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Catherine Howard

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Title: Catherine Howard  
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Subject: The Tudors, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr, Lord Edmund Howard, Anne of Cleves
Collection: 1520S Births, 1542 Deaths, Burials at St. Peter Ad Vincula (London), Catherine Howard, Culpeper Family, English Roman Catholics, Executed English Women, Executed Royalty, Executions at the Tower of London, Howard Family (English Aristocracy), Ladies of the Privy Chamber, People Executed by Tudor England by Decapitation, People Executed Under Henry VIII of England, People Executed Under the Tudors for Treason Against England, People from Lambeth (London Borough), People from London Executed by Decapitation, People from Wingate, County Durham, Prisoners in the Tower of London, Wives of Henry VIII of England
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Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard
Queen consort of England
Tenure 28 July 1540 – 23 November 1541
Born c. 1520
Lambeth, London
Died 13 February 1542(1542-02-13) (aged c. 21)
Tower of London
Burial Church of St Peter ad Vincula
Spouse Henry VIII of England
(m. 1540–42; her execution)
House House of Howard
Father Lord Edmund Howard
Mother Joyce Culpeper
Religion Church of England, formerly Roman Catholic

Catherine Howard (c.1521 (1521) – Did not recognize date. Try slightly modifying the date in the first parameter.) was Queen of England from 1540 until 1541, as the fifth wife of Henry VIII.[1] Catherine married Henry VIII on 28 July 1540, at Oatlands Palace, in Surrey, almost immediately after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves was arranged. Catherine was beheaded after less than two years of marriage to Henry on the grounds of treason for committing adultery while married to the King.


  • Family 1
  • Early life 2
  • Arrival at court 3
  • Marriage 4
  • Downfall 5
  • Imprisonment and death 6
  • Historiography 7
  • Portraits of Catherine Howard 8
  • Portrayal in media 9
    • In film 9.1
    • In fiction 9.2
    • In music 9.3
  • Ancestry 10
  • Footnotes 11
  • Sources 12
  • External links 13


Catherine was a daughter of Lord Edmund Howard (c 1478 – 1539) and Joyce Culpeper (c 1480 – c 1528). Her father's sister, Elizabeth Howard, was the mother of Anne Boleyn. Therefore Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn were first cousins, and Catherine Howard and Anne's daughter, Lady Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I), were first-cousins-once-removed.

As a granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443 – 1524), Catherine had an aristocratic pedigree, but her father was not wealthy, being a younger son among 21 children and disfavoured in the custom of primogeniture, in which the eldest son inherits all his father's estate.

When Catherine's parents married, her mother already had five children from her first husband, Ralph Leigh (c 1476 – 1509); she went on to have another six with Catherine's father, Catherine being about her mother's tenth child. With little to sustain the family, her father was often reduced to begging for handouts from his more affluent relatives. In 1531, he was appointed Controller of Calais.[2] He was dismissed from his post in 1539, and died in March of the same year.

Catherine was the third of Henry VIII's wives to have been a member of the English nobility or gentry; Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were of European royalty.

Early life

Catherine was born in Lambeth (now part of London) in about 1521; her exact date of birth unknown.

Soon after the death of her mother (c 1528), when Catherine was aged about seven, Catherine was sent with some of her siblings to live with her father's stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The Dowager Duchess presided over households at Chesworth House, near Horsham, and Norfolk House, at Lambeth, comprising numerous male and female attendants along with her many wards, usually the children of aristocratic but poor relatives. While sending young children to be educated and trained in aristocratic households other than their own was common for centuries among European nobles, supervision at both Chesworth House and Lambeth was apparently lax. The Dowager Duchess was often at Court and seems to have had little direct involvement in the upbringing of her wards and young female attendants.

As a result of the Dowager Duchess's lack of attention and guidance, Catherine became influenced by some older girls who candidly allowed men into the sleeping areas at night for entertainment. The girls were rewarded with food and wine and gifts. Catherine was not as well educated as some of Henry's other wives, although, on its own, her ability to read and write was impressive enough at the time. Her character has often been described as vivacious, giggly, and brisk, but never scholarly or devout. She displayed great interest in her dance lessons, but would often go off track of the lessons and make jokes. She also had a nurturing side for animals, particularly dogs.

In the Duchess's household at Horsham, in around 1536, Catherine and her music teacher, Henry Mannox, began a sexual relationship. Catherine was then aged about fifteen. He later gave evidence in the inquiry against her. Mannox and Catherine both confessed during her adultery inquisitions that they had engaged in sexual contact, but not actual coitus. When questioned Catherine was quoted as saying, "At the flattering and fair persuasions of Mannox, being but a young girl, I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body, which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require."

