Catherine Howard by Alisa M Libby

Posted By on July 21, 2009

Alisa M Libby, author of “The King’s Rose”, has written a special exclusive guest blog post for The Anne Boleyn Files – thanks so much Alisa. Here it is…

Catherine Howard

kingsroseEveryone has an opinion about King Henry VIII’s many queens. When I say I’ve written a novel about Catherine Howard, I’ve heard “oh, you mean the tramp?” and “she must have been the stupidest girl in the world.” My favorite came from the Yeoman Guard at the Tower of London in England: “Why are you writing about her? Why not write about Anne Boleyn?”

Given Catherine’s disgraceful history I can’t blame anyone for these judgments. After less than two years of marriage Catherine was convicted of having an affair with the king’s groom, Thomas Culpeper. This charge, in addition to an earlier accusation that she had not been a virgin on her wedding night, led to the end of Catherine’s brief reign—and the end of her life.

Having known Henry’s colorful marital history—including the execution of her own cousin, Anne Boleyn, on similar charges—wouldn’t Catherine have been on her very best behavior? Her bad choices made me want to write about her, to discover the reasons for her reckless actions. Where history didn’t provide a clear answer I created one myself; such is the beauty of fiction.

Fictions aside, Catherine made some bad decisions which legend has seen fit to inflate. I’ll attempt to debunk some of the most insidious rumors about my favorite of Henry’s wives.

Catherine was incredibly stupid.

While certainly not one of the greatest thinkers of her day, I don’t think it’s fair to label Catherine as “stupid.” She was not as educated or as well-read as Anne Boleyn, nor did she have the strict religious upbringing of Catherine of Aragon. But Catherine’s barely literate status was not out of the ordinary for the time period. More importantly, Catherine was new to court. She arrived in the fall of 1539 as a lady in waiting for the new queen, Anne of Cleves. She was receiving expensive gifts from the king by the following spring, and they were married in the summer of 1540. After less than a year at court she was married to the King of England. It’s not difficult to believe that she wouldn’t understand the political intrigues taking place all around her, and perhaps was too naïve to even know the danger of what she was missing.

Catherine was a greedy slut who thought she could cheat on the king and not get caught.

Catherine showed some bad judgment in her past: first a childhood flirtation with her music tutor, and later a sexual relationship with Francis Dereham, whom she called her husband, though they were never given permission by her family to wed. Whether this was merely a term of endearment or if she was technically his wife is debatable; an agreement such as this could have been considered binding at the time, especially seeing as it was consummated.

While certainly unwise, her behavior was not uncommon for young women of the time. While enjoying midnight parties at Lambeth, I doubt that Catherine considered that she would one day find a position at court, or that her options for marriage would considerably improve. Further, those pushing her before the king—the Duke of Norfolk, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk—most likely knew about Catherine’s past indiscretions. Still, they described her as completely innocent and virginal. For Henry, Catherine was an illusion of youth, beauty and purity.

As for Catherine’s affair with Culpeper, I created a “logic” for her to follow in my novel, but I found no evidence of any logic in the non-fiction I’ve read: their actions were perilously reckless. However, David Starkey, author of Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, claimed that they may have been in love but never consummated the affair. Personally, I can believe that Catherine did have an affair—considering her past, her untenable position as queen, her desire for Thomas evident in the letter she wrote to him—but this involves a lot of connecting the dots on my own. The truth is this: we can never really know what went on behind closed doors over 400 years ago.

In the moments before her death, Catherine proclaimed her love for Thomas Culpeper.

According to some of the costumed historians at the Tower of London, before her death Catherine proclaimed “I die a queen, but would rather die the wife of Culpeper!” I can see that hearing this on such historically hallowed ground would, indeed, be very stirring…only there is no factual record to back it up. These words were written years after her execution in a fictional version of Catherine’s story. This proclamation is more memorable than the words she actually said before her death, which are recounted only vaguely in Lacey Baldwin Smith’s A Tudor Tragedy.

Catherine was likely greedy and ignorant, but she did have some goodness, some grace. Perhaps she was just following the advice of her family, but she did protest the imprisonment of certain people in the Tower, who were eventually released. She even attempted to have the Countess of Salisbury released, for she was an old woman who had done nothing against the King aside from having the misfortune (in Henry’s eyes) of being a Plantagenet, with their own claim to the throne. Unluckily for the Countess, Catherine’s petition on her behalf failed.

In the end, we’re still left with a lot of questions about Catherine. Was Thomas Culpeper her true love? Would King Henry have spared her life, or was he eager to condemn her for the pain and humiliation she caused him? There are historians to agree with all of these and myriad other theories. But isn’t this part of the fun of history, to consider all the possibilities from the safe distance of centuries. If Catherine learned nothing else, it was this: it is dangerous to be loved by a king.

By Alisa M Libby

Click here to read my review of Alisa’s fantastic novel, “The King’s Rose”.

