Catherine Howard – The Material Girl?

Posted By on February 22, 2011

Catherine Howard has been on my mind a lot over the past few weeks, due to the BBC finally airing the final season of “The Tudors”, and I’ve been struggling to understand her and how she got into the almighty mess that saw her go from the King’s “jewel of womanhood” to being executed as a traitor and adulteress. Catherine is like her cousin, Anne Boleyn, in many ways, a bit of an enigma.

So, before we try to get to grips with who the fifth wife of Henry VIII really was, let’s look at the labels she has been given and the way she has been represented in fiction and on TV:-

  • Rose without a thorn – Henry VIII referred to Catherine as his “Rose without a thorn” and “a jewel of womanhood”.
  • Victim of child abuse and paedophiles – The idea that Catherine was preyed on by her music teacher and three older men: Dereham, the King and Culpeper.
  • Slut, prostitute and common harlot – The Tudors Season 3 episode guide says “As Henry presses for an end to his new marriage, a new sexual conquest emerges – young prostitute Katherine Howard” and the series shows Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and Edward Seymour, Earl Hertford, procuring Catherine and almost pimping her out to the King.
  • Romantic heroine – The Victorians saw Catherine as a tragic, romantic heroine forced into marriage with a fat, smelly tyrant but who was in love with a dashing courtier.
  • A teenage tearaway – The idea that Catherine lacked a proper upbringing and that she was allowed to run riot in the busy household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk and was corrupted by the behaviour of her elders there.

  • Airhead and bimbo – Catherine is often seen as an airhead and bimbo, a girl whose only education was into how to please a man. This was emphasised by the giggly and dizzy character of Catherine in “The Tudors”.
  • Material Girl – A true material girl who loved jewels, pretty dresses, money etc. and who thought of nothing else.
  • A tragic character looking for love, attention and affection – The idea that Catherine had been starved of love in her childhood and was just looking for love and attention, and that’s why she had her dalliance with Thomas Culpeper.
  • A victim of manipulative older men – Some portray Catherine as putty in the hands of older men who used her and abused her.
  • A reckless fool – That Catherine “was the sort of girl who lost her head easily over a man”1.
  • Always naked – Did anyone else notice that Catherine Howard spent most of her time naked in The Tudors? Naked on a swing, naked practising with the block, naked except for rose petals…
  • A nymphomaniac – A promiscuous girl who put her sexual desires ahead of everything else.
  • Cold, calculating and ambitious – The Catherine Howard of Suzannah Dunn’s “The Confession of Katherine Howard”. Kate as she is called in that, seemed to be a girl who used people to get to the top and who used Culpeper to try and provide the King with an heir.
  • Spoilt child – Was Catherine just a self-indulgent teenager used to getting her own way and used to getting away with things because she was “petite, plump, [and] pretty”2?
  • A Proud Howard – A girl whose Howard pride cost her her life.
  • A worldly girl – The idea that Catherine was very worldly wise and sexually experienced, that she even knew methods of contraception. Michael Hirst describes her as a “Lolita figure”.

Catherine Howard’s Age

Many of the above labels and views depend on how old you think Catherine was when she had her relationships with Henry Manox, Francis Dereham, Henry VIII and Thomas Culpeper, so when was Catherine Howard born?

That is a very tricky question to answer and historians argue over this just as they do over Anne Boleyn’s birth date. Lacey Baldwin Smith devotes the appendix3 of his book, “Catherine Howard”, to this question. In it, he cites the various clues we have:-

Toledo Museum Portrait

  • The will of Dame Isabel Legh, Catherine’s maternal grandmother – Catherine is mentioned in this will from 1527 so she was definitely born before 1527.
  • The will of John Legh, Isabel’s husband and Catherine’s step-grandfather – This will from 1524 does not mention Catherine and although some historians use this as proof that Catherine was not born until after 1524 Baldwin Smith points out that it also does not mention any of the Howard girls so he feels that it “may have been a reflection of the masculine standards of the age” and that “infant girls did not warrant mention as beneficiaries in a will.”4
  • That if Catherine’s parents, Jocasta Culpeper and Edmund Howard, married around 1514-1515, as has been suggested, and Catherine had three elder brothers, then Catherine could not have been born before 1517/1518.
  • The French Ambassador reported that Catherine was 18 years of age when she slept with Francis Dereham5 and that Catherine’s confession dated their affair to 1538-1539. However, the ambassador also said that Dereham had “violated her at the age of 13 until 18”. If Catherine was 18 in 1539 then her year of birth would be 1521.
  • The Spanish Chronicle (The Chronicle of Henry VIII) has Catherine meeting the King at the age of 15, making her date of birth 1524.
  • The Toledo Museum of Catherine Howard – Lacey Baldwin Smith writes of how this portrait gives Catherine’s age as 21 and was painted c1540/1541 – However, some historians do not believe that this portrait is of Catherine.

Lacey Baldwin Smith does say that all of this is speculation and many things, including her parents’ marriage date, are “conjectural” and all we really know for sure about Catherine’s family is that “Edward Howard was claiming ten children in 1527”. We are left none-the-wiser, with Catherine being anything from 11 to 15 when Manox had a relationship with her, and 17 to 21 when she died.

Catherine Howard’s Appearance

We only have one definite likeness of Catherine Howard and that is the miniature by Hans Holbein. David Starkey6 writes of how we can be sure that this is Catherine because she can be identified by the jewels she is wearing which match with contemporary records of jewels she owned at the time. This miniature shows a young woman with “auburn hair, pale skin, dark eyes and brows, the rather fetching beginnings of a double chin and an expression that was at once quizzical and come-hither.” Starkey also describes her as “petite, plump, [and] pretty.” Joanna Denny describes Catherine as “demure and dainty, with peaches-and-cream complexion and blonde hair”7 Later, in her book, Denny writes of Catherine’s “rich dark blonde” hair, her “hazel-green eyes”8 and her love of French fashion and low cut necklines which often exposed the breasts! No wonder that Henry noticed her!

Antonia Fraser9 writes of how the French Ambassador rated her beauty as just “middling”, which, interestingly, was how he had also described Anne of Cleves, and she was also described by contemporaries as petite and diminutive. She must have looked tiny compared to the King who was over six feet tall and had a chest measurement of 57 inches and a waist measurement of 54 inches in 1541.

Victim of Child Abuse

As I said, the way we view Catherine’s life and what happened to her does depend on what birthdate we accept for her, but, we have to remember that Tudor girls went from being a child to being a woman, there weren’t teenagers in Tudor times. Joanna Denny writes of how, today, Manox’s relationship with Catherine would be viewed as “a blatant case of child abuse”, however, “under the Tudors there was little sentimentality about childhood. The onset of puberty was regarded as an acceptable age for sexual and matrimonial consent.”10

Lacey Baldwin Smith writes that “Child marriages were the constant custom of the age and most of Catherine’s relatives were married young. Her mother, at the age of twelve, had taken as her first husband a man who belonged to a previous generation”11 and we know that Henry VIII’s grandmother was 12 when she married and 13 when she gave birth. If we accept the 1521 birthdate, as Lacey Baldwin Smith and David Starkey do, then Catherine was around 14/15 when Manox and she were involved, and around 19 when she married the King. Although Manox, Dereham, Culpeper, and particularly Henry VIII , were older than her, it was not unusual for a young woman to be involved with an older man. Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, had married his ward, Catherine Willoughby, when she was just 13/14 and he was in his late 40s.

Slut, Prostitute and Common Harlot

As I said earlier, the episode guide to “The Tudors” Season 3 described Catherine as a prostitute and it certainly portrayed her as what David Starkey calls “a good-time girl”. We see her seducing Henry, something that does not tally with his perception of her as virginal, and we also know that she has had experience with other men, she has a rather colourful past. It is true, Catherine Howard had been involved to some with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham before her marriage to Henry VIII. Manox had boasted to Mary Hall (née Mary Lascelles), one of the women in the Dowager Duchess’ household, “I know her well enough, for I have had her by the c*nt and I know it among a hundred… And she loves me and I love her, and she hath said to me that I shall have her maidenhead, though it be painful to her, and not doubting but I will be good to her hereafter.”12 Manox also said that he knew a “privy mark” in Catherine’s “secret parts”13, but it seems that the couple did not ‘go all the way’ as when he was questioned later, he was adamant that “he never knew her carnally”. It seems that it was Dereham who de-flowered the “rose without a thorn”.

According to Joanna Denny14, Francis Dereham was a gentleman of the Duke of Norfolk and a favourite of the Dowager Duchess. He and other young men in the Norfolk household sneaked into the Maiden’s Chamber, the girls’ dormitory, at night, enjoying sexual relations with the females there. He had previously had a relationship with Catherine’s friend and dormitory companion, Joan Bulmer, but was soon taken with Catherine. The couple obviously had a full sexual relationship as Catherine’s bed companion, Alice Restwood, described “puffing and blowing” between the couple, another witness, Mary Lascelles, testified that “they would kiss and hang by their bills [lips] together and [as if ] they were two sparrows” Margaret Benet described how she saw “Dereham pluck up [Catherine’s] clothes above her navel so that [he] might well discern her body”15.

Although these illicit goings-on went on by night at the Dowager Duchess’ homes in Horsham and Lambeth, Antonia Fraser points out that it was not “something closely approaching a high class brothel” but that “the true comparison was to a high class finishing school”16. Starkey concurs, calling it “a slackly run mixed boarding school”. Catherine Howard was not a prostitute in a brothel and her affair with Manox can be put down to youthful experimentation and her relationship with Dereham could have been described as a marriage, in that the couple had agreed to marry, they referred to each other as husband and wife, and they had consummated the relationship. Although Catherine went on to have secret meetings with Thomas Culpeper, her husband’s groom, and evidently planned to sleep with him, I’m not sure that she can be labelled as promiscuous or a slut, more a girl who lacked judgement and loved attention.

Romantic Heroine

It is tempting to feel sorry for Catherine, to see her as a teenage beauty who’s had a rough upbringing, starved of love and affection, who is forced into a loveless marriage (on her side anyway) with a monster and who can’t help but have an affair with the love of her life: the swashbuckling, gorgeous Thomas Culpeper. Hmm… tempting, but it’s not what happened in real life, is it?

OK, so Catherine’s mother died when she was young and she had an absent father, but she was sent to stay with family and she was no different from many girls of her age and station. She had friends, she had fun, and then she ended up in the glamorous world of the English Court, serving the new queen, Anne of Cleves. There she met Thomas Culpeper, who was far from the romantic hero of chivalric legend, someone who Antonia Fraser describes as having “the charm of Don Giovanni rather than that of Sir Lancelot”; in fact, he was a rapist and murderer, and was quick to lay the blame on Catherine and Lady Rochford when he was caught out. Catherine married the King who doted on her and gave her everything she wanted, including love and affection, and she cheated on him. The furious King had his “Desdemona”17 executed, along with her love and previous lover, and that was the end of little Catherine Howard.

The romantic Catherine and Culpeper story comes from the pages of The Spanish Chronicle18 which tells of how the couple fell in love before Catherine’s wedding to the King, that Culpeper “was much grieved and fell very ill” when Catherine married Henry VIII and that “every time he went to the palace and saw the Queen he did nothing but sigh, and by his eyes let the Queen know what trouble he was suffering”. Catherine was then tempted by the Devil and “as Culpepper was a gentleman and young, and the King was old, she remembered the good-will she formerly bore to the young courtier, and let him know by signs that he might cheer up.” It goes on to tell how the couple corresponded by letter and that Catherine bribed Jane Rochford with dresses, jewels and the promise of an honourable marriage to keep her secret and to help her meet with Culpeper. Jane then, apparently, betrayed Catherine by telling the Duke of Somerset (who wasn’t even Duke of Somerset at this time!) and Culpeper was arrested and interrogated by Cromwell (who was dead by this time) and others. In this romanticised version of the story, Culpeper and Catherine have done nothing but write to each other and Culpeper does not lay the blame on Catherine, but, instead talks of his love for the Queen “the thing I loved best in the world… though you may hang me for it”. When Catherine is executed, in this account, she says to the crowd “I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpepper!” How romantic! But can we really rely on this overly romanticised account with all of its inaccuracies? I doubt it.

