Why was Catherine Howard not beheaded with a sword, like Anne Boleyn ?

It is said that Henry VIII commuted Anne Boleyn's sentence from burning at the stake to beheading by axe and then beheading by sword as an act of mercy. There are many different theories as to why Henry VIII decided to book the French swordsman:-
1) Anne requested it - Can't be true as he would have had to have booked the swordsman before her trial.
2) It was to allow him to use a more merciful death as a bargaining chip to annul the marriage.
3) It was in honour of Anne's "Frenchness".
4) It was a political move to show Europe that he was showing Anne mercy or giving her a more queenly death.
5) He wanted to give her a more merciful death because he knew she was innocent.

Of course, none of these reasons apply to Catherine Howard who was never crowned queen, who was guilty of adultery (well, plenty of evidence was given) and had no "Frenchness". By this time, Henry did not need to worry about what Europe thought of him executing his Queen and he had no need to bargain with Catherine.

Just my opinion, I'd love to hear what others think.


17 thoughts on “Why was Catherine Howard not beheaded with a sword, like Anne Boleyn ?”

  1. Candice says:

    This is a great question. I am not historian, so my opinion is solely based on my own readings of Anne Boleyn and Tudor history. The difference between Anne and Catherine Howard was Anne was coronated. While Catherine was Henry’s wife, and ergo, Queen, she was never officially (through a coronation ceremony) anointed with the God-given rights of a Queen, as Anne Boleyn was in 1533.
    Another issue at hand is, according to many sources I’ve read, Anne was more French than English. An execution by sword appears to be more regal and more noble than the axe. I am not sure how endemic French executions with swords were, but it may speak to Henry’s respect for Anne’s position as Queen, and perhaps, her own identification as a Frenchwoman.
    There is a great series entitled “The Tower” (now on DVD in North America; aired on British TV a few years back) that examines the Tower of London from different perspectives. One topic was about prisoners; another the Old Mediveal Palace where Anne was housed for both her coronation and execuation. The Tower’s historian noted that all prisoners would have been treated according to their social poistions. So, Anne’s treatment in the Tower was that of Queen. I suspect even her execution followed these tenents. While she was, according to the King’s court, a traitor-she was a Queen. Even near the end of her days, Anne’s treatment by Kingston, Henry, and others was of someone who would die a Queen.
    I hope this post makes some sense. Again, I am not an educated historian, so there are my inclinations about a woman I admire greatly. I believe Anne to be completley innocent of all the charges brought against her, and no one argues that position better than Eric Ives.

  2. Barbara says:

    Maybe it was because Ann had an official coronation so was Queen and no Englishman could legally kill her as it would be Regicide? Or the term they used then would be treason? I don’t know if that’s accurate though

    1. margaret says:

      anne was crowned a queen but was stripped of her titles at the trial so she did not die as a queen

      1. M says:

        I’m not sure it was even possible to strip her of her title as Queen. She was holy anointed, crowned with St.Edward’s crown. She was basically crowned a monarch in her own right, not only as Henry’s wife, since he didn’t want anyone to dispute the fact that she was Queen of England. He probably regretted that when he wanted to get rid of her, she was even referred to as “late Queen Anne” after her death, not as Lady Anne Boleyn.

  3. Eliza says:

    I think that reasons 4 and 5 are closer to the truth. Henry tried to appear merciful or he knew deep inside that she was innocent, so he wanted her end to be quicker and less painful. The fact that she was officially coronated is also a possible reason.

  4. Chelsea says:

    I think it has alot to due with what everyone else is saying that Anne was coronated Queen and Catherine just became queen via her marriage with Henry. Also Henry wanted to be rid of Anne and the swordsman was ordered even before she went to trial ergo the conclusion was always going to be “guilty”–where as Catherine completely blindsided Henry who thought her “a rose without thorn” and she actually DID dally with Culpepper and had a precontract with Drerham– worst move ever, Catherine appointing Dereham as secretary– And yes I agree that at this point why would Henry care to uphold what was right or deserving of a woman after mistreating KOA, killing Anne, and anulling Anne of Cleves. Im sure Europe was not surprised at all that he cut of Catherine Howards head. It seemed the “HEnry” thing to do.

    1. faolan says:

      I suspect Katherine Howard was blackmailed into hiring Dereham, the threat of her precontract being exposed. I also suspect she was the victim of sexual abuse when she lived with her step grandmother, rather than a promiscuous girl. Did she sleep with Culpepper because she was desperate to get pregnant with a boy?, Henry was pretty much impotent by then, and his smelly wounds would have made him repulsive in bed, Like her cousin Anne, little Kitty Howard was a pawn, she was used by over ambitious relatives for their own advancement.

  5. Charlene says:

    Anne also died in May, when the weather would have theoretically been better for a crossing. Catherine died in winter.

