Rise & Fall: Katherine Howard


“Rose without a Thorn”

On 28 July 1540, Henry VIII married Katherine Howard at Oatlands Palace (see image). The ceremony was performed by Bishop Bonner in private.

Outlands Palace - Surrey
Oatlands Palace – Surrey

Their nuptials were kept secret for ten days before returning to the insanity of court life. The king, who was infatuated with his new bride, wanted to spend quality time alone with her before returning to his courtly duties.

In Katherine, Henry found what represented the qualities that he admired most in a woman: Beauty, charm, a pleasant disposition, obedience and virtue. All of which were much like his mother, Elizabeth of York. Was Henry always chasing after a woman just like his mother?

The marriage of Katherine Howard to Henry VIII brought the Howard family back to the great name and power they once had. The beheading of Anne Boleyn hadtainted their name for a few years since Anne’s mother was Elizabeth Howard – sister to Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. The Duke of Norfolk was also uncle to Katherine Howard through her father Edmund (his brother) and was responsible for assisting in the rise, and the fall, ofhis niece Anne Boleyn.

After Henry and Katherine’s marriage they moved to Hampton Court. On the 8th of August Katherine Howard appeared as Henry’s queen at Hampton Court dining with her husband the king. This was her first appearance as Queen of England. Katherine was never crowned queen – some say it’s because Henry wanted to see if she would produce an heir first. Katherine was treated as any queen would, given extravagant gifts from her husband who absolutely adored her, and members of court took notice of their affections. She was but a child by today’s standards and undoubtedly made Henry feel youthful again – something that was waning from him.

Katherine wouldhave enjoyed all the attention that Henry gave her, for she was raised nearly an orphan in Lambeth Palace. Her grandmother the dowager Duchess of Norfolk raised her there. Katherine’s father, Edmund Howard was the third son of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk, this meant he was not a rich man. Lord Edmund Howard and his wife Joyce (Jocasta) Culpeper had many children (including Katherine ) who they could not afford. Because of these circumstances, Katherine had to be raised in the household of her grandmother. Katherine’s grandmother, the dowager Duchess, complained often about the expense of supporting numerous grandchildren. She was able to provide a comfortable home for them to live. She did not however, provide strict supervision, a fact which would have dire consequences for the entire Norfolk family after Katherine’s rise to queen of England.

Katherine’s education was not an intellectual one and her days were spent passing the time in the most pleasant manner possible. She always lacked self-control and this continued after she was queen when her past indiscretions came back to haunt her.

Thomas Higham  Museum of London
Thomas Higham Museum of London

It was at Lambeth Palace that Katherine was introduced to Henry Manox, her music teacher. Katherine enjoyed the attention he gave her. She was only 15 years old and the teacher seduced her. She later swore that the relationship was never consummated. “At the flattering and fair persuasions of Manox being but a young girl I suffered him and sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require.

In 1538 Katherine Howard fell in love with Francis Dereham. He was a gentleman pensioner in her grandmother’s household. This relationship was consummated and there may have been an understanding they would be married one day.

Francis Dereham by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose and obtained first to lie upon my bed with his doublet and hose and after within the bed and finally he lay with me naked and used me in such sort as a man doth his wife many and sundry times but how often I know not.

Francis and Katherine were known to address one another as husband and wife. Manox, still in the dowager Duchess’s household, grew jealous and furious of their relationship, and sent an anonymous note to the dowager Duchess informing her of their relationship. After reading the note the dowager Duchess caught the lovebirds together and was furious. Dereham departed shortly after to Ireland with an understanding that he would wed Katherine when he returned to England. Little did he know that by then everything would have changed.

While Francis was in Ireland Katherine Howard moved closer to court staying at her uncle’s house (Duke of Norfolk). This is when she met Thomas Culpeper. Thomas was a gentleman of the King’s privy chamber and he was also a distant cousin to Katherine’s through her Mother, Joyce/Jocasta Culpeper. His position in court was considered very important sinceit allowed him personal access to the king. Katherine fell deeply in love with Thomas.