In my opinion, Catherine was far from the romantic heroine and the story is far from a fairytale, chivalric legend or romantic tragedy. It is a sordid story of ambition, lust, lies, power and downright foolishness.

Teenage Tearaway, Spoilt Child and Immature Airhead?

As I have said, teenagers did not really exist in Tudor times, but, it is easy to see Catherine as a spoilt child, a child saying “I want, I want…” all the time and sticking out her bottom lip and sulking if she didn’t get her way. That is certainly the Catherine of “The Tudors”, the young woman who confronts her step-daughter, Mary, hands on hips, accusing her, in quite a whiny voice, of not showing her the respect she is due as queen. When Mary does not play ball and accuses Catherine of being frivolous, Catherine removes two of Mary’s ladies and draws attention to Mary’s single status. When Mary says “How dare you speak to me like that?”, Catherine replies “I dare because I can!” Isn’t that something that a teenage girl would say in an argument? It’s an incredibly immature reply.

Lacey Baldwin Smith describes Catherine as “cheerful, plump, and eagerly indulging in each new caprice, but totally incapable of appreciating the consequences of her actions, the Queen had most of the characteristics of the pampered child. Sulking when crossed, constantly demanding assurance of her own importance, and hysterically gyrating between poles of tearful remorse and haughty indifference, she existed in a hothouse environment that tenderly fostered most of her worst traits of personality.”19 However, David Starkey sees a different side of Catherine:-

“Catherine’s behaviour in her step-grandmother’s household has often been seen to indicate that she was a crass, self-indulgent teenager, without a thought in her head, unless others had put it there. But a different reading is possible. Catherine, like many teenagers, certainly showed herself to be wilful and sensual. But she also displayed leadership, resourcefulness and independence, which are qualities less commonly found in headstrong young girls.”20

Starkey writes of how Catherine was quick to form a good relationship with Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, showing her intelligence, how she acted graciously when her predecessor, Anne of Cleves visited Court, showing “herself to be a model consort”, and how she was “warm, loving and good natured” with ” a good heart, and a less bad head than most of her chroniclers have assumed. She may not have had the intelligence of her predecessors or their strong faith, but she seems to have been a likable girl who managed to establish “cordial relations with her stepdaughter, Mary, who doted on the little Lady Elizabeth and who “felt a strong loyalty to those who had brought her up” and the friends she had made at the homes of the Dowager Duchess. While she may have been foolish in giving Francis Dereham the position of her private secretary, and her former bedfellows positions as her ladies, it shows that she was a caring person. Starkey writes of her:-

“This was not the stuff of martyrs. But nor was it the stuff that made martyrs of others. And that, in the reign of Henry VIII, was something.”21

Rather than being a failure as queen, Starkey believes that she had actually made a good start as consort and writes that she was clever in combining Jane Seymour’s submissive character, in her motto “no other wish but his”, with the style of Anne Boleyn. It was an “ingenious combination of two of the most successful management techniques of her predecessors: Anne Boleyn’s deployment of seductive French fashions in behaviour and dress, and Jane Seymour’s carefully calculated submissiveness.”22 It is such as shame that this queen who showed such promise, and who obviously had the affection of her husband, could not control her feelings.

I should also point out that although she was not highly educated, Catherine was literate, as is shown from her letter to Thomas Culpeper. She may have put jewels and pretty dresses before learning, but she was not thick and her level of education could be compared to the likes of Jane Seymour. I think “The Tudors” lets Catherine down when it portrays her as a girl who spent all of her time “oohing” at pretty things, laughing at the book of midwifery and giggling more than talking.

I feel that Lacey Baldwin Smith is being too harsh on Catherine Howard when he says that her life “was little more than a series of petty trivialities and wanton acts punctuated by sordid politics” and that she was “had many characteristics of a juvenile delinquent, who was spoiled, fawned upon, and flattered.”

The Material Girl

I don’t think there’s any denying that Catherine Howard was a material girl. For a girl who had grown up in a kind of boarding school, sharing a bed with another girl and not having any possessions to really call her own, it must have been a dream come true to become queen and to be lavished with jewels, dresses, money, property etc. Joanna Denny writes that even before the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves Henry was showering hi new love with gifts:-

“He made her lavish gifts of rich materials with which to make even more extravagant gowns, besides jewellery and even, on 24 April, land that had been declared forfeit from a prisoner.”23.

Marillac, the French ambassador, wrote that “The King had no wife who made him spend so much money in dresses and jewels as she did, who every day had some fresh caprice.”24

Lacey Baldwin Smith describes her as “the most giddy of Henry’s wives” and a girl who spent most of her time having fun, but who can blame her for enjoying herself and making the most of the King’s attentions?

A Naked Nymphomaniac

I had to laugh in “The Tudors” when they showed a naked Catherine practising with the block on the night before her execution! I think my comment to my husband was “Oh, another opportunity to show her naked!”. She did seem to be naked or partially dressed most of the time in the series and so, combined with the stories of her past in Horsham and Lambeth, her seduction of Henry VIII and her illicit meetings with Thomas Culpeper, it is easy to imagine Catherine as a complete nympho. Also, was it me, or was there a hint that she hadn’t just had experience with men? Wasn’t there a bit when Joan Bulmer was stroking her shoulder or something? Hmm…

The Catherine Howard I believe in was not a nymphomaniac, she was simply a young and passionate woman who fell head over heels in love with the wrong man at the wrong time. It is clear from the letter that was found in Culpeper’s belongings that she was completely besotted with Culpeper and Antonia Fraser describes her as “the sort of girl who lost her head easily over a man, a girl who agreed generally with what men suggested.” How ironic that she really did lose her head over Culpeper! We have all known women who have fallen hopelessly in love with the wrong man, with a bad boy, and who have lived to regret it, poor Catherine was not so lucky.

A Worldly Girl

Catherine Howard had had to grow up quickly in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. There, it could be said that she had been ‘corrupted’ by seeing the sexual behaviour of older girls and boys, and having her own dalliances with older boys. It is ironic that the wife who Henry referred to as his “rose without a thorn” was the one who was far from virginal and who even boasted that “a woman might meddle with a man and yet conceive no child unless she would herself”, showing that she had some knowledge of the primitive contraception of the age, even if it was simple coitus interruptus.

David Starkey makes the point that Henry, who had struggled to ‘get it up’ (sorry to sound so vulgar but I’m not quite sure how else to put it!!) with Anne of Cleves, had no problem with Catherine and there are many reports of him not being able to keep his hands off her even in public. Starkey goes on to say “Henry, lost in pleasure, never seems to have asked himself how she obtained such skill”. Did Henry never wonder how his wife knew so much about sex and pleasuring her man? Could this ‘whore in the bedroom’ really be a virgin? Perhaps he just pushed his doubts to one side, he was so desperate to be happy and to have another son.

A Proud Howard

Thomas Howard 2nd Duke of Norfolk

Catherine Howard was a member of the powerful Howard family and although she was one of the less important Howards, being the daughter of Edmund Howard who was only the third son of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, she definitely had the Howard pride and it was this that could be seen to be her downfall.

When Archbishop Thomas Cranmer interviewed Catherine regarding the allegations that she had had a carnal relationship with Francis Dereham, Catherine begged for the King’s forgiveness and mercy but would not admit to there being any type of pre-contract or marriage between the two of them. Her pride prevented her from seeing that admitting to being pre-contracted to Dereham could save her. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Catherine’s life may have been spared if she had confessed to the pre-contract as her marriage to Henry could then have been annulled on these grounds. If only she had been willing to put her pride and title aside, then Dereham may not have been tortured, Culpeper’s name may not have come up, and she may have lost her title as queen but kept her head. It was the Howard pride that made Catherine fight to stay queen, “which refused to acknowledge the possibility that she had never been Queen of England even for eighteen months”25

An Innocent Victim of a Manipulative Man?

One thing I am not sure about is whether Catherine Howard was the victim of a manipulative man, a man with a plan. It is clear that Thomas Culpeper had a dark side and a sordid past. After his arrest and execution, a merchant in London wrote to a friend in Germany of how, two years previously to his execution, Culpeper “had violated the wife of a certain park-keeper in a woody thicket, while, horrid to relate! three or four of his most profligate attendants were holding her at his bidding”26. The merchant went on to say that Culpeper killed a man when an attempt was made to apprehend him for the crime but that he was pardoned for the rape and the murder by the King. It seems that Culpeper had grown up at court and Joanna Denny writes of how he had “won the King’s favour with his good looks and by his skill at dressing Henry’s ulcer” and that he was “on call day or night and used to sleep in the King’s chamber, possibly even in the King’s bed, as the French Ambassador reported.”27

Although Culpeper had this rather colourful past, he was also very popular at court. Lady Lisle sent him a hawk, notes and various gifts and Joanna Denny describes how he was “attractive to women” and David Starkey writes of him being ” a handsome, delinquent boy and a favourite of men and women alike”. He was the proverbial ‘bad boy’, the type of man who some women feel the need to tame. Starkey describes Catherine as “his female equivalent” and goes on to say that when Catherine first got to court it was rumoured that she and Culpeper would marry, but then they drifted apart and she married the King. What is not clear is whether Culpeper set out to win Catherine back in order to benefit from her status or from her future status. As a man who was close to the King, who dressed the King’s leg ulcer, he would have known about the two flare ups of the infection in 1541, both of which were serious and thought to be life threatening. Did Culpeper believe that the King was not long for this world and did he think that he could control the Dowager Queen Catherine and therefore also the new King, if Catherine was made regent? Who knows, but the trusting, kindly, young Catherine could have been easy prey for Culpeper.

Catherine the Fool?

I really disagree with comments suggesting that Catherine deserved her fate as I don’t believe that anyone deserves to die such a brutal death, however, I have to conclude that Catherine was incredibly stupid and foolhardy. I cannot blame her for keeping her past a secret, after all, at what point do you say to the rather moody Henry VIII “by the way, darling, I’m not a virgin”? Plus, Catherine probably thought that her past was firmly behind her, she had no way of knowing that Dereham would come back from Ireland and end up on her doorstep. But, she must have had rocks in her head to believe that she could have secret meetings with Thomas Culpeper and get away with it – hello! Didn’t your cousin get beheaded for adultery?!

Historians, such as Lacey Baldwin Smith, talk about how Catherine would have seen examples of other women, such as Dorothy Bray (a lady in waiting), taking a lover at court, but they weren’t the Queen were they? It may have been exciting to have a dashing young man in love with you and it may have been highly tempting to take things further when your husband just didn’t do it for you, but surely Catherine was well aware of the danger of acting on such an impulse. There is no doubt in my mind, that she was foolish and reckless.

What we don’t know is whether anyone tried to stop her. Surely one of her ladies should have pulled her to one side and said “What are you doing? Don’t be stupid! Look at what happened to Anne Boleyn?” Perhaps one of them did and Catherine was too head over heels in love to take any notice, perhaps she was blinded by love and passion and thought she could get away with it. Or, perhaps she was let down by those who were older and should have known better.

Cold and Calculating?

The Kate of Suzannah Dunn’s novel is desperate to get pregnant by any means. When her friend, Cat, worries about her relationship with Culpeper and asks “What if you get pregnant?”, Kat replies, with “a humourless laugh”, “Oh, I need to get pregnant.”28 Although this seems a good reason for Catherine’s rather reckless relationship with Thomas Culpeper, I think that the real Catherine was simply in love, or in lust, with Culpeper and that it had nothing to do with any grand plan. If her failure to conceive was actually due to Henry’s impotence problems then there is no way that she could pass off Culpeper’s baby as the King’s! Also, what if it was a little Culpeper clone!

