Tudor Series: Catherine Howard

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Born: c. 1523, Lambeth

Daughter of Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpepper

Married: Henry VIII, 1540 – 1542 (Her death)

Died: 13th February 1542, Tower Hill

The first cousin of the ill-fated second wife of Henry VIII, Catherine faced the same demise at the chopping block on Tower Hill. Her life was short lived, estimated to have been only 19 when she died – though no birth records for Catherine remain. Barely an adult when she was forced to marry the aging King Henry, her childhood had been marred by the abuse she faced living with her step-grandmother. To me, Catherine is the most tragic of Henry’s six wives and her death was yet again, purely political.

Catherine was born into a distantly aristocratic family, however finances were difficult owing to many children. By 1539, both Catherine’s parents had died and she was living with her father’s step-mother, Agnes Howard, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The Dowager’s living arrangements were incredibly lenient, with her spending much time away at court and little care was taken over her many wards. It was during this time that Catherine was abused by her music tutor, Henry Mannox. She would have only been 13 years old. Her education was limited and it seems that her main skill was the art of seduction, which would later be a major part of her demise.

The Dowager Duchess sent Catherine to court in 1540 after discovering her relations with her Household Secretary, Francis Dareham. Catherine was infatuated by him and believed they would be married on his return from a trip to Ireland. However this was prevented and she was sent to be a lady-in-waiting to Henry VIII’s new Queen, Anne of Cleves. Her young age – most likely only 17, and her inexperienced upbringing did not prepare her for the political dangers of court life. Having quickly attracted the attention of the King, it was not long before she became his mistress. Henry was besotted with Catherine, and was highly attracted to her youthful looks. (He was 32 years older). To demonstrated his love, Henry showered her with expensive gifts and large amounts of land. Once his annulment to Anne of Cleves was finalised, he wed Catherine in a small ceremony.

The marriage initially seemed positive. Catherine was most evidently not as passionately in love as the king, however she greatly respected him. This began to change in late 1540 when one of Henry’s courtiers, Thomas Culpepper caught the teenage Queen’s eye. They began meeting in secret, however Catherine was not so subtle and rumors began to circulate court. This was brought to the attention of the King by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. At first Henry refused to believe it, his infatuation for Catherine ever strong. Yet upon torture, Culpepper admitted to an affair. Further discovery was made to Catherine’s past relations with Francis Dareham and she was stripped of the title of Queen. Dareham and Culpepper were executed, with Dareham enduring the worst by being hung, drawn and quartered. Both of their heads were put on spikes on Tower Bridge, an ominous sight.

Catherine’s verdict took longer to emerge. The King and Cranmer took pity on her, however Henry’s jealousy and anger at her previous sexual relations was victorious, and in February 1542 the order came for her execution. Her final words were of mercy for her soul. She was buried in an unmarked grave on Tower Green. This account of Henry’s 5th Queen shows her to be truly unlucky. Her short life was ended unfairly and far too early. As one of England’s Queen Consorts, she had a very minor impact on the nation. She produced no heirs, and her marriage to Henry lasted barely 18 months. Out of all Henry’s wives, she is the one I most pity.

 

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