Katherine Howard Historical Profile

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Katherine Howard as portrayed by Tamzin Merchant
The History
Katherine Howard
"...rose without thorn."
c. 1521/4 - 1542
(aged 18 -21)

Queen Consort
for 18 months
28th July 1540 - 13th February 1542

Unknown Lady sometimes identified as Kathryn Howard


  • "She was as well-educated as most of the
    ladies of the period, and could both read and write, which is more than can be said for other ladies-in-waiting at Henry s court. Katherine, however, never transcended the narrow educational and intellectual horizons of her kind. Reared under the strict and conservative influence of the old Duchess, she was orthodox in religion and naively credulous"(Lacey Baldwin Smith from A Tudor Tragedy)
  • Though Katherine was raised Catholic, she was not pious like Queen Katherine of Aragon. Yet this teenager represented the Catholic conservative faction's best hope for influencing the king to restore the Catholic faith to its pre-Reformation prominence.
  • The French ambassador Charles de Marillac observed of the love-struck Henry, "the King is so amorous of her that he cannot treat her well enough, and caresses her more than he did the others."
  • Henry called her his 'rose without a thorn' and the 'very jewel of womanhood'.
  • Henry knew Katherine for at least three months before their marriage, while a week before the ceremony it was rumoured that the lady herself was pregnant.
  • Henry lavished extravagant gifts on her, from diamond pendants and ropes of pearls to lands and manors once owned by Queen Jane Seymour. Henry would reportedly spend more on the youthful Katherine Howard than on any of his 4 preceding wives.
  • Anne of Cleves, now known as the king's "sister," visited her and knelt before her with gifts. In one instance, the two women danced the night away while Henry, with his abscessed leg retired to bed.
  • As Queen, her most assertive moment came in the spring of 1541 when she helped two prisoners held in the Tower of London. The elderly Margaret Pole, Lady Salisbury had been imprisoned for nearly 2 years and Katherine sent her a variety of warm clothes, all purchased at her own expense.

  • She also bravely asked Henry VIII to pardon the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt,who had been incarcerated for his association with Henry's former secretary, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex who had fallen out of favour & since been executed. At his wife's request, Henry pardoned Wyatt, but insisted that he reunite with his estranged and unfaithful wife.
  • Henry's oldest child, Princess Mary Tudor, did not approve of this new queen, who was 9 years younger than herself. Katherine complained that Mary did not pay her the respect she had bestowed on Henry's previous queens, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, and, to assert her status, ordered the dismissal of two of Mary's maids. Though Mary reportedly took Katherine Howard's demise in stride, her younger half-sister, 9 year old Princess Elizabeth Tudor, was profoundly affected. Upon hearing the details of Katherine's death, Elizabeth reportedly swore never to marry -- a vow she would not break.

  • Less than a year into their marriage, the rumours of her infidelity began to circulate.
  • The King at first refused to believe the evidence but then drew his dagger and threatened to kill her, himself.
  • From the time Katherine was arrested until her execution was 3 months and when she was told the night before that her execution was scheduled for the next morning, she asked for the block to be brought to her room so that she could practice placing her head on it.
  • Ambassador Chapuys who had known Henry for a dozen years and witnessed his reaction to Anne Boleyn's execution and to Jane Seymour's death said he had never seen him behave as he did over Katherine Howard. 'This King', he reported on 3 December 1541, 'has wonderfully felt the case of the Queen, his wife.' 'He has certainly shown', he continued 'greater sorrow and regret at her loss than at the faults, loss or divorce of his preceding wives'. [source: D. Starkey's Six Wives]

Retha Warnicke in the Oxford DNB entry on Katherine, has argued:

"Culpeper, it may be suggested, had established some form of threatening control over the queen's life, and although he-as he admitted-was seeking sexual satisfaction with her, Katherine was trying to ensure his silence through a misguided attempt at appeasement. The letter makes it clear that she wished for his presence, but she never refers to him as her 'lover' or 'darling', and expresses a desire for no more than verbal conversation with him. Far from initiating relationships, Katherine's attitude to Culpeper, as to the other men in her life, the king included, can be seen as essentially passive, reactive to their demands."

*See also: Katherine Howard Controversies for more on the hypothesis that Thomas Culpepper sexually harassed the young Katherine.

