No, that was for a section I was doing on Lambeth for The Anne Boleyn Collection II but, yes, it will come in useful for the Catherine book too. I know what you mean, I’ve had the Catherine book on a back-burner since I wrote the one on Anne’s fall and I keep letting other projects take me from it.

      I heard about Alison’s talk from Lucy Churchill who attended, it sounds wonderful. St Peter ad Vincula has such an atmosphere, doesn’t it. I will neer forget the time I was allowed past the rope and got to stand next to Anne’s tile, and then look under the altar cloth for Catherine’s. I got emotional too!

  2. That portrait of Catherine Howard does not look like the face of a teenager. As far as I know it is a Holbein, and it has been said of him that he painted the soul of the sitter. He painted all her past errors of judgment in that face. Shades of a Picture of Dorian Gray.

    I loved reading of your various visits to St Peter ad Vincula and wish I could have been there. It sounds wonderful. The first time I went there the Yeoman Warder described how executed people were recived at the door and then trodden into the earth where a paving stone had been lifted for the purpose. It must have smelt a bit if the bodies were that close to the surface. The second time I went that story was no longer current. I wonder if Anne’s grave was dug at the same time as the executioner form France was sent for.

    1. There is no authenticated portrait or other form of likeness known of Catherine Howard.
      When portraits are published on this site, it would be nice to have more details provided, i.e. artist’s name or is the artist unknown, original or later copy, circa. date, is the sitter’s name only presumed, etc. The portraits shown here are for the most part commonly seen in history books and the foregoing information generally available.

      1. When a portrait is an unusual or unknown one then I give details but this is the one that most people “know” as Catherine Howard and know to be by Holbein. Thanks for the comment though, I will think about adding more captions.

        There is an excellent discussion of Catherine Howard portraiture in Conor Byrne’s upcoming book, but this miniature was identified as Catherine by David Starkey who identified her by the jewels the sitter is wearing, which match with contemporary records of jewels she owned at the time. Of course, not all historians agree with Starkey.

    2. It’s hard to say whether it’s a teenager when portraits were very stylized and Holbein may well have been trying to make her look more mature and queenly – I’m not sure! Some believe that Catherine was 16 at her marriage and others believe she was about 20. It is frustrating when we don’t know details like birth dates, as with Catherine and Anne Boleyn. Holbein was an amazing artist, I love his work.

      St Peter ad Vincula is a wonderful place to visit. If you ever get the chance to go to the Tower, it is best to visit it after 4.30 when it is open to the public, because then it is peaceful and you can spend more time there. Yeoman Warders’ tours include it at the moment, but you get bundled in with a crowd of people, given a talk and then rushed out.

    3. Sheila – your comment about Holbein painting the soul of the sitter is a needle-sharp observation and one that I’ll bear in mind as I look at his work in the future. Of course, that’s the supposed goal of every painter.

  3. I have read that there is some doubt as to whether this is a portrait of Katheine Howard. It has been pointed out that the face looks like a relative of Jane Seymour. Does anyone know if this theory has gained credence? It would be so sad to think that she is the only one of the wives whose portrait does not exist!

    1. There is controversy over all Catherine Howard portraiture – this Holbein miniature, the Toledo Museum one, the Teerlinc miniature said to be Lady Jane Grey but Susan James thinks could be Catherine, the Metropolitan Museum of Art one, the sketch… – with historians and art historians all arguing. David Starkey believes the Holbein miniature is Catherine, because of the jewellery but others disagree. It is frustrating! There’s no authenticated contemporary portrait of Anne Boleyn either.

  4. Need to add that I read this theory in Antonia Fraser. Just wondering if there has been any recent research.

  5. I think she was about 18/19 but the portrait is hard to judge. Starkey seems to be good at identifying historical portraits. An expert in Holbein would be the person to ask.

    I think Henry yet again shows poor judgment in the choice of a wife, thinking with his glands and not his head. One thing about this portrait is that it does not show a pretty young woman, but a plain one. Did Henry think she was a young Jane Seymour or was he just taken by the fact she was gracious, humble and compliant? After his experience with Anne Boleyn you would have thought he should have been suspect of the promotion of another Boleyn Howard woman for his pleasure. I can only think Henry was completely captivated by Katherine and that lust got the better of him.

    1. Funnily enough I’ve been discussing this with a follower on Facebook. I’ve been digging and digging and although historians refer to Henry referring to Catherine in that way I have been unable to find it in the primary sources. Antonia Fraser cites Agnes Strickland as her source for the name “Rutilans Rosa Sine Spina” and Strickland writes of a medal/coin being struck to celebrate Henry and Catherine’s marriage and bearing the wording Henricus VIII: Rutilans Rosa Sine Spina, but there apears to be controversy over when it was actually struck and it may have been in Katherine of Aragon’s reign and the rose is a Tudor rose. Alison Weir also writes of the medal being struck, but in books on coins I can’t find any mention of it being struck for their marriage and Henry had made use of the motto throughout his reign. Others have mentioned the fact that Catherine’s badge was a thornless rose, but that’s not quite the same as Henry calling her that. I’ve only found mention of him calling her a “jewel of womanhood”. It’s funny, isn’t it?