Her affair with Mannox came to an end in 1538, when Catherine was pursued by a secretary of the Dowager Duchess's household in Lambeth, Francis Dereham. They became lovers, addressing each other as "husband" and "wife". Dereham also entrusted Catherine with various wifely duties, such as keeping his money when he was away on business. Many of Catherine's roommates among the Dowager Duchess's maids of honour and attendants knew of the relationship, which apparently ended in 1539 when the Dowager Duchess found out. Despite this, Catherine and Dereham may have parted with intentions to marry upon his return from Ireland, agreeing to a precontract, as it was then known. If indeed they exchanged vows of their intention to marry before having sexual intercourse, they would have been considered married in the eyes of the Church.

Arrival at court

Catherine's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, found her a place at Court in the household of the King's fourth wife, the German Anne of Cleves.[3] As a young and attractive lady-in-waiting, Catherine quickly caught the eye of Henry, who had displayed little interest in Anne from the beginning. The Howards may have sought to recreate the influence they gained during the reign of Anne Boleyn, and the mostly religiously conservative Howard family may have seen Catherine as a figurehead for their determination to restore Roman Catholicism to England. As the King's interest in Catherine grew, so did their influence. Within months of her arrival at Court, Henry bestowed gifts of land and expensive cloth upon Catherine. Henry called her his 'rose without a thorn' and the 'very jewel of womanhood'.


The Six Wives of
Henry VIII
Catherine of Aragon
Anne Boleyn
Jane Seymour
Anne of Cleves
Catherine Howard
Catherine Parr
Catherine Howard's arms as queen[4]

King Henry and Catherine married on 28 July 1540.

It was alleged that, early in 1541, Catherine embarked upon a romance with Henry's favourite male courtier, Anne Boleyn's brother.

Catherine and Henry toured England together in the summer of 1541, and preparations were in place for any signs of pregnancy, which would have led to a coronation, indicating that the royal couple were sexually active with each other. During this time, however, a crisis began to loom over Catherine. People who had witnessed her indiscretions at Lambeth began to contact her for favours in return for their silence, and many of them were appointed to her household. Most disastrously, Catherine appointed Francis Dereham as her personal secretary, at the urging of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.[6] This miscalculation led to the charges of treason and adultery against her.


By late 1541, the northern progress of England had ended, and Catherine's indiscretions had become known to John Lascelles, a Protestant reformer whose sister, Mary Hall, had been a member of the Dowager Duchess's household; Mary had seen a letter to Culpeper in Catherine's distinctive handwriting, which is the only letter of hers that still survives, other than her confession.[7][8][9] However, there is considerable doubt as to the story's authenticity, since Catherine was not fully aware of the charges against her until the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and a delegation of councillors were sent to question her on 7 November 1541. Even the staunch Cranmer found Catherine's frantic, incoherent state pitiable, saying, "I found her in such lamentation and heaviness as I never saw no creature, so that it would have pitied any man's heart to have looked upon her."[10] He ordered the guards to remove any objects that she might use to commit suicide.

Establishing the existence of a precontract between Catherine and Dereham would have had the effect of terminating Catherine's royal union, but it also would have allowed Henry to annul their marriage and banish her from Court. Catherine would have been disgraced, impoverished, and exiled, but, ultimately, she would have been spared execution. However, she steadfastly denied any precontract, maintaining that Dereham had raped her. Her situation was made more complicated by the revelation of her adulterous affair with Culpeper.[11]

Imprisonment and death

Catherine was stripped of her title as queen on 23 November and imprisoned in Syon Abbey, Middlesex, where she remained throughout the winter of 1541. Culpeper and Dereham were executed at Tyburn on 10 December 1541, Culpeper being beheaded and Dereham being hanged, drawn, and quartered. According to custom, their heads were placed on top of London Bridge. Many of Catherine's relatives were also detained in the Tower with the exception of her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, who had sufficiently distanced himself from the scandal by writing a letter on 14 December to the King, excusing himself and laying all the blame on his niece and stepmother.[12] All of the Howard prisoners were tried, found guilty of concealing treason, and sentenced to life imprisonment and forfeiture of goods. In time, however, they were released with their goods restored.

Catherine herself remained in limbo until Parliament passed a bill of attainder on 7 February 1542.[13] The Royal Assent by Commission Act 1541 made it treason, and punishable by death, for a queen consort to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within twenty days of their marriage, or to incite someone to commit adultery with her. This solved the matter of Catherine's supposed precontract and made her unequivocally guilty.