Was Catherine Guilty?

This is such a hard question to answer. Catherine’s past was colourful but she can hardly be seen as a criminal for her relationship with Francis Dereham. As David Starkey says, “Catherine had been shameless. She had been deceitful. But that was all” and that “neither had been married then; and while fornication was a sin, it was not a crime.” She had kept her past a secret and had not corrected the King’s view that she was a virgin, but she had not committed a crime.

Some even question whether she had a full sexual relationship with Thomas Culpeper, as both Catherine and Culpeper confessed to being in love and having secret meetings but denied sex or “carnal knowledge”. So, it seems that technically Catherine may not have committed adultery. However, she and Culpeper had committed treason. Lacey Baldwin Smith points out that “the law determining the character of treason under Henry VIII had been enacted in 1534”29 and that “it extended the punishment for the most heinous act a subject of the Crown could commit to all who ‘do maliciously wish, will or desire by words or writing, or by craft imagine’ the King’s death or harm.” Catherine Howard, Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham were therefore deemed to have intended to do the King harm by their thoughts and actions. Culpeper had confessed to intending to sleep with the Queen, Dereham’s position as the Queen’s secretary, after his previous relationship, with her was seen as an attempt to re-start their romance and Catherine was seen as planning to sleep with both men. Lacey Baldwin Smith explains:-

“As Shakespeare’s Kate was ‘a foul contending rebel and graceless traitor to her loving lord’ when she refused his ‘honest will’, so subjects lost not only life but also their justification for existence when they denied their lord, their King, their governor. In doing wrong to her husband, Catherine committed treason against the State. She betrayed her duty as a wife and her loyalty as a subject, and perpetrated the one crime for which society could find no excuse or sympathy.”30

Not only had she betrayed the King, she had impugned the royal issue, the succession, because if she had had a child then the King would never have known if it was his real heir.

Whether or not Catherine had actually slept with Thomas Culpeper, their secret meetings and her love letter to him are evidence of a relationship and it surely would have been consummated at some point.


Catherine Howard is a mystery and it is impossible to know what her motives were for having a relationship with Thomas Culpeper and why she put her neck on the line for a few secret liaisons. Popular culture has been cruel to her, although we still end up sympathising with her plight, but it is hard to judge a woman we know so little about. The real Catherine Howard could have been a sex-mad girl looking for a good-time or she could have been a victim of manipulation and greed, a toy in the hands of a power hungry man. Will we ever know? No, I don’t think so.

What do you think?

Notes and Sources

  1. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser, p416
  2. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, David Starkey
  3. Catherine Howard, Lacey Baldwin Smith, p192-194
  4. Ibid., p193
  5. LP xvi. 1426
  6. Starkey
  7. Katherine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy, Joanna Denny, p47
  8. Ibid., 157-158
  9. Fraser, p386
  10. Denny, p86
  11. Baldwin Smith, p44
  12. Starkey
  13. Denny, p239
  14. Ibid., p116
  15. Starkey
  16. Fraser, p391
  17. Denny
  18. The Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England (The Spanish Chronicle), p82-87
  19. Baldwin Smith, p140
  20. Starkey
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Denny, p165
  24. Ibid., p175
  25. Baldwin Smith, p170
  26. Ibid., p153
  27. Denny, p190
  28. Suzannah Dunn, p279
  29. Baldwin Smith, p175
  30. Ibid., p133

81 thoughts on “Catherine Howard – The Material Girl?”

  1. Christine says:

    Thanks, Claire! I’ve always liked her most of the “wives” (to be honest, I’ve never much loved any of the others). She strikes me as having been a “normal” human being. She was so young, and her story so perfectly illustrates that mad system!

  2. Sue says:

    There are a few things which you never mentioned which give a clue into Kathryn’s personality :
    “She brought Princess Elizabeth forward, befriending her and calling her “kinswoman”, though there was danger in angering the King with the reminder of Anne Boleyn. When she learned of Margaret Pole, Lady Salisbury, once Princess Mary’s governess, who had been imprisoned in the Tower for years after Katherine of Aragon’s banishment from Court, she risked Henry’s anger once again by sending warm clothing and bonnets to the old woman, though she did not even know her. Later, at Princess Mary’s request, she pled with Henry for the Countess of Salisbury’s life, to no avail, earning herself nothing but a vicious reprimand. Katherine also successfully pleaded for the pardon of Thomas Wyatt who was in the Tower and he was subsequently released.”

    This is more than Jane Seymour ever did. Claire, I know the concept of teenagers was unknown back then but that doesn’t change the fact that we know, she was one. Today we understand that from the ages of 13 to 19, a person does not always have the maturity to make the ‘right’ decisions. Hopefully if you have the support from your family, you will get through these years. Kathryn did not…in fact her family let her down. They encouraged her to take in Dereham to keep him quiet which was disastrous. As for Culpepper, I do feel that he was a very ambitious man who saw an ailing king and thought if he could gain favour with his (perhaps, soon to be) widow, he would get on in life.

    As Queen Caroline said in 1838 “Courts are strange, mysterious places; those who pretend most to despise them seek to gain admittance within their precincts; those who obtain an entrance there generally lament their fate, and yet somehow or other cannot break their chains…. Intrigues, jealousies, heart-burnings, lies, dissimulation thrive in [courts] as mushrooms in a hot bed.” Kathryn was no match for the hot bed of intrigue and what family she did have (Duke of Norfolk and the Dowager Duchess) let her down and gave her little or no guidance.

    1. Claire says:

      I think you misunderstand me, Sue, I agree with David Starkey, rather than Baldwin Smith who I feel is rather harsh on her, and I think she had a big heart and was a very kind and loyal girl. As you say, she did befriend Elizabeth and Catherine’s death had a huge impact on Elizabeth. She interceded for Thomas Wyatt and also John Wallop, who were both pardoned, and she also worked at her relationship with Mary even though it was difficult at the start. Catherine also showed her loyalty to her fellow housemates from Horsham and Lambeth by giving the positions. So, yes, she had a big heart.

      As I said, our view of Catherine depends on whether you believe she was a teenager or not. If you believe, like Starkey and Baldwin Smith, that she was 19 when she married and 20/21 when she died then the whole “maturity” issue does not have as great a bearing on things as it would if you believe that she was only 16 at her marriage.

      Like you, I believe that Catherine was let down by those around her, who really should have given her better advice, and that she was led astray by Culpeper who, I think, had real power over her. But, at the end of the day, she did know the possible consequences of her actions and so was foolish.

      1. Carolina says:

        You only study boleyn History move on and please reply

        1. Claire says:

          No, I study Tudor history and have been working on a book on Catherine Howard.

    2. Mark Smeaton (not the same one). says:

      Sue, would you mind if I quote from this ? That’such a wonderful post. I am admittedly relishing you’re elegant little “compare and contrast” to Jane Seymour too.

  3. Tina says:

    Actually, Catherine is my favorite of the wives because, to me, and from all that I have seen, she is easiest to understand. Despite the fact that there were “no teenagers” in that time, I think that’s all she really was. Just because the condition of “teenager” didn’t exist, does not mean the brain chemistry was any different.

    She was, at a fairly young chronological age, challenged with things that we know today children are not equipped to deal with. Their capacity for reasonsing is genetically different from adults, regardless of time period. So, when faced with these “adult” challenges, what young “tween” or “teen” would NOT want to play grown up? And back then, they were given the liberty to do so. Most “kids” her age probably got away with much worse. And she probably wouldn’t have learned from her cousin Anne’s example, because — like most teens — she felt she was indestructable and immortal.

    Unfortunately, she made her choices in a very dangerous, contentious time and with very dangerous, contentious people. I think Catherine’s simple problem was that she got in way over her pretty head.

    “Rose without a thorn?” Indeed. A beautiful blooming young girl who, like a rose, needed gentle treatment. Unfortuately, her times did not allow for such treatment for children of such illustrious houses.

  4. DuchessofBrittany says:

    I’ve always felt empathy for Katherine Howard. To me, she is a victim of circumstances: lenient upbringing, poorly educated, never trained to deal with the role of Queen. Then she found herself the highest lady in the land and was totally out of her element, never aware of the proper protocol, and never having someone to show her the way. That does not dismiss her having an affair, but for me contextualizes Katherine’s own personal situation.
    The sad thing is this young women’s legacy is her sexuality and execution. Rarely does anyone speak about her kindness to others, especially Lady Elizabeth, and her love of life. For instance, so what if she loved nices clothes. So did Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I and no one allowed their vanity to define their lives.
    I believe Katherine was a sweet, naive young women often overlooked in history as the stupid harlot. I feel the need to be Katherine’s Champion sometimes, because so many people defend Anne Boleyn and others fervently. Katherine deserves to have her place in history and to have the myths about her life and death debunked.

  5. Michelle says:

    I have to agree with you Claire that we will never know what kind of woman Catherine Howard truly was.

    It is a damn shame that she has been belittled, maligned and laughed at for centuries. Yes, she had premarital sex. Was she sexuallya abused? In our century that would be a definite YES. However, in Tudor times, she was just doing “what came naturally”. We all know how hormones run rampant during the teenage years. Catherine was probably no exception. It was fun and exciting. Why not indulge? There was little or no adult supervision so things got out of hand quickly.

    When Henry VIII made a play for her, she was probably flattered and more than willing to comply with his desires. Women did not have jobs and they needed to survive. What better way to make sure you had money, jewels and attendtion than to marry the king?!!?
    As you pointed out many young girls married much older men. It was common practice and Catherine would not have seen Henry’s proposal as out of the ordinary.

    Her mistake was in thinking that she would not be watched constantly and that she had powerful, envious enemies who would not baulk at tattling to the king about her “wanton” behaviour. Perhaps these tale bearers were more interested in hurting Henry and his massive ego. He was making a fool of himself over a woman young enough to be one of his dauthers. A Machiavellian mind would see the opportunity to destroy Catherine *since she was no better than a whore* and cause Henry pain and embarrassment. The story ciruclated throughout the courts of Europe about poor cuckolded, besotted Henry!

    So Catherine was sexually active and was indiscreet with her affections. She did not deserve to be executed! Divorced and removed from court, but not beheaded. That hideous double standard was the rule of the day. Men could “indulge their fancies”, but women could not. A man was a real man if he had slept with several women. A woman was a whore if she slept with anyone but her husband. Such hypocracy!!

    Once again Henry shows his true colors. “If I can’t have what I want and I’m hurt then I will destroy the problem”. He abused his royal power with his wives, his court and his country. Again, no one points the finger at Henry. It was all the wives faults. They were guilty and they deserved whatever Henry decreed. What rubbish!!

    Thanks for another thought provoking article Claire!


  6. Carly says:

    Question … isn’t there a historical debate over whether Katherine’s Thomas Culpepper was the same T.C. who raped that woman?

    1. Claire says:

      I discussed that in my article on Thomas Culpeper – There were two Thomas Culpepers and they were brothers. It is thought that the elder Thomas Culpeper, who worked for Thomas Cromwell, was the Thomas involved in a knife attack and that it was Thomas Culpeper Junior, the one who was a member of Henry’s Privy Chamber and one of the King’s favourites, who committed the rape and murder. Culpeper was pardoned for his crime because he was such a favourite of the King, it was he who bathed and dresses the King’s leg ulcer and it is also thought that, as a groom, he had shared the King’s bed on occasions.

  7. Jessica says:

    I’ve heard of Culpeper’s rape of the gameskeeper’s wife and the murder of a villager, but I did read somewhere that it may not be the same Thomas Culpeper who was executed with Catherine Howard. Apparently, the one who was executed was Thomas Culpeper the younger, meaning he had an older brother also named Thomas. Apparently this older brother was considered a hot head, often getting into fights. It was left a mystery at court as to who was the real rapist and murder the older or the younger brother. Most people at the time thought it was Thomas the younger, but he never had a history of violence unlike his brother. I can’t say for certain where I got this information, the wikipedia article does make a brief mention of his older brother named Thomas. I can’t say for sure that this is true, but it is something to make a note of I think.