      1. As you know, I’ve been researching Katherine’s life on and off for years, and I have never come across a primary source for this. I’m not sure that Henry himself actually called her a “jewel of womanhood” either, although others said he perceived her as such.

        1. End note # 17 in the chapter on Catherine Howard in David Starkey’s Six Wives has an extensive discussion of this. He claims the Crowns of the Double Rose coin “supposedly issued in Catherine’s honour” was a type that had been issued since 1526 and that it was probably struck in honour of Katherine of Aragon, and concludes:

          ‘Thus the rose has nothing to do with Catherine and the motto has nothing to do with her supposed blemishness either. This reading of the evidence is confirmed by M. Siddons, Heraldic Badges of England and Wales (forthcoming). Dr Siddons finds that Catherine, unlike Henry’s other wives, seems to have displayed no personal badge.’

          Agnes Strickland is given the blame for originating this myth.

        2. Yes, all those who do cite a reference give Agnes Strickland and the medal that she says was struck, but when I looked into coinage the mottos “Rutilans Rosa Sine Spina” and simply “Rosa Sine Spina” had been used throughout Henry’s reign along with the crowned Tudor rose. I think Strickland mistook the “hr” on one coin, which was lower case and quite “flowery” in style, for “kr” and put two and two together and got 5. Obviously, historians have then gone along with that. Alison Weir also writes of Henry VIII calling Catherine his “rose without a thorn” and a special medal being struck to commemorate their marriage, but she doesn’t cite a source. Antonia Fraser cites Strickland.

          I also tried to find evidence of Katherine’s badge being a thornless rose but I can only find mention of her badges being removed, e.g. at Rochester, so she must have had some type of badge, although perhaps just initials. It’s interesting how things grow and grow!

        3. I’ve been digging and digging and can’t find a primary source for it or for her badge. Have you ever come across anything about her badge?
          The privy council wrote to William Paget in France on the King’s behalf, saying that the King had “obtained such a perfect jewel of womanhood”. Robert Hutchinson quotes the words being used in a service of thanksgiving on 1st November 1541, but I haven’t come across that.

  6. Claire,

    Like you, I have not come across a primary source for the rose. I love Strickland and admire what she (and her sister) achieved at a time before papers were properly catalogued, and most were still well-scattered, but her tendency to embroider and ‘fill the gaps’ seems to have been overlooked by many authors, and her treatment of Katherine’s step-grandmother, on very dodgy evidence, is hugely unfair, in my opinion, and is part of the reason I chose to do research on Duchess Agnes and Katherine’s other relatives who went to the Tower in 1541/42, rather than concentrating on Katherine herself.

    The Rose irritates me less than the ‘jewel’ reference. Again, like you, all I have found is the PC letter to Paget, which , as I see it, doesn’t say Henry called her his jewel, only that they thought he saw her as such. Again, I can’t find anything about the reference to the ‘jewel’ at the November service.

    1. Marilyn,
      I too admire the Stricklands, they put in an incredible amount of work but, as you say, mistakes they made are still being taken as fact today. I’m still digging but I doubt I’ll find anything when you’ve been researching this for years. We’ve already changed Conor’s book title. He didn’t say anything in it about the rose but it doesn’t seem right to use the phrase when it’s likely that it was never used about her.

      The only image I’ve ever seen of her badge is the Weidenfeld and Nicholson archive one and I don’t know what they based it on.

  7. These quotes ‘a rose without a thorn’ and ‘jewel of womanhood’ sound like they are in the same ilk as other quotes that are attributed to other famous people throughout history don’t they, such as Marie Antoinette and the ‘Let them eat cake’ and ‘Not tonight Josephine’ by Napoleon…there is a very long list of these ‘mis-quotes’ bantered about from plays, books, film etc too. Bogart never did say ‘Play it again Sam’, it was Bergman who said ‘Play it, Sam’.
    Makes you wonder how they come about, perhaps from mis-hearing, or romanticising either from those times or these. It is a nice description of someone though ‘a rose without a thorn’, more charming than some of the horrors out there 🙂

      1. Yep!! OR…another classic is ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’, didn’t’ appear in any of the original writings of Conan Doyle, think that must came from portrayals in film/TV.

        Seems that people have a tendency to put words into the mouths of others through the ages….looks like these two ‘quotes’ of Henry’s can now join the list.

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