Katherine Howard- the King's Fifth wife
The young Katherine at court
Katherine Howard was a young woman aged about 19 years old, when she came to the court as a lady in the Queen’s court, and captured the eye of the King. Although literate, she was not highly educated and although her family was descended from Edward I by the Mowbray Duke of Norfolk and shared the Boleyn blood, she was brought up in poor circumstances by a feckless and rather lazy father. Katherine was not an innocent girl as Jane Seymour had been. Living in the home of the Duchess Agnes of Norfolk Katherine was introduced to love at an early age. A music teacher named Henry Mannox tried to seduce her and according to Katherine did not succeed. Her second romance was with Francis Dereham a gentleman in the Duchess’ household at Lambeth. There may have been some sort of pre contracted marriage but there was a full sexual union between the couple who regarded each other as a “man and wife”. Katherine was approximately 17 years old at this time and Dereham was transferred to Ireland wherein Katherine appears to have lost her desire for him, this being replaced by the chance of a place at court.
In April 1540 King Henry started to show the value of his interest in Katherine by granting her deeds to confiscated lands. It is believed that during April the King consummated his relationship with Katherine and readily expected the announcement of a baby. On 28th July 1540, Katherine Howard and King Henry were married, meanwhile on the same day the King’s former loyal advisor, Cromwell, was being executed at the Tower of London.
The Rose of England
There were tensions in the court and marriage from the beginning. Katherine was a pleasant young girl married to a man whom she revered as King but who by this time of his life was growing obese and was far from a young man in prime condition. He also came with what we would now call “baggage”, his daughter the Lady Mary was five years older than her step mother and the two girls did not form a friendship and Katherine may have felt that Mary was trying to undermine her position remembering the good relationships she had enjoyed with Henry’s previous two wives. Also at this point of his life was the deterioration of the King’s health. He had suffered with leg ulcers since 1528 and the condition exacerbated by his heavy corpulent body was causing extreme pain which often led him to massive mood swings where he could become very angry very quickly.
It is not known if Henry had physical relations with his young wife or whether he could father a child, what is known is that Henry was blissfully married and happy, which is more than his young wife who was forming a relationship with Thomas Culpepper. He was an ambitious ruthless attractive young man in the prime of life and able to charm the young queen. The couple were able to meet owing to the actions of Jane, Lady Rochford, who “covered” for the Queen’s absenses. Again Tudor politics and strategy came into play. King Henry was old and ill by Tudor standards, his son, Edward was still a very young child, Katherine could be left as the Dowager Queen and the man at her side could be in a very strong position.
Queen Katherine accompanied the King on a progress to the north which was done with pomp, splendour and formality travelling as far north as Hull. The royal party arrived back in Windsor on 1st November 1541 and Henry made a solemn thanksgiving for the success of the tour and his happy marriage to his sweet little English rose.
The very next day, the 2nd November 1541, Katherine’s world started to fall apart at a cataclysmic pace. John Lascelles who was the brother of one of Katherine’s chamber women before she was married, spoke to Archbishop Cranmer explainging that the innocent rose was not quite so innocent as she had seemed on marriage. The King was told that day whilst at mass , it was All Soul’s Day, and the accusations that Lascelles had made were put in the Kings hand in writing. As investigations were made of Dereham and then Culpepper it became clear that the allegations were fact based not fiction. The King was upset and very very angry, feeling that he had been duped into marrying damaged goods. Cranmer was sent to Katherine and he obtained from her a confession supporting a pre contract with Dereham and sought to find a quick solution to extracting the King from this marriage.
The arrest of Queen Katherine
Katherine was arrested on 12 November 1541 and in the meantime torture was used to extract information from witnesses to the events. It is doubtful that Katherine had a “full sexual relationship” with Culpepper but there were many confessions of clandestine meetings and late night moving between bed chambers, The sister in law of Anne Boleyn, Lady Rochford had played her part provoking Culpepper into a relationship with the Queen. Dereham and Culpeper died on 10th December, Dereham by disembowelling and castration whilst still conscious and Culpeper by the executioners axe. Queen Katherine was sent to Syon Court and operated a restricted existence being deprived of the gifts and wealth that the King had given her. On 22 November 1541 the King’s council removed her title of Queen and two days later she was indicted for having led “an abominable, base, carnal voluptuous and vicious life before marriage.”, “ like a common harlot… maintaining the outward appearance of chastity and honesty “ . It continued that she had led the King to live her and “coupled herself with him in marriage”. By concealing the pre contract that she had with Dereham it was to the peril of the King and any children that they may have had together. Added to this she had shown Dereham favour after her marriage to the King and incited Culpeper to intercourse by telling him that she loved him more than the King.
Paying the ultimate price for the King's disfavour
Many of Katherine’s friends and family were taken to the Tower but not the Duke of Norfolk who again survived the fall of his family., these people were released over the next ten months, all that is except Katherine. Katherine was taken from Syon House to the Tower of London on 10th February and shortly afterwards was told that she would die. She was executed on the 13th February 1542 at the same place and on the same block that her cousin, Anne Boleyn had met her death, nearly six months earlier. Her body was buried near to that of her cousin Anne in the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula in the Tower of London. Katherine’s execution was followed by that of Lady Rochford who had been instrumental in gathering evidence to convict her sister in law Anne Boleyn and her husband Thomas Boleyn and send them to their deaths
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