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Was it Culpepper or a lack of virginity that doomed Katheryn Howard?

Posted By on June 30, 2015

Catherine Howard sketch Today we have a guest post from Kyra Kramer author of The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters – thanks so much Kyra!

Katheryn Howard began her first Summer Progress as Henry VIII’s queen on June 30, 1541. Was this the beginning of her end? It was on this progress that Katheryn and Thomas Culpepper engaged in the probably unconsummated trysts that would eventually get them both beheaded. But was it already too late for Katheryn, even if she hadn’t whispered sweet nothings in the dark to Culpepper on her way to York?

I have a serious soft spot for Katheryn Howard. Part of it that in spite of the fact her sexual ‘history’ consists of a single sexual partner prior to marriage (she just “made out” with her other pre-marital beau and even after they were condemned to die she and Culpepper said their romance did not go so far as intercourse) she is derided as a vile and immoral harlot. As I pointed out in The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters:

“Even those who are sympathetic to Katheryn Howard often describe her in terms that suggest a harlot. For example, David Starkey condescendingly explains that he can write about Kathryn’s “promiscuity without disapproval”, calling her a “woman with a past” but without intention of condemnation because “like many good-time girls, she was also warm, loving and good-natured” (Starkey, 2003:648 and 655). Lacey Baldwin Smith wrote that her life was “little more than a series of petty trivialities and wanton acts, punctuated by sordid politics”, but nevertheless lamented that her life was cut so tragically short due to the backstairs politics that “transformed juvenile delinquency into high treason” (Smith, 2009:10). Both biographers have a genial attitude about the fallen queen, and they obviously view her as having been overly punished and victimized by forces beyond her control. Notwithstanding their sympathy, though, it is also clear they see her primarily as a sweet natured and simple-minded strumpet.

Others have been even less kind to the young queen. In fact, it could even be said that most “historians judge her by the same standards of behavior expected of an early modern Englishwoman, and, perhaps unwittingly, assume that because she broke the cardinal rule of chastity, she must have failed completely in adhering to expectations of femininity. Therefore, Katherine has often been depicted as stupid, promiscuous, foolish, greedy, and vain” (Kizewski, 2014). David Loades assures his readers that Katheryn Howard “wanton slut” who “certainly behaved like a whore both before and after her marriage” (Loades, 2009). It wasn’t just her sexual ethics that were called into question. Alison Weir wrote that Henry’s fifth bride was “a frivolous, empty-headed young girl who cared for little else by dancing and pretty clothes” (Weir, 2007). Sometimes Katheryn’s sluttiness is excused upon these terms. Antonia Fraser described Katheryn as “a flighty young thing with an eye for a handsome young man … pleasure loving … the sort of girl who lost her head easily over a man, a girl who agreed generally with what men suggested” (Fraser, 1992).”

This characterization of Katheryn as a stupid slattern is terribly unfair. She was an orphan who slept with her serious boyfriend in her teens. Is it so remarkable that she would brave social disapproval in exchange for intimacy and affection? Is it so depraved to have a single sexual partner? Does going to “third base” with her much older music instructor make her an addle-pated tramp, when it should make him seem predatory? Does flirting with a handsome young man when she was married to a pus-oozing old king make her utterly morally bankrupt?
Katheryn’s less-than-pristine past came to light in November of 1541, and at first it focused solely on her life before court. However:

“The fact she had given Dereham the post as her private secretary made the investigators suspicious that Katheryn had continued her affair with him after she was married. Dereham, desperate to prove that he had not resumed his romance with Kathryn, offered the information that “Culpepper had succeeded him in the Queen’s affections” (Starkey, 2003:674). This was much worse that Katheryn’s lack of virginity. Any dalliance Kathryn had indulged in as queen was high treason, and death for treason included being hanged, drawn and quartered.”

Was she killed for her emotional affair, or for her unlawful fornication? For myself, I believe even if Katheryn had not developed an amour for Culpepper, Henry would have still had her killed because she had not remained “pure” until he wanted her. Even worse from Henry’s point of view, the king could not tell she wasn’t a virgin. Henry thought he knew what a virgin acted like, and felt like in bed. It turns out he was easy to dupe if shown a woman with a sweet face and perky bosom. For that he hated his bride.

“On November 22, Katheryn’s title was stripped from her by the Privy Council and she was indicted for “having lead an abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous, and vicious life” before marriage and acting “like a common harlot with diverse persons” while falsely “maintaining however the outward appearance of chastity and honesty” (Farquhar, 2001). In sum, Katheryn was accused of being a slut but not “looking” like a slut. This was, in the Tudor mind, particularly heinous. It put paid to the common myth that men could tell a woman was a virgin at a glance by her innocent demeanor and firm breasts. It reminded Tudor men that sluts could hide in plain sight and that they could ‘trick’ men into marrying them. Sluts were dangerous because they were women who could make men look like idiots.”

The summer of her Progress with Henry was the last summer the young woman would ever see. She was judicially murdered for the crime of having not been a virgin upon her wedding on February 13, 1542. The Progress was the last time she would feel warm days, and taste fresh strawberries, and laugh with her friends. Her summers would be forevermore denied to her because she had indulged in sex with a single partner as a teenager. She would never have children, or grow old, or be allowed to find love simply as a result of an infatuation she experienced when young.
It is easy to weep over Anne Boleyn’s death, inasmuch as she was innocent of the charges, but we should likewise weep over Katheryn Howard’s death, because her “guilt” was so excruciatingly paltry.

jezebel effect Kyra Cornelius Kramer is a freelance academic with BS degrees in both biology and anthropology from the University of Kentucky, as well as a MA in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University. She has written essays on the agency of the Female Gothic heroine and women’s bodies as feminist texts in the works of Jennifer Crusie. She has also co-authored two works; one with Dr. Laura Vivanco on the way in which the bodies of romance heroes and heroines act as the sites of reinforcement of, and resistance to, enculturated sexualities and gender ideologies, and another with Dr. Catrina Banks Whitley on Henry VIII – Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII.

Kyra is also a regular contributor for the Tudor Society’s Tudor Life magazine.

The Jezebel Effect is available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and Amazon’s other Kindle stores.

84 thoughts on “Was it Culpepper or a lack of virginity that doomed Katheryn Howard?”

  1. carrie says:

    Poor Katherine! She was, I’m convinced, sexually abused as a child, she had no one to teach her how to conduct herself. No one but a clueless old woman to teach her anything. She had the conduct of an abused woman, even the king treated her like a sex object, that’s all she knew. I’m pretty sure Culpepper didn’t join her at night for “talks”. She was the biggest victim of all his wives, although I understand her execution. Even if they hadn’t had sex no one would have believed the baby was Henry’s and there may have been civil war after Edward died if they had had a male child

  2. Jordan Moore says:

    Thank you for this post! I too have felt that Katherine is rarely painted in a fair light. Her earliest sexual experience was being molested, and her marriage was also predatory in nature. I feel her story should elicit nothing but compassion.

  3. Catherine R McMillan says:

    I have never heard Katherine described as immoral or a harlot. Not by any contemporary historian, in any case.
    I would think we all blame Henry for being vain enough to imagine that a girl of her age would not be utterluy disgusted by him.There is some evidence that the previous queen Anne also found him hard to be with – though of course only Henry’s dislike for her was given as the reason for their annullment.

    1. The historians I cited are actually contemporaries. She was called a “wanton slut” by David Loades in 2009 and David Starkey was writing about her “promiscuity” in 2003. the farthest back I went for my cites was 1992, in order to show this was still a problem.

  4. Courtney says:

    I hated the way they portrayed her in The Tudors….she annoyed me!

    1. Hannele says:

      She did not annoy me, but I did not believe that Henry would not even considered to marry a girl whom he had already got to his bed and even quite easily. That was totally out of the moral of the age. Henry would have been a fool to chose such a queen for her affair would have been no surprise.

      I understand, however, that Henry’s wives had to differ from another in the show.

