Women of Royalty
Katherine Howard
Katherine Howard
     By the time that Henry VIII had divorced Anne of Cleves he was already in love with the young Katherine Howard, the cousin of Henry's second wife Anne Boleyn. Born in 1521, the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpepper, Katherine was not raised a true Howard relative. While the Howards were powerful people at the court of Henry VIII, Katherine's family was poor. She and her 10 brothers and sisters grew up in the countryside of England and Katherine never received an education. When she was a young girl of around 12, Catherine was taken to live at the house of her grandmother, the Duchess of Norfolk, a very powerful woman in the Howard family. Katherine's life with her grandmother was very different than that of her childhood. Her grandmother had a large mansion at Lambeth, which housed her many maids and young men, who she loved to have around. Although Katherine was still a young woman, she fell in love with a man named Henry Mannox, a musician who served the duchess. She was 15 at the time, in 1536, and was in London, where her grandmother had decided to move the household after Katherine's cousin, Anne Boleyn, became the queen of England. Katherine's grandmother was constantly away from her, visiting Anne at Greenwich, and so Katherine befriended the girls she bunked with in the dormitory of Lambeth. The nightly escapades of the girls were scandalous. While the rest of the house slept, the girls would sneak boys into their rooms and the boys would stay with them all night. Katherine yearned to be part of this and one night Henry Mannox came to her. Their affair did not last long, for Katherine's grandmother discovered Katherine and Henry together one day and had them permanently separated. Not long after this discovery, which Katherine was forbidden to mention to anyone, Katherine developed an affair with another man employed by her grandmother, named Francis Dereham. They love between the two developed around 1538, by which time Henry VIII had already gone into mourning for Jane Seymour. The two were very close and undoubtedly their love was consummated, as Katherine later admitted. The two acted as if they were already married and addressed each other as husband and wife. However, Francis was called to Ireland on business the next year and although he promised when he returned Katherine and he would start a life together, Katherine's love for him had died out.
In Francis' absence Katherine met a cousin of hers named Thomas Culpepper from her mother's side of the family around 1539. Thomas, a member of the king's privy council, was visiting Lambeth one day as part of an entourage when he saw Katherine in the garden. She and Thomas had an innocent relationship at first but soon it developed into a passionate affair, and like her relationship with Francis Derham, Katherine and Thomas consummated their love. ve. Although the two planned to wed like Katherine and Francis had, Katherine was shocked in 1540 when she was informed that she would be sent to court to be a lady-in-waiting to the new queen, Anne of Cleves. After arriving in Greenwich Palace in early 1540, it was not long before Henry VIII's eyes overlooked his wife and were searching for a new woman to enter Henry's life. He found Anne of Cleves repulsive and one night invited Katherine to dine with him in the hall at Greenwich. Seated next to the king, she and him talked and interacted smoothly, and while Henry found Katherine somewhat small-minded, he found her very entertaining, beautiful, and calming. Not long after, Henry began to invite Katherine to his chambers and moved her to ones closer to his. Soon he and Katherine were everywhere together, and Anne was discarded. While Henry did not acknowledge the fact that Katherine was his second wife's cousin, the Howards, always hungry for more power, saw the marriage as an important political device, and Katherine's uncle, the duke of Norfolk, often visited Katherine and advised her on her behavior with Henry, recalling the fate of his niece Anne. Katherine did offend Henry often, but he shunned this aside as a result of her small mindness.
Although Henry yearned to rid himself of Anne of Cleves, around the summer of 1540 he rushed the process of the annulment precariously. It is believed that Katherine Howard was pregnant and that in fear of having an illegitimate heir, Henry wanted to marry Katherine as soon as possible.
     Sixteen days after his divorce from Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII and Katherine Howard married on July 28, 1540 in Surrey. Henry himself was 49 and Katherine was merely 19. Henry had aged and was no longer a youthful handsome man. He was pained by his legs and had grown fat. Katherine brought life to his painful life and he called Katherine his 'rose without a thorn'.
     Katherine moved into her apartments as the queen and befriended Jane Rochford, the widow of George Boleyn and sister-in-law to Anne Boleyn. It is ironic that Katherine's closest friend would be the same woman who betrayed Katherine's two cousins and led them to their deaths. Katherine trusted Jane, but Jane was known to brag and gossip, although she showed some loyalty to Katherine.
     As Katherine adjusted to life as queen, her uncle and grandmother came often to visit her and give her advice. Her grandmother could no longer discipline her nor could her uncle, but they did help her achieve Henry's love and urged her to produce an heir for the sake of the Howards. This was not to be. Not too long after her marriage, Katherine's past began to come back to haunt her. Henry Mannox, the musician who Katherine had loved when she was 15, came to court as a musician. Francis Derham returned from Ireland, determined to marry Katherine as she had promised him years before. And Thomas Culpepper was often at the palace as part of the duke of Norfolk's entourage and the king's privy council. Katherine's grandmother urged her to never mention her affairs with the men, but soon the rumors leaked out. Francis Derham was open about his relationship with Katherine; unaware of the harm he was doing her. Henry Mannox seemed to keep silent, but soon he was frequently in Katherine's apartments as an entertainer. And finally there came Thomas Culpepper, who knew of the danger he and Katherine were in if the king believed the rumors, which were true. She and Thomas tried to hid their love, for it was still alive, but even the loyal Jane Rochford could not keep silent.
