Katheryn Howard: Part One

The story of Katheryn Howard intertwines with many other notable figures of the time but none more than Anne of Cleves and Thomas Cromwell. We’ll start with Katheryn’s childhood and attempt to chronologically move through time until her execution in 1542. After writing Part One, I realized her story deserves multiple parts. Part One, will start from Katheryn’s childhood up to her marriage to King Henry VIII. Part Two will cover her downfall. That part of her life definitely deserves a lot of attention.

There isn’t a whole lot of information about Katheryn’s childhood, so I’ll tell you what we do know. Katheryn Howard, according to author Gareth Russell was born around 1522 at Lambeth to Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper.



Joyce Culpeper

Joyce Culpeper was married twice, first to Ralph Leigh when she was twelve years old – the couple had five children together. When Joyce’s husband died around 1509, Joyce became a wealthy widow. She also inherited either land or money from her father after his death, but I do not have a date for that.

Joyce’s second husband was Edmund Howard – the couple were about the same age when they married. What it came down to was the fact that Joyce had money and Edmund Howard needed it. Joyce’s mother never trusted her son in law and they tried everything in their power to make sure Edmund didn’t have access to their money or land. We’ll delve more into Edmund in a moment.

The five half-siblings Katheryn had by her mother’s first marriage were: John, Ralph, Isabel, Joyce and Margaret Leigh. We’ll hear about Isabel a little later on in this story.

Katheryn’s full siblings were: Henry, Charles, Margaret and Mary.

Joyce died around 1528 or 1529 and left behind a husband and ten children.



Edmund Howard

Edmund Howard was the third surviving son of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. He wasn’t always the pathetic man he later became, at one time he was said to have the athletic abilities of his brothers but that he lacked their social intelligence.

As a young boy, Edmund spent time at the court of King Henry VII as a page boy – a great place for the third son of the Duke of Norfolk to start his career.

At forty years old Edmund married Joyce Culpeper -this was his first marriage and as we’ve already discovered, Joyce’s second.

When Katheryn Howard was born her father, Edmund could not have been thrilled to have another daughter – another dowry to provide for a marriage. You see, Edmund had a problem with money….he didn’t have any. He often borrowed from friends and didn’t pay them back.

When Joyce died Edmund didn’t have the money to support this large household – the elder daughter’s of his late wife, Isabel and Margaret as well as his own children, Charles, Henry ,George, Katheryn, Margaret and Mary were all still living in his house. Katheryn’s eldest half-brothers, John and Ralph had moved out when Katheryn was a small child. John had inherited a manor in Stockwell from his grandfather and Ralph had a trust fund to help pay for his schooling to become a lawyer in London. Katheryn’s half-sister Joyce was also married and out of the house.

Keeping all of this in mind, when Edmund Howard wrote a letter to Wolsey asKing for financial assistance he mentioned that he had ten children to support, when we now know that he definitely did not. As author Gareth Russell states, “debt seldom stimulates a compulsion toward honesty”. Isn’t that the truth.

Edmund Howard, being of the Howard clan, behaved as though he resented being from such a notable family. He claimed that his money problems could not be solved by getting another  job. The thought of doing so would bring great reproach and shame to him and his blood. So Edmund believed getting another job to help pay for his expenses would bring shame on his family. Interesting – like being in debt wouldn’t bring a greater shame on your family name.

After the death of his first wife Joyce he married again to the not so kind, but wealthy widow Dorothy Troyes – we know she wasn’t so kind when we look back at the letter that Edmund wrote to Honor Grenville, Lady Lisle during his time in Calais – if you follow my website and Facebook page you already know this story, but for the rest of you, get ready to laugh.

“Madame, so it is I have this night after midnight taken your medicine, for the which I heartily thank you, for it hath done me much good, and hath caused the stone to break, so that now I void much gravel. But for all that, your said medicine hath done me little honesty, for it made me piss my bed this night, for the which my wife hath sore beaten me, and saying it is children’s parts to bepiss their bed.

Okay, so let’s talk about his wife Dorothy and the fact that Edmund states in the letter that she beat him and scolded him for wetting the bed….the poor guy had kidney stones and accidentally wet the bed. What kind of wife would treat him that way? On the other hand….I get the impression that Edmund liked to play the victim in his life, especially if we look at all the times he complained about being a Howard and how hard it was to be part of such a prestigious family.

Luckily for Edmund, his marriage to Dorothy did not last long since there is evidence that she made out her will in 1530.

Later, when Edmund’s niece, Anne Boleyn was Queen of England she was able to assist her hapless uncle by getting him a position as Comptroller of Calais. The timing was perfect for Edmund to leave the island and cross the channel to get away from his debt-collectors.

It was at some point after Edmund got the position in Calais that his household was broken up in England and his daughter Margaret was married to Thomas Arundell while his step-daughter Isabel was married to Sir Edward Baynton. The rest of the children who were still in his household were at the age where they could continue their education in another family’s household – Katheryn and her brother Henry were invited to become wards of the dowager duchess of Norfolk.