    2. Selina says:

      I think they did well in portraying her as young, naive and vivacious. But I hated how much they dumbed her down. She wasn’t educated, but she knew how to read and write, and I’d like to believe that she did her best to behave like a queen instead of a juvenile airhead. She was said to be graceful and kind, after all. Additionally, I despised how they made her seem like some promiscuous nymphomaniac.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Where is your evidence that she was not educated? She received the same education as any noble lady of her day…..how to run a large household, how to behave, how to complete and supervise tasks and servants, to supervise accounts, to be able to serve in the Royal household, how to read and write, dancing, music, how to be a great lady and wife in public and so on. Tudor women did not receive the equivalent of a classical University education, but they does not make them uneducated. I highly recommend the new book by Dr Josephine Wilkinson on Katherine Howard who gives a great deal of information and evidence against the myth of her being uneducated or unsuitable to know how to behave as a Queen. Katherine Howard was not a floosy, not a dummy and not a victim either. Her relationship with Mannox can be considered abuse of power and sex as he was her teacher and she very young. But her relationship with Dereham was very different. However, it was expected that Katherine would learn to run her own household as she would make a good match. She was considered competent enough for Anne of Cleves as one of her ladies and the King did not marry dummies. I completely agree the Tudors showed her as wild and wanton. She was a young lady who loved clothing and jewellery and Henry was only too willing to pamper her thus. She was also trusting and this left her vulnerable. Dereham turned into a pest. Evidence shows that as Queen Katherine was generous, interceded for felons, helped people in the Tower, made clothing for Margaret Pole in the Tower, was able to function as Queen well, but she was neglected at times after two serious bouts of ill health for the King. She renewed her friendship for Thomas Culpeper, meeting him at forbidden times, which led to a presumption of Treason and adultery. She was never tried and there is a question of doubt over her guilt. Katherine unwisely and probably unwillingly hid her past and that lrd to terrible consequences. Virginity, whether fained or not, was expected in a bride and Katherine was judged harshly because of her failure to
        protect her honour, as were her relatives and guardians. The Duchess is not to blame, but those she appointed are…but again to understand my comment in context I recommend the book above. As for her education, we cannot compare most Tudor ladies with Anne Boleyn, Katherine Parr and Katherine of Aragon or even Meg Roper. These highly polished ladies were the exception, not the rule. KH may not have had their advantages in education but that does not mean she was uneducated.

    3. Christine says:

      Yes it made me laugh when she was sitting on the swing in the nude and then when she was in bed and called out to Henry and he looked so tired, and she never stopped giggling either, I’m sure the real Katheryn wasn’t as sex mad as that, or as frivolous she was very young and her behaviour really was like any normal teenage girl, she loved dancing and fine clothes and handsome men, she also seems very naive and this is what is so sad about her death, she could not have known that her involvement with Dereham when she lived with her grandmother was immoral in that it wasn’t the correct way for a future Queen to behave, it didn’t matter that she didn’t know or any of her family either that she would be Queen, as that was in the future and it didn’t matter to the Tudor mind but what damned her was when he joined her household when she was Queen , that did look suspicious and yes I believe Henry possibly thought she was a virgin, if he had any inkling that she was no shrinking violet than he no doubt chose to believe otherwise, as we have to remember Henry always believed what he wanted to, after the trysts with Culpeper were revealed he acted with a vengeance and Dereham was butchered even though he was only guilty of sleeping with her when she was single, Henry was guilty of double standards here, did he honestly think that all women were pure as the driven snow? I have doubts about Anne Boleyns virginity to as she lived for some years at the French Court which was the most immoral in the world and Henry later said she had been corrupted there, that means she wasn’t without experience, that I think could have been at the root of his dissatisfaction with her, because when they slept together he knew then that she wasn’t as pure as she’d led him to believe and he must have felt deceived from that day on, he seemed to put women on a pedestal maybe he thought all women should be like his mother? So yes I do think she was killed for what happened in her past and for making Henry feel so gullible and foolish, he wasn’t no callow youth, he was supposed to be a man of the world, and then some giddy teenager makes him look so daft, this all powerful monarch that people cowed before, poor Katheryn.

      1. Selina says:

        Anne was maid of honor to Claude of France, who was known for her religious devotion and virtue, and was said to have high moral expectations of her ladies-in-waiting. I doubt that she’d allow any lewd behavior. I, for one, believe that Anne would only give her maidenhead to her husband. Just because she wasn’t as outwardly pious as, say, Katherine of Aragon, doesn’t mean she didn’t have beliefs, convictions and principles.

        1. Christine says:

          Yes Queen Claude it was said kept an eye on her maids but one contemporary said that rarely did any woman leave the French Court intact, Anne was pious but she could well have indulged in France she obviously learnt something for Henry to accuse her of being corrupted, if young people want to keep an assignation they find ways and means to do so, hence Katherine and Culpepper.

        2. Selina says:

          Henry wasn’t exactly careful or elaborate with his accusations, and most of them turned out to be false, so I’m not sure why anyone should take them into account.

        3. Maryann Pitman says:

          I agree, and also believe Anne knew her value on the marriage market would be far less once her virginity was gone. She was ambitious, intelligent, and observant. I suspect the nature of any corruption would have been more things of a sexual nature she was told or that she saw in France. She may have been a technical virgin. It’s unlikely we’ll ever know.

      2. Hannele says:

        Christine wrote: “she could not have known that her involvement with Dereham when she lived with her grandmother was immoral in that it wasn’t the correct way fr the future Queen was expected to behave”

        It was not only what was expected from the queen, the same was expected from any woman when she married. And Catherine certainly knew that pre-marital sex was considered immoral if she listened at all what the priests taught.

        It is of course another matter whether the girls in reality behaved in the way they were taught to be right. If the adults wanted to be sure they did, it was their job to guard them. The fault was Catherine’s grandmother’s who failed her duty.

        And finally, what *we* think about Catherine can be different from her time when there was different moral standards for men and women.

        1. Christine says:

          Catherine’s grandmother wasn’t aware that the men in her household visited the women at night either, her household it seems was rather lax and Catherine wasn’t supervised properly, gran was probably getting on in years and didn’t notice what was happening right under her nose, she probably slept most of the time as old people are wont to do, Tudor standards were very different from today and ladies from noble households were reared very strictly, Catherine was raised a Catholic but it seems her religious education went amiss also, compared to the standards of her day she had it rather easy, she was very young when she was sent to live with her gran and she shared the dormitory with other women who were older than her, she saw them with men and thought it was ok to behave like that, it must have been exciting at night when they came to visit, and Catherine was easily led due to her tender years, she had no idea this behaviour would come back to haunt her, the tragedy of Catherine Howard was a number of factors, lack of supervision when she should have been cared for by those who had charge of her, immaturity and the high moral standards of the day, Catherine thought her past was in the past and it didn’t matter but here again shows her immaturity, the Kings wife has to be above reproach that means no scandalous youth and no immoral behaviour after, incidentally Eleanor Of Aquitaine had quite a past to, in fact she is said to have had an affair with her father in law and her own uncle, yet she wasn’t called to account for it and it didn’t seem to bother Henry 11, yet Henry acted with such shocked outrage because of Catherine’s moral lapse, if he had any knowledge of her upbringing it might well have helped him to understand and she could well have kept her head, but he couldn’t forgive her trysts with Culpepper so she was doomed.

      3. Hannele says:

        Whether Anne Boleyn was a virgin or not:

        I don’t think that we can take as face-value what was said after Anne’s fall, nor what was common at the French court.

        Obviously, we can’t know whether Anne had affairs in France or not, but if she did, she handled them so discreetly that nobody knew of them. On the other hand, an ambitious woman would hardly have endangered her trump card to make a good marriage.

        One thing seems sure on the basis of Catherine Howard’s case: Henry would not have married a woman whose reputation was not pure.

  5. Marie says:

    Makes you wonder if Henry ever had a Virgin!?

    1. Maureen says:

      Anne of Cleves. but they never consummated the marriage. and I believe Anne Boleyn was when she finally slept with Henry as well.

    2. brandi says:

      Katherine of Aragon, his first wife. She was virgin when they got married.

      1. Hannele says:

        Obviously Henry did not know if KOA was a virgin or not.

        With Anne of Cleves Henry believed that she was not a virgin because her breasts and belly were not firm. If those of Catherine Howard’s were and she behaved demurely, Henry no doubt believed her a virgin.

        Obviously Henry’s knowledge about virginity was incomplete. Not that women cannot betray men in that matter.

      2. Tidus Jecht says:

        I seriously doubt that.

      3. Tidus Jecht says:

        I seriously doubt Katherine of Aragon was a virgin. She’d been married to Henry’s brother Arthur for several months.

  6. Maureen says:

    Wasn’t she just a teenager when she was executed? I remember being a naïve, stupid, love sick teenager. and falling for some charming guys that I thought were genuine. I would imagine she was flattered by the King. who wouldn’t dream of being Queen? and who was going to say “no” to Henry at that point? but I think she was naïve 100%. I also think she went along with what she was told to do. She was no Anne. I don’t think she deserved to die, I think she was a victim plain and simple.