    1. Claire says:

      He he, Carly just asked that too! Yes, I’ve discussed it on this site before and Lacey Baldwin Smith writes:-
      “The Culpeper brothers were a passionate, swashbuckling, grasping pair, and the records are filled with their efforts to procure monastic lands, sinecures at court and pensions from the crown. The elder brother was on one occasion actually involved in a knife fight over a question of disputed land claims. As for Thomas Culpeper junior, he seems to have been an elegant young gentleman with a wayward air and considerable sex appeal…he found easy victory with the ladies, for Lady Lisle sent him a coy and touching note, enclosing two bracelets of her colours and saying that “they are the first that ever I sent to any man””

      and wrotes of how, after Culpeper’s arrest and execution in December 1541, a London merchant wrote to a friend in Germany that Culpeper two years previously:-
      “had violated the wife of a certain park-keeper in a woody thicket, while, horrid to relate! three or four of his most profligate attendants were holding her at his bidding. For this act of wickedness he was, notwithstanding, pardoned by the King, after he had been delivered into custody by the villagers on account of his crime, and likewise a murder which he had committed in his resistance to them, when they first endeavoured to apprehend him.”

      Henry VIII pardoned Culpeper for the rape and murder so it seems to me likely that it was Culpeper Junior, Catherine’s Culpeper, as he had been in the King’s service for many years and was a royal favourite.

      1. Carly says:

        Thank you for clearing that up, Claire! I knew I had read something along those lines a while back, and now I remember — of course I read it here!

        I love this series, and have been patiently waiting for the Catherine Parr post … she’s the wife I know the least about, and she just fascinates me, especially the life she led following Henry’s death.

  8. Kari says:

    I have a real problem with justifying child/sexual abuse because “that’s just how things were back then.” Just because it was common practice at the time doesn’t make it right. People at the time may not have recognized it for what it was, but it was still abuse. Call me judgmental, accuse me of being unable to set aside my 21st century lens if you must, but that’s how I feel. I don’t know, it just makes me twitch when people try to justify and/or mitigate what Manox and Henry (especially Manox) did to Catherine.

    Also, this statement in your article struck me: “Catherine married the King who doted on her and gave her everything she wanted, including love and affection, and she cheated on him.”

    Don’t you think that’s an awfully black-and-white outlook of the situation? Yes, Catherine was unfaithful to Henry, and I’m not defending that; she was married, and it was wrong of her to have sex with another man. And no, Thomas Culpeper was not the romantic hero he’s often made out to be. But Catherine *was* a very young girl forced to marry a much older, ill, obese, smelly, rather disgusting old man with whom she had nothing in common and who regularly groped her in front of other people (that had to be humiliating even for a sexually experienced girl like Catherine). All the doting and presents in the world wouldn’t make that okay. It’s hardly surprising that Catherine, a young girl who seemed predisposed to being silly and overly romantic anyway (and let’s face it, that describes most young people, boys and girls alike) would have her head turned by a dashing, good-looking courtier. She was guilty of adultery, bad judgment in men, and a woeful lack of indiscretion, it’s true. I’m not saying what she did was right. But I AM saying that it was very understandable. Catherine was no saint, but I have a very hard time swallowing the implication that she was the guilty party who hurt poor, innocent Henry who only ever wanted to treat her right and shower her with love!

    I’m sorry if I seem argumentative; it’s not my intention to be. It just seems to me that you’re being very hard on Catherine and painting a rather black-and-white picture of her marriage to Henry. She’s not my favorite of Henry’s wives, but I felt the need to stick up for her!

    1. Claire says:

      I’ll handle your issues in points:-
      1) Child abuse – I am not justifying child abuse in any way. I have three children and would never justify something like that. What I am saying is that what happened to Catherine probably does not constitute child abuse but was more sexual experimentation. When I was at school in the 80s, there were girls in my year when I was 14 who were experimenting with older boys in consensual relationships and I would not say that those boys were abusing those girls.

      2) I may be being “black and white” but Catherine did cheat on the King, there’s no getting round that. Are you saying that just because Henry was older than her, ill and overweight, that it was ok for her to have an extra-marital affair? I don’t agree with you. It was her duty as his wife and queen to be faithful to him. You say that all the doting and presents don’t make up for the fact that she was forced to marry him but then the fact that Henry was the way he was does not justify Catherine’s behaviour either. It may have been understandable that she was tempted to have an affair with a goodlooking courtier but that does not make it right.

      3) I have never said that Henry was poor or innocent or that all he wanted was to treat her right and shower her with love, although it is clear that he doted on her and treated her well. Everyone who reads my articles on here knows how I view Henry and his treatment of his wives.

      I don’t think that I’m being hard on Catherine at all. I have discussed the labels that are out there about her, which are not my labels for her, and I have questioned their validity. From what you’ve written in your above comment, I wonder if you’re actually arguing with Lacey Baldwin Smith’s views on Catherine in the article, rather than mine. Not sure.

      1. Kari says:

        1. I still don’t really agree, but I’ll cede the point about Manox, since they were relatively close in age. But she was decades younger than Henry and in all likelihood still a teenager when they married, so yes, I consider it sexual abuse. I don’t think we’re likely to agree on this, so I’ll let it go.

        2. I repeated at least twice in my original comment that what Catherine did wasn’t right, and that Henry’s age and, shall we say, unattractiveness (both physically and as a person) didn’t justify her adultery, so I’m not sure why you think I was saying it did. What I did say was that her transgression was understandable (I didn’t get the impression from your comments that you thought it was, which is why I started this whole thing in the first place). I think she was a young girl put in a deeply unpleasant situation and reacted to it in the worst and most foolish way imaginable, but she did not deserve what happened to her. Her affair with Culpeper was wrong and I’m not trying to excuse it, but rather I’m trying to say that there were more shades of gray to the situation than your statement seemed to imply.

        3. I agree that he doted on Catherine, yes. But I think there are reasons to be highly sceptical of the assertion that he treated her well. For one thing, I believe he sexually abused her, but since I know you disagree with that point, I won’t pursue it further. For another thing, doting on her does not necessarily equate to treating her well; you can dote on someone, shower them with gifts, etc, and still turn around and treat them badly in other ways. Merely looking at the way Henry treated his other wives is enough to make me believe that Henry was probably not always kind to Catherine.

        As for your last paragraph, I apologize if I assigned statements to you that you were merely repeating. You quoted some of the things Lacey Baldwin Smith said and then expounded on them, which I took to mean that you agreed with him, but apparently I was wrong. And actually, I don’t disagree with your challenges of the stereotypes in any of the sections except for the one about sexual abuse and the one about her being a romantic heroine (and just for the record, I do NOT think Catherine was an innocent romantic heroine; just a young, misguided girl deserving of compassion). The latter was the section I was specifically referring to when I said I thought you were being too hard on Catherine and too easy on Henry.

        That said, I’ve been reading your site for some time, and yes, I do realize that you have no high opinion of how Henry treated his wives. I don’t know, what can I say? Catherine’s always seemed to me like a lot of very young, silly, boy-crazy but harmless girls I’ve known, and I suppose I often feel a knee-jerk reaction to protect and defend her because of that.

        I’m sure you’re sick of hearing from me. I’ll stop talking now.

        1. Claire says:

          Hi Kari,
          1. Obviously we’re not going to agree on this point but I really don’t understand how you can call Henry’s marriage to Catherine Howard sexual abuse. At the youngest she was 16 when they married and if she was born in 1521 then she was 19. Even if she was 16 she was very precocious and ‘experienced’ and in Tudor times girls were seen as ready for marriage for 14 and many many married that age and earlier. Just because Henry was older it does not mean that he was a sexual predator. In Tudor times it was sensible for older men to marry younger women in that, as someone else mentioned here or on Facebook, marriage to an older man gave the woman financial security and for the man it gave him a woman with many years of fertility ahead of her, plus women could die in their 30s. We have to remember that women were chattel in Tudor times, their duty was to marry well.

          2. I apologise if I misunderstood you regarding justifying Catherine’s adultery but I don’t agree that her transgression was understandable. Alison Weir did a wonderful talk on women in Tudor times at the Mary Rose museum where she explained what was expected of a wife and how a wife was a man’s property and that he even had a legal right to kill her on the spot if he actually caught her in the act of adultery. Catherine Parr’s brother, William, called for his unfaithful wife to be put to death, although a divorce was granted instead. Catherine grew up in the Tudor world surrounded by these beliefs and values so she knew that adultery was wrong. I don’t believe that she deserved to be sentenced to death but she was not innocent. The Tudor world was rather black and white and that’s the way we have to view it. Catherine did not live in today’s world.

          3. I don’t think there is any evidence of Henry treating Catherine badly before her fall and I realise that gifts do not equal love.

          My last paragraph is my conclusion where I talk about how we cannot judge Catherine etc. I’m not sure which bit you’re referring to. I do quote L B Smith further up the article and I agree with some of what he says and disagree with other bits. I’m not sure which bit you mean. I agree with you that Catherine does deserve compassion and she was a very mixed up girl and was let down by her family and those around her, but she was also very foolish.

  9. I hated the Tudors portrayal of Catherine Howard, particularly the idea that she was some kind of prostitute just ripe for the picking with Henry. This was one of the weaknesses of the series, the fact that the Duke of Norfolk was no where to be seen since Series 1. I believe that Catherine was a very kind hearted girl who also happened to be sexually curious, and was no doubt just doing what all the other girls in the dormitory at the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s. No doubt she was starved of affection as well. I’ve always felt sorry for her. It must have been difficult on the one hand to be so young and married to a crotchety, sick old man, but on the other hand, she was Queen, and I don’t think Catherine took that lightly.

    1. Juanita Richards says:

      I feel i have to defend The Tudors somewhat. I think they did lots of in depth research but decided to go with the more “sensational” versions of certain accounts. There were so many of them. I think most viewers had compassion for young Katherine no matter what she had done, and understood her youthful indiscretions. They made Henry look even more grotesque, with that pretty little girl as his play thing. But even on the show, Henry must have wondred how experienced was a girl who took his ring and slid it up her thigh and thent ook it out from under her skirts and kissed it before handing it back!

  10. Jillian says:

    An interesting question is whether Catherine would have survived, and perhaps even remained Henry’s wife, had it not been for the relationship with Culpepper.

    According to David Starkey, Henry was inclined to assign her past behaviour to her youth and poor upbringing. Would he have been willing to forgive her or would he have always resented the fact that Dereham had slept with her first? I don’t know.

    I also had to giggle at Catherine in ‘The Tudors’ practicising laying her head on the block whilst totally naked. In the Tower? In February? She would probably have succumbed to hypothermia before the headsman got her…

  11. Anne Barnhill says:

    Whew! A lovely discussion! Great article, Claire. It’s the most thorough I’ve read that covers KH and all her labels. Okay, my two cents:
    Katherine Howard had the world view of her time, which meant sex at very young ages was okay–look at the King’s own mother. However, she did not have strong partental support to marry her up when they could see she was ready. So, she married herself up. Then, her situation changed when she was sent to Court to serve Queen Anne of Cleves. She caught the King’s eye because she was quite young, pretty and full of life. I agree that she had been deprived of nice things and love as a child and this made her hungry for both. I feel sory for her because she did have that immortal feeling that teens have–they cannot believe anything horrible will happen to them–and she didn’t love Henry, at least, not romantically. She was ill-advised by family and friends (that Jane Rochford–what a case!) and she made wrong choices–as every young person does, one way or the other. I think she was kind-hearted and might have developed into a good queen with a little coaching. But. that’s not what happened. No one has mentioned Henry’s role in this drama–what was he thinking? Old enough to be her granfather, really and almost buying her affection with dresses, etc.

    1. Claire says:

      I think you’re spot on, Anne, with much of what you’ve said.

