Katherine Howard, the Duchess and Norfolk House by Marilyn Roberts

Katherine HowardMarilyn Roberts, who has been working on a book on Norfolk House, has been kind enough to share the following article with us to tie in with the anniversary of the interrogations of the Howard family in December 1541.

Katherine Howard, the Duchess and Norfolk House

by Marilyn Roberts

It is 470 years ago this week that Katherine Howard’s step-grandmother, amongst others, was being interrogated as to the behaviour of the young Katherine at Lambeth before her marriage to Henry, and the part she, Duchess Agnes, had played in it. In the book Trouble in Paradise (which I hope to finish before the end of the year) I go through the interrogations on a daily basis, and 4th and 5th December are particularly significant. I thought your readers might be interested in a few of my notes.

Other news is that after studying excavation reports and other, very elusive, sources, I think I now know what Norfolk House in Lambeth looked like, and the archivist at the Museum of London I have been working with on the research on and off for the past couple of years is in agreement. So, in the New Year all will be revealed!

4th December 1541

Interrogators Sir Thomas Wriothesley and the Earl of Southampton require Sir Ralph Sadler to inform the King that they and Mr. Pollard ‘went this day to my lady of Norfolk, as if only to visit and comfort her. Found she was not so sick as she made out, but able enough to go to my lord Chancellor’s and so told her my lord Chancellor had some questions for her, and advised her to go… At that she began to be very sick again, even at the heart, as she said.’

Duchess Agnes boards her barge at Lambeth Stair, probably for the last time ever, and as soon as she passes Wriothesley’s house Mr. Pollerd (Pollard, an official of the Crown) leaves from there to put her Lambeth house in order; the same evening a Mr. Peter sets out for another of her mansions, this time at Horsham. Wriothesley ominously adds to his records that ‘tomorrow morning they will examine her’.

Foundations of the Duchess’s mansion lie below Norfolk Row, the Bell Inn, the Novotel and the headquarters of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain on Lambeth Road. There has been a Bell Inn here since Katherine’s time.

Is she aware, one wonders, that on 1st December Dereham and Culpeper had been brought to trial at London’s Guildhall accused of treason? Judgement on the two men, ‘To be taken back to the Tower and thence drawn through London to the gallows at Tyburn, and there hanged, cut down alive, disembowelled and (they still living) their bowels burnt, beheaded and quartered.’ They are to be kept alive a few more days for further ‘questioning’. Does the Dowager know this? Does Queen Katherine herself have any idea of what has taken place?

Guildhall, where Culpeper and Dereham were tried and convicted on 1st December 1541

Based on statements already extracted from others, thirty-seven questions are to be put to the Duchess: in what sort [of way] she did educate and bring up Mistress Katherine, and what change of apparel did she give her yearly? Who had told her that ‘the King’s highness did cast a fantasy to Katherine Howard the first time that ever his Grace saw her? What apparel and advice had she given the girl once she realised Henry was so besotted? What had she taken from Francis Dereham’s coffer [trunk] apart from the ballads to which she had confessed? (There were several different questions about the trunk, bringing the total to more than 37, and some of them she was asked several times in different contexts). Had she ever struck Mistress Katherine for her behaviour with Manox and Dereham? Had she rebuked Dereham? Had she asked her step-granddaughter to find him a position at Court (this is what the Queen herself had said already.) Had she ever said he could be found in the future Queen’s chamber? Had she caught Dereham and Katherine kissing? Did she know of a pre-contract between them? On and on it went, over and over the same old ground.

December 5th

The Earl of Southampton notes,
All things here proceed well…; my lady of Norfolk… hath so meshed and tangled herself that I think it will be hard for her to wind out again.

When they came for 64-year-old Agnes, ‘my lady of Norfolk’, where was she in that great house of hers with its fashionable glossy diaper-patterning in the red brickwork and the imposing mullioned windows with their leaded-lights? What part of the Novotel on Lambeth Road now lies where her valuable tapestries adorned the walls and her fine belongings were displayed? Wriothesley must have taken note of those on his visits! When had she last been for her stroll with her attendants in what amounted to her private kingdom that was Norfolk House and its environs, or busied herself in the kitchens supervising preparations for a banquet? Had she lately had the stamina to check on the laundrywomen, including the mysterious Besse who had apparently witnessed young Katherine’s wayward antics? How long was it since she last made preserves with fruit from her own gardens and orchards, or brewed her famous soothing concoctions so gratefully received by her poorly neighbours? Had she had the strength to cross the street to pray in the Howard Chapel in St Mary’s Church on this dreadful day? Or was she, after almost a month of persecution, already a mere shadow of her once great self and had suddenly become a frail old woman, truly sick at heart?