13 thoughts on “Catherine Howard by Alisa M Libby”

  1. Claire says:

    Can’t believe I spelt Anne Boleyn wrong (Boelyn!) when I first published this article and sent it out to subscribers! Sorry!

  2. Cynthia says:

    What so annoys me about people who criticize the wives of Henry VIII by accusing them of being too ambitious, whorish, or greedy is the complete disregard these critics have for the untenable position of said women during those days; does anyone truly believe that the wives had the right to refuse to be bedded and then put away by the King? At least each of them, in their own unique ways, made the best of a tenuous situation.

    But the ultimate outcome was always destined to be a tragic ending for each woman, whether by being divorced, put away, or executed. Frankly, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr escaped by the skin of their teeth from Henry’s eventual wrath; nevertheless, poor Catherine Parr suffered immeasurably from her next husband’s deficiencies. Overall, I think Anne of Cleves came out better than most, although being a former queen most certainly kept her from remarriage and having children.

    I’d almost love to read an alternate history of Anne Boleyn (or any of the women) refusing to become Henry’s mistress OR wife–for certain, her fate would have become tragic far quicker than it actually did, had she dared refuse him.

    1. Noemi says:

      I totally agree with you Cinthya. Finally someone who saw the real situation of the wives of Henry VIII: They were women.
      And I think that the same happened with his daughters. I don´t think that the decisions made for each one of them were of their own. As women they couldn’t decide freely in those times.

  3. Claire says:

    Thanks for the comment, Cynthia. I totally agree with you, no woman had a choice once she had been chosen by the King and poor Kitty Howard was so young and had no chance really. Even the more mature Catherine Parr only escaped by managing to get Henry alone and talking him around, Catherine Howard never got a chance to talk to the King once she had been accused of adultery, she never reached the chapel where he was praying. These women are criticised for their deeds and what they did not do, yet was any of it their fault?

  4. Matterhorn says:

    I feel very sorry for Catherine Howard- she was so young and never had a chance to have a loving marriage and family. In many ways, her story seems even more tragic than Anne’s.

  5. Claire says:

    Yes, Matterhorn, Catherine did not have much of a life did she? At least Anne had her family, her years at court and 3 years of being queen. Both women had such tragic ends.

  6. lisaannejane says:

    Catherine’s story reminds me of how little say women had about their lives. I never understood why her uncle thought she would know what to do in such a place without any proper training! Henry would have eventually found out about her past, so how did they think they could get away with presenting her as a girl who never had any boyfriends? I definitely want to get this book – I am so glad someone wrote about her!

  7. rochie says:

    Thank you Alisa for sharing your thoughts on your story. It is always interesting to discover how an author is feeling about their subject matter. I think fiction has an important role to play in the process of understanding the past – a process of speculation from which new theories can be developed. We need cold facts and historical accuracy, sure, but we also need imagination if we are to penetrate the murky waters of history and attempt to discover what really might have happened all those years ago. Hope this goes really well for you.

  8. Tian says:

    I saw this book in a store and I knew I just had to get it. It was absolutely amazing!

  9. Calvin says:

    I think something truly amazing is that he never had an affair while he was with Catherine so think how it would feel for her to be having an affair on him !! he was the cheater not the cheated…he really DID love Anne Boleyn but k=Henry knew that anne was very smart, political, outspoken and he knew the only way to be rid of her was death. Catherine’s death was pure misfortune at her bad mistakes. Besides it’s not like she wouldve be physically attracted to Henry. Henry has an Ulcer thing on his leg, he was old, FAT, and hairy.

  10. jordan davis says:

    I love catherine i’m sorry anne boleyn fans but i love her more than queen anne this girl met such a tragic end for one crime falling in love with someone her own age some historians say she was as young as 17 when she was excucuted god bless kitty howard xxx rip

  11. anon says:

    I don’t expect anybody to believe me really but a ghost appeared to me around 30 years ago, and she introduced herself as “Catherine Howard”. This was in a country far away from Britain. I have tried to make sense as an adult of something she told me by reading up as much Catherine Howard information as I could.
    Has anybody else had a similar experience?

    (and in case anybody wonders, she had her head)

  12. Emma says:

    I think that Catherine (Kathryn) Howard symbolized the young lust, the beauty of being young that he sought to reclaim. She was beautiful, graceful, and sensual – just what Henry wanted. But she was young and naive, and driven by her emotions, like Henry when he was younger. But she was a woman who knew what she wanted and took it. Besides, Henry was fat, gross, and ugly – a tyrant. She definetly didn’t want to marry him, but she was a bit greedy for the lost things in her life that she had never had in her lost childhood – perhaps that’s why she had her affairs (for lack of a better word – I know she ony had one while married) , trying to reclaim her lost possesions like Henry had with his lost youth. I think that she wounded his pride with her affair – that he was so fat and ugly that she needed to satisfy herself elsewhere, something he had never experienced before.

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