      I can’t remember which historian mentioned it, but Henry had seen Charles Brandon marry the 14 year old Catherine Willoughby and have two sons by her so perhaps he thought that he’d have more chance of having a son and heir if he married a younger girl. I think Catherine was also pretty, flirty and attractive to this man who needed someone to brighten his life.

  12. DeAnn says:

    Bravo! I think this is a marvelous article particularly considering the Herculean task.

    Catherine Howard is my least favorite wife of Henry’s. I cannot imagine a more foolish and self-absorbed girl/woman/queen. But you managed to make me look at her with fresh eyes and appreciation.

    As far as some saying Henry was fat, smelly, etc…lots of young queens married unappetizing geezers (see Mary Rose Tudor) and managed to make the best of a bad situation. The reality is Catherine wasn’t prepared to be queen or educated to be queen.

    One thought on Culpepper, he was among those who greeted Anna of Cleves in Calais so he was obviously held in high esteem.

    I do think the part of the Tudors that was correct was Catherine removing two of Mary’s maids. I don’t think she did that for benevolent reasons! I figure that Catherine and Mary worked to put aside their differences for the sake of Henry and proprietary because it was expected but I question Starkey’s assertion that they developed “cordial” relations.

    I think Anna and Mary had cordial relations. Anna and Elizabeth, yes. Catherine and Elizabeth, yes. I cannot imagine the daughter of Catherine of Aragon had cordial relations with this material girl of the Howard family (religion may have united them). If their relations were cordial, they were a frosty cordial!

    Marillac being Marillac initially said Catherine Howard was a woman of medicore beauty but then upped the praise once he found out she was queen. I know he or someone said Catherine feared in the spring of 1541 that Henry would take Anna back. If that’s true and whatever led to that insecurity, I wonder if that drove her to seeking pleasure and the feeling of being wanted with Culpepper.

    Again, I thought it was a marvelous article. I only had one small disagreement. I don’t agree that confessing to the precontract would necessarily have saved Catherine’s life as most say. A precontract didn’t save Anne Boleyn. She did everything she could at the end to save her life and get exiled with Elizabeth and she still wound up dead. I don’t think Henry could have figured the deceit of precontract. And even if he did, I think Cranmer was determined once he had the ammunition to bring Catherine down. I don’t think he would have let it go.

    Besides, Mannox fingered Dereham on Nov. 5, according to the Letters and State Papers. According to Starkey, Dereham was also interrogated on Nov. 5. Cranmer’s interview with Catherine was entered into the State Papers on Nov. 6 so makes me believe she was interviewed the same day if at all. Starkey says the summons was sent to senior members of the council around midnight on Nov. 5. She may have been in the dark. But Dereham would have been pointing the finger at Culpepper whether Catherine denied a precontract or not. It sounds like Catherine didn’t realize how dire her circumstances were until Nov. 7 when she met again with Cranmer.

    I think ultimately whatever Catherine did or said, Henry would have been as merciful to her as he was her cousin when she did his biding and declared Elizabeth a bastard. He wouldn’t spare Anne or Catherine’s lives.

  13. Mary Ann Cade says:

    Frankly, I never understood why Henry VIII didn’t punish Henry Mannox more for his crimes against Catherine. In my opinion, he started the downward spiral of Catherine being used by men and using sex as a weapon. As far as I can tell, Mannox was later released and most likely died in obscurity.

    Dereham was stupid for coming back to court after Catherine became queen, his actions smack of some sort of blackmail/extortion. He should have remained in Ireland and he probably would have retained his head. I believe that Henry VIII imposed the full torture of drawing and quartering on him because he felt he ruined her. He could have commuted his sentence to a simple beheading, like he did with Mark Smeaton in 1536, but he chose to punish Dereham with the full horrors of a commoner’s death.

    Jane Rochford should have known to leave well enough alone and stay out of the court intrigues. I will never understand why she became a willing participant in this whole affair, knowing first hand what the wrath of Henry VIII can do.

    Ironically, if Henry had prosecuted Culpeper for his rape and murder, he would not have been around to seduce his “rose without a thorn.” I consider this a karma payback to Henry VIII of sorts.

    I also believe if Mary had been gracious to Catherine when she first met her (despite the fact that she thought she was a silly emptyheaded young woman), I think Catherine would have treated her just fine. When Mary treated her like she didn’t measure up, Catherine retaliated. If Mary could find nothing in common with her, she could always admire her for trying to give comfort to Margaret Pole by sending her warm clothing in the tower.

    Catherine’s family, the Howards, were also of the old religion and even if Catherine wasn’t particularly religious, she identified with her family’s interests and the Howards were always conservative and staunchly Catholic. The religion should have afforded Mary some common ground to get along with Catherine for the sake of the church and her own standing with her father.

    1. Carolyn says:

      “Ironically, if Henry had prosecuted Culpeper for his rape and murder, he would not have been around to seduce his “rose without a thorn.” I consider this a karma payback to Henry VIII of sorts.”

      Very true, Mary Ann! Karma bit him big time.

  14. T. J. Banks says:

    A very thorough discussion of a young woman who really was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I haven’t seen the final season of “The Tudors,” but I’ve seen enough of the series to say….
    What the hell were the writers thinking? Anyone who bases his/her understanding of Henry & his wives on what he/she saw in “The Tudors” is going to have a very lopsided AND highly inaccurate picture. I fail to understand why today’s writers can’t just tell the story as it happened. Certainly, it’s infinitely more dramatic — and more moving — than anything they”ve pulled out of their hats. And we can’t bring a 20th-/21st-century mentality to the stories of these women — we have to see them in the context of the time they lived.
    I ‘had these same feelings about “The Othe Boleyn Girl” and “Henry VIII” with Ray Winstone. (The only good part of the latter was the casting of Helena Bonham Carter as Anne Boleyn.) I truly believe that the last accurate telling of the story was “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” with Keith Michell.
    Done ranting now.

    1. Juanita Richards says:

      The writers of the Tudors don’t claim it is historically accurate and as I said earlier, they did lots of research and went with the most controversial of the many competing accounts of the various happenings at the time. I’ve watched the writers and the actors being interviewed and the writers especially, explained why they went the e\way they did. Compared to all the other twaddle on TV these days, thsi is the best program ever shown in NZ. The costumes, the music, even much of the dialogue is out of the history books so they stayed true to that at least. I thought The Other Boleyn Girl was rubbish and bore no resemblance to the truth. Believe me, rather The Tudors than all the utterly garbage reality shows being served up to us niow.

  15. Edie says:

    Claire- Your article was wonderful as always! As much as it pains all of us to think of it, young girls married older men. Frequently. Despite the fact you were a young girl, beautiful or otherwise and you were married to an old smelly man…you were expected to be chaste in your marriage and ONLY be with your husband for the sake of his bloodline. Men could cheat all they wanted…it didn’t matter where their bastards came from. But their family name was of the utmost importance and wives were to respect that. And all of this is even more important as the wife of a king. Is it sickening? Absolutely! Is it fair? Absolutely not!! But it happened that way back then as it had in generations before. And of course it still happens in other countries. We can’t judge anyone back then using today’s standards. It just doesn’t work! Back then, women were chattel…plain and simple.

    I remember seeing the old Six Wives of Henry VIII back in early ’70s. Angela Pleasence portrayed Catherine Howard and what I liked about her portrayal was a scene in which after she seems to eagerly go to bed with Henry, in the morning Jane Rochford comes in and sees how upset Catherine is. When she asks what is wrong, Catherine admits that she was blinded by Henry in all his clothed magnificence but when it was all removed he was just an old fat smelly man! I can’t recall the words but I could well see how a girl in that period would be blinded by the king in all his glory. It’s what she would have been taught. The king was all powerful and deserved reverence. We can laugh all we want now at the thought of Henry being anything remotely like a handsome god but we have the luxury of hindsight…and of not being on his Desired Wives List!

    I feel for all the women that Henry VII married and interacted with. We can’t imagine how powerless any of them could have felt once his gaze fell upon them. The only one who may have had some sort of eagerness for the wedding other than Catherine of Aragon or Anne Bolyen, was Anne of Cleves. But then she was brought up basically in ignorance and probably only knew bare facts and gossip that could have been easily dismissed to her by Henry’s men sent there and her brother who was happy to his sister so honored…or more likely the fact HE was honored by being the brother-in-law to a powerful king!

    I can’t thank you enough for this wonderful website! Claire–you are the BEST!

    1. Claire says:

      Thank you, Edie, I’m glad you like the site and enjoy the articles.

      It is so difficult to look at Catherine’s story in context and to understand Tudor times which were so unlike our own. You’re right, women were chattel and a wife belonged to her husband and that was that. There were definitely double standards and we are rightly horrified by some of the things that happened in Tudor times but that was their way of life. Here in Spain, the legal age of consent is 13 which I find shocking but interestingly the actual age that people lose their virginity is higher than most countries that have higher ages of consent.

  16. Anne Barnhill says:

    Claire, an excellent point about Brandon and Willoughby–surely Henry would have been jealous of Brandon’s marrying his ward (and his son’s fiance if memory serves) it’s really kind of gross I thik but Hnery would have been wanting to prove he was still the man Brandon was! I had never considered that. Quite a nice discussion here!

  17. Conor Byrne says:

    DuchessOfBrittany, I totally agree with you about Katherine Howard – perhaps along with Jane Seymour – being the most neglected, forgotten and misunderstood of all Henry VIII’s unlucky wives. Just today, I went to the Tower of London, and while there was an abundance of information on the tragic executions of Anne Boleyn and also Jane Grey, there was virtually nothing on the downfall of Katherine Howard. To be honest, being there was particularly harrowing, when you consider that these women died here, accused of awful crimes and brutally beheaded on their monarch’s orders. To be fair, Katherine may not ignite the vivid fascination to people of Anne Boleyn, or indeed the immense pity and sympathy felt for Jane Grey, but she was just as important, and her story was just as tragic and poignant as theirs.

    To be honest, I feel Katherine was, truly, ‘a good-time girl’ who had, frankly, an appalling childhood, by 21st century standards. Sent to live with her step-grandmother at a very young age, amongst much older girls and boys – it seems Joan Bulmer was a couple of years older than Katherine – she was clearly neglected, and if she was ‘experimenting’ with the frankly sickening Henry Manox and Francis Dereham when barely in her teens, it is disgusting, but not that bad compared to today’s standards of child abuse. I feel really sorry for her being married to the turbulent, unpredictable King, for she lacked the courage and understanding of Katherine of Aragon, the braveness and intelligence of Anne Boleyn, the ‘common good sense’ – as Fraser calls it – of Jane Seymour, even the qualities of Anne of Cleves, to be a good queen. She was far too young.

    And yes, Claire, I totally agree with you that it’s unfair to suggest that Katherine deserved her fate for what she did, because it’s an awful death that NO ONE deserves. For anyone who was read Alison Weir’s take on the six wives, they will remember that she suggests that Katherine was born c.1525 (making her 15 at marriage and 17 at death), but she has now changed her mind, and based on the portrait that Claire kindly exhibits earlier, explains how Katherine was more likely born in 1519-20.

    I have to disagree with that. I don’t think a 20, 21 year old woman would have ignited such frequent comments on her youth and contrast to earlier queens, had she been that old. Yes, I know she was much younger than the other 5 wives whatever her true age, but what we should remember is this – Katherine of Aragon had been 23 when she had married the King. That’s just 2, 3 years older than we are led to believe Katherine Howard was. The King did enjoy affairs with young women – look at Bessie Blount (14 to 18 years old) and Anne Basset (about the same age).

    I think Katherine was born around 1523 or 1524, making her 16-17 when she married the King. To be honest, I agree with Denny that she is a very tragic, neglected Queen; whether she was a neglected, abused child, or a sexually promiscuous, knowing girl, she deserves our sympathy and pity, for her life was ended before it had truly began.