Eventually, Katherine was welcomed to court as a lady in waiting to the queen. It was while she was a lady in waiting to Anne of Cleves that she caught the eye of the King Henry VIII. Once the king eyed you there was no going back. There was nothing she could do but accept his advances. At this time she was still in love with Thomas Culpeper, but adored the attention that the king gave her…along with the prospect of becoming queen of England.

On 24 April 1540 Henry gave Katherine Howard lands seized from a felon and a few weeks later she received an expensive gift of quilted sarcanet. It is possible that their relationship was consummated around this time because this is when Henry was urgent to annul his marriage to Anne of Cleves. The marriage was not ended until 9 July 1540.

In August 1541, after they had been married for a year, while at Pontefract castle, a man from Katherine’s past returned. It was none other than Francis Dereham. Francis was sent to court by the dowager Duchess and she had highly recommended him to be placed within court. Little did she know that Francis had a ulterior motive to come to court.

When Katherine was brought face to face with Francis she feared there was a reason that had prompted Dereham’s appearance at court. Francis possessed information that could greatly harm Katherine’s reign as queen. He immediately requested employment with the queen – she could hardly refuse him. This was a big mistake and could be calledthe beginning of the end for Katherine. When the king later asked her why she had employed Francis Dereham she replied with, The dowager Duchess of Norfolk had asked her to be good to him, and so she would.

Having Francis Dereham at court was indeed bad news for Katherine as he could not hide his indiscretions with the queen in the years earlier. He made statements in front of other men whichled investigations to begin.

On 2 November 1541, while Henry attended the All Souls Day mass he received a letter from Archbishop Cranmer telling him that Queen Katherine had taken two lovers before their marriage. Henry was shocked and did not believe the allegations. Four days later he changed his tune and left Katherine at Hampton Court – only two days after that she had admitted she was guilty to Cranmer.

The news continued to get worse with her admissions of guilt. Katherine could have easily saved herself by pleading ignorance regarding her relationship with Francis Dereham. If she had only said that there had been a verbal agreement to an arranged marriage with Francis Dereham she may have saved her head, However, the atrocities with Thomas Culpepper could not save her. However, at this time Thomas Culpeper was not yet on the radar when it came to the queen’s indiscretions. That is, until Francis Dereham mentioned that he knew of a man who has laid with the queen by the name of Thomas Culpeper.

Here is Katherine’s plea for forgiveness:

I, your Grace’s most sorrowful subject and vile wretch in the world, not worthy to make any recommendations unto your Majesty, – only make my most humble submission and confession of my faults. And where no cause of mercy is given on my part, yet of your most a accustomed mercy extended to all othe men undeserved, most humbly on my hands and knees so desire one particle thereof to be extended unto me, although of all other creatures most unworthy either to be called your wife or subject. My sorrow I can by no writing express, nevertheless I trust your most benign nature will have some respect unto my youth, my ignorance, my frailness, my humble confession of my faults and plain declaration of the same, referring me wholy unto your Grace’s pity and mercy. First at the flattering and fair persuasions of Mannox, being but a young girl 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. Also Francis Dereham by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose, and obtained first to lie upon my bed with his doublet and hose, and after within the bed and finally he lay with me naked, and use me and such sort as a man doth his wife, many and sundry times, and our company ended almost a year before the King’s Majesty was married to my Lady Anne of Cleves, and continued not past one quarter of a year, or a little above.

She continued by saying, I was so desirous to be taken into your Graces favor, and so blinded with the desire of worldly glory, that I could not, nor had grace, to consider how great of fault it was to conceal my former faults from your majesty, considering that I intended ever during my life to be faithful and true until your Majesty after, nevertheless, the sorrow of my defenses was ever before mine eyes, considering the infinite goodness of your majesty towards me from time to time ever increasing and not diminishing. Now I refer the judgment of all of my defenses with my life and death wholy unto your most benign and merciful grace to be considered by no justice of your Majesty’s law but only by your infinite goodness, pity, compassion and mercy, without the which I acknowledge myself worthy of extreme punishment.

