February 13 – A queen and her lady-in-waiting are beheaded

Feb 13, 2023

On this day in Tudor history, 13th February 1542, Catherine Howard, fifth wife of King Henry VIII, was executed within the confines of the Tower of London.

Catherine was beheaded and she wasn’t the only one to lose her head to the axeman that day, her lady-in-waiting, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, widow of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, was also executed.

Following their executions, both women were laid to rest in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower.

Here are a couple of videos about that awful day in 1542…

And some facts about Catherine Howard:

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5 thoughts on “February 13 – A queen and her lady-in-waiting are beheaded”
  1. Poor Catherine and Jane, I’m currently reading Lacey Baldwin Smiths biography on Catherine, he does not appear to have much sympathy for her or the ‘meddlesome Lady Rochford ‘ as he describes Jane, but it is still a marvellous read, what is one of the most awful truths about Tudor life at court is that when a charge of treason occurred, all family members and friends distanced themselves from the tainted, as the author wrote, all noble families owed allegiance to the crown, the victims of Tudor justice were really left to stew on their own, Catherine’s uncle very much a man of his age like Thomas Boleyn before him, sacrificed family blood and loyalty to keep his own fortunes aloft, though smarting at the Howard’s deception at not forewarning him about Catherine’s past, they were all later released from their prison but it took time for his anger to cool, Jane having survived the downfall of her in laws found her fate inexplicably linked with Henry V111’s fifth queen who was her ex husbands cousin, maybe the family link forged a bond between the much older woman and the frivolous girl queen, though bound together with Catherine’s alleged lover Thomas Culpeper in hoodwinking the king through much of the previous year, when they were all interrogated the young queen in desperation put the blame squarely on her maid accusing her of coercing her to meet with the handsome young groom of the stool, and so not very surprisingly, did the foolish Culpeper who explained that the queen was dying to see him being far in love with him, the note found in his apartments confirmed the depth of her feelings, though he said him and the queen had done nothing they intended to at which point he was told he had said enough to lose his life, why Culpeper said what he did is a mystery but maybe shows what a braggart he was, there is a confusion about him and his older brother who may or may not have raped a young married country woman, if it was the same Culpeper then he was no gentleman as his later behaviour with the queen and his startling confession to go ‘all the way’ confirms, as for Jane her spin on the events shows how she was bullied into arranging the nightly trysts, I actually find Jane to be the most honest of them all, I find it far more likely that she went along with Catherine’s plans because she had not much choice on the matter, I could be wrong, but a woman of mature years who had seen two members of her family lose their heads to a dangerous monarch, could not have enjoyed risking her own blood several years down the line because of her mistress’s obsession with one of her husbands servants, that same husband who had lopped of the heads of his other queen and her husband, Baldwin Smith’s remarks on Catherine Howard the fifth wife of Henry V111 as a Tudor tragedy sums up her short life really, we do not know how old she was when she lost her life, but most of it was spent in immorality and frivolous gaiety, but she is known to history as the queen who betrayed Henry V111 and really, that is all she is known for, as for Jane she was much older and must have appeared like a sympathetic aunt to the young girl, her life was spent at court from a young age and was infinitely wiser, her nervous collapse is proof of the danger she knew all three participants were in and for all we know she must have tried to offer caution, sadly it was ignored, they both ‘ suffered this day like many victims before and those who came after, they stuck to the usual execution speech etiquette and were both decapitated easily, their sad endings must have been in keeping with the desolate February weather, if any shed tears for Catherine that day it would have been for the taking of a soul in the prime of life, there probably however was not many shed for her maligned maid, except for her nearest kin.

  2. I have a book about Catherine Howard which is very good, and not by Lacey Baldwin Smith and more sympathetic to her, but can’t recall the author right now. IN any case, besides what Catherine did with Thomas Culpeper, I think the real mystery is why Jane Rochford did what she did. I mean after all, she was the wife of George Boleyn and sister in law to Anne. She saw what Henry did to her husband and sister in law, and had been around the court long enough to know better. After all, she had before her also the example of Blessed Margaret Plantagenet Pole, daughter of George, Duke of Clarence , mother of Cardinal Reginald Pole, whose own royal blood couldn’t save her from Henry the Eight. So with such an illustrious royal lady as a martyer, you think she would have tried to warn Catherine and not helped her with sneaking around. Certainly if I worked for Catherine and had some hint of what was going on, I think I would have warned her not to go chasing after Culpeper and not to listen to Lady Jane.This put everyone associated and working for Catherine in grave danger.

    1. I’d highly recommend Julia Fox’s biography of Jane Boleyn, it’s excellent. I was able to talk to Julia about Jane and asked her why on earth would Jane do what she did after seeing what happened to George and Anne. Julia made a few points 1) That Jane was simply the queen’s servant, there to do her bidding, 2) That she may have helped them once, unwisely, and then been persuaded to help them again as she had already committed misprision of treason, 3) That the man who had helped her and advised her previously, Thomas Cromwell, was dead and so she may not have known where to turn and what to do. I think she was in a very difficult situation.