  18. Rose says:

    I always fell sorry for Catherine Howard. I’ve read blatent descriptions of her online, and in history books even, using the terms ‘silly’, ‘headstrong’, etc. etc – and I don’t think this is right. Personally, I don’t blame a girl for falling for a young man who seems charming and handsome whilst married to a fat, spoilt old man – and, looking at what many people said of her at the time, she didn’t look ahead and see the concequenses. On the other hand, she may not have realised for some time that she was having an affair with Culpepper; only seeing herself as having an on-going flirtation with him. I don’t doubt that she was materialistic and vain – but I would think that most young girls would want to feel beautiful at such a court as that of Henry VIII’s. RIP Catherie Howard!

  19. Melanie says:

    Whatever the century, children who haven’t had consistent love and care from at least one adult are more likely to seek that love elsewhere, anywhere, with anyone who appears kind. To me, Catherine always sounded like a sweet, neglected child who was delighted when she received some attention. (But I must look for the novel in which she’s more calculating; I like the idea of Catherine as a would-be survivor instead of a victim.)

    And I thought her portrayal in “The Tudors” was dreadful, the most anachronistic character of the whole series: Mindless Valley Girl time travels to the 1500s and giggles over pretty clothes (when she isn’t taking them off).

    Anyway, thanks for this series, Claire. It’s good to remind the world that these were real women, and individuals, not convenient stereotypes.

    1. Claire says:

      I really didn’t like Catherine in “The Tudors” either, her giggling really got on my nerves but I guess it was their way of showing how young, immature and unsuitable she was.

  20. TudorRose says:

    Yes, you cannot judge the standards and the morals of the 15th centuary with what and how we all know them today in the 20th centuary. You just cannot. Katheryn had been a bio-product of her time and the times, not to mention her upbringing that must have had an impact on her life as she was growing up. She should just be sympathised with and nothing more, nothing less. I mean Katheryn should have never ever been thrown into a situation such as what what she was, she had been far too young not to mention the quality of her upbringing and her background. She should of been the last choice, but once seen by the King he totally became enamoured with her so there was not much she could really do being in that situation, it is not like she could of refused him and knowing her I doubt that it would of been in her nature to anyway especially coming such a deprived and impoverished background, with no love, no affection, she must have jumped at the oppertunity, the idea.

    It is like you said Claire hard to know exactly what Katheryn was really like, to know that you would have had to of either been born then or have a time machine so that we could all travel back in time to see aswell as to know but there is just about enough to draw some sort of a conclusion.

    Henry Mannox we all know had been a musician who had been hired by the Dowager Duchess to teach aswell as to learn the young masters and maidens music, the virginials as that is what he was known to have played, apparently he too taught her how to play but there are no records to say that she ever played them herself or if she did ever kept this up as she was only known to have been a dancer, and a keen one at that. He is the one who got aswell as become involved with Katheryn first long way before Dereham had gotten and become involved with her but this had not passed the art of foreplay but still as the age gap had been quite big, her being underage and he being well above of the average age of consent this what would now be seen as sexual abuse like Denny points out in her portrayal of Katheryn Howard would have indeed been seen as the norm then, it was in other words normal, but that is the mentallity of the era and its people of the time. Mad I know, but true. The term was not even heard about then let alone knowing what it was.

    Dereham on the other hand was more or less around about her age although still older than her, this you could say was indeed infact a relationship as they were close and what would be promised to eachother if not in the eyes of the law in the eyes of themselves they were. He is known to have entrusted in Katheryn money to keep for when he went away and then returned but this may have been just a attempt made by Dereham to pamper, as it would seem where ever she would go she would be flattered and pampered. This liason although came to end when Derham went away to Ireland and the household moved on from their houses of Horsham and Lambeth to that of the King’s court. Hampton court. Katheryn must of been surprised to see him return when she was Queen at her doorstep asking for a position one the same or simmilar to the one he held at Horsham and Lambeth.

    When Katheryn married the King she could have not been more the merrier she enjoyed aswell as revelled in what it both brought aswell as gave her and her family, her remaining family that is. I am sure that any woman especially a young one and one like Katheryn even more so would have been overjoyed and over the moon. It was the best thing that have ever happened for her in her life so of couse she would have took marriage to the King at any oppertunity that she could.

    Thomas Culpeper last but not least Katheryn was seeemed to be so enamoured of not only when she first met him upon her entry to court in 1539 but even more so when she became Queen as that is only when things started to develop between them both and not before. It was also about and around this time that Culpeper was accused of rape, a rape of a certain park keepers wife and then the murder of either the womans husband, the aprk keeper or the murder of that of a local villiager who had tried to help her aswell as to save her which the king just seemed to have pardoned again mad. I have although wondered wether or not it had been Thomas Culpeper senior and not Thomas Culpeper junior who infact did both of the crimes as it had been Thomas senior who was known to have had the violent temper whilst Thomas junior was known to be the opposite, he was not to have been known as actually having a violent temper himself but if they had both been related, brothers as they were and came from the same family then would it not make sense for them to have both been violent!? and not just the one. Just a theory.

    Katheryn and Mary were indeed known to have not gotten on during her short but brief reign as Queen but I would like the series suggests put it down to their indifferences, not in religion as they had both been of the catholic faith but difference in mind and behaviour thats not to mention the fact that Mary probably upon seeing all the flattery and the pampering that had been showered aswell as bestowed upon her by the King, Mary saw aswell as took notice of this and as a result had been despised by this as a result, it probably made her jealous that she had been getting all of the attention and Mary had been left out aswell as cast aside by her father and men.

    Katheryn despite the conditions aswell as the morals of the time still had been different and was nothing in comparison to other women at the time as they despite marrying so young and marrying older men did not do this kind of thing unlike Katheryn so I would say it was not just a factor of the times in which she had been born but indeed due to the fact of her upbringing and that of those that she grew up with at Horsham and Lambeth, not forgetting the people that she had been brought up with must have indeed come from if not impoverished backgrounds indeed unloved ones so she was just brought up around those who were and had been nothing but simmilar in ways to her, for her to have known aswell as learned different she would have had to of been put aswell as palced somewhere else, somewhere much different than where she had been put by her father.

    Nobody had ever helped, coached or guided her on her rising or triumph on her way to becoming Queen. It was not he the fault of Katheryn it had been the fault of the people around her and one cannot really blame the King because he had not ever met her or known of her prior to her entry and coming to court in 1539, afterall upon meeting her and getting to know her he took her to be indeed a virgin when she had infact never been anything but so the only ones that you really blame in all of this is her family but then her mother had been taken way from her at such a young age and her father could not cope with all of the children he had and being poor. I think that anyone would be struggling in such a situation. I think that wether her father loved her or not, he had certainly cared enough about her to put aswell as place her in the household of her step-grandmother but he would of not of been to know what type of girl katheryn would of turned out to be or blossomed into as a result. It makes me wonder if she had been brought up by her direct family instead of her distant ones amongs strangers that she hardly knew would she have tunred out any better or different, the answer to that is she may or may not of done but then she may havenever got to gain to court as a result and not forgetting her father died the same year as she entered court and did not ever see her become Queen if had lived he would have seen his daughter become a Queen and as a result he too would of been welcomed to court and been indeed given a proposition and been in riches for the first and only time in his life but unfortunately he did not make it that far and also it would have been interesting if Edmund had survived to see his daughter katheryn’s demise would he had tried saying something by standing up for her!? who knows. Just like when Henry had been maried years earlier to Katheryn Howards cousin Anne Boleyn the first thing or one of the first things he did was promote the father and her family. As Katheryns uncle had already been positioned many years earlier he would not need to be propositioned any more, any further.

    It is the “Ifs” and the “Buts” that intrigue me aswell as knowing about what is already out there of course but that more so, if only there was more information out there, if only.

    Katheryn certainly had a lot of knowledge when it came to sex that is for sure amongst dancing but she did not seem to really know about anything else like other ladies of her age probably would have done. I mean she was still growing up, she still had been going through pubity and her brain had still not ceased development but when comparing her to cousin Anne at the and aboutt he same age or to that of other maidens and even masters of her own age they seem to have been far more advanced than she. Also I would not just blame the family but also Lady Rochford her friend and lady in waiting she should of known better than to follow suit in this and also Henry Mannox her music master and also Culpeper as they should all known better too.

  21. Renee Miller says:

    Wonderful article!

    You may count me among those who feel sympathy for Catherine. I have an 18 year old son now and if her development were anything like his is now I can understand entirely why she did what she did.

    My thoughts tend to lean toward Catherine feeling that she was safe because Henry was so besotted with her. I believe that that sort of fawning and spoiling would cause almost any woman let alone a very young woman to feel that she could get away with anything. Add that into the typical feeling of immortality that teenagers have up to this very day and you have a very dangerous mix for Catherine and a good case for why she may have been so foolish.

    I also tend to wonder if she did remember what happened to her cousin Queen Anne and if she was terrified that she was not yet pregnant. It does seem as though Henry did not have any problem performing with her and it does seem as though they were together quite often and it had been quite some time (a year?) the question of why Catherine was not yet with child HAD to come up. Add this concern into her belief that she could get away with most anything with her adoring husband, along with her attraction to Culpeper and it does seem a bit easier to understand (in my very humble opinion) how she got into the mess she got into.

    As for Jane Boleyn, it certainly would have been a feather in the cap of the Boleyn/Howard camp if Catherine had provided the King with another male heir. And if she had Henry would most certainly have had her crowned making her son a HOWARD next in line since Jane was never crowned. If you consider this it makes a bit more sense that Jane might have been willing to help Catherine.

    I love this site and reading all of your wonderful comments!

    1. Carolyn says:

      “As for Jane Boleyn, it certainly would have been a feather in the cap of the Boleyn/Howard camp if Catherine had provided the King with another male heir. And if she had, Henry would most certainly have had her crowned, making her son – a HOWARD – next in line since Jane was never crowned. If you consider this it makes a bit more sense that Jane might have been willing to help Catherine.”

      I disagree that crowning Kathryn would have put any sons of hers ahead of Edward. Jane was his wife, crowned or not, and her son would come first.

  22. Jan says:

    I love your website Claire – I’ve learned so very much from reading your articles.

    Just one comment regarding Katherine Howard’s relationship with Henry. I find it hard to believe that after 3 wives and assorted mistresses Henry could not tell if a woman was/was not a virgin. Poor girl paid the price for that didn’t she?

    1. TudorRose says:

      True but still he may still not have been able to tell, that is what I think myself. 🙂

    2. Juanita Richards says:

      I agree! My first boyfriend certainly knew I was a virgin and crowed like a rooster when i gave it up. Most men DO seem to know, how could Henry not. I think he was totally unrealistic and in denial to think a sweet young girl could be in love with and attracted to a fat smelly old bore who knocked off people close to him without a second thought.

  23. lisaannejane says:

    I thought “The Tudors” was so ridiculous with all those nude scenes of Catherine that it just started to look stupid. I found the part where the men were executed and Catherine was dancing by herself to be far move moving. There is so much that is not known about her that I am still thinking of all the ideas that people have suggested. I guess I feel sorry for her more than anything else because she was not raised to be a queen and mistakes were made by by Catherine and probably the people around her. I wonder why she did not see that calling someone husband did make a form of marriage. I am not sure if it was pride, lack of knowledge, or bad advice from others that made her say there was no precontract. That is something we have no information about.

    1. TudorRose says:

      Indeed Lisa Anne Jane, Indeed! 🙂

  24. rosalie says:

    ironic that What attracted Charles to Diana. when she said her heart bled for him, when his uncle, Louis Mountbatten died; and Diane did die when her heart bled.

  25. Lexy says:

    Just a theory I recently thought of: what if Katherine had an early puberty? I mean some little girls ( not even teens) have their first periods at 8 or 9 years old, and are fully formed ( breasts and hips, looking really, really older) while not being mentally mature for a mature and sexual relationship. It would be explain the desire of Maddox and Dereham while she was too young, even for Tudor time, to be married and sexually active: her body said mature ( and some men don’t look further) while she was just a romantic little girl craving for attention, love and lover’s knot. The sexual abuses that followed kind of blocked her in that state of maturity, being still a little girl at heart, and a misguided little girl which is worst.