The small public recreation ground behind the Novotel is the only surviving part of the Duchess’s lovely gardens and extensive orchards where the young Katherine once strolled with her paramours; since her times it has also served as a burial ground.

P.S. Remember to check out day 6 of our advent calendar – click here

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20 thoughts on “Katherine Howard, the Duchess and Norfolk House by Marilyn Roberts”
  1. I’ve always wondered about this woman…did she really know what was going on under her nose or was she sort of out-to-lunch? She would have been considered old by Tudor standards and maybe lacked the energy to keep up with her young charges. Maybe she just didn’t care–hard to say. Thanks so much for this fascinating piece and the great pix, too! Best of luck with your book–I’ll look forward to it!

    1. Hello Ann
      Thanks for the comment. I think the Duchess has had a very unfair press over the centuries – a lot of the things said about her just don’t stack up at all. The Victorian ‘historian’ Agnes Strickland must take a lot of the blame for the image of Katherine being neglected and ignored, which unfortunately is now taken to be the truth.Before Katherine’s problems began there is no evidence of the gossips of the day castigating the Duchess for being an irresponsible or uncaring guardian, which could indicate that her household was not so very different from others of the nobility engaged in the business of raising and educating the younger generation. Neither was Katherine singled out to be treated as a sort of Cinderella figure as Strickland would have us believe. All the youngsters boarding with the Duchess were from good families (including her own daughter’s children) there to learn the ropes of household management, which involved performing menial tasks as part of the training and this was the same in all the great households.

      I believe the Dowager was well aware that young Katherine liked the boys – she lost her temper with the girl because of it on a number of occasions – but I don’t believe she knew how far she was going with Derham.

      Reading the original documents, of which thre are not many, I can’t help but feel the Duchess was stitched up from the start: she was a multi-millionairess by today’s standards and Henry took the lot – even her beloved home. I also have my suspicions that Henry wasn’t as cut up about Katherine as he made out – he soon tired of his wives, there was no sign of a baby, and there had been gossip earlier in the year that he was thinking of getting rid of Katherine.

      1. Greetings from Los Angeles;

        have debated the possibilities of writing a stage version of Catherine Howard’s questioning and trial as I think it far from clear to the general public.

        I’ve yet to find a transcript of either as I’d like to use as much actual dialog as possible. Perhaps you, or someone else, might be able to help.

        Thanks, in advance.

        1. You need to look at ‘Letters and Papers of Henry VIII Foreign and Domestic’, volume 16 (1540-1541} which will give the gist of what was happening and point you in the direction of the original documents. Also, the catalogue of the National Archives. You will find both of these online.

          Best of luck with your play.

    2. “out-to-lunch” I love that! 🙂

      I have often wondered the same thing. How much of anything did she really know. If modern teens are any standard, they have ways to be sneaky! In a grand household like the Duchess’s I imagine it was hard to keep track of everything and everybody at all times….

      Thank you so much for a wonderful website, Claire.

      I am also looking forward to the new book, Miss Roberts! It definitely has a spot on my “to-read” list already!

      Thank you both for such hard work and dedication! I really appreciate it a lot!


  2. Young people usually find a way to enjoy themselves whatever the situation. I don’t think that the Duchess would have delibrately let her charges run amok.

  3. The Howard( besides Anne ) who always to me intrigue is Mary Howard, the Duchess of Richmond. I find it baffling that when her family fell, she and her fathers mistress were the ones who gave all the evidence. I’ve always wondered what happened to her after her family’s fall. Good luck with your book !

  4. Very good read I didnot know much about Katherine Howard as far as her back ground and her family.As always a very excellent read and am looking forward to the next read . Claire I hope those nasty Histroy Haters have gone off else where but here’s a thought for the day, Huges not Hate! Histroy Buffs Rock.

  5. Thanks,Marilyn, for the further insights–can’t wait for your book! I agree that teens are sneaky and can easily pull the wool over anyone’s eyes! I do recall reading that Catherine had been in trouble over boys prior to Henry’s interest in her….maybe the Duchess didn’t know what to do with her–I’ve never had daughters but I hear lots of mothers of daughters say that! 🙂 My sons were relatively mild and easy to raise. I was just thinking of her age and how that might have slowed her down on the alert level a bit. I don’t think for a moment she deliberately let things go. Thanks again for a wonderful piece.

