On this day in history, the 13th February 1542, Catherine Howard was executed at the Tower of London. Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, wrote of how Catherine prepared herself for her execution:-
“On Sunday the 12th, towards evening, she was told to prepare for death, for she was to die next day. That evening she asked to have the block brought in to her, that she might know how to place herself; which was done, and she made trial of it.”1

Catherine Howard’s Execution

Chapuys goes on to say that at 7am the next morning, the 13th, members of the King’s Council (Suffolk and Norfolk were absent)and other dignatories arrived at the Tower to serve as witnesses to Catherine’s execution. Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador, reported to his master, Francis I, that the Queen was executed at around 9am, followed by Lady Rochford. Marillac recorded that “The Queen was so weak that she could hardly speak, but confessed in few words that she had merited a hundred deaths for so offending the King who had so graciously treated her”2. However, David Starkey3 points out that Marillac was not an eye-witness and quotes merchant Ottwell Johnson’s account of the executions:-

“I see the Queen and the Lady Rochford suffer within the Tower. Whose souls be with God, for they made the most godly and Christian end… [Catherine] uttered [her] lively faith in the blood of Christ only… [she] desired all Christian people to take regard unto [her] worthy and just punishment.”

Starkey goes on to say that Johnson recorded that Catherine said that she had offended “God heinously from [her] youth upward, in breaking all his commandments”, that she had offended “against the King’s royal Majesty very dangerously”, was “justly condemned… by the Laws of this realm and Parliament to die” and that she “required the people… to take example at [her], for amendment of their ungodly lives and gladly to obey the King in all things.” According to Johnson, Catherine then prayed “heartily” for “[the King’s] preservation, and willed all people so to do.” After then she commended her soul into God’s care and asked for His mercy. Catherine knelt at the block and the executioner cut off her head with his axe.

Contrary to legend and “The Tudors”, Catherine did not utter the words “I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpeper”, although I so wish she had!

Lady Rochford’s Execution

Next was the turn of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, wife of the late George Boleyn, and the woman who was accused of committing high treason by helping Catherine commit adultery. Chapuys says of Lady Rochford’s execution:-

“Then Lady Rochford was brought, who had shown symptoms of madness till they told her she must die. Neither she nor the Queen spoke much on the scaffold; they only confessed their guilt and prayed for the King’s welfare.”4

And Marillac reported:-

“The lady of Rochefort said as much in a long discourse of several faults which she had committed in her life.”5

According to Jane Boleyn’s biographer, Julia Fox,

“she began by declaring her complete faith and trust in God. “I have,” she said, “committed many sins against God from my youth upwards and have offended the king’s royal Majesty very dangerously, so my punishment is just and deserved. I am justly condemned by the laws of this realm and by Parliament. All of you who watch me die should learn from my example and change your own lives. You must gladly obey the king in all things, for he us a just and godly prince. I pray for his preservation and beseech you all to do the same. I now entrust my soul to God and pray for his mercy.” Not once did she refer to the specific offences…neither did she have anything but praise for Henry.”6

It is a myth that Lady Rochford confessed to giving false testimony against her husband and her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn, she did nothing of the sort.

After her short address, Lady Rochford knelt, laying her neck on the block, and her head was taken off with one blow of the axe. The bodies and heads of Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford were then taken to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula for burial. Visitors to the Chapel at the Tower of London can pay their respects to these two women at their memorial floor tiles, which lie underneath the altar table.

You can find out more about the falls of Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford in the following articles:-

Notes and Sources

  1. LP xvii. 124
  2. LPxvii. 100
  3. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, David Starkey
  4. LP xvii. 124
  5. LP xvii. 124
  6. Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford, Julia Fox

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37 thoughts on “The Execution of Catherine Howard”
  1. RIP Katherine.
    I know a lot of people have negative opinions towards Katherine, but I cannot help but feel it was best said by Anne Boleyn in “The Tudors”, she was “like a moth drawn to a flame and burned”.
    She was 21 at the time of her death by the oldest estimate. When I look back on the way I behaved when I was 21, I certainly cannot say I wasn’t without mistakes, mine didn’t cost me my life though.
    Katherine was a girl dragged into a world that she completely unfit and unprepared for and she paid the ultimate price. I hope that wherever she is now, she has found the happiness that seems to have eluded her in life.

  2. She was so young and the King was fat, nasty, and stinky. The girl never had a chance. Then to have Rochford helping her when she should of advised her against it. I think Katherine wanted to say no but no one says no to H8. like I said she never had a chance.