    1. Molster says:

      During the C16th, and earlier, girls were considered to be fair game for the marriage bed once they had commenced their ‘courses’ (periods). Considering this can be any age between 10-15 (on average – although it is thought that sexual maturity was reached slightly later than is is today) it is little wonder that by today’s standards, we consider this as ‘child abuse’. Add to that the fact that a woman was considered pretty much ‘past it’ by the age of 30, the age of prime marriagability and thus fertility is going to be somewhat earlier than we might consider suitable today. Of course, within the aristocracy, marriage matches were made very much earlier, but would generally not have been consummated until both parties were believed able to do so.

      One must remember that we should judge the past with empathy, and not by our modern standards.

      1. RaychelC says:

        I love this site! As a Tudor/Anne Boleyn fan myself (my first attempt at crosstitching was her portrait. Poor Anne looked like she’d had a stroke)

        I love, love love the painstaking analysis and research you clearly put into all of this. I may buy an Anne costume for Halloween now.

        Anyway..Catherine Howard. She was his..fifth wife, yes? Could it be that the combination of that knowledge, and the state of Henry’s health/age at the time may have given her some false sense of security? Meaning..she may have wrongly thought the marriage was one of convenient alliance or for appearances..that since she was number 5, she wasn’t ‘really’ expected to behave as a Queen.

        But, then I doubt this too, because clearly, she would have known about Anne Boleyn’s fate, which would make Henry seem like a man you would not want to matter how dear or sweet he acted toward her. Or..lacking age and wisdom, would she not have seen that forest through the trees?

        This is all very interesting.

  26. Carla says:

    I haven’t see Season 4 of Tudors yet, and I am sure that they had without clothes the night before the execution just to titillate the audience. However, to show her naked while practicing laying her head on the chopping block is certainly symbolic to me of how much the young woman who loved beautiful clothes and jewelry had lost.

    1. Renee Miller says:

      Carla, how incredibly perceptive of you and my gosh doesn’t viewing the scene in that light make it poignant. Thank you for sharing that.

    2. Juanita Richards says:

      Yes I agree. It was probably symbolic. And that fat odl king probably did have young Cath naked most of the time they were alone!

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Conor,
      When I click on that link it says “No image available”, do you have another link for it?

      1. Carolyn says:

        I could see it. The link directly to the picture is

        And yes, Conor, I’ve seen this picture speculated to be Kathryn Howard before.

    2. Claire says:

      Do you know anything about the history of this portrait? It’s a shame we can’t zoom in and see who is depicted on her brooch. Starkey writes of how the jewels in the miniature by Holbein match the inventory of jewels that Catherine was given and the girl in this painting could easily be the same one as in the miniature.

      1. Edie says:

        I was able to zoom in on it but I have no idea who it’s depicting. Almost has the look of a cameo since there aren’t too many colors. It’s a forward facing portrait with a profile to the side. It almost has a Greek/Roman look to the head and hair and there appears to be a circlet of some sort on the heads.

        The girl is quite pretty and I can see this being Catherine Howard more so than the other! Looks at the upturned and pouty lips…couldn’t you just well imagine Henry wanting to forget his age and appearance and try to be a younger man for her!!

      2. Carolyn says:

        The information on the Met Museum page says:

        Style of Hans Holbein the Younger (English, about 1540–50)

        Portrait of a Young Woman

        Oil on wood

        11 1/8 x 9 1/8 in. (28.3 x 23.2 cm)


        Credit Line
        The Jules Bache Collection, 1949

        Accession Number

        The painting is inscribed across the middle “ANNO ETATIS·SVÆ XVII”, which I believe means the sitter was 17 years old.

  27. Noelle7 says:

    I really disliked the way Katherine was portrayed in The Tudors. I am glad I am not the only one.

    I’ll admit that when it comes to the story of Katherine Howard, I’m more interested in Jane Rochford’s role. I really can’t wrap my brain around her. Her behavior strikes me as bizarre. Why did she aid Katherine?

  28. Conor Byrne says:

    @Carolyn, I feel certain it is Katherine Howard! Although, if you look at the controversial portrait that Claire attached earlier in the post – of the sitter aged 21, believed to be Katherine or Elizabeth Seymour – in that portrait and in the one I sent, both girls wear the same or similar necklace.. So is it silly to believe that BOTH may be Queen Katherine – as they also wear similar dresses of elaborate fashion – but the artist was unsure about her age, and therefore she was aged between 17 and 21 in 1540-41?

    Alison Weir stated that the ‘Toledo’ portrait – the one where the sitter is 21 – is more likely to be Katherine, but she said both could be however. I wish, as with Anne Boleyn, we could definitely pinpoint Katherine’s date of birth; one portrait suggests c.1520, the other one c.1524. Which is right? :S

  29. It is surprising that Henry never put two and two together. He seemed to believe that a woman could be a virgin and still know how to please a man. I doubt though, that he was that ignorant. Perhaps what irked Henry, was that her former lover showed up at court. No man, even a king, wants a rival.

    1. Juanita Richards says:

      There was a big fuss during the trial on King Henry’s marriage on whether Queen Catherine was a virgin or not when she married Henry after Arthur’s death. Cardinal Campeggio mentioned producing the blood stained sheets from her wedding night with Arthur. So therefore they considered this proof of virginity. Henry would then know whether or not Anne Boleyn or Catherine Howard were virgins or not. In one of the historical accounts I read, King Henry confided to someone that Anne Boleyn had been “corrupted” in France before she came to England. How did he know this and when did he know this…on consummation of their relationship? Or later when he decided she was guilty of adultery?

  30. I’m dredging this up from memory of my days as a history major, a seminar in the concept of what childhood meant in the pre-modern era.

    In Henry VIII’s day, no, they did not have the modern concept of adolescence as a time when the teenager lives under the protection of his/her parents while discovering his/her identity and making plans for adult life.

    But, they did not expect people to progress from childhood directly into adulthood. There was a concept of “youth,” covering roughly the same years as what we’d call adolescence and part of young adulthood. Youths did a lot of adult things. They got married, they embarked on careers. But, they were not expected to do these things without considerable guidance from their parents, older relatives, patrons, and in short, older and wiser people. Indeed, those people often made very important decisions for them, such as choosing their spouses. Catherine Howard’s tragedy is that she did not have sufficient guidance from older people.

  31. Conor Byrne says:

    I know this isn’t directly related, but what does everyone think of the portrait that may or may not be Katherine? Do you think its her, Elizabeth Seymour, Margaret Douglas, or someone else?

    I don’t think it’s her. For one thing, it was in the Cromwell family collection, who had no reason to favour Queen Katherine; she was of a different religion and political party, and of course, by the king marrying her lead to Thomas Cromwell’s execution. Furthermore, Elizabeth married Gregory Cromwell c.1535, so could it not be her?

    I think the portrait I showed above has a strong chance of being Katherine. If we accept then, that she was around 17 when she married the King, that would mean she was born c.1523, or if she turned 18 later in 1540, c.1522. This could fit with the French ambassador’s statement that Katherine’s relationship with Francis Dereham ended when she was 18 – however, he could have meant her ‘eighteenth year’, ie. the year she turned 18, when she was 17. We know it ended in the summer-autumn of 1539, which could signify 1522.

    Katherine was perhaps then only around 19, at the oldest, when she died.

  32. Juanita Richards says:

    In Tudor times some of the parents did have reservations about their 12 year old girls, some even younger, having sexual relationships with their husbands. Many were not sent to live with their husbands till they were 14 or whenever it was considered suitable for consummation. Complications from childbirth at such a young age was only one of the concerns. Maybe they also saw being made a sexual “object” so young as a form of abuse.

  33. RaychelC says:

    Sorry for another post so soon. I forgot to comment on Catherine Howard’s age.

    In those times, infant mortality was very high, yes? It may make perfect sense that she was not mentioned in the first will if she was an infant or very young child. Maybe they traditionally waited until a child reached beyond the toddler stage before including them in things like wills.

    She was mentioned in the second, so being female does not seem to have disqualified her from such things.


  35. Chelsea says:

    I as well was not fond of how The Tudors portrayed Katherine however i wonder if it was to show the large contrast between how she was raised compared to the first 4 wives…. I also believe her ignorance of politics and possibly immature, spoiled nature is what appealed to Henry. There was no risk of her trying to force her religion down Henry’s throat and if her motives to be his wife was becuase she loved all the jewels and clothes and presents, Henry seemed perfectly fine with doting on her. I definately believe Henry was recapturing some of his own frivilous youth through her… watching her dance and gush over such fine things he by then probably took for granted.

    I am sure Katherine’s and Mary’s relationship was rocky for a number of the obvious reasons but the one that stands out most to me is trying to imagine my father denying that his and my mothers relationship was ever valid, that I have no rights to my title, seeing him marry wife after wife with conflicting social status and religious views, then being told I have to accept a step mother not only below my own status and upbringing but who is younger than I…. Cant see myself ever being very affectionate towards that woman.

    As far as the virginity issue is concerned I think Henry was more than willing to turn a blind eye to it unless it came back to bite him in the a** and make him look like a fool. I like what Henry said about Francis Derehem in The Tudors (not that I agree with any of their fates) when he gave him the full drawing and quarting becuase “he ruined her for me.” And I think that pretty much somes Henry up. He liked his fantasy world where all women he touched were virgins and he was the dashing regal prince he was in his youth and his leg never smelled and he was physically fit. Hence what I have read as to why Henry rejected Anne of Cleves so quickly based on the story he dressed himself in disguise and she was disgusted by his appearence.

    In Tudor times they didnt have psychologists sitting around doing studies of the harm of the impact of sexuality at young ages or discussing nature versus nature. They saw the mentrual cycle as natures sign that girls were becomming women and were ready to reproduce. So they married them young for more time to produce more children becuase at the end of the day that is why women are women and men are men for the continuation of the species and it is society that has changed in terms of womens rights (which I am totally for since it is a womans choice if she wants to have children or not). Also the mortality rate was far lower than it is today and they didnt have the fertility technology that we have acsess to. If they did Katherine of Aragon could have done some treatments and possibly given Henry a son. Also the whole “is she a virgin is she not a virgin” based on the blood on the sheets to me personally is ridiculous. Many women break their hymans riding horses or bicycles or other not so severe traumas to that area. Considering the way to get around back then was horse back I wouldnt be suprised if a considerable amount of women had to “fake” the blood for fear of being condemned as a harlot.

    I have to say though my opinion of The Tudors portrayal of Katherine Howard softened a bit when, as she met her end she looked at the sky, and at the people in the crowd, listened to the wind, feeling it through her braid and said “life…is so beautiful.” And it is…

    1. margaret says:

      i reckon a lot of them faked the blood on the sheets bit

  36. Bandit Queen says:

    Catherine has been portrayed in many ways, but the truth is, she was more mature in the head than she is given credit for. She knew enough to play the role of Queen with relative dignity in public at least, although her behaviour behind the scenes left little to be desired. There is something striking about the portrait as well; and it does not show a silly, dizzy teenager. It shows a sophisticated, young noble woman, which is what she was meant to be. In the recent Henry VIII, Katherine is shown as a tall, elegant, well trained young woman who cares for the needs of her royal husband and I am sure that this is more accurate than either the tiny, timid, sexual, obedient pawn of the Charles Lawton film, or the recent, over sexed, wild young flirt of the Tudors. Catherine had some education, she could dance and sing and play music and could write and read a little. She also seems to have been given some training in how to behave with the king and around the court and how to hold herself correctly, deportment, grace, public behaviour, and how to be a great lady. She was also lady in waiting to Anne of Cleves, not a post for dizzy idiots and one that demanded some self control. This was partly how Henry met her, although she was also brought to court by her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk and Henry saw her as an attractive and sensual woman, worthy of being his next wife. He may even have hoped that Catherine was able to give him more children.