She was subsequently taken by boat to the Tower on Friday 10 February, her flotilla passing under London Bridge where the heads of Culpeper and Dereham were impaled. Entering through the Traitors' Gate she was led to her prison cell. The next day, the bill of attainder received Royal Assent, and Catherine's execution was scheduled for 7 am on Monday, 13 February.[14] Arrangements for the execution were supervised by Sir John Gage in his role as Constable of the Tower.[15]

The night before her execution, Catherine is believed to have spent many hours practising how to lay her head upon the block, which had been brought to her at her request.[16] She died with relative composure, but looked pale and terrified and required assistance to climb the scaffold. She made a speech describing her punishment as "worthy and just" and asked for mercy for her family and prayers for her soul. According to popular folklore, her final words were, "I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper".

Catherine was beheaded with a single stroke of the executioner's axe.[17]

English royalty
Title last held by
Anne of Cleves
Queen consort of England
28 July 1540 – 23 November 1541
Title next held by
Catherine Parr
Lady of Ireland
28 July 1540 – 23 November 1541
Crown of Ireland Act 1542
  • [2] Fifty Shades of Catherine Howard
  • Katherine Howard Find A Grave
  • A very brief overview of Catherine's life, accompanied by a portrait gallery
  • Letter from Catherine Howard to Thomas Culpeper
  • Catherine Howard A biography
  • A geo-biography tour of the Six Wives of Henry VIII on Google Earth
  • , which describes Catherine's deathSix Wives of Henry VIIIPBS
  • Portraits of Catherine Howard at the National Portrait Gallery, London
  • Catherine Howard at Flickr

External links

  • Farquhar, Michael (2001). A Treasure of Royal Scandals. New York: Penguin Books.  
  • Herman, Eleanor (2006). Sex with the Queen (hardback). New York: William Morrow.  
  • Lawrence-Young, D. (2014). Catherine Howard - Henry's Fifth Failure. Fayetteville, North Carolina: GMTA Publishing/Celestial Press.  
  • Mannock, Henry. Bindoff, S. T., ed. "HOWARD, Sir George (by 1519–80), of London and Kidbrooke, Kent". The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509–1558. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  • Richardson, Douglas (2011). Everingham, Kimball G., ed. Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families II (2nd ed.). CreateSpace. pp. 407–418.  
  • Richardson, Douglas (2011). Everingham, Kimball G., ed. Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families IV (2nd ed.). CreateSpace. pp. 107–109.  
  • Wheeler, Elisabeth (2008). Men of Power: court intrigue in the life of Catherine Howard. Glastonbury: Martin Wheeler.  


  1. ^ There are several different spellings of "Catherine" that were in use during the 16th century and by historians today. Her one surviving signature spells her name "Kathryn" but this archaic spelling is rarely used anymore. Her chief biographer, Lacey Baldwin Smith, uses the common modern spelling "Catherine"; other historians, Antonia Fraser, for example, use the traditional English spelling of "Katherine".
  2. ^ Mannock 1982.
  3. ^ Weir 1991, p. 413.
  4. ^ Boutell 1863, p. 243.
  5. ^ Smith 1961, p. 173.
  6. ^ Weir 1991, p. 460.
  7. ^ "Letter of Queen Catherine Howard to Master Thomas Culpeper, Spring 1541". Catherine Howard. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  8. ^ Farquhar 2001, p. 77.
  9. ^ Smith 1961, pp. 170–171.
  10. ^ Herman 2006, pp. 81–82.
  11. ^ Weir 1991, p. 451.
  12. ^ Weir 1991, p. 474.
  13. ^ Weir 1991, p. 478.
  14. ^ Weir 1991, p. 481.
  15. ^ Potter, David (2002). "Sir John Gage, Tudor Courtier and Soldier (1479–1556)". The English Historical Review 117 (474): 1129.  
  16. ^ Weir 1991, p. 480.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Weir 1991, p. 482.
  19. ^ Wheeler 2008.
  20. ^ Weir 1991, p. 475.
  21. ^ Strong 1983, p. 50.
  22. ^ "Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard". National Portrait Gallery. NPG 1119. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  23. ^ a b Richardson II 2011, p. 411.
  24. ^ Richardson II 2011, p. 409.
  25. ^ Richardson II 2011, p. 412.
  26. ^ Lord Edmund Howard, Catherine Howard's father, was the brother of Lady Elizabeth Howard, mother of Anne Boleyn (second wife of Henry VIII of England), making Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn first cousins.
  27. ^ Richardson II 2011, pp. 415-416.
  28. ^ Richardson II 2011, p. 415.
  29. ^ Richardson II 2011, pp. 414–416.
  30. ^ Richardson IV 2011, pp. 129–130.
  31. ^ a b c d e Richardson IV 2011, pp. 107.
  32. ^ Richardson IV 2011, pp. 107–108.
  33. ^ Richardson IV 2011, p. 108.
  34. ^ Richardson IV 2011, p. 108.