Ambassador Chapuys account of Katherine's fall (note: Chapuys inaccurately uses the name 'Dorand' to refer to Francis Dereham) :

This year on 13 Nov Sir Thomas Wriothesley, secretary to the King, came to Hampton Court to the queen, and called all the ladies and gentlewomen and her servants into the great chamber, and there openly before them declared certain offenses she had committed in misusing her body with certain persons before the king's time, because of which he there discharged all her household; and the morning after she was taken to Sion, with my Lady Bainton and two other gentlewomen and certain of her servants to wait on her there until the king's further pleasure.

And various people were taken to the Tower of London, such as my Lady Rochford[[[Jane Boleyn]]], Master Culpepper, one of the king's privy chamber, and others.

On 1 December Thomas Culpepper, one of the gentlemen of the king's privy chamber, and Francis Dorand, gentleman, were arraigned at the Guildhall in London, for high treason against the king's majesty, in misdemeanor with the queen, as appeared by their indictment which they confessed to, and they were sentenced to be drawn, hanged, and quartered, the lord mayor sitting there as chief, the lord chancellor on his right hand, and the Duke of Norfolk on his left hand, the Duke of Suffolk , the lord privy seal, the earls of Sussex, of Hertford, and various others of the king's council sitting with all the judges also in commission that day.

And on 10 December the said Culpepper and Dorand were drawn from the Tower of London to Tyburn, and there Culpepper, after exhorting the people to pray for him, stood on the ground by the gallows, knelt down and had his head struck off; and then Dorand was hanged, dismembered, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered. Culpepper's body was buried at St Sepulchre's church near Newgate, and their heads were set on London Bridge.

Katherine Howard - The Tudors Wiki
This letter written by Katherine to
Thomas Culpepper was used as evidence of her adultery.
It helped to seal her fate. In this affectionate letter, she has heard that Thomas has fallen ill.and she urges him to let her know how he is. She writes that it causes her pain to be apart from him and wishes he could be with her. She asks him to provide a horse for the servant in order to aid their communications. The letter ends with 'Yours as long as life endures'. For the high treason of adultery with the queen, Thomas Culpepper was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered but the sentence was commuted to beheading and Culpepper was dispatched in December 1541.

See also : Katherine Howard in her own words to see a full transcript of the letter plus her letter to Henry imploring his forgiveness.

An eyewitness account of Katherine's execution:

“I se the quene & the Lady of rotcheford suffer wt in the tower whos sowles (I doubt not) be wt god, ffor thay made the moost godly christyans ends, that ever was hard tell of (I thinke) sins the worldes creation, uttering thayer lyvely faeth in the blode of Christe onely, wt wonderful! pacience & costancy to the death, & wt goodly wordes & stedfast contenance they desired all christen people, to take regard unto thayer worthy and just punisshement wt death for thayer offences, agenst god heinously from thayer youth upward, in breaking of his comandements, and also agenst the Kinges Royal maiesty, very daungerously: wherfor thay being justly condempned (as thay sayed) by the lawes of the realme & parlement, to dye, required the people (I say) to take example of them, for amendement of thayer ungodly lyves, & gladly to obey the kinge in all thinges, for whose preservation they did hartely pray, and willed all people so to do comending thayer sowles to god, & ernestly calling for mercy uppon him....”
Katherine Howard
after Hans Holbein
"Uknown woman" who has been sometimes identified as Elizabeth Seymour and Princess Mary Tudor but recently in 2008 by David Starkey as Katherine Howard
*see article below

The Charges against Katherine
were read by her Uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk to her in Hampton Court Palace :

"My Lady Catherine Howard. You have been charged with treason. The grounds for this charge is that you entered into marriage with His Royal Highness, King Henry VIII having knowledge of a previous betrothal to both Henry Mannox and Frances Dereham. It is also stated that you employed these persons, here at the Palace, with the full intention of continuing this sordid lifestyle. You have, not only brought shame upon your name, but have grievously sought to destroy His Majesty the King. It will be in your best interest to admit to these crimes and plead for his mercy".

Her reply was:

"I am innocent of all charges and will never admit to these lies. If there is any ground of truth in these statements, then it is because of childish ignorance and the evil companions with whom I was formally surrounded. I also seek to state, that I am faithful to the King and would never wish harm upon him. I will seek his mercy, but not by admitting to these treacherous lies".

her marriage Katherine is said to have had at least two lovers, a musician, Henry Mannock, or Mannox
and Francis Dereham, to whom she had certainly been secretly betrothed.

However she swore the relationship with Mannox was not fully consummated. '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,' when later interrogated & Mannox admitted the same.