    1. HollyDolly says:

      You maybe right in many ways,she was a victim.A victim of the men in her grandmother’s household and Henry. And while I can feel sorry for her, i think she was rather silly.
      Anne is more my speed. We don’t know if Anne Boleyn did have any affairs in France when serving Queen Claude. But she must have learned something there for the way she handled Henry VIII before they had the wedding.She was ambitious and had brains.She must have watched how more experienced women acted. Didn’t Francis have a mistress or mistresses? I know Henry II had Diane de Poiters. I think Anne watched and observed what went on around her and learned her lesson in that realm well. Katherine needed someone to tech her how to act and what to say and do.Obviously her famiily didn’t bother. It was enough she was young and pretty.
      And I think her betryal really did hurt Henry .Maybe because she was related to Anne ,Henry thought he was somehow getting a younger version of Anne,which she wasn’t.

  7. Anira says:

    Good article. But you should all read Conor Byrne’s book on Katheryn, he goes even further in exonerating her, including explaining about society’s view on women in Tudor times. A great read!

    1. Nan says:

      I agree. Conor’s biography was an excellent reconsideration of how culture influences perceptions of Katheryn and her behavior.

  8. Helen Davis says:

    Henry was a sociopath I believe. Murdering Catherine Howard showed the height of his crimes.

    1. Tidus Jecht says:

      I agree.

  9. Mary Ann Cade says:

    I have always felt sorry for Catherine because she came from the branch of the Howard family that had the name but not the wealth. She was thrown into the Dowager Duchess’ household at a young age and given no guidance. She was left to her own devices and the machinations of others, much more worldly around her.

    When she went to court and managed to get the King’s attention, the other Howards wanted to attach their star to her wagon, so to speak, and because she wanted to please everyone, I believe she went along with it. It was probably intoxicating to get this kind of attention for the first time in her life and for the most powerful person she could ever hope to know.

    I have often wondered if once she married the King and did not conceive a child after several months of marriage, if the Duke of Norfolk and her family put pressure on her to get pregnant (by any means necessary) so the Howard family would have another royal heir in the line of succession.

    I have often wondered this because I remember reading somewhere that she thought the King was so powerful that he could hear everyone’s confessions in the confessional. If that were true, why would she be so careless to encourage a romance/courtship with Culpepper knowing what had happened to her cousin and to others that had crossed this particular King. This is why I believe she was desperate to find a way to become pregnant, maybe realizing that the King was unable to father a child by this time.

    The gossip started and eventually reached the ears of the King and Council probably before she was able to take it that far with Culpepper. It just doesn’t make sense to me that these people would take this kind of risk (especially Jane Rochford) knowing what had happened barely six years before and how the King had turned on his friends when he felt he had been betrayed.

    1. Lisa says:

      I have always wondered the same thing. How could she think Henry wouldn’t find out she was sneaking around when she believed he was so powerful that he could hear everyone’s confession? I have also tried to figure out why Lady Rochford would “help” them. Would she have lost everything, i.e. her position, if she said “No” ?

  10. Angel Singer says:

    I’ve always felt sorry for Catherine Howard. She is a good example of the “teen invincibility effect,” wherein young people don’t consider the consequences of their behavior as being a likely scenario they’ll have to face. Clearly, Catherine proves this mindset is nothing new.

    We see little Catherines of both genders with some frequency: young people with little supervision or positive role models. That this combination of perceived invincibility, no adult supervision and no role models leads to trouble is not at all surprising and almost always tragic.

    I think that is why Catherine Howard is still a popular figure: we were all that age once, and we all had close calls or even natural consequences. What we can be grateful for is that we weren’t likely to lose our heads–literally–as a result.

  11. Esther says:

    First, was Catherine Howard sent to Syon Abbey before or after people learned about the time spent with Culpepper? I’ve always heard that it was after.

    Second, IMO, Catherine was guilty of the same crime as Anne Boleyn … making Henry look like a fool. Anne made Henry look like a fool because he tore the country apart for precisely the type of woman he had divorced — -one who only gave him a live daughter. With Catherine, it was everything — Henry gave her everything she wanted; Henry ordered special prayers said for her in every church just before discovering her past; and of course, Henry’s inability to tell that she wasn’t a virgin.

  12. Erica says:

    Virginity is a social construct and not a medical term. As such, I think it would be helpful if you were more clear about what you’re talking about here, especially in relation to Henry VIII’s ability to determine whether Katheryn was a “virgin” or not. Are you talking about whether or not Katheryn had a prominent vaginal corona? Whether or not Henry VIII felt Katheryn’s vagina was sufficiently tight? Also, I recommend that you place gendered slurs (“wh*re”, “strumpet”, “tramp”, etc) in quotes and put a trigger warning at the beginning of the article to alert readers (and potential readers) about their use in your writing.

    1. Kyra Kramer says:

      I see your point. Inasmuch as my book spends its first few chapters discussing the fallacy of the word “slut” and they way it is used to hurt women and how little it (or any of its analogues) has to do with sex beyond the biological female sex … I didn’t think to reiterate it for my shorter posts. I also tried to explain the “no-hymen-no-diamond” mentality and the ideology of the “virgin” in the book. I am sorry if you — or anyone else — were triggered.

    2. Claire says:

      Gendered slurs like those mentioned by Erica are what have been used against Catherine Howard by historians and writers, like those Kyra quotes, and Kyra certainly is not agreeing with them – just the opposite. I haven’t used any trigger warnings in my posts about Anne Boleyn being called such names by her contemporaries and I have never seen the need for warnings when I’m writing about history, quoting historical people or exploring perceptions of historical characters. I can’t say I’ve ever thought about it and I’d actually never heard of a “trigger warning” before Erica’s comment and had to look it up. I apologise if anyone is offended using my blog.

      1. Leslie says:

        Hi Kyra/Claire,

        Thank you for this article, it was very interesting and informative. I for one can say, absolutely no offense taken with any area of your blog, Claire. I find it to be well-researched and historically enlightening. In my opinion, history should not come with “trigger warnings”, these are events that actually happened and the words used to describe these events were those used by contemporaries of the time. If someone does not like the subject matter, and thinks it could be particularly offensive to them, they have the option not to read the article. Does all phenomenal historical research and literature now have to come with “trigger warnings”? I hope not…

  13. Hannele says:

    I have understood that Henry was lenient towards Catherine until he learned of her affair with Culpepper.

    Catherine also dismissed her chance to survive when she denied a pre-contract, but then she had nobody to give her advice.

    Regarding her meetings with Culpepper, why would she had met her during the night unless to have sex? One would perhaps believe it from a girl who had no previous experiences.

  14. Kathy says:

    What is interesting to me is that we all think and talk about how women were treated and raised and ….. in that time. And I feel very sorry for the women of that time specially royalty. But on the other hand we never talk about what was expected from the King, his image , the pressure he was under to prove himself a man with an heir. How he was manipulated by every body around him. How he was pushed to believe he was being punished for marrying his brothers wife. He did everything for Ann including disowning his own daughter Mary. But do we really believe that Ann was completely innocent ? Or Catherine of Aragon was really a virgin?
    All I am trying to say is we have look at the pressures to the both side then maybe we don’t think Henry was tyrant and heartless. Looks like he loved Catherine for many years, he loved Ann and went above and beyond for her, he loved Jane and did not even think about getting married again for a few years, he gave Ann of Cleves castles and salary and invited her to Christmas dinners….. I think he was being toyed with by every body around him as much as his queens were.

    1. Selina says:

      Henry was in a position of power and treated those beneath him cruelly and unjust, even if they had been close to his heart. We talk about women because they were oppressed and didn’t have any chance to defend themselves. Reverse oppression isn’t a thing, not then and not now.

      And yes, most people believe that Anne was innocent, and many people believe that Katherine was a virgin.

      Portraying Henry as a poor victim is ludicrous.

    2. Hannele says:

      There is no proof that Henry was “pushed to believe” that he was punished for marrying his brother’s wife. Nobody would have dared to say such things to a king unless he first made clear that he wanted to hear such things.

      Nor was Henry easy to manipulate, on the contrary it was said of him during the annulment process that even an angel of heaven could not make him change his mind.

      Princes learned early to be suspicious towards people’s sincerity and motives and Henry was such even more than most.

      However, as a narcissistic he probably could not see that his marriage with a girl like Catherine could not succeed.