In music

  • A highly fictionalized version of a devoutly Catholic, learned and serious Katharine, who wants to return Henry to the Old Faith, is depicted in the trilogy The Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford, originally published as separate novels in 1906, 1907 and 1908, and reprinted both as a single-volume omnibus edition and in its separate parts numerous times since.
  • The 1967 novel Kathryn, The Wanton Queen by Maureen Peters, written from the perspective of a fictional character, Geraldine Lyle, tells the story of Catherine from young girlhood to her marriage to Henry VIII.
  • Noonday Queen (1988) by Maureen Peters - another novel.
  • Catherine appeared as a major character in both the last installment of Jean Plaidy's "Queens of England" series, Rose Without a Thorn, published the year of her death in 1993; and the much earlier Murder Most Royal, first published in 1949 as part of her "Tudor Saga" series, which also included Anne Boleyn as a protagonist.
  • Catherine is a main character in the 2006 novel The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory.
  • Catherine appears as a character in 2006's Sovereign, the third novel in author C. J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake series.
  • Catherine's story, along with that of Anne Boleyn, is told from the viewpoint of Lady Rochford in the 2007 novel Vengeance Is Mine by Brandy Purdy; this same novel was re-issued under the title The Boleyn Wife in 2009, now under the pen name Emily Purdy.
  • Catherine's life was portrayed in the new play commissioned by restored Elizabethan playhouse The Rose: Rose Without a Thorn, written by Harry Denford in 2008.
  • Catherine's two years at court prior to her death are retold from her point of view in the 2009 novel The Queen's Mistake by Diane Haeger.
  • Catherine's story is fictionalized in the 2009 young adult novel The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby.
  • Catherine appeared as a character in the 2010 novel Secrets of the Tudor Court by D.L. Bogdan.
  • The Confessions of Katherine Howard, a 2010 novel by Suzannah Dunn, includes a fictionalized version of maid-of-honour Katherine Tilney (with her name spelled Catheryn to distinguish her from her cousin who became Queen) as a close confidant of Howard who is torn between loyalty to her friend and to the man she loves.
  • Catherine's story is told in the 2012 novel The Unfaithful Queen by Carolly Erickson.
  • In Gilt, a 2012 young adult novel by Katherine Longshore, Catherine's story is shown side by side with that of "Kitty" Tylney, again fictionalized, this time as Catherine's best friend.
  • Katherine Howard was a major character in Between Two Queens by Kate Emerson, part of the Secrets of the Tudor court series

In fiction

  • Catherine was first portrayed on screen in 1926, in the silent film Hampton Court Palace, when she was played by Gabrielle Morton.
  • In 1933, in The Private Life of Henry VIII, Catherine was played by Binnie Barnes. In this comedy of manners, Catherine ambitiously sets out to seduce the king, played by Charles Laughton, but ultimately falls in love with the debonair, devoted Thomas Culpeper, played by Robert Donat. Catherine's story dominates the film.
  • In 1970, Angela Pleasence played Catherine in a 90-minute BBC television drama, as part of the series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, opposite Keith Michell as Henry VIII, Patrick Troughton as the Duke of Norfolk and Sheila Burrell as Lady Rochford. In this interpretation, Catherine is characterized as a selfish hedonist who uses the naïve Culpeper to try to get herself pregnant to secure her position.
  • Catherine Howard made a cameo appearance, played by Monika Dietrich, in the 1971 slapstick British comedy Carry On Henry, with Sid James as Henry VIII.
  • In 1972, Lynne Frederick portrayed a deeply sympathetic Queen Catherine in Henry VIII and His Six Wives (a film version made subsequent to the 1970 BBC series) opposite Keith Michell as Henry VIII, in a production that highlighted her youth and positive qualities.
  • In 1998 Emilia Fox played Catherine in Katherine Howard at the Chichester Festival Theatre, in Chichester, England; she would later play Henry's third wife Jane Seymour in the 2003 ITV drama Henry VIII.
  • In 2001, Michelle Abrahams played Catherine in Dr. David Starkey's television documentary on Henry's queens.
  • In 2003, Emily Blunt gave a more sympathetic portrayal of Catherine in the ITV television drama Henry VIII, which focused on Catherine's sexual escapades. This production, once again, explained her adultery by her relatives' desire for her to get pregnant. It shows Catherine crying and screaming with fear at her execution, although contemporary accounts suggest she died in a more dignified manner.
  • In The Simpsons episode Margical History Tour, Catherine, played by Tress MacNeille makes a very brief appearance during Marge's retelling of Henry's reign. Henry (portrayed by Homer) orders her beheading.
  • In 2009–2010, Tamzin Merchant plays Catherine Howard in the third and fourth seasons of the Showtime series The Tudors. Merchant portrays Catherine as being flighty, self-centered, sexually adventurous, fun-loving and unquestionably adulterous. She is willingly seduced into the affair with Culpeper (who nurses a lustful obsession with her) by Lady Rochford, whose motivations are somewhat murky. This interpretation also details Catherine's blackmail at the hands of her former friends from Lambeth, a detail often omitted from modern retellings despite its deficit of historical evidence.

