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Henry VIII Marries Katherine Howard: The Rose Without a Thorn

Updated on June 16, 2014
Poor Katherine Howard was never ready to be Queen Consort of England
Poor Katherine Howard was never ready to be Queen Consort of England

On July 28, 1540, Henry VIII married his fifth wife, Katherine Howard; although some historians, like David Starkey, put the date as August 8. This was very quickly after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves and so the marriage was done in secret. Her first public appearance as Queen Consort wasn’t until August 8, which is why the date of the marriage is disputed.

Katherine Howard’s Questionable Early Life

Katherine was born between 1520 and 1521, although the date is not definite. Some historians put the date later, making her around 17-years-old when she met the King and became his bride. All that is confirmed is that she wasn’t raised by her parents. Her mother died sometime in the mid 1520s and her father was often in debt and was sent to Calais through his connection with Anne Boleyn, who was cousin to the young Katherine.

Katherine’s father, Edmund Howard, was one of the youngest sons of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, which caused problems for him financially. While Sir Thomas Howard was a wealthy man, most of that wealth went to the older sons. Edmund lost out, hence the reason for his debt. Along with his position in France, it meant that Katherine had to live with her step-grandmother, Agnes Howard (nee Tilsney), the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.

This was a very questionable upbringing. There were many other young women in a single dorm with Katherine. While she was educated a little, she was not raised to be Queen Consort. She was taught the basics of being a lady and did have a music tutor but was never taught the finer details of being a woman. She was relatively promiscuous, with at least two sexual relationships before Henry VIII. Agnes Howard didn’t give the young girls the strict supervision that they needed.

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Henry VIII still missed Jane Seymour
Henry VIII still missed Jane Seymour

Katherine Howard Appears at Court

Katherine Howard’s uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, arranged for Katherine to attend court as lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves. It was here that Henry VIII first set eyes on the young girl. It is worth remembering that he never loved Anne; in fact, he didn’t like her at all. He was unhappy, still missed Jane Seymour and was regularly ill. He needed a woman full of life and someone who would make him forget all about his illnesses. Katherine Howard met those needs.

Henry VIII doubted that Anne of Cleves was a virgin but he was certain of that with Katherine. She was too young to have had relationships in the past. He quickly started sending her gifts of beautiful dresses and jewellery and, unlike her predecessors, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, she gratefully accepted them. Henry had fallen head over heels in love with the young Howard girl. The problem was his marriage to Anne and the fact that he still needed the relationship with Germany.

Once the alliance between France and Spain was over, Henry VIII could start looking for a way out of his marriage to Anne. Thomas Cromwell already knew of a reason why the marriage was invalid and Henry took it. He could now get rid of Thomas Cromwell and marry his new bride, Katherine Howard.

Katherine Howard Wasn’t Ready to be Queen

Poor Katherine Howard was never ready to be Queen Consort. She didn’t really know what it meant to have such power, unlike her predecessors. She wasn’t skilled in negotiations and her upbringing hadn’t prepared her. She had advisors but there was only so much they could help her with. Katherine was young and naïve. She wanted to be able to enjoy the materialistic side of being Queen and leave the political side to her husband.

This should have been beneficial for Henry, except that Katherine likely never loved him. Henry VIII was in his late 40s by the time of the marriage. He was overweight, constantly ill and suspected to be impotent. There was nothing that Katherine could find attractive about him, except his money and power. He provided her the gifts that she wanted and she could have been viewed as a gold-digger with today’s standards.

Henry couldn’t provide her the fun that she wanted. He was regularly in state meetings and when he did have free time, he couldn’t do everything that she would have loved. She needed someone younger who should could have been attracted to, which may had led to her relationship with Thomas Culpepper. There was also a lot of pressure on her to fall pregnant quickly to provide England with another heir and she increased her chances of that by taking another man.

Did the Howard Family Cause Katherine Howard’s Early Death?

It is possible that the Howard family were guilty of Katherine’s early demise. They constantly wanted more power, despite being constantly in favour with the King. They’d proven their want for power earlier during Catherine of Aragon’s reign when they pushed for Mary Boleyn and then Anne Boleyn to meet the King.

There are many suspicions that Thomas Howard, Katherine’s uncle, pushed her towards the King. With her as Queen Consort he would gain more power; and Edmund Howard would definitely have wanted more money! Katherine was simply a pawn and being so young, it was easy for her to get dragged along.

It didn't help that Katherine loved the material possessions that she gained by being Queen. She loved the title, the gowns and the beautiful jewellery. She had been raised on so little her life as Queen was everything she could have asked for; at least, that's what she would have thought at first.

A Fan Video of Katherine Howard and Henry VIII

Katherine Howard had no chance of survival
Katherine Howard had no chance of survival

Henry VIII’s Rose Without a Thorn

Henry nicknamed his fifth wife his “rose without a thorn”. She was everything that he needed and wanted in a woman. She was beautiful and innocent; although not as innocent as he expected. She did have a past and a colourful one at that. While under the care of the Dowager Duchess, Katherine had at least two relationships, one with Henry Mannox and the other with Francis Dereham.

The one with Francis Dereham caused the most problems. They referred to each other as husband and wife and there was an understanding of marriage between them; there was a pre-contract. Interestingly enough, the issue of a pre-contract came up with Henry’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves. Her pre-contract with the son of the Duke of Lorraine made her marriage to Henry invalid. Similarly, Katherine’s pre-contract with Francis Dereham would have made that marriage invalid too.

Katherine refused to admit that there was ever a pre-contract. She was adamant that Francis had often forced himself upon her. Whether she believed that or just feared for her life is unknown. All that is known is her words meant one thing: her relationship with Thomas Culpepper was definitely adulterous and that was treason. This was the same crime that Anne Boleyn had apparently committed and she was executed for it. The same thing would happen to Katherine Howard.

The marriage between Henry VIII and Katherine Howard lasted just over a year. It was annulled on November 22/23 (depending on the source) 1541. However, it took until February 13, 1542 to execute her. Henry was left devastated by the betrayal. The woman he believed to be pure and innocent had lied and made a fool out of him.

© 2013 Alexandria Ingham


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    • aingham86 profile image

      Alexandria Ingham 4 years ago from UK

      You're welcome. I'd have definitely loved to have been there, as long as I could stay on the right side of the right people...

    • amiebutchko profile image

      Amie Butchko 4 years ago from Warwick, NY

      Thanks again for a very interesting and juicy hub! I just love the life of courtiers. Sounds like it was such a fun time... if you didn't get beheaded!

    • aingham86 profile image

      Alexandria Ingham 4 years ago from UK

      Thank you!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      Interesting hub on an interesting period of history that had a great influence on Western civilization. Nice work!