  15. M.E. Lawrence says:

    “She was an orphan who slept with her serious boyfriend in her teens. Is it so remarkable that she would brave social disapproval in exchange for intimacy and affection? Is it so depraved to have a single sexual partner? Does going to ‘third base’ with her much older music instructor make her an addle-pated tramp, when it should make him seem predatory?”

    Good point, Ms. Kramer. Many recent historians, including female ones, seem clueless, or close to it, regarding the psychology of teenage girls. (I remember my daughters’ reaction, and their friends’, to any guy over 22: “Eeewww!!!!”) In fact, I was startled to read C.J. Sansom’s essay at the end of “Lamentation” (latest of his Shardlake mystery series) in which he refers to Thomas Seymour’s sexually abusing his stepdaughter, the 14-year-old Princess Elizaberth; I can’t remember any other work, nonfiction or fiction, including books by qualified historians, that declared Seymour’s behavior sexual abuse. (It took a Scot to nail the issue!) I haven’t read everything out there, of course, so this is not to say that Sansom was the first, but I do think of authors like Phlippa Gregory who write about both Anne and her daughter as if they had had no sexual integrity whatsoever–not to mention the historians cited by Kramer, with their dismissive contempt for Katheryn Howard.

    1. Hannele says:

      There was of course no such concept as “sexual abuse” at that time, or “teen age”.12-year-girls could wed, although they seldom did, and at least bedding was usually done later.

      Still, the virginity was highly valued and aristocratic girls were strictly guarded. Therefore it is self-evident that, even if Elizabeth was willing, the responsibility was wholly Thomas Seymour’s who was in loco parentis to her.

      Katherine Parr’s behavior was quite odd. I cannot believe that step-fathers normally used to come to the bed-chamber of their step-daughter in order to “play games” when she was not dressed.

      Further, Elizabeth was in succession and she could to marry only with the consent of the council. No sensible man would have endanger her and himself.

    2. Claire says:

      David Starkey in his book “Elizabeth” (my copy was published in 2000) also writes of Thomas Seymour abusing his trust and says “he may even have sexually abused her”. He goes on to say “It is interesting to consider how these excuses would play in front of a modern panel of social workers and paediatricians, all sensitized to the faintest hint of child abuse”, regarding Seymour’s words to Kat Ashley about how he was being slandered and “I mean no evil.” Philippa Gregory also writes on her website about how Seymour “perhaps […] even sexually abused her”. So it’s not a new idea.

      1. Christine says:

        J Neal wrote that Seymour had become repulsive to Elizabeth and she made sure she was always dressed before he came to her bed chamber, what a state of affairs I do agree with Hannele that Katherine’s Parrs behaviour was odd, she should have realised that was no way to behave to a Princess, and also she was so young she must have found it rather embarrassing having a man about thirty years her senior running about in just his nightgown, trying to tickle her and pulling of the bedclothes, she should have realised it made Elizabeth feel uncomfortable, she was an adolescent and staring to be aware of her sexuality, she probably made the mistake most older people do that she was still a child and found it funny, it also makes those distant historical figures appear rather endearingly modern, after all their standards were different from ours yet here was a couple who indulged in what they thought of were harmless frolics and no one would think it was shocking today, I think Seymour could be accused today of sexual harassment but only Elizabeth knew if she found it embarrassing or actually enjoyed the attention, still Seymour was a very foolhardy man and he to paid the price.

  16. Karen GRiffin says:

    I think what doomed her was her naivete. She didn’t have a clue how to guard her past from those who might wish her ill. She wasn’t schooled in the Machiavellian ways of a king’s court. And she was so young. I think that part of what appealed to Henry so much, what came across as innocence, was this naivete.

    1. Katherine says:

      Agreed completely.

  17. Alysia says:

    Jeez if the accounts of Elizabeth’s indiscretions during her years with Katherine Parr are accurate, Thank heavens she was his daughter and not a potential mate. Or that he was around for her alleged indiscretions with Dudley! Imagine how he would have dealt with a Daughter he felt was a common tavern doxie!

  18. Banditqueen says:

    I have little sympathy for Katherine Howard, but have reconsidered some of the accusations against her. Katherine was a young woman who was not given the supervision and guidance that a lady of a noble house. Her first sexual experience with Mannox borders on abuse which was not welcomed and her guardian, although she dismissed him, punished Katherine as well. I get the impression that her grandmother was not someone Katherine could go to in order to complain about Mannox advances. Her relationship with Francis Dereham was a full delay in the usual sense, consensual and with the hope of a future. Dereham may well have promised Katherine marriage in order to get her into bed but he did not force her.

    When Katherine Howard married Henry Viii she was a consenting adult, not a poor little girl. Despite the attempts to make her younger than the accepted seventeen years in 1540, by revisionist historians, there is no evidence for this. Her age, as with Anne Boleyn, remains a talking point, but most historians agree that she was about seventeen years of age at the time of her marriage. Even if she was fifteen or sixteen, this was considered old enough to marry, but it was not likely that Henry would go for her at this age. Henry had already stated that such an age was too young. Katherine Howard was not uneducated or stupid or a flighty whore. She was able to carry herself well enough in public as a great lady to make an impression, she could dance, was musical, could read and write, owned a French language Bible, appears to have been generous and charitable, interceded for courtiers, took clothing for the elderly Lady Margaret Pole in the Tower, and obviously kept the King happy.

    Did Katherine Howard commit adultery with Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham. Yes, I believe that she did. We have little evidence that she had sexual intercourse with either that is reliable. Many coincidental things can be constructed to make a case for guilt but direct evidence points to meetings and conversations, little else. Indirrect evidence from hostile witnesses put her in her room with Culpepper, in the stool clozzet and several different places. Katherine sent him a love letter; she acted recklessly and I believe that she did have extra martial sex with him. What about Dereham? He was a crazy character, had a reputation for rape, he could have pushed Katherine into rekindling their romance in order to keep his mouth shut about the past, he boasted and used offensive language around the queen and her ladies and he certainly hoped Katherine would sleep with him. His testimony set up Culpepper.

    Dereham was charged with presumptive treason, wishing the King dead so that he could marry the queen, wishing to have sex with the queen and endangering the succession had she conceived a child, then presumed to be her husband’s heir. Both he and Katherine denied adultery although he later pleaded guilty. Culpepper accused Katherine of leading him on, he denied adultery. Both blamed Jane Rochford who brought Katherine lovers to her and was executed for hiding knowledge of the goings on and facilitating them. Katherine Howard was not tried, she was found guilty by an Act of Attainer in Parliament. The Lords were so discontent about the process that it took six readings for the bill to pass
    A request for the queen to be allowed to come to the House to testify was turned down by the King. We also have Katherine confession, but this is ambiguous. Katherine gave full details of her early relationships, but part of the confession is contradictory. She was not believed. Culpeper also seems to have wanted more from Katherine, she may have loved him. He did her no favours when questioned. I believe that she did have sex with Culpepper, I think she was foolish and did not think, but her real downfall was hoping to get away with cheating on Henry Viii. The information on her guilt may be poor but if she did commit adultery and treason, then she was reckless and must take responsibility for her own actions and the terrible fate that these crimes brought.

    1. Hannele says:

      Catherine made a confession and died bravely, so she took responsibility for her actions.

      But one cannot seriously call her actions crimes even if the Act of Succession was dubiously interpreted in that way.

      Adultery was considered a sin, and whether Catherine was guilty of that, she at least behaved foolishly by meeting Culpepper, considering the fate of Anne Boleyn. But no other king punished her queen with death. Annulment or divorce plus nunnery or exile was quite enough.

      Henry could not admit that the chief fault was his. If an old fat man marries a young woman, he is a fool.

      As for Catherine being a consenting adult, when the king wanted to marry her, the decision was not hers but the her family’s.

      1. Maryann Pitman says:

        No other English King…..you might check on the fate of the wives of the sons of Plhlippe le Bel Roi de France. Two of them were imprisoned and likely murdered for crimes very similar to those KH was attainted for. The chastity of the Queen had to be unquestioned in order for the succession to be secure, so extramarital activity could easily and fairly be considered treason. The British Crown still makes an issue of virginity in the wife of the heir. That said, KH was very young, although an adult by the mores of the day, even at seventeen, perhaps dazzled at the prospect of becoming Queen, and probably scared to death of her uncle, all reasons to keep quiet. Her grandmother accepted responsibility for her, and then abrogated that responsibility by failing to supervise her adequately. I still do not understand why she was not kept closer to the Duchess. Why relegate her to the maids’ hall? Where was the adult supervision at night?