In film

Portrayal in media

One other possibility is that the portrait shows Henry's Scottish niece, Lady Margaret Douglas, the mother-in-law of Mary, Queen of Scots. So, whilst debate continues about the identity of the Toledo portrait, the miniature shown above is very likely to be Henry's fifth queen.

For centuries, a picture by Holbein was believed to be a portrait of Catherine, which is now in the Toledo Museum of Art. The portrait was identified on the basis of the very close likeness to Holbein's miniature. The image is also known in a number of other versions, including one NPG 1119 owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London, titled as "Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard".[22] Some historians now dispute that the woman in the picture is Catherine. Antonia Fraser has argued that the Toledo portrait is of Jane Seymour's sister, Elizabeth Seymour, on the basis that the woman bears a remarkable resemblance to Jane, especially around the chin, and is wearing the clothes of a widow, which Catherine never had occasion to wear. However, black clothes do not necessarily signify mourning, and, because black was a more expensive dye, were often worn to signify wealth and status.

Most historians believe that a portrait miniature (shown here)—which exists in two versions by Holbein (Royal Collection and Duke of Buccleuch)—is the only image of Catherine painted from life (in the case of the Windsor version). The historian David Starkey dated it (from details of her dress and the technique of the miniature) to the short period when Catherine was queen. In it, she wears the same large jewel as Jane Seymour in Holbein's panel portrait in Vienna. Records show that these jewels belonged to the Crown, not to any queen personally, and there is no record that they were removed from the treasury and given to anyone else. The pearls may tie in with a gift to Catherine from Henry in 1540, and she is the only queen to fit the dating whose appearance is not already known. For female sitters, duplicate versions of miniatures only exist for queens at this period. There are no other plausible likenesses of her to compare to. Both versions have long been documented as of Catherine Howard, since 1736 for the Buccleuch version and 1739 (or at least the 1840s) for the Windsor version.[21]

Painters continued to include Jane Seymour in pictures of King Henry VIII long after she died, mainly because Henry continued to look back on her with favour as the only wife who gave him a son. Most of the artists copied the portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger because it was the only full-sized picture available. After Catherine Howard was executed, even the Howard family removed her picture from their family portrait gallery.

A portrait that had once been considered to be Catherine, but has since been disputed. Some historians believe that the painting is of Elizabeth Seymour.
The Buccleuch version of the Holbein miniature
The Windsor version of the Holbein miniature

Portraits of Catherine Howard

Catherine has been the subject of three modern biographies, A Tudor Tragedy by Lacey Baldwin Smith (1967), Katherine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy by Joanna Denny (2006), and Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne (2014). Each is more or less sympathetic, though they disagree on various important points involving Catherine's motivations, date of birth, and overall character. Her life has also been described in the five collective studies of Henry's queens that have appeared since the publication of Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991) — such as David Starkey's The Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003). Several of these writers have been highly critical of Catherine's conduct, if sympathetic to her eventual fate. Smith described Catherine's life as one of hedonism, and characterized her as a "juvenile delinquent". Weir had much the same judgment, describing her as an "empty-headed wanton". The general trend, however, has been more generous, particularly in the works of Dame Antonia Fraser, Karen Lindsey, David Loades, and Joanna Denny.


Upon hearing news of Catherine's execution, Francis I of France wrote a letter to Henry, regretting the "lewd and naughty [evil] behaviour of the Queen" and advising him that "the lightness of women cannot bend the honour of men".[20]

[19]'s reign. She is, however, commemorated on a plaque on the west wall dedicated to all those who died in the Tower.Queen Victoria Henry did not attend. Catherine's body was not one of those identified during restorations of the chapel during [18]

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