  6. Emma says:

    I agree with the answers of that Anne was QUEEN and despite her acts of treason through history she still meant something to the KING. We will never know true historian evidence of what really happened but I have always shown Interest in this by reading or watching the Tudors it’s history brings it to life and creates acting upon what happened all those centuries ago. I do believe that Catherine had it coming.. She was young and easily amused by men and did not have true love for his majesty, surely having affairs and thinking you could get away with it was risky especially in her case? It’s a great pitty that as these queens committed the crimes they pull others down with them such as the five men that were all innocent including the beloved brother of Anne, and dereham precontract to Catherine I still believed that after he spoke truthful and loyal he deserved mercy as he didn’t act upon any affairs unlike culpepper did RIGHTLY so. These are my own judgements and thoughts everyone has an opinion to share.

    1. Trisha says:

      You have Culpeper and Derham mixed up it’s derham who was precontracted to katheryne and derham who did have carnal knowledge of katheryne but it was long before either of them knew shed marry a king and he should have gotten mercy since how could he have known he was doing anything wrong with a girl basically orphaned,well left at her step grand mom’s house who was sexually abused by men,mannox,her music teacher her whole life, poor derham was drawn quartered and beheaded whereas Culpeper who was the kings privy chamber, the guy who dressed him always with him knew katheryne was off limits and still in his own words wanted to do ill will with the queen and she with him but probably did since they were sneaking around locked doors and had Jane Boleyn keeping a watch at the door u must be doing something wrong but he slept with her most likely knowing she belonged to Henry and the guy was previously pardoned by Henry for rape and I believe murder already and this dude merely got beheaded but was because he was a nobleman so if anyone deserved mercy it was derham the young man from her past also it’s a misconception at her death Kathryn says she dies a queen but rather die wife of Culpeper that would make a great story but it isn’t true Henry would never allow his pride to bruised like that but u think how can u stop her she’s dying anyway but they knew he could n wouldn’t hesitate to make their death way more painful and up until the night before her execution she was still begging for mercy and under the impression she could possibly live and be sent to a nunnery she unlike her cousin anne boleyn was incarcerated for 3 months before she was beheaded by axe and henry didnt give her a coffin either but is said to have had lime poured in with her bones to melt the body faster and deny her an afterlife I think it’s so sad when asked for a confessor she said no because she spoke to god so little she was afraid he wouldn’t know who she was anyway so I feel the most sympathy for her of all 6 wives

  7. Bronagh says:

    It has been suggested that it had nothing to do with Henrys wish to be merciful, it had to do with him reasserting his right as King. A sword is a kingly weapon and a symbol of virility. Lets remember Anne was accused of mocking his marital prowess She was unique in his reign of being the only one of his victims executed in this manner. In fact I think she was the only “annointed monarch” ever killed with a sword.So maybe it wasnt “mercy” it was a final insult and a way of restoring his damaged pride.

  8. J says:

    I think it also likely that Anne and Henry had a connection, so cruel and petty or not, Henry did have emotions regarding Anne. Catherine Howard was simply a good time that went on a bit long. That was an old man trying to feel young again–there was no connection or real feelings there.

  9. JoeyMarie says:

    I believe it was because the King knew full well that the allegations of incest and other crimes were not true. Also, he did love her quite passionately at one time and showed her mercy in her death.

  10. Ralf says:

    Anne was not stripped of her title of Queen because as has already been stated, such was not constitutionally or ecclesiastically possible. The marriage was annulled, she was stripped of all other titles, but she died a Queen. Anne was not only the primary catalyst of the English Reformation, but in life and death she was its epicentre. Like her Daughter she was truly a woman generations ahead of her earthly era.Her judicial murder, and the men who were likewise murdered with her, remains forever one of English history’s most haenous crimes.

  11. Jennifer Sule says:

    Jean Rombaud was most likely Anne Boleyn executioner. The sword is in a museum ..

  12. Laura says:

    Anne was also the mother of his daughter, which could been another reason for giving her a merciful death.

  13. Marsha Reagan says:

    Anne was, according to most historians, historical societies, museum records and museum curators the only person ever from the Tower who was executed by sword. It had nothing to do with being “regal” except, perhaps that Anne recognized it as such; she had such a remarkable sense of style, even to the very end. On the continent, it was common to execute with swords, but at the Tower the axe and block were preferred – one didn’t care so much about appearance when having one’s head lopped off, so much as for the surety and quickness. The axe was dependable and efficient.
    Anne, in her unique style, requested the swordsman from Calais.

    It is interesting Anne chose to wear an English style gable, rather than the French gable she preferred throughout her life, marking her French upbringing. It seems she did this as indication to the people that she was one of them, and signal to the (psychopathic) King. Should he have kept his promise, in pardoning her, it would have been quite apt, but seeing as he did not, that she had a French sword drawn down on her neck, chopping the proud head that bore the English gable is a strong and sardonic message. .

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