      1. Iv also got Julia’s book it’s a really good balanced analysis of Jane’s life, sadly we know nothing of her true character only from what has been handed down to us in the tragedy of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, and it tells us nothing really except that her name has been besmirched, strange indeed that she should be involved with the fall of both Henry’s Queens and yet in Boleyn’s case at least it is really supposition, with Catherine her actions are suspect, but I do think Julia is correct in explaining why Jane did what she did, if only both ladies had the luxury of a trial because we could at least hear Janes viewpoint, Catherine when interrogated by Cranmer was prone to bouts of hysteria and Lady Rochford lost her mind, immense terror makes one babble, Anne in the Tower also gave way to hysteria and babbled unwisely, Jane possibly did not make much sense when she was questioned, but she did accuse the young queen of involving her and how she was forced to keep a lookout and such, really it all smacks of schoolgirl stuff, Jane was in her forties when she died and Catherine it is believed not yet twenty, one asks oneself why did Henry V111 think it necessary to kill them both, especially Jane who was his own blood kin and one time sister in law, if he had pondered on her involvement enough he might have come up with the sensible answer, she had no choice but to obey her queen, she was a servant as Julia Fox remarked she was merely obeying orders, he disregarded completely also her state of mind and had a bill passed in Parliament where it was legal to execute the insane, one can see the complete and utter fury he was in, mercy was not Henry’s way and we can see by the brutal execution of his cousin Lady Margaret Pole an elderly lady, one he had known since youth, one time governess to his daughter Mary, that family blood ties, a long association friendship and loyalty counted for nothing in his blood lust for revenge, he was England’s Nero indeed.

  3. Jane was a victim of circumstance, in the beginning she was a fortunate child, born into a wealthy family, a cousin of the king, she was secured a place at court and through her family’s ambition wedded into the Boleyn family, their later shame and disgrace affected her greatly but she was not tainted with their fall out, rather it was long after their deaths her name would become associated with infamy, but in her lifetime she certainly was not blamed for the destruction of her husbands family, there was never any evidence to associate her with the unnamed woman who gave evidence against George, there was never any evidence that she was the one who accused him and the queen of incest, there was never any evidence that she disliked Anne Boleyn her sister in law and mistress, the husband she grieved for was dead and she had to depend on her father, and the kings good grace, Cromwell helped her when she pleaded poverty and it could be he was the one who secured her place at court as one of Jane Seymour’s ladies, she was also on attendance at Anna of Cleves when she married the king, I believe Claire is right, on her own she did not know which way to turn, Thomas Cromwell often helped women in need, many wrote to him seeking their help with family issues and legal advice, Jane could well have sought his help because Catherine put her in a right pickle, but he was no more and so Jane was in a quandary, yes she was Catherine’s servant but she also knew she was guilty of misprision of treason for helping her meet with Culpeper, and Henry V111 was no kindly benevolent monarch as Hilda commented, apart from Anne Boleyn and George and her so called lovers, Jane had seen many a courtiers head fall, long at court she had lived under the shadow of the axe like many of her contemporaries, one ill chosen word could send one on a walk to the Tower and from thence to the scaffold, she knew she had been extremely fortunate she had enjoyed considerable luxury being the sister in law of Henry’s second queen, her husband was in the elite circle of the kings friends and they had several beautiful homes to live in, apart from the luxurious apartments at court, then in several weeks it was all over, but she survived and was able to take up her old position and so one should allow Lady Rochford some license, why risk that merely because of the kings spoilt silly wife wanted to see her lover at night? Here I use the word lover because I do believe Catherine and Culpeper had been intimate with each other, two people attracted to each other as they undoubtedly were, do not when alone together just stand chatting about trivialities for several hours, and the queen was with Culpeper for quite a long time, as one of her ladies commented on, so one should credit Jane with some common sense, she knew they were risking a great deal, Catherine had a reputation for being quite imperious, and her status as queen must have emboldened her somewhat, like a child who has been given all the toys she wanted she believed she had the world in her grasp, a doting elderly husband who just happened to be the king, showering her with jewels and puppies and velvet gowns, she was Queen of England who could refuse her? She also appears to have had the ability of the young to tell herself that what she was doing was not wrong, it was not betrayal, her and Culpeper were just friends after all, what wrong could it do to just meet now and then, however the minute she fell into his arms she knew how hypocritical she must have seemed, also it is possible she did not divulge what she had done with Culpeper to Jane, she wished to appear innocent to the older woman, but Jane herself older and more experienced, said afterwards she could hear such noises that she knew what was happening, had she gone straight to the king and told him what was happening she could well have lived, but also she knew Catherine would be in very grave danger, one can understand what state of mind the poor woman was in, maybe she hoped that the errant queen would get bored and cease her nightly excursions, but Catherine was in love and when she was discovered, typical of human nature both she and Culpeper pointed the finger at poor Jane, she encouraged her to meet with him she babbled to Cranmer, Culpeper complained that he was forced to meet with the queen because she was pining for him, his comment smacks of boasting and whether Catherine was pining for him or not, Thomas Culpeper the kings groom of the stool was guilty of betraying his royal master who it was well known, was very fond of him, all three along with Master Francis Dereham the queens old beau were condemned to death, and it is Janes misfortune that she was caught up in the maelstrom that was the tragedy of Queen Catherine Howard, a loyal servant to her mistress yes, and she sacrificed her blood.

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