Edmund Howard died in 1539 before he could see his daughter become Queen. Imagine how his life would have improved…or maybe he would have gotten himself into hot water and been executed. We’ll never know.

Here is another quote by Edmund that sums up his life: “If I were a poor man’s son, I might dig and delve for my living.” Instead, Edmund found himself with few friends and ‘beaten by the world,”

Ward of Dowager Duchess

Katheryn arrived at Chesworth House south of Horsham in 1531 – her life would never be the same.

Most have assumed that Katheryn was not educated in the household of the dowager duchess, however, it does appear that she was able to read and write – Katheryn was most definitely better educated than most English women but because she could read and write does not mean she was educated. Especially not like her cousin, Anne Boleyn.

The dowager duchess had many young women in her household. If you compare to today’s standards it would be similar to having a handful or two of teenage girls together in a large room. The girls were actually housed in an attic dormitory or maiden’s chamber, as it was called. While the young men were housed in a separate area. It would only be a matter of time before trouble ensued. Such was the case in this household.

There were also young men in the household – we all know what teenage hormones are like so it understandable that at night one of the girls, whether it was Katheryn or another, would sneak into the bedroom of the dowager duchess and steal the key to the dormitory – once they received it they could unlock the door the allow the young men to enter their room. Now, before we go too far into that part of the story that’s discuss Katheryn’s so called relationship with her music tutor, Henry Manox. Manox and Katheryn were flirtatious with one another and it is believed that the two had secret meetings with one another. There was kissing between the two and Manox later said that they had not slept together but that he had seen her private parts.

It is believed that Manox fell in love with the young Howard girl who was much above his own standing and that others had noticed. For Katheryn, being with Manox made her feel grown-up and protected, she thought she loved him as well. Unfortunately, for the couple one of Katheryn’s roommates, Mary Lassell approached Manox and told him his relationship with Katheryn was inappropriate. What she didn’t say is that she also had a crush on him – so there may have been some jealousy on her part. Mary warned Manox that he would never be able to marry Katheryn because she came from such a noble house and the marriage would never be approved.

Manox, the pig he was, responded by saying,“Marry her? My designs are not quite so honorable. And from the kisses the girl allows me, I shall soon achieve my purpose.” 

Mary quickly informed Katheryn of what he had said and Katheryn was disgusted. Katheryn confronted Manox and he responded by smoothing her over with something to the effect that he can’t control his feelings around her. Katheryn, surely flattered, continue her so called relationship with Manox. Eventually the relationship ended – we don’t know what happened but I’m sure Katheryn realized there were other men in the household who wanted her attention and she liked it. It’s possible that the relationship ended after the dowager duchess caught the two alone. Katheryn received two or three blows from her grandmother and the couple were told that they should never be alone together again.

Later in interrogations Katheryn said this about Manox: 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.

It wasn’t long after the relationship with Manox ended that Katheryn fell in love with Francis Dereham, a more serious candidate for her hand since he, unlike Manox, had sufficient status and wealth to marry Katheryn. Dereham was an usher for the dowager duchess, and like Manox was older than Katheryn. Dereham frequently visited the girl’s dormitory at night and most definitely consummated his relationship with young Katheryn.

Dereham always claimed that he considered them married or precontracted – they called one another husband and wife. This by the standards of the 16th century was enough – other’s had heard them call each other by those titles and were aware that they were sleeping together.

Author David Loades believes the couple’s relationship lasted from 1537 to 1539. While contraception at the time was primitive, Katheryn clearly had a good grasp on how to prevent pregnancy.

Henry Manox became very jealous of the couple and wrote an anonymous letter to the dowager duchess to inform her of the goings on at night in the dormitory. 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 Katheryn when he returned to England.  Little did he know that by the time he returned everything would have changed for the couple.

While Francis was in Ireland Katheryn 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 Katheryn’s through her mother. His position in court was considered very important since it allowed him personal access to the King. Katheryn fell deeply in love with Thomas.

Eventually, Katheryn 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 in March 1540 that she caught the eye of the King Henry VIII. The King had be invited to dinner at the home of Bishop Gardiner on the River Thames and he graciously accepted. It was while the King was watching the dancers that he noticed the young, auburn-haired Katheryn Howard smiling, laughing and dressed in the french fashion. It wasn’t long after the event that Henry began showing more interest in Katheryn.

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.

The King was attracted to Katheryn’s beauty and youthfulness – and of course, he believed she was a virgin, unlike his current wife, Anne of Cleves .

Henry and Anne of Cleves continued playing the part of husband and wife for the first few months of their marriage with only the King’s closest advisors knowing his true intentions. Thomas Cromwell had been Henry VIII’s closest advisor since the downfall and death of his predecessor, Cardinal Wolsey. Cromwell had the King’s ear in all matters and pretty much was running the show. When the Cleves marriage backfired Cromwell was rightfully concerned about his position with the King, however, in April 1540 Henry raised Cromwell to the earldom of Essex. He also created him Lord Great Chamberlain. From an outsider’s perspective this looked as though Cromwell was safe from the wrath of the King.