    2. Hannele says:

      Even the Act of Succession could not have interpreted that sleeping with the woman before she married with the king was a crime. That was made a law only later. And nobody could take Dereham’s boasting seriously.

      Considering that Culpepper was “only” beheaded although he had actually betrayed the king (if not in deed, then at least his trust), it was monstrous that Dereham was condemned for a horrible death simply for making Henry look foolish.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Hello, Hannele, yes, a good point, adultery was a sin, which is why other charges were added to form treason under the treason act of 1534, such as presumptive treason which includes conspiracy to plot the King’s death, or imagine the same… It’s argued in Lacy Baldwin Smith that by hoping to be together after Henry died, that Dereham and Culpepper imagined the Kings death, implications of Katherine agreeing, although evidence is lacking. The fact that she was condemned, not by the normal due process of law, but by the legal cheat of Act of Attainer, passing a law which listed the charges, then voted and declared her guilty shows the entire thing is flawed. Henry was embarrassed by the public trial of Anne Boleyn and her co accused, this is believed to be why Katherine Howard was not tried.

        The article makes good points about the anger that Henry felt, much of which seems to have been around her not being a virgin or his failure to notice, although apart from the misunderstood sign of the hymein breaking and blood on the sheets, which we now know it can break from exercise, men know nothing. Henry directed the balance of his revenge for Dereham for having relations with Katherine and as he put it, spoiling her, which in one sense backs up the argument that she was killed for this reason. It was also argued by the authorities that the appointment of Dereham as her Secretary was an intentional action with the view to being lovers again, but this was denied as she had started to see Culpepper. Henry definitely took it out more on Dereham, commuting the full legal penalty for treason to beheading for Culpepper and not Dereham. Culpepper had served Henry in an intimate capacity, he had some affection for him, but his treatment of Dereham shows violent hatred. He also seems to have shown that same hatred for Katherine, his grief giving way to murderous anger.

        1. Hannele says:

          I return to the matter that other kings did not kill their wives who were guilty of adultery and even treason (armed rebellion). What made Henry so different?

          Usually royal marriages were made for alliances, so it was perhaps easier to a king to deal with an adulterous wife whom he did not love. And even if he wanted to kill her, he could not because she was of the foreign royal family.

          Henry was (or had been) in love with Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard? But what he loved was only his only image of them, and when they showed to be different, his “love” turned to hate.

          There was no point to kill Catherine when the marriage could be annulled. As Catherine herself did not understand it, she could be given an advice to admit a pre-contract.

          But as a narcissistic, Henry was incapable to put himself in other’s position and feel empathy towards them. They existed only for him.

          Or was it simply that Henry could not bear to be a laughingstock? It was better to be feared.

          Or was he only used that all problems could be solved by axe?

        2. Christine says:

          Yes she had no chance whatsoever of defending herself, that was terribly unjust, every person when accused of something should have a fair trial, I think Henry did that so he would be spared the embarrassment of another trial, but it was unfair to Catherine, I don’t think she was particularly immoral, she lost her mother when she was young and was sent to live with her elderly grandmother and I think was just led astray by the rather lax morals in her household, she is said to have taken food to the Countess Of Salisbury in the Tower, that shows a caring nature and she was never accused of being vindictive and arrogant by anyone, she seems to have been a rather sweet naive girl who longed for affection and was taken advantage of by others, her tragedy was that she was married to a man who had absolutely no understanding of her and who was not of a forgiving nature.

    3. Selina says:

      The fact that you have “little sympathy” for a young girl that has been beheaded in the prime of life, regardless of the circumstances, is just sad.

      1. BanditQueen says:

        Hi Hannele, I wish I knew what made Henry so different, I think I could publish a book and get rich, it is a question I doubt could ever be answered with any degree of satisfaction. His bang on his temperol lobes after his jousting accident in 1536 has been often cited, changing his personality as we know it does with American football players who have accidents without their helmets or just the build up of head clashes so that they are affected over a period of time, as they start very young and experts say that because the brain has not fully become adult, it makes them more likely to snap and commit murder, because of such an accident. Another theory is that the Medieval world had a much more developed sense of chivilary when it came to women, although this meant that they also saw ladies as not being fully responsible for their own actions, killing them was not done, they could be placed under the control of a male relative or the king or other authority figure; Henry was also believed to be a psycopath, and ten thousand more reasons. He certainly stands out in the ordering the death of his wives. Even the 16 year old Christina of Milan did not want to marry him due to the loss of so many wives in a short period of time. She said that if she had two heads she would marry him, but she has just one. There were a number of cases when the wives and children of traitors were not killed or held responsible. They may lose their property, but in some cases this was given to their sons. In the case of Cromwell, he lost all his property but his wife was not held responsible, his son was also given a title and allowed to serve the King. It did not always follow that spouses and kids were penalized. The case of the entite family and relations of Katherine Howard being rounded up and bullied and placed in the Tower was also cruel and extreme; the elderly Duchess and her sisters and cousins and other ladies and daughters were all interigated and placed in the Tower, they were not released for several months; it was terrible. One theory is that none of these other women were married to the King and cheated on him; the exception being Eleanor of Aquitaine, but she could not be killed, she was too powerful, Henry II did imprission her for years, her son Richard released her. Each case of course is different and the circumstances vary.

        For example you mentioned Margaret of Anjou, the widow of Henry VI who was murdered in the Tower once the House of Lancanster was exstinct, in that his son was now also dead, being killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Edward of Lancaster was her only son and he was seventeen at the time; he was either killed on the field of battle or in the route afterwards, or he was murdered; the sources do not agree, but it was more likely the former. Anne Neville, daughter of the now traiterous Warwick the Kingmaker and Margaret were found in the Abbey and taken into custody. Edward showed mercy and spared them; Anne seen maybe as an innocent pawn, but as an ex queen Margaret was treated according to her rank. She was of course kept in a monastic establishment and close custody for a few years but she was allowed to return home. This was because she was no longer a threat, had nothing more to fight for. But the reason is simpller than this; medieval chivilary may have protected both ladies. This was particularly remarkable as Margaret of Anjou had ordered the bodies of Richard Duke of York and his son Edmund, Killed at Wakefield to be struck of and placed on the Micklemas Gate at York. This showed that she was vengeful, yet she and Henry spared the lives of Cecilly Neville his wife and her sons when she was taken captive at Ludlow. Did she show mercy or did Henry? May-be the latter rather than the will of Margaret.

        In the case of Margaret Beaufort who was constantly working to save the claim and the lives of her son Henry Tudor, but was indeed involved in plots, particularly against Richard III when she was married to Lord Stanley, when she was involved in the Buckingham conspiracy, a conspiracy to replace Richard III, and a conspiracy with the Woodvilles. In the last conspiracy that she was involved, Richard showed mercy by sparing her, even though as you state she was a traitress to him. She was instead placed under the authority of her husband, who had showed that he was not in the plot, she lost control of her property, her wine and her money, she was also watched and controlled by Lord Stanley. Richard did not believe that on this occasion he needed to execute a woman and he was also aware that Margaret was very pius; he did not want to be seen as killing a female saint or to give other women any reason to see her as a martye. He also was far more chivilarious when it came to women than most kings or high lords. He acted out of this code in the case of Margaret. And why kill her when you can just control her?

        (Richard did not act quite as well towards one woman, whose land and property that he was after, the widowed Countess of Oxford but he was known for his defence of the heiress of Harrington Castle in Northumberland against the claims of Lord Stanley)

        Elizabeth Woodville is another good example that you quote, but as her first husband was killed in battle she like so many others were not held as culpable, although she lost her lands and had to ask Edward for them back on behalf of her two sons. She was less lucky when her father and son were killed by Warwick, she was however in Westminster Sanctuary, and Warwick did not act on any authority but his own. As she was now queen she was maybe seen as to be given some respect. After her second husband, the restored Edward IV, died she fled again to sanctuary and stayed there afraid of Richard of Gloucester now Lord Protector. Her daughters were with her. Her eldest son was in the custody of Richard and Buckingham and came to the Tower to wait to be crowned. This of course did not happen and Richard sent an armed guard to surround the place and persuade her to hand over her second son, Richard. We have no evidence that the Princes were killed, but it is the most likely senario, but Richard is not the only suspect. However, the boys were declared bastards and he was offered the crown by the three estates as the only legitimate York heir left. It could be argued that he usurped the crown, but this is not my view as a Ricardian and he was in fact given evidence that his nephews had no claim to the crown as his brother had a former sexual relationship with Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. He legitimately had his nephews set aside, in his view and he declared them bazards by the act of Parliament that was then revered by Henry Tudor. Richard also believed that Elizabeth was plotting against him, but even after her son and brother were executed for treason, she and her daughters were spared. A deal was struck and she was allowed to come out of sacntuary. Her daughters were also allowed and came to court. They were treated with honour. I believe that Richard spared them as they were no longer any threat to him; they were not heirs to the crown any more and they were female. He saw no value in causing them any harm. A deal was also made; even though Elizabeth possibly went on to plot with Margaret Beautfort to gain Henry Tudor the crown via her daughter, Elizabeth of York and the Yorkist exiles. Richard acted out of mercy and kindness because that was who he was; Henry VIII was a different personality.

