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Katherine Howard: Did Her Upbringing Cause Her Downfall?

Updated on February 7, 2014
Katherine Howard was just a teenager when she married Henry VIII
Katherine Howard was just a teenager when she married Henry VIII

It’s coming up to the execution of Katherine Howard. While most people know that it was for adultery, her past played a part in it. Did Katherine Howard’s upbringing eventually cause her downfall and execution? Let’s look into her past and determine whether it could have played a part.

The Early Life of Katherine Howard

Katherine didn’t get the best start in life. Her father, the brother of the Duke of Norfolk, was the youngest son in the family. This wasn’t the best position and meant that he had very little money. In fact, he was often in debt and couldn’t afford to raise his own children. It was common in the Tudor times for younger sons to struggle for money. Katherine was sent to live with her step-grandmother, who was supposed to give her the upbringing of a lady.

Had Katherine’s father been around more, she may have had a stricter upbringing. She may have stayed away from men like Henry Mannox and Francis Dereham, or would have least learned how to act around them.

While living with the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, the young girl didn’t have the strict supervision that she needed. The dormitory at Lambeth Palace was crowded with other young women; some of those servants of the Dowager Duchess.

However, she did receive some type of education. She wasn’t the most educated of Henry VIII’s wives—in fact, she was probably the least educated for an English lady at court—but she just about knew how to write her name, she could sew and she knew all about music. She loved to dance. This wouldn’t usually be a cause for concern, but living around so many other girls and surrounded by older men in the Dowager Duchess’ care meant that she became flirtatious and liked to have fun.

The Dowager Duchess of Norfolk didn't give Katherine Howard the strictest of upbringings.
The Dowager Duchess of Norfolk didn't give Katherine Howard the strictest of upbringings.

Katherine Howard’s Men at Lambeth Palace

Her upbringing soon led to her meeting two men under the employment of the Dowager Duchess: Henry Mannox and Francis Dereham. The two men showed her attention and she enjoyed it. At the time she was young and impressionable and didn’t really know how to act on the advances of the men.

Henry Mannox was Katherine’s music teacher. In later years, she would acknowledge that they liked each other but nothing ever happened between them; and Henry confirmed her claims. It seems that the Archbishop of Canterbury believed this. However, Francis Dereham proved to be the problem. Actions between them turned out to be the causes of both their downfalls.

During their time together, Francis and Katherine addressed each other as “husband” and “wife.” It was decided later on that this was a spoken contract of marriage. In fact, the two separated when Francis left for Ireland with the agreement that they would marry when he returned. Katherine may not have realized the meaning behind those words. Had she been raised by her own parents or under strict supervision from her step-grandmother, she may have understood more about her actions and how they would be perceived. She was a relatively naïve young lady due to her upbringing.

Katherine Howard Becomes Lady-in-Waiting to Anne of Cleves

Katherine was the third of Henry VIII’s wives to be courted while a lady-in-waiting to one of his current wives. However, while being at court, she also attracted the attention of a member of the Privy Chamber, Thomas Culpepper. Katherine appreciated the admirations of the two men, just like she always had and had never seemed to be taught anything different.

Arguably, when King Henry VIII started to show her affection and wanted to marry her, she had no choice but to accept. She should have explained to him that there was a man waiting for her, who she was already betrothed to. However, her naivety may have been enough to believe that the “betrothal” didn’t count since it was never made official.

She would have also been pressured by her family. Her uncle was the same uncle of Anne Boleyn: the uncle who manipulated everything to help put Anne Boleyn on the throne. He wanted more and more power, and he realized that putting another niece on the throne was his way to do that. He could have even used her father’s debts as a way to encourage her to continue with a relationship with the King of England.

Henry VIII was in his late 40s when he married Katherine Howard.
Henry VIII was in his late 40s when he married Katherine Howard.

It Wasn’t Just Katherine Howard’s Upbringing

Her upbringing definitely wasn’t the only issue for Katherine Howard. Her age was also a factor. She was around 19-year-old—some put her as young as 15—when she attended court. With no life experience and little education, she was in no way mature enough to become Queen of England. Henry VIII should have known that.

He was also in his late 40s by the time they met. It is really no surprise that her eyes strayed. Thomas Culpepper was much younger, good looking and someone Katherine could have fallen in love with. It wasn’t fair for such an old man to lure such a young girl to him; but fair wasn’t the way that Henry VIII played.

Of course, her relationship with Thomas may not have been everything Henry VIII believed it was. They never admitted to having a sexual relationship, but there was a love letter found from Katherine to Thomas. This letter may have fabricated as it was found at Thomas’ home, but it was used as evidence nevertheless.

In the end, it can be very difficult to decide whether it was her upbringing that caused her downfall or not. It likely played a part. Her lack of education and flirtatious personality also played a part. However, considering the Bill of Attainder against her was for her past indiscretions more than those with Thomas Culpepper, it is important to consider how she was raised.


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