    1. So because a man is older than his wife, over weight, has health problems which are not his fault, he deserves to be cheated on by his wife? You can tell you haven’t been a carer or married. Have you ever had to care for an older partner at all? Clearly not or you wouldn’t come out with such childish and immature tosh. I have to live with someone with several health problems, including a stoma bag and I love him dearly. It’s called marriage and commitment and if you don’t know what a stoma is, look it up.

      1. I think the point is more that she didn’t want to marry Henry, but could not refuse his offer (for obvious reasons). She was taken advantage of by several men starting from a very young age, including Henry Mannock and Francis Dereham. Additionally, it is commonly believed that she was blackmailed and possibly raped by Thomas Culpeper, and did not willingly cheat on Henry. She was still a child when she was married and beheaded.

      2. your being childish too, a child between 17 and 19 marring a man three times her age after being in sextually abusive relationships since the age of 13, and then suffering by having her head chopped off? she couldn’t reject him, and she couldn’t escape culpepper. we don’t even know if she actually did commit adultery. A child shouldn’t die because of that. how would you feel if everyone assumed you cheated on your husband, and everyone carried on with the lie and he had the power to cause your head to be taken off as well? Jesus christ, and you called them immature.

      3. You are missing the point. Of course you can love someone who is older and not in the best of health. But Catherine Howard was horribly used by everyone around her. And she was married to a monster. She was also under pressure from the Howard family to have a male heir so she wouldn’t end up like her cousin Anne Boleyn. Henry was grotesquely fat and had a leg wound that was oozing and smell horribly. Cahterine Howard was the only one who could soothe him and wrapped his leg without showing any signs of repulsion. Henry could not get it up at this point, so giving him another son was impossible. It is highly likely that the Howard family encouraged if not arranged her meetings with Thomas Culpepper. It is not surprising that she took refuge from her loveless marriage with this young man!

  3. I know you wrote a great article about XIXth century renovation of St Peter ad Vincula’s chapel but can you say more about Catherine Howard’s place of burial? Were her bones identified? Sorry if I missed that in your article.

  4. My she forever Rest In Peace. She was so young, I feel bad for her no matter what her sins were. She will be in my heart all day.

  5. Found this website courtesy of Kathryn’s Edward II blog! I look forward to reading it. As I had lunch today, I suddently remembered it as the the anniversary of Catherine Howard. (and Jane Grey the day previously). Some dates are etched on my mind.

    1. Re: Lady Jane Grey: if you watch the movie starring Helena Bonham Carter, do so with big grains of salt. Bonham Carter acts well but it turns into a love story. She and her husband, both executed, couldn’t stand each other.

  6. I like that clip from The Tudors, though I wish that since they included the apocryphal Culpeper quote, they would have also had Lady Rochford say that she had also testified against George and Anne Boleyn – though I can’t remember if Jane had actually testified in The Tudors. If she didn’t, I guess there was no need to add the line in for this scene.

    Catherine was so far in over her head, and I guess I can’t say that I blame her, being so young and stuck with a fat old man for a husband. She was clearly a mid-life crisis trophy wife, but she didn’t have the option to say no. She may even have been naive enough to know that it wasn’t all going to be dresses and jewels. So I used to think that Catherine was just stupid enough to get caught, but now I guess I feel sorry for her. She was still naive enough to have an affair, but Jane Rochford should have stopped her – she knew first-hand what happened to women who even allegedly slept around on the king.

  7. You have no idea how ticked I am that I forgot the executions of Kathryn Howard and Lady Jane Grey, two ladies I feel much sympathy for. May they rest in peace, where no schemers can harm them again.

  8. Yes, poor Katheryn loosing her life at such a young age. She had her life cut so short it was unbeleiverble and not to mention her upbringing onto of it all. She really had it quite bad well in comparison to the rest of King Henry VIII’s wives more so than ever, then Anne Boleyn comes in a joint second.

    As for Lady Rochford if she really and truthully was incouraging aswell as enticing Katheryn then she should have known better, well with being a great deal older than Katheryn herself had been but no it seems that she was not unfortunately. I mean if she had any sense or maturity she would not have aided and abetted her in this affair, in hindsight she should have told her to stop or tryed to say something to her about it but it seems that the opposite was being done. I mean it is one thing not to know, or not to get involved but to actually know about it and not only that to inteffere and try and encourage it is another. I mean even if she had knew but not taken part in any of Katheryns infedellities she Lady Rochford may have just gotten away with her life intact but it seems that she had just as naive and silly as the Queen her Queen had been.

  9. I do feel sorry for Catherine and think she was mistreated as a child, sent away to her old anut’s house. Not sure the aunt did much, except house her charges. Catherine was looking for love and was too young to understand or reflect on her desires. That piano teacher would have been arrested in these days for inappropriate molestation. But Lady Rochford? Oh, what a low-life! Don’t like her. She did not advise the young girl wisely at all. Well, she paid for it, I guess. Thanks!