        Before the accident in 1536, however, it could be argued that Henry was kind and had a merciful personaility and could treat women well and with curtesy. The accident, however is not the start of his mistreatment of women, the divorce is. A man can change over so many years of stress and argument and a bitter fight with his wife. The need to protect the succession meant that his marriage to Anne Boleyn had consequences that show Henry in a poor light, but that legislation was as much pushed by Cromwell as the King. He did attempt to show kindness to Katherine up to the time when he found out that she had cheated on him, for which we have scanty evidence, the time that he believed that she was plotting to kill him or wish him dead and marry one of her lovers. Then he lost it. Was this part of the on-going mood swings that he now had, or was he just cruel? Was it both? He did not solve all problems with the axe before 1533, nor afterwards although it seems that way. I do think that he saw female traitors, even high born ones as no different to men; especially as they were his wives, which of course makes it all the more personal.

        1. Banditqueen says:

          Two other interesting women either involved in royal plots or counter plots and one of these was tried for witchcraft and treasonous nacromancy, Constance of York and Eleanor Cobbum, both Duchess of Gloucester. Constance was the daughter of Edward of Langley, son of Edward iii, and she became first involved in an attempt to restore Richard ii, as rightful King, but was pardoned, before siding with her husband in a plot to kill Henry IV, five years later. Her husband was beheaded, but Constance was Imprisoned. Her sex and rank saved her because of the way high born women were regarded in the Middle Ages. Eleanor Cobbum was partly the victim of her husband, Humphrey or Gloucester ambitious eyes on the throne, his adultery and treason. She was tried for prophetic talk about the King, fortune telling and communication with the dead on the future of the crown, but her crimes were more likely exaggerated. She was accused with three others, all of lower rank who were killed, but her status saved her life. Eleanor did public penance.

          I believe that by the time of Henry Viii, despite his own reliving the idea of chivalry, many of the beliefs which had protected women of rank were done. Tudor Society was a more fluid one, the great noble families were not as influential as they were, Henry was so desperate to have a son and heir that he allowed the promotion of three families through marriage to a daughter. This allowed factions to jostle for power, rumours and accusations to flow, the passing of new treason laws, adultery to be called petty treason, the break from Rome, the end of old structures, and many changes in the King’s personality led to his view of women and his wives to be cruel and extreme. He saw the alleged adultery as dangerous because it put the succession in doubt. By alleging that this went further to plotting with her lover to kill Henry, his queens could be changed with high treason, punishable by death. No longer would status or sex protect a woman. In most of the examples we have made, none of the King’s were married to the woman who betrayed them. Henry felt betrayed by the woman he loved, by the wife he saw as perfect, it was more personal, the hurt that much deeper. Couple all of this with his possible brain injury and growing sense of paranoia, the mix is toxic and partly explains why he was the first to execute women of high rank and two of his wives. We cannot explain to any degree of satisfaction why Henry did what even the totally insane Plantagenet King’s had not, but we can analyse and work out, based on the sources, expert medical analysis and psychological profiling. Even then much more is only speculation as the evidence is lacking or we cannot cross the centuries for to witness things ourselves.

          Finally, you are quite right, we do need to look at Culpepper, his own behaviour is far from honourable. He could have been more professional in his conduct, stayed away, save on the King’s business, not have been so foolish himself. He admired Katherine, that is as far as he was meant to go. He said Katherine seduced him, very gallant. We have no evidence that the couple had a sexual relationship, but meeting in secret late at night was dangerous. Both were in danger, not discrete and yes, he could have acted more responsible by remaining in the King’s chambers, not the Queens. He certainly bares the responsibility to protect the Queen and if Katherine is unfairly condemned by historians as a sexual predator, then just what does this make Culpepper? He was not treated in the same way because of the double standard portraying women in a more sexually deviant light than men, back then and today.

        2. Tidus Jecht says:

          I don’t believe it was an accident that changed Henry into such a tyrant. I think it was the long, senseless, ridiculous, battle to divorce KOA.
          I also have to wonder if he hadn’t had that ridiculous, long battle with KOA to get the divorce, annulment, he may have decided to divorce Anne B instead of killing her.

  19. J Boulter says:

    It is said that had she got to Henry who was in the Chapel, when they came to arrest her he would have stopped it all. They was a Lady ? who also fell foul at the same time cant think of her name.

    The story was that Henry was not able to do much in bed, and Catherine was very good at getting him to do it, like a well educated young mistress. The Lady in question got the chop as she was said to have encouraged her to meet Master Tom in the lavertroy,, so she could have a child to pass off as Henry’s.

    The over weight Henry with sore on his leg could no longer dance, I dont see because she danced with other men word upset Henry. His legs smelled so bad it was said to be off putting.

    In fact who really knows what when on. Just that a young kill was killed for having a lover before marrying Henry and said to have had one in the Lavertroy

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, who was one of Catherine’s ladies, was executed along with Catherine for helping Catherine and Culpeper meet.

    2. Hannele says:

      To J Boulter

      Catherine did not got to Henry. She could not for he had already the palace.

      It was an usual habit to deny the access to king when a person was suspected. That meant that they were already in practice condemned.

      Henry allowed to meet only Cranmer and Katherine Parr, and both were saved.

  20. Anne fan says:

    I think all women regardless of who they were are victims of the patriarchy back in those days. We still have countries in modern times that shame women and want to control their virginity, bodies and sexuality. Such a shame. Men have never been treated the same way at the same extent as women have.

    1. Hannele says:

      Was Margaret Beaufort a victim?

      Besides, she was clearly guilty of treason, but unlike men, she was not killed nor even imprisoned but her custody as well as her fortune was only given to her husband which meant that she could continue her activity for her son, Henry Tudor.

      Also Margaret of Anjoy and Elizabeth Woodiville saved their lives, when their husbands or sons were killed.

      So there was also benefits by being a woman, at least being a noble woman.

      Men were dependent on woman because whatever men did, it did matter, if their women did not bore children. But women were dependent on biology.

      1. Selina says:

        Well, not really. It was the patriarchy’s standards that made it necessary for women to depend on biology.

        That one “advantage” women had didn’t make up for all the disadvantages, and even then it’s debatable, considering Margaret Pole, Jane Grey, women who were burned at the stake for heresy, like Anne Askew, or women who had been victims of witch hunts.

        1. Hannele says:

          Do you mean that without patriarchy biology would have been different (women could have bore children if they wanted to) or that women could have valued even if they had no children?

          I mean of course that time *before* Henry women accused of treason were treated more lenient than men in that they did not lose their lives. Of course, because they could not rule themselves, it was enough to kill their husbands and sons. And maybe it was harder to live after them.

          I think it is degrading to regard women in history as victims as they did not see themselves like that and many of them had probably more courage and perseverance than women in today.

  21. Very much enjoyed reading this. Kyra has condensed a lot into a short space.

    As regular visitors to the AB Files will be aware, I have been researching Katherine for several years (at least six), but the work had actually started as a short piece on Norfolk House in Lambeth, where she lived with her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.

    I have deliberately given myself a 12-month break from the research as I needed to step back and look ‘with a fresh eye’, and to some extent to extricate myself from the arguments over Katherine’s behaviour, which were taking-over what is essentially research on the fate of her co-accused who had lived at Norfolk House with her.

    What strikes me more than anything else is how, once one starts looking seriously beyond the confines of the crop of books written about her, so little evidence actually exists for events in Katherine’s life. In reality we have no idea whether or not Katherine and the other girls were given lessons on how a young woman hopeful of one day making a good marriage should behave; surely in such an exalted household, it would be fair to assume they were. Frequently the Dowager Duchess is casually written-off as a dotty old woman who didn’t do her duty by the girls in her care, but this is a harsh judgement based on a few documents and statements that can be interpreted to fit any argument – and certainly have been!

