Today is the anniversary of the execution of Henry VIII’s 5th and youngest wife Catherine Howard. She was the cousin of the ill-fated 2nd Queen Anne Boleyn. The noble families were all power hungry and their daughters were used as pawns to marry off to the highest bidder.
When Anne of Cleves turned out to be a disaster; the power hungry Howards and Boleyn’s push Catherine into the power gap left by the death of Jane Seymour, their rivals, and the failed foreign match with Anne of Cleves. So Catherine was used to lure Henry.
Her uncle the Duke of Norfolk brought her to court to catch Henry’s eye as the newest member of Anne of Cleves ladies in waiting. It worked 50 something old Harry saw the pretty teenage Catherine and started to court her with gifts and flowers. Henry secured his annulment from Anne of Cleves on the 9th July 1540 and just 3 weeks later he had married Catherine amidst rumour she may have been pregnant.
Before going to court Catherine had be in the wardship of her step grandmother, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk and her step grandmother was lax in her guardianship of Catherine. She was pretty, young and engaged in sexual liaisons during her time with the dowager.
Now it is worth noting that Catherine was a teenager. How many of us behaved fairly in love as a teenager, inexperience, vanity and power that comse with infatuation at that age is toxic. Not to mention how many of us obeyed our parents to her family she was well behaved behind their backs she was playing the field and enjoying herself. Sadly she never got around to growing out of that and learning the lesson we learnt, it was this behaviour that would ultimately destroy her and lead her to the block.
Catherine’s down fall started on 1st November 1541 when Cranmer went to Henry with allegations of infidelity of his young consort. Henry first refused to believe and discredited the rumours saying that she would not do that to him. However he did ask Cranmer to investigate. At the time the royal couple were at Hampton Court.
Within days Cranmer had been able to extract confessions from the two men accused of sleeping with the queen, Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham most probably extracted during torture.
Catherine was then restrained to her chambers in Hampton court and was finally questioned seven days after the accusations first made it to Henry. She was questioned by Cranmer who by the end of the interview worried about the state of her mind and removed all dangerous objects from her chambers.
23rd November 1541 Catherine was formally stripped of her legal title of Queen consort and now was left in legal limbo. What was Henry to do with a cheating wife who is no longer a Queen Consort? Shw was quite frankly an embarrassment. She was sent to Syon Abbey which was to distance her from Henry and to act as an informal prison.
Her “lovers” were convicted of high treason and both were executed at Tyburn London on 10th December 1541.
So how did Henry solve a problem like Catherine? Well his government ministers passed an act called the Bill of Attainder this law made it illegal for the consort to the monarch to hide their sexual past and treason if they committe adultery. This act was passed on 7th February 1452. Catherine was moved to the Tower of London on the 10th February and executed on 13th at 7am.
The night before her death spent many hours practicing how to lay her head on the block in her last performance. She had to be helped to the scaffold. Her speech said that her punishment was fair and just.
Unlike her cousin Anne, Catherine did not have a swift swordsman from France to take off her head on Tower Green, but she did make a good end with 1 swift blow from the axe. Her headless corpse was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in the small chapel of St Peter ad Vincula on Tower Green.
Like many Tudor daughters Catherine Howard was a political pawn to be used by power hungry parents and families. She was naive, not necessarily very bright, attractive and had a healthy libido. None of these when you are a teenager are illegal unless you are married to Henry VIII. She was foolish to not have learnt the lessons left in the legacy of her cousin Anne Boleyn. But at the end of the day who can blame her she was in her late teens to his old, grumpy, fat, 50 something with a festering smelly leg. Catherine’s death has only gone to add to Henrys notoriety, she has been remembered as a pretty flirt who’s life was cut tragically short. I hope she found peace away from her pushy family and toad of a husband.