A plan was already in motion because Henry wanted out of his marriage with Anne so he could be with Katheryn Howard, and if Cromwell could not do it, then he would find someone who could, but in the meantime he’d make Cromwell believe he was still his closest advisor – this is how Henry VIII worked.

By the 24th April 1540 Henry gave Katheryn 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.

With Katheryn, the King believed he was getting all her couldn’t have with Anne of Cleves.

Thomas Cromwell

The end of favor came for Cromwell when was arrested, on the 10th of June 1540. The scene played out as Cromwell was leaving the parliament building to head to dinner – a sudden gust of wind blew his hat from his head and it fell to the ground. Normally, when a gentleman lost his it was customary for everyone to remove their hats as a sign of respect. When Cromwell bent down to pick up his hat, no man showed him the respect that was warranted. At which Cromwell replied dryly: “A high wind indeed must it have been to blow my bonnet off and keep all yours on.” The men around him pretended not to hear what he had said and carried on to dinner.

During dinner no man spoke to Thomas Cromwell. Once dinner was over all the lords proceeded to the council chamber where they would carry out their daily business. When Cromwell finally reached the chamber all the men were already seated, at which he said, “you were in a great hurry, gentlemen, to get seated.” Once again his words were ignored – and as he went to sit in his chair Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk yelled out – “Cromwell, do not sit there; that is no place for thee. Traitors do not sit amongst gentlemen.” At this point Cromwell was furious with his treatment said, “I am not a traitor.” And as he spoke those words the captain of the guard entered the chamber and arrested him. The arrest of Thomas Cromwell was a shock to many – he had been the King’s closest advisor for many years.

Unfortunately for Cromwell his downfall was greeted with much happiness all over England, for there were those who believed the absence of Rome in their life and the dissolution of the monasteries were solely his fault. They felt he finally got what was coming to him. For Henry VIII it allowed him to continue to move forward with his divorce from Anne of Cleves – the awful marriage that was Cromwell’s idea. Now Henry was a step closer to being with Katheryn Howard.

End of Marriage for Anne of Cleves

In the early hours of the 6th of July 1540, the King sent a messenger to inform Anne of Cleves of his concerns about their marriage. The following day, after they were summoned to Westminster, the convocations of York and Canterbury among other leading clergy, declared the marriage null and void after hearing Gardiner speak against the validity of the King’s marriage.

That very day a group of men appointed by the King went to Anne to inform her that her marriage was no more and that henceforth she would be called, “the King’s sister”.

Henry Was Free to Marry

Now that his marriage to Anne of Cleves was over, Henry VIII was free to marry Katheryn Howard. On the 28th of July at the mildly obscure Oatlands palace, Henry and Katheryn were married. Some believed that the location of the wedding and the smaller court presence was due to the fact that Katheryn was pregnant. This was most definitely untrue. Katheryn was very petite and her small frame would have made a pregnancy obvious. Those who dressed her would have noticed and most definitely gossiped – it seems that’s all most of the ladies did at court. 😉

King Henry was obsessed with his young bride. He was so turned on by Katheryn that he could barely keep his hands off her. After the failed consummation with Anne of Cleves this is exactly what Henry needed. Now he behaved as a teenage boy obsessed with his girlfriend. This would prove to the court that he was the same young Henry he always was….or so he believed.

How had Henry not noticed that his wife was not a virgin? This is something I’ve often wondered. Clearly Katheryn had experience in the bedchamber, was she smart enough to “act the part” of a virgin or was Henry so enamored that he overlooked such an obvious thing. He believed Katheryn to be his “Rose without a Thorn” so my guess is that he was ignorant to the truth.

On the same day that Henry and Katheryn married, Thomas Cromwell was executed.

I’ll end this article with some of Thomas Cromwell’s final words (very fitting for this article) and return here next week for the rest of Katheryn Howard’s story – see you next week:

Gentlemen, you should all take warning from me, who was, as you know, from a poor man made by the King into a great gentleman and I, not contented with that, not with having the Kingdom at my orders, presumed to a still higher state. My pride has brought its punishment.

Continue with Katheryn Howard: PART TWO

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Further Reading:

Russell, Gareth; Young and Damned and Fair – The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of Henry VIII (2016)

Loades, David; The 6 Wives of Henry VIII (2014)

Licence, Amy; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII (2014)

Fraser, Antonia; The Wives of Henry VIII  (1994)

Weir, Alison; The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)

Kizewski, Holly K.; Jewel of Womanhood: A Feminist Reinterpretation of Queen Katheryn Howard (Thesis 7/30/14 – University of Nebraska – Lincoln)

Hutchinson, Robert; Thomas Cromwell (2007)