    However, despite all of this, Catherine also brought her past with her and did not learn or even want to leave it behind. It may have been that she hoped that Henry would never have found out, and she made some stupid decisions that led to her starting her old life up again after her marriage to Henry. The first stupid, but compassionate decision was to take pity on Joan Bulmer, the young lady who had known Catherine in the Duchess of Norfolk’s house and may have even joined in the sexual transgressions there. Catherine could have refused to take Joan into her service, but she seems to have had a kind nature and took pity on her now penniless cousin. The second was to tell her other maids about her life and to allow them to lead her into finding ways to meet the Thomas Culpepper who had taken a shine to her. Her third and most fatally stupid decision was taking her former lover, Francis Dereham back into her service on the progress and thus back into her bed.

    Catherine after her first fling during a period of ill health for King Henry and an absence of a few months from her presence, became reckless and foolish and may have at first believed she did nothing wrong. Then she made sure that she kept up with the meetings with Culpepper and other gentlemen of the kings chamber. It is not certain what she got up to before the Royal Progress of 1541, but during this Progress her adultery is well documented and many witnessed it.

    It is at this point that Catherine became culpable of the adultery that she committed. She invited Culpepper to her rooms, kept the king out when he came to sleep with her, found ways to meet with her lovers and wrote a love letter that was found in his room. She made sure that Jane Rochford brought the men to her and she now used her knowledge to ensure she did not get pregnant, meaning that she was aware that what she did was wrong. Catherine could not risk a pregnancy, either by the king or by a lover, as the king may find out that the child was not his, she was casing treason by passing off a child of her lover as the kings and the child of the king would stop her sleeping with her lovers. Catherine may even have killed at least two unborn children as there were rumours and claims that she was with child and then she made sure that she was not with child so as the king would sleep with her. Was she covering up an illegitimate child?

    Catherine knew what she was doing during the progress and yes, she was guilty of treason and adultery. Both carried the death penalty and she was justly condemned to die, but no I do not believe she was a flirt or a silly girl as she is often portrayed; she was sophisticated enough to act as Queen when she wanted to, but she was also reckless, stupid, and in the end, I am not even sure that she even cared. Catherine was having too good a time; she had forgotten the consequences should she get caught, and only became really aware when faced with the fearful prospect of death.

    Catherine may have only been 19, but she was not a poor teenager or a child; she was an adult with a past and she carried that past into marriage, marriage with the King, and at that time she should have known better.

  37. Bridgett says:


    I come a little late to the party, but I thought I give my two cents worth anyway! 🙂

    I do believe one cannot put Catherine Howard into any ONE drawer! I think she was a little bit of most of the labels. Just as any woman these days is not just ONE thing or another. We are women, mothers, friends, lovers, supporters, cooks, cleaners, confidants, wives, and so much more! Humans are and always have been complicated and many faceted. Then as now!

    I do believe Catherine’s heart was at the right place. She did good deeds! She pleaded for other peoples lives and was successful, disregarding the anger it could have earned her from Henry!
    This success shows in my eyes that she was not quite as stupid in some things as in others.
    Having an affair with Culpeper after her marriage to Henry was certainly stupid and there is no other way of putting it! Never mind if she had someone tell her or not. She had her cousin as an example! If nothing else, it should have shown her what can happen. I also think that she would have known the laws of her day! No “advisor” necessary to tell her that!

    I agree that she did not have sufficient support and advice from older relatives and friends. I think in part this may have been because people were just afraid that they would get in trouble with Henry too, if they associated too closely with any of his Queens.

    I do think that Catherine did what she did in the household of the Duchess, because of peer-pressure, not because she was a wanton. I agree, that the concept of “teenager” may have been un-known in Tudor times, but that does not mean that kids in their teens would have behaved differently then from now. I firmly believe that peer-pressure had a large role in Catherine’s early sexual caprices! The attention also flattered her, no doubt. Maybe she even felt that she “had” to give in for all the presents she got from the men (yes, they may not have been jewels, but they did bring her little things and to a little girl that had nothing to truly call her own, a few candies and trinkets may have been a lot! She may have done it out of a feeling of reciprocity!)

    I don’t think Henry is an “innocent”. I think he was a rather brutal man. But I don’t think he treated Catherine badly before she fell from grace. I agree, that her fall and the price she paid is absolutely out of proportion! Catherine made Henry look like a fool, no, worse: she made him look like an OLD fool! This could not stand. I think even IF she would have admitted to a pre-contract, she would not have gotten out of this alive! Henry’s pride was hurt. Someone would pay for this with their lives!

    I think Henry knew full well that Catherine was no virgin when she came to him! But it did not fit into his picture of her, so he repressed that knowledge. He had this vision in his head and Catherine had to live up to it. Henry is not the type to say” Oh well, maybe I have been unreasonable!” If you don’t life up to his picture of what you should be it is CLEARLY your fault! You clearly haven’t tried hard enough, or failed out of spite!
    He is king and nobody would dare to tell him different, The few that did were dead, just think of poor Thomas Moore.

    Yes, she had no choice but to say agree to a marriage to the king. I agree that she had the short end of the stick there. But lots of girls in her times didn’t marry for love! Lots of men didn’t either! Ok it was easier to put up with a loveless marriage for a man, since they could have affairs without “repercussions” of getting pregnant and they were not as confined as women. They had marriages hoisted on them none the less by their families to women that had little more to recommend them, then the land and fortune that came with them!

    As for “The Tudors” on TV:
    I separated myself from the historical facts while watching. It could have been a made up court and king and wives. I watched it for pure entertainment, to relax.
    If I want to know the real deal, I pick up a book. I certainly don’t expect a historical accurate documentary from Showtime!! LOL
    It never occurred to me to compare the way the show portrayed the people to what I have read about them, or the historical facts! For this reason alone I had no problem with how they showed Catherine Howard, or anyone else for that matter. I do admit though, if I did compare it to actual history, I would have a big problem with it and with the way Henry never got fat!
    I think the biggest inconsistency in the show was that “The Tudors” are more then just Henry and his wives…But that group certainly gets you the biggest drama for your entertainment buck! ;D

    Ok this has gotten longer then I wanted it to be already! I guess I best call it quits! I could go on about the Tudors for hours if nobody stops me! LOL

    Thanks for a great website and wonderful discussions on a topic that is so wonderfully fascinating!

  38. Sharryn says:

    Could it be that Catherine had cysts on the overies.
    I’m told that can change a woman’s sexual discretion.

  39. Conor Byrne says:

    Unfortunately Katherine Howard’s life is interpreted in entirely modern terms. Thus we have unconvincing views of her as a “heroine” produced by twentieth century liberals who praise her for fulfilling her sexual longings, a much wronged innocent in the ilk of Victorian tragic figures, or a power hungry and devious woman who knowingly entrapped unsuspecting men in her games of power and sexual manipulation. All of these views are incorrect and unsubstantiated.

    Rather than viewing Katherine as a ‘material girl’, a ‘heroine’ or a ‘whore’, it would be much more fruitful to analyse her career according to the values and mores propagated in her own time, according to the particular social and cultural constructs which comprised her society in the sixteenth-century. Only then can we fully appreciate her life and the implications of her experiences. While she was not viewed as a child by her contemporaries, her upbringing and place within the Howard family governed her destiny at court, while hostile male perceptions of female sexuality, accompanied with related understandings of witchcraft, perversion and heresy, dictated the methods Katherine’s enemies used to bring down her and related individuals.

  40. Miss kitty says:

    Was it impossible to say no to the King if she had the courage then she would have lived
    I think she was a silly girl if Henry had been so desperate for an heir why not pick someone who was better than her more sense there must have been lots of better ladies at court or elsewhere.

    I feel sorry for her but what was her family thinking they must have known her past I know it would be hard to get the King to back off but they could have or she could said she was betrothed to someone else

  41. Chralotte says:

    I’m surprised by the comments claiming that early marriage, say about 14 or even earlier, was common. The average age of puberty was higher, 14-16, but even so. People married late — even women, in their late 20s. The “noble” class married earlier often for political or inheritance reasons, but the average age of marriage in the 16th century, was mid-20s, even for women.

    I can’t find the reference, but in a similar discussion, someone cited a list of persons married, and their ages, in list from the 16th century. It was extensive, hundreds of people, and only one girls below 14, and only two or three below 16. The average was early 20s.
    This is not necessarily relevant to the Catherine Howard discussion, but claims about the average age of marriage can be proven by actual records.

    1. Conor Byrne says:

      I looked at that website and it actually only starts with the Elizabethan period. I think noblewomen married younger in the Middle Ages; certainly several English queens were in their teens when they married. In Henry VIII’s reign, the average age at which a noblewoman married was about 20.

  42. just watching the tudors again. she is clothed almost all the time.

  43. Jonno says:

    I was just watching season 4 of the Tudors and came across this article to see what people think. It’s hard to say going on what the tv show shows because of course that is their idea of what happened and glorified the sexual side of the story for the sake of the audience.

    My idea of who she was is very simple, simple in being as most agree compered to the other wives as many on here have said.

    Yes she was to us a teenager, yes she was probably used and manipulated by those who were older than her and addicted her to things. But! and it’s a big but. At the end of the day like anybody else she knew what she was doing and surely knew that it wasn’t the right thing to do. I don’t care what excuses you give. The only thing she saw was her sexual desire to be pleased and that was it. Did she love him before the king? Okay perhaps but during those times she wasnt the first and would definiteley not be the last to marry not for love. She committed adultery. I’m sorry, I just can’t feel sorry for her but that doesn’t mean I don’t hate some of the people who lead her into it as well. I actually don’t mind Henry VIII’s action in this situation. She cheated on him and as king he had no choice but to kill her and all involved.

    My short views on all the wives-
    Katherine- Should’ve realised that Henry needed a son and if she couldn’t provide then just step aside and not act so childish about it.
    Anne- Put herself in the situation. Did she deserve to get her head chopped off? I don’t think so but at the end of the day she probably had her ambitions like the rest of us. Her family were just full of themselves.
    Jane- Sadly died on him so that was not Henry’s fault and probably would have loved her to the end as long as his son lived.
    Anne- Didn’t like her to begin with and gave her money so she did the right thing.
    Howard- Spoilt child who commited adultery. Right choice
    Parr- Ended up outliving him.

    Henry VIII is portrayed as an evil man. Although he may have been in other situations when it came to his wives, I find enough fault in all of them to say his title is way to harsh.

  44. John wilberforce says:

    Catherine Howard was the victim of the envy of Mary Lascelles and her brother John. There is no doubt she had an adulterous relationship with Culpepper and was common gossip and that sooner o later it would had been discovered. Katherine had a strong sexual drive and that was her undoing.
    Henry VIII could not afford to be made fun of as a cuckolded king whose young wife was having an affair under his very nose

  45. Maria del Carmen Martinez says:

    Catherine Howard was a scatterbrain who thought sex with other partners was alright as far as it was kept under wraps and nobody was hurt.

    1. Claire says:

      What makes you say that?

  46. Miss kitty says:

    My list
    1 katherine could have chosen to enter a convent she didnt have to say yes to the king
    2 her family should have taken better care of her
    3 Those men who took advantage of her were truly awful
    4she was very very silly and i feel sorry for her
    5 i feel sorry for the king too

  47. The two round Holbein miniatures with blue background that are thought to be Catherine Howard (because only a queen would have a duplicate and the jewelry matches jewelry worn by Jane Seymour) may actually be Anne of Cleves, since we know this is one of Henry’s wives.To my eye this likeness is very similar to Anne of Cleves portrait, but in a French Hood and from a different angle. Look at the eyes in particular, but really all the features match up pretty well. I don’t think we know at all what Catherine Howard looked like, unless the drawing is her – I think it seems a lot more like what she would have looked like, a fresh young girl with a hint of a dimple, rather than somewhat matronly as in the two miniatures.

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