     As rumors and gossip spread from the court into London and the kingdom, Katherine was hysterical to find a way of escaping the king's wrath. A man named John Lascelles, the brother of Katherine's friend Mary Hall, who had lived with her at Lambeth, gathered the rumors and took them to Archbishop Cranmer. Lascelles was a Protestant and Katherine was a Catholic. To Lascelles, Katherine symbolized the Catholic faith taking over once again and the oppression f the Protestants. He spoke to Archbishop Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who then promised to speak to the king. The Archbishop Cranmer passed a letter to King Henry on All Souls' Day during Mass and after the service he was presented with evidence of Katherine's illicit behavior. Henry ordered Cranmer to begin a private investigation. Cranmer had many of Katherine's maids and ladies arrested, including Jane Rochford. Thomas Culpepper and Francis Derham were arrested and tortured until they confessed their past affairs with Katherine.
      King Henry was enraged. He blamed many people for Katherine's adulterous acts. Everyone except himself. He stated that he would like to take a sword and slay Katherine himself, a shocking statement from the man who was comforted by and loved Katherine. He left Whitehall Palace where he and Katherine had been lodging on November 12, 1541. Earlier that day Katherine had escaped from her confinements and ran down the gallery of Whitehall hysterically, aiming to seek Henry's forgiveness. But before she could reach the chapel where Henry was praying, her ladies took control of her and returned her to her rooms. She was locked there and never saw Henry again. Two days later she was escorted to Syon House.
     Archbishop Cranmer took the task of interrogating Katherine at Syon House. Katherine was hysterical, screaming that she would be executed like her cousin Anne Boleyn had been. Cranmer took pity on the reckless girl and offered her an escape from Henry's wrath, one that had been proposed to Anne Boleyn. If Katherine admitted her sins, the marriage could be annulled and Katherine would be sent away. The contract between Katherine and Francis Dereham that they had drawn up for marriage secretly years before was an excellent piece of evidence for the case. If Katherine and Francis were still bound to each other, the marriage between Katherine and Henry never took place, the same escape that Henry had used to get rid of three of his past wives. Katherine was convinced that admitting to her sins would condemn her to death, and refused to go along with Cranmer's proposal. Henry himself did not plan to spare her, and so there was no escape for Katherine Howard.
     On November 22, Katherine's title of queen of England was stripped of her. She stayed at Syon House for two more months, during which two of her lovers were executed. On December 10, Francis Dereham was hung, drawn, quartered, castrated, and disemboweled. Thomas Culpepper was executed the same day, though he was beheaded in honor of his high place at court. Their heads were placed on London Bridge, where they stayed until 1546. After the executions, Katherine became a more mature person. Her relatives were sent to the Tower of London, including her elderly grandmother. Only her uncle survived the Tower, after humbly beseeching himself before King Henry and begging for mercy.
     Meanwhile, courtiers were still trying to figure out what exactly Katherine was guilty of. She had been betrothed to Francis Derham and since the contract was never broken she had not legally married Henry and therefore had not committed adultery or treason against him. She was plainly innocent. However, King Henry fought that Katherine had intended to commit treason, which was against the Act of Attainder. Henry sealed Katherine's fate as an adulterer with a 'abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous and vicious life'.
     On February 10, 1542, the duke of Suffolk escorted Katherine to the Tower of London. Hysterical, she tried to resist but was forced onto the barge that would take her up the river Thames. Dressed in black, she was lodged in the Queen's Apartments although the title had been stripped from her more than four months beforehand. On the night of February 12, 1542, Katherine was told that she would be executed the following day. Katherine's only request was that the block that would be used in her execution be brought to her so that she could 'practice'.
     The next day, February 13, 1542, Katherine was escorted to Tower Green at 7 in the morning by the king's privy councilors save her uncle, the duke of Norfolk. Weak and frightened, Katherine had to be helped up the stairs to the scaffold. In a small quiet speech she stated that her execution was just and worthy and asked for God's forgiveness and Henry's preservation. After the execution, Katherine was laid to rest in the chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula. Not too long after Katherine's execution, Jane Rochford also made the trip to Tower Green, a fitting end to the life of a woman who had brought about the deaths of her brother and sister-in-law and had betrayed Katherine Howard.
      Katherine was only queen for 18 months and never bore any heirs. She may not have had a deep impact on the history of Henry VIII's reign but she is sympathized as a silly girl thirty years younger than her husband who did not understand life at court, which brought about her downfall.