  6. Having raised three step-daughters I know how easily they can “pull the wool over your eyes” especially when they have cohorts to “swear” what they tell you is the truth. My girls hid a great deal from me that they confessed to once grown and married. Of course, there was some things I knew and was able to stop them without them ever knowing I had found out! Raising teen girls can be like a complicated game with the rules always changing; you want to protect them and they have a solid belief that nothing bad can happen to them! They are convinced they are right; even when the entire world is telling them they are wrong. I went through some scary times with my three and fortunately none of them went down the wrong road for long. If the old lady knew Katherine and Dereham were “seeing” one another, prehaps she thought if she forbid them to be together it would only cause them to sneak around more and she hoped if she turned a blind eye the affair would die naturally. Of course, when questioned she couldn’t admit to any knowledge that would compromise her safety. I doubt if we willever know the entire truth after all this time but I do believe that a house of teenagers being”supervised” by an elderly woman would be a perfect place for a lot of hanky panky!

  7. Oh dear! The duchess lost her home to Henry with Katherine’s fall? I should not be surprised, but I’ve always assumed she went back to her life as usual. I wonder what happened to her in the aftermath. Is there any record of where she went, who she lived with, when she died and under what circumstances?

    Thank you so much for shedding light on the Duchess. She’s always been a bit of a cartoon character to me, vs the nuanced human being that she surely was. I hope it’s possible to learn more about her and thank you so much for a great read.

  8. Oh dear! The duchess lost her home to Henry with Katherine’s fall? I should not be surprised, but I’ve always assumed she went back to her life as usual. I wonder what happened to her in the aftermath. Is there any record of where she went, who she lived with, when she died and under what circumstances?

    Thank you so much for shedding light on the Duchess. She’s always been a bit of a cartoon character to me, vs the nuanced human being that she surely was. I hope it’s possible to learn more about her and thank you so much for a great read.

    1. Hi Rosemary,

      I find the Duchess an interesting character too. I’m soon going to be able to pick up the research again and hope to get the book out at last in 2014.

      If you go back to my articles of 13th February and 5th May 2012 you will see what happened to her.

  9. The truth is that Katherine Howard was not the most libertine of the girls staying with the Duchess. She was molested by her music teacher when she was around 12. Manox was not her boyfriend, he was in his early 20’s. Our modern sensibilities should realize this. One way for a man of lower birth to marry a noble was to get her pregnant, and this is why I believe Katherine when she said Dereham raped her. Also, it was not illegal for a woman not to be a virgin when she married. It was rare that they were in Tudor times. It was a promiscuous time, compared to our still Victorian standards. Virginity meant that you had never been pregnant. Control over a young girls sex life was only necessary when you were a noble and you wanted to make a good marriage. Katherine, whose absent father was impoverished, had no reason to think she would make a good marriage. The Duchess was a product of her time. Agnes had an affair with her sister’s husband while her sister was dying, and then married the man. She was no prude, and while having some knowledge of what happened in the older girls’ dormitoties is expected, she did lock them in, and the girls got around the locks. It just wasn’t that big of a deal, as long as they married. Almost all of the girls in Katherine’s dorm had boyfriends who slept over. You can’t back date Puritan morals on this pre-Puritan age. The real embarassment to Henry was the fact that Katherine was not a virgin, and that he had paraded her around as such an innocent. If he were not impotent he would have known Katherine was not a virgin, so Dereham especially ired him, because his testimony told the world Henry was impotent. Dereham, who really committed no crime, since pre-marital sex between betrothed couples was the norm, was punished the most severely. Katherine seems like sweet girl, nice to her former friends after she became Queen, and they betrayed her. She was no more promiscuous than any other girl of her time and monetary level.

    1. The second Duke of Norfolk’s first wife died in the spring of 1497 and he married Agnes Tilney, her young cousin, before the end of the year. I have not come across any references to the two having had an affair while his wife was living, – although it may well have been that he was already keen on the girl, and he was quick off the mark in applying for a papal dispensation. I haven’t heard of Agnes having had a sister whose husband was her lover.

      Regarding Katherine and child abuse, have you read Retha Warnicke’s theories on attitudes towards women and sexual abuse in Tudor times, and how she sees Katherine as having been an abused adolescent? Interesting stuff, well worth a read.

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