    In 1497, as Agnes Tilney, the Dowager had herself been the young bride of an older man, when at about 20 years of age she married the 50-year-old Earl of Surrey, widower of her cousin Elizabeth Tilney, who had died only a few months earlier. Her husband had the dukedom of Norfolk restored to him in 1514, and in 1526 his widow was, under the Ordinances of Eltham, declared to be the first lady of the land after the King’s sister Mary. She was godmother to both Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth.

    To my way of thinking, a woman in such an exalted position would have expected that once she had laid down the law regarding behaviour, then the girls in her care would have obeyed the rules without question. True, in the 1530’s, when Katherine was having liaisons with Manox and Dereham, the Duchess was into her sixties and old for the times, but even David Starkey, who accuses her of keeping a sort of lax boarding school, notes that she was immediately galvanised into action when the comings and goings at Lambeth Palace opposite her home indicated trouble, and concedes she had a ‘forensic brain’.

    1. BanditQueen says:

      Marilyn may I ask what evidence is there that Katherine Howard found Henry VIII repulsive and that she was seeing Culpepper because of this? I have never seen any source that backs up this, which I think is a modern way of thinking being placed on her times. Even if she was this way inclined, I think it is very sad as you are not justified to sleep with another person just because your husband is old or ill. In fact from what I have read, Henry went out of his way to protect her when his leg was very bad by staying away from her and sending her messages and presents. She was left to her own devices, she may have gotten board and found being in younger company appealled to her. Henry did not object when she danced with others, he gave her expensive gifts, he spoiled her, he was always kind to her, yes when he was depressed he stayed away and she may have been insecure as some rumours came that he would go back to Anne of Cleves, but he did not intend this. There is nothing recorded about her being repulsed by the King; although his ulcers would not be attractive, he was over weight, but he was also treating her very well indeed. If she did distract herself with other young men who were flattering then perhaps she just wanted company, felt she was not being forfilled, but we have little evidence of anything, from what you have said a few times. I find modern ideas that it is an excuse to find your husband repulsive when then are ill or to be allowed to have a fancy man on the side terrible. If Katherine was like this then she is shallow, but I have also read that she was kind and sensitive so the idea does not go with her character. My husband has a stoma bag and a weight problem and I do not find him repulsive. Many older people have problems with ulcers on their legs due to the skin being thinner. I just wonder how some people commenting that Henry smelled and was repulsive would cope if their spouse became ill or disabled or disfigured. It seems a very shallow point of view to take. Again, I was just asking if there is any evidence for this in the case of Katherine Howard and what she thought of the King or is this a modern myth and hollywood yet again?

      Thanks in advance

      Lyn-Marie Bandit Queen.

      1. I don’t know of any reliable source that says Katherine was repulsed by Henry. It would, as you say, appear that he was very kind to her, and when he was ill it was not just her, but almost everyone, he did not wish to see.

        I don’t think we can see them in the same light a couple of our own times, or of their own times either. Apart from the age gap, which was not all that unusual, there was the overwhelming fact that he was the king, so his relationship with any woman was going to be different from the usual. In my draft for the book I say I believe she would see him as being almost semi-divine, and to be chosen as his queen, mate and companion would have been a huge surprise and a staggering challenge for the young girl, who most probably had not been expecting any great match.

        People say I am naive to suggest Katherine and Culpeper were speaking the truth when they denied adultery, but there is no proof, as far as I am aware, against them, and until there is, I don’t think it is acceptable to brand them as liars. I think Katherine wanted some male company of her own age, and of her own choosing. There might have been more to it, or, as Culpeper said, it might eventually have developed into something else, but the truth is we just don’t know.

        1. Hannele says:

          To Marilyn Roberts

          Of course Catherine and Culpeper *could* tell the truth.

          However, one’s own word is never enough. One should never take a politician’s memoirs at face value.

          As I have said earlier, it is no likely that a married woman with earlier experiences meets a single man alone during the night simply for talking.

          In the interrogations both had a very strong motive to lie in order to save their own live and the life of another, even if Culpeper at last admit their intent, probably not conscious that it was as incriminating.

          If Catherine simply “wanted some male company of her own age, and of her own choosing”, and was not satisfied to have it during the day when her ladies were present, she was even more a fool she was for then she endanger her life and the life of Culpeper not for love, or even for lust, but simply for nothing.

        2. Banditqueen says:

          Thanks Marilyn, I have enjoyed your previous book on Anne Mowbray, and know that you are examining the Howard archives for years, so you have been something of an expert in this case. I look forward to reading your work on Katherine and the family from a fresh and thoroughly researched examination of the sources and evidence. Thanks for your response. Good luck with your research. It is never nieve to believe that someone is innocent of what history or people say about them, especially when the evidence does not bare out there accusations. Belief in innocence or guilt is a subjective, personal thing, historians can believe that the something happened, but as you say we cannot state it as given facts, when the evidence is lacking. Thanks again and good luck.

      2. Hannele says:

        To BanditQueen

        Whether Catherine found Henry repulsive or not, she could hardly have said it aloud to anybody (except Culpeper who would hardly told it in the interrogations). So it is no wonder that there is no trace it in the sources.

        However, there were at that time many tales about an old man betrayed a young lusty wife, so it *is* a possibility.

        On the other, publicly Katherine behaved well towards Henry, and evidently (on the basis of his indulgence) she did so also in private.

        Whether Catherine’s behavior was justified – well, that is not a question. People had affairs then and they have them now, whether we regard them right or not. We can hardly say anything relevant about them solely on the basis of our experience. In addition, a woman could earlier seldom chose her husband.

        In fiction we are able to understand people because we know the thoughts and feelings f.ex Anna Karenina. In history we know usually only their actions.

      3. Hannele says:

        To BanditQueen

        I read again Kyra’s book. She makes a good case how Catherine felt lying under Henry’s massive body when he tried to impregnate her, that being the only position that was not regarded sinful. That would have been repulsive for most women.

        Kyra makes also another good point. Katherine’s family had in practice “sold” her to a marriage with the king because of its benefits – so sex with Henry was exactly what is usually meant with prostitution.

        That is not at all the situation as the modern woman who has married a man from her own free will and usually for love. So if he becomes old and/or sick, she usually wants to help him.

        Kyra does not think that Catherine actually had sex with Culpepper,but she had done with Dereham, so Kyra’s thesis that Catherine was actually condemned for behaving like a man – having sex simply for fun.

  22. Hannele says:

    Why are we discussing only about Catherine’s character and morality but nothing is said those of Culpeper?

    It is true that men and women had different rules of sex. Yet there was an exception: adultery with one’s lord’s wife was the ultimate betrayal of trust. Culpeper owed everything he had to Henry.

    Antonia Fraser says in Six wives that, whereas thirty years ago men like Charles Brandon had used their charm to become the king’s boon companion, now an ambitious man like Culpeper could with his charm curry favor from the queen – who perhaps could become some a dowager queen and then have more favors to bestow.

    Of course we cannot know whether this is true. Yet, Culpeper was older and more experienced at court than Catherine, so his responsibility is greater.

  23. Hannele,

    Banditqueen asked me what, after years of research, I thought about Katherine and Culpeper, and I answered as honestly as I could, based on what I know.

    I’m a little taken aback by your rather dismissive response to that and, not wishing to be confrontational, would say that your statement: “As I have said earlier, it is no likely that a married woman with earlier experiences meets a single man alone during the night simply for talking”, is also only an opinion. You are quite entitled to that opinion, just as I am entitled to mine. Let’s be honest, on the available evidence, neither of us can prove our point.

    1. Hannele says:

      To Marilyn Roberts

      I am sorry that you feel offended.

      I should have rather asked why you think Catherine told the truth, what is your opinion about her character and what *other* evidence you have?