When Henry read Katherine’s plea he was happy. He believed the pleastated that his wife had not been unfaithful to him after all. But Bishop Cranmer, unfortunately had bad news to inform him that in his opinion the queen had been in fact been pre-contracted to Dereham and that her marriage to the king was therefore invalid. It seemed an annulment of their marriage was inevitable.

In the meantime, Cranmer continued to look for evidence against Katherine of adultery. It’s almost as if he knew she was guilty and he had to prove it to the king to show his loyalty.

Finally, evidence came forward to prove Katherine’s guilt of adultery. While searching thebelongingsof Thomas Culpeperthey found a letter signed by the queen which confirmed what everyone had suspected, that she had indeed been conducting a love affair with her distant cousin and servant to the king.

Katherine's letter to Culpeper
Katherine’s letter to Culpeper

The letter read as such:

Master Culpeper,

I heartily recommend me unto you, praying you to send me word how that you do. It was showed me that you was sick, the which thing troubled me very much till such time that I hear from you praying you to send me word how that you do, for I never longed so much for a thing as I do to see you and to speak with you, the which I trust shall be shortly now. That which doth comfortly me very much when I think of it, and when I think again that you shall depart from me again it makes my heart die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company. It my trust is always in you that you will be as you have promised me, and in that hope I trust upon still, praying you that you will come when my Lady Rochford is here for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment, thanking you for that you have promised me to be so good unto that poor fellow my man which is one of the griefs that I do feel to depart from him for then I do know no one that I dare trust to send to you, and therefore I pray you take him to be with you that I may sometime hear from you one thing. I pray you to give me a horse for my man for I had much ado to get one and therefore I pray send me one by him and in so doing I am as I said afor, and thus I take my leave of you, trusting to see you shortly again and I would you was with me now that you might see what pain I take in writing to you.
Yours as long as life endures,

One thing I had forgotten and that is to instruct my man to tarry here with me still for he says whatsomever you bid him he will do it.

On 10 February 1542 Queen Katherine Howard entered the Tower and three days later she was executed.

Katherine’s quick rise to Queen of England was almost as quick as her fall from the throne. Her marriage to Henry VIII lasted less than two years. Her story is a tragic one of a young girl whose life was cut too short. We must do all we can to tell her story and keep it alive.

Reference Material: The Sixth Wives of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir; EnglishHistory.net

Henry VIII History House of Tudor Katherine Howard

9 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Kathryn Howard wasn’t a child. I find it ridiculous that people fail to understand that fact. Calling her a child is very misleading and shows no understanding of her times. She was young, yes, but a young woman, not a child.

    Her earlier life was mixed and although her relationship with Dereham probably showed she had poor judgement in men as many young people do, it was consensual and not abusive. Her romance with Manox, however, was more controlling by him and even her meeting him afterwards was poor judgement but the judgement of a teenager nonetheless. His behaviour borders on grooming.

    Kathryn was reckless meeting any man alone or with one maid in secret late at night and although it is controversial as to her guilt of treason and adultery, she looked guilty, said she wanted to go further and tragically for her, that was enough to condemn her. I have some sympathy because her former life ended long before her marriage to Henry and she was painted as a slut. In reality she had one former boyfriend and one lover while married. Hardly a slut. I don’t believe her youth excused her behaviour, however, but it does make her execution seem rather harsh.

  2. Katherine stood no chance with narcissistic Henry VIII when even streetsmart and intelligent Anne Boleyn too couldn’t save her head. Sad indeed.

  3. “Yours as long as life endures” Henry ensured that would not be for long. Poor, foolish, little girl.
    Thanks for this article – interesting read.

  4. Evidence and research published recently in BBC History magazine stated that Katherine had not had sexual intercourse with Thomas Culpepper and that, as you quoted, Katherine was verbally married to Dereham. King Henry knew of this. This vow was as good enough as being actually married. King Henry could have divorced her but he had already turned into a tyrant and thus wanted her head. Evidence of her age points to her being alot younger than previously thought. I feel so sad for Katherine.

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