  10. I feel so sorry for her. She was badly treated by her family and murdered by a decaying old man. Larissa, I think a lot of people like and sympathise with her.

  11. Great article Claire, Just a quick question; Did Lady Rochford have to lay her head on the same block that Catherine had used?

    1. From what I’ve read Jane Rochford was not executed immediately after Catherine but a bit later. Fresh straw was laid on the scaffold and I expect the block was cleaned up, but I’m sure that Jane would have laid her head on the same block.

  12. Poor, misguided Catherine. She had no idea of what she was getting into when she married H8; and no one cared enough about her to advise her how to conduct herself. With Henry’s illnesses and duties, I don’t imagine she saw much of him and lonliness was a major factor in her affairs. She also probably trusted Dereham and Culpepper, not to mention Jane Boelyn, and that was a major mistake. Whoever wrote the letter left for Henry in the Chapel certainly was in on the secret affairs and eager to put an end to this new, young Queen. I’ve often wondered if the letter writer was one of Catherine’s Ladies in Waiting – waitingfor an opportunity at Henry for herself.

    1. Hi Shoshana,
      I really feel for Catherine, she didn’t really know what she was getting into, did she?!

      The letter was written by Archbishop Cranmer who had been persuaded by Chancellor Audley and the Earl of Hertford to relate the story told by Mary Hall, who knew Catherine from her time in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household, to her brother John Lassells. Cranmer related the story of Catherine’s colourful past and declared that she had “lived most corruptly and sensually”. I don’t think he dared tell the King face to face!

    1. And what happens when you execute someone only to discover they are innocent? I used to believe in the death penalty in extreme cases but too many people have been wrongly convicted over the years, especially by police who lie and poor quality defenders that I changed my mind. The death penalty may sound just, especially in really serious and horrible murder cases, but in a flawed society, with a very flawed criminal justice system, it’s not the best solution. You can’t free someone who is later proved innocent, if they are dead.

  13. I just have always thought poor kid, imagine it married to a cruddy old man who is a dirty old lech and yet you have beauty and natural desires for young handsome men.I always pitied her and even though the death penalty was part of life back then I can only imagine her terror and distress.

  14. I have read a book about her and i have
    kind of felt bad for her but she really should
    Have known better to get involved with h8 i
    Mean he had already killed her cousin and
    Divorced two wives

    1. she was manipulated bi the men in her family the very men who should have been looking out fore her after all they had all ready sacrificed 2 daughters on the alter fore power whats one more naive little girl i also believe her decision to have an affair was at the pressuring of her family

      1. Francesca, Kathryn was about seventeen and bot a little girl. The Boleyn and Howard families didn’t sacrifice their daughters or put them in the King’s bed. The evidence doesn’t support this claim. Henry was attracted to both women and although he accused Anne on false charges, Henry did nothing to merit the behaviour of his fifth wife. He was genuinely devastated when the truth came out.

  15. What I can’t understand, particularly in Anne’s case, when charges against her had clearly been fabricated, both Queens praised Henry’s virtues in their final words rather than maintaing her/their innocence.

    1. It was important to die a good death, for your own sake and for the sake of the family that you were leaving behind. There was set scaffold etiquette, which is why speeches are so similar. You confessed that you were deserving of death, as everyone was due to original sin, praised the king and asked for prayers. Even if you were innocent, you would still have believed that you deserved to die as a sinner.

  16. Kathryn Howard was not the innocent fool of mythology and she wasn’t manipulated by anyone, apart maybe from Henry Mannox her music teacher who talked her into minor sexual contact when she was about twelve or thirteen and groomed her. After this, however, Kathryn had a consensual relationship a few years later with a gentleman called Francis Dereham, who tried to carry it on when she became Queen. There isn’t any evidence to support myths that Kathryn was a,family pawn or any man used her to make her Queen. She was placed in the household of Queen Anne of Cleves and Henry became attracted to her. After their marriage in July 1540 Henry and Kathryn had a long honeymoon and she made him feel young again for a bit. However, his health caught up with him and Kathryn was left to her own devices when his legs troubled him. She began an attraction with Thomas Culpeper and with the help of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford met him over several nights in 1541 on progress and on their return. She was alone with him late at night or with Lady Rochford on guard and its not clear how far their relationship went.

    However, both ladies made a good end and repented of their sins and mistakes and the myths need to be ignored as several eye witnesses show they followed convention and died with dignity. They have both had their reputations ruined enough without lies about their last moments being spread by rumour mongering.
    RIP Queen Kathryn Howard and Lady Jane Boleyn, Vicountess Rochford. Amen YNWA

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