      1. Surprised rather than offended, but thank you for the apology.

  24. Christine says:

    I also think it was the several blows on the head that changed his personality, any knocks to the head are dangerous which is why doctors have tried to get boxing banned for years, the second one when he was unconscious for several hours must have caused more damage, it’s difficult to equate the young Henry with his sunny personality with the old tyrant of later years, that Henry would never have sent two wives to the block I’m sure, King George was made to step down whilst his son ruled as regent and there are cases in history where other Kings have had to do the same as they were diagnosed as insane, yes the Plantagenet Kings several of whom had unfaithful wives but they certainly were not put to death, King John had his Queens lovers strung up and dangled from her bed post, and then there was Eleanor Henry 11s Queen and Isabella the wife of Edward 11, all those women make Katherine Howard look like a vicars daughter, it’s true what Bandit Queen says about the sense of chivalry too, women were treated different because they were the fairer sex and the order of chivalry stood in the medieval period, Henry was well known for his sense of chivalry and yet he passed the law making it treason for his Queens to commit adultery knowing that the punishment was death, and all this happened after the earlier jousting accident which nearly killed him, I don’t think a nice person becomes cruel just like that, although we all change slightly as we grow older due to the experiences of life, knock backs can lead to disillusion and we become more cynical, it’s all part of life but what happened to Henry I believe was the head injury that was responsible for his personality change, the fact that he couldn’t divorce Katherine and in the end settled for an annulment after years of wrangling and having to deal with two difficult women at the same time, (Katherine and Anne), the deaths of some of his closest advisors and his daughter Mary’s stubbornness, all these factors didn’t exactly help either, he could well have suffered with depression which is also responsible for a bad temper, Anne rocked the boat of his hitherto easy existence although he was tired of Katherine and was in talks with Wolsey about a French marriage, so yes I do think that Henry wasn’t exactly responsible for his actions in later years due to his head injury, it didn’t make him insane but I think it was responsible for the actions he took against the people in his life, his increasing paranoi which is a form of mental illness and his increasing bad temper and he died young at just forty five a bloated parody of his former self.

    1. Hannele says:

      To Christine

      I doubt that any kings at those violent times were nice, because that quality they surely would lost their crown.

      As for Henry, if a person behaves well when all do as he wishes, does not tell anything about his true personality. It is shown only when he meets adversity.

      When he became a king, Henry killed his father’s two advisers – not for what they had done but in order to curry favor from the people. That show his true personality far better than his celebrated good humor.

      A man who could abandon Katherine and Wolsey, could kill his friend Thomas More and then he could kill his wives.

  25. Diane says:

    I have 3 questions.

    1. Although I think it unlikely that Anne repeated her sister’s folly in France after seeing the way it affected her reputation. I do wonder if she would have at least considered surrendering her virginity with Henry Percy in the hopes of becoming the next Countess of Northumberland if Wolsey and the King had not stepped in. After all having premarital sex was considered a precontract and at that time she was merely Lady Anne with no family title.
    2. Do you think Catherine Howard told her family before she married the King that she wasn’t a virgin. She seems to be too naive not have and that could have been her ticket to freedom unless her family convinced her to keep quiet about it in which case that makes them collaborators in her guilt at least.
    3 Much is made of Henry VIII change in behavior after his accidents but could another factor be that by the time he went all piggy eyed her had removed all the people who kept him in check and he finally knew his power. After all Thomas More once advised “Master Cromwell, you are now entered in the service’ of a most noble, wise, and liberal prince. If you will follow my poor advice, you shall, in your counsel-giving to his Grace, ever tell him what he ought to do, but never what he is able to do. For if the lion knew his own strength, hard were it for any man to rule him”

    1. Hannele says:

      2.

      I doubt there was an upper-class girl who told her family that she had had pre-marital sex in an age when it was not accepted.

      How would you know that she wanted freedom (which did not exist, it was only spinsterhood in modest circumstances) rather than a high position as Queen and riches?

  26. Dorothy from Canberra says:

    Thank you all you lovely people for sharing your opinions and knowledge of these fascinating people of the past. I have spent several enthralling sessions googling hitherto unknowns who pop up in the discussions and look forward to reading lots more interesting snippets of lives lived in “interesting” (and dangerous) times.

  27. bruno says:

    Hello – I know I am sort of late when reacting on different posts of this site – I however find it very interesting and informative . That was precisely what was really missing in the film “Tudors” .
    I have read there that ladies staying at french court rarely went back as being still virgins.
    I can understand it was common gossip – the “best enemies” France and England ! 😉 .
    I heard the same in Rhys-Meyer’s mouth (as a forever young and much excitable K H) about K François I’s sister ie Marguerite of Valois widow to the duke of Angoulême (insinuating that she had a lot of lovers, in the physical meaning of the word).
    That is very untrue for one who has information on the french court at the time : royal princesses were never left alone in a room, being looked upon by their ladies-in-waiting not to speak of soldiers keeping the doors …
    Queen Claude, as Queen Anne’s daughter, had been saintly and stiffly educated and would never have admited a lady in her court with lose morals.
    What I tell about princesses is true even for any lady of the court.
    Things changed – but slowly : it was only with Louis XIV’s reign that the royal court could allow such “liaisons” (the king dismissed the beautiful but too strict Madame de Navailles because she kept an eye on the “filles d’honneur”, with whom he rather intended to flirt).
    Coming back to the subject – Katherine Howard’s lack of virginity, I am a bit surprised such a thing is possible – except for the twice-widowed Katherine Parr-Latimer, his last spouse, he and the whole court expected the new queen to be perfectly virginal.
    This matter was so important to any man that I can’t imagine a young girl to take the risk of being “discovered” when knowing the fate deservedeven to more serious queens .
    Catherine of Aragon was known as having kept her maidenhood after her short-lived wedding with young Prince Arthur.
    Anne Boleyn also was a virgin when courted by K H.
    Jane Seymour, known for her modest behavior as lady-in-waiting, a virgin.
    Anne of Cleves, unattractive german princess grown in a very narrow court, another virgin.
    K H’s comments on some details of her anatomy appear as rude jokes intended to his male friends and closest courtiers.
    That is why I find hardly believable that he would have accepted a wife like a Howard girl with this “defect” (lack of virginity), or have waited so long before gte rid of her.
    His “naivety” on the subject – knowing his sexual activity for so long and with so much different women and his talks with men like Charles Brandon, that is no angels at all – is highly surprising – well, it is my opinion…
    Now, please excuse my rather “abrupt” expression – it is due to my bad english, words are lacking (and about this very interesting article, I am a bit embarrassed, being not sure to understand it).
    Congratulations to your site again – what I believe I undersatnd sounds so relevant .
    After the film, we need something serious – of course, I don’t want to show anger about it but a good photograph, lovely actresses, handsome K H (not to say a very candid Charles Brandon, his brother-in-law, who actually was rather sort of a sexual predator, who seeked first ageing widows and, in the end of his life, young heiresses of thirteen…)
    Very spectacular, sometimes charming but on a historical point of view, not convincing at all

  28. Maryann Pitman says:

    Poor little Howard…..it’s really sad to think how little supervision there was for such a young girl. It seems odd she was not kept closer to her step grandmother….rather than dropped in among the household, hardly the way to groom a young noblewoman for a noble marriage. The people she was thrown in with were certainly not her social equals, and none seemed to think it necessary to protect her…..you would think there would have been some sort of chaperone for the girls, rather than just locking them in a room at night.

    She certainly led a neglected life. No guidance, and bad examples to follow. She behaved in a natural way, given her surroundings. As to Culpepper, I’m not so sure she was innocent. She loved him, and there could be no benefit to her at any time to admit guilt, except perhaps in confession. Even after sentencing, an admission could only make things worse for the families, and perhaps in terms of the method of execution. She may have hoped for a baby to keep Henry happy. Who knows?

    She was young, immature, not raised to be royalty, somewhat impulsive. She wasn’t a monster or a slut. Just a young girl who wanted to be loved by a young man. A young girl not suited to be Queen, shoved onto the throne by her ambitious family and infatuated King.

    It was still in the Tudor period a simple fact that nobility married to advance the family, not for personal happiness, and many a tragedy followed.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      In her step grandmothers household, as with many other large noble families, Katherine Howard would have been one of several young ladies, some related to her, others from gentle families, sent here for protection, education and preparation for the world, to make a good marriage or life at court. The relationship with her grandmother would not be particularly close as Agnus had a large household to run and it was probably not that unusual not to be personally supervised by the Dowager Duchess. Up to 100 people could be staying in the house at any one time, but she was given some supervision. The sexes in theory were seperated, the dorms locked at night, but the key was stolen and young people do as young people have always done, had midnight feasts and fun. The supervision at night was clearly lacking, but I am not so sure this was that unusual. Katherine was obviously closely ckecked up on during the hours the household were awake as the Duchess caught her in uncompromising positions and punished her. Had she been better supervised and chaperoned she may have turned out differently, but she was taught music and dancing and social graces and could carry herself with dignity, she was chosen as maid of honour to Anne of Cleves, so she was certainly trained by someone.

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