Her relationship with Francis Dereham was far more serious and likely consummated. There is much evidence on this point, including her own confession:

'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.'

They addressed one another as 'husband' and 'wife' and when Dereham was sent to Ireland on business, he left 100 pds in Katherine's keeping.

After becoming queen she occasionally met Dereham who was in her service and began a close relationship with her cousin Thomas Culpepper, and in November 1541 Thomas Cranmer informed Henry that his queen's past life had not been without stain.

Cranmer had obtained his knowledge indirectly from John Lascelles, the brother of Mary Hall, herself a chambermaid to the dowager duchess of Norfolk and thus privy to Catherine's past. Lascelles was a 'convinced reformer' & motivated by his religious convictions not personal animosity towards Katherine. But she represented the conservative Catholic faction and, with her influence, they were growing more powerful and reactionary. Lascelles went to Thomas Cranmer who recognized the dangers to Katherine, namely the precontract with Dereham that would invalidate her marriage to Henry VIII. The precontract, of course, while ending her marriage, also excused her intimacy with Dereham.

An assortment of female servants were arrested and sent to the Tower, as was Dereham. He was tortured; he confessed his earlier relationship and named Thomas Culpepper as the queen's current lover. Culpepper was then arrested, tortured, and confessed.

Katherine was demoted from her position as Queen on 22 November 1541 and formally indicted two days later for leading an 'abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous and vicious life'...

On 10 December 1541, Dereham paid a horrific penalty for his 'crimes'; he was hung, drawn, and quartered (disemboweled and castrated while still conscious) as a traitor. And as Starkey says : "All for sleeping a few times with an attractive and willing teenage girl who at the time was not married"

Thomas Culpepper was also executed that day, though he suffered a more merciful beheading; this was ordered by the king, perhaps because of Culpepper's higher rank and personal service in his household. Their heads were fixed on spears atop London Bridge and remained there as late as 1546.

On Friday, 10 February 1542, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk took Katherine Howard to the Tower of London. She struggled and had to be forced aboard the barge. On Sunday night, she was informed that she would be executed the next day. Her only request was that the block be brought to her for she wished to 'know how to place herself.' It was to be her last act on a grand stage; she would die with all the dignity and composure possible.

About 7 am on Monday, 13 February 1542, Katherine, weak and frightened was helped up the steps to the scaffold. She made a small, quiet speech regarding her 'worthy and just punishment'; she prayed for the king's preservation and for God's forgiveness. Her body was interred at the nearby chapel of St Peter ad Vincula close to her Cousin and Henry's 2nd wife Anne Boleyn.

The following is apocryphal and not the actual words Katherine spoke before her execution but has become fable :

"I die a queen but would rather die the wife of Culpepper god have mercy on my soul,good people I beg you to pray for me."

Katherine Howard
The Window of the Queen of Sheba, King's
College Chapel, Cambridge
From a stained glass window, the face of the woman kneeling may be Kathryn Howard according to Lady Antonia Fraser.


  • Catherine Howard by Michael Glenne (1948)
  • Sex with the Queen by Eleanor Herman (2006)
  • Katherine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy by Joanna Denny (2005)
  • Six Wives : The Queens of Henry VIII (reprinted 2004) by David Starkey
  • Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII by Karen Lindsey (1995)
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir(1993)
  • Katherine Howard by Jessica Smith (1972)
  • A Tudor tragedy: The life and times of Catherine Howard by Lacey Baldwin Smith (1961)
  • House of Treason: the Rise and Fall of a Tudor Dynasty by Richard Hutchison (2009)
  • Catherine Howard: The Queen Whose Adulteries Made a Fool of Henry VIII by Lacey Baldwin Smith (2009)

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David Starkey with Katherine Howard portraitAs reported on the <a class="external" href="http://www.hevercastle.co.uk/WhatsNew/tabid/107/View/true/ParentId/3/Default.aspx" rel="nofollow" target="_blank" title="Hever Castle website">Hever Castle website</a>:

Controversial Catherine Howard portrait unveiled by Starkey at Hever Castle

The rare and newly acquired portait of Catherine Howard was unveiled by David Starkey on 3rd March 2008 completing Hever Castle's collection of Henry VIII's Queens.

Catherine Howard (1521-1542), Henry VIII’s fifth wife, married the King in 1540 almost immediately after his divorce from Anne of Cleves was finalised. However, after humiliating the King with her infidelity, Catherine was charged with treason and executed on 13th February 1542 The portrait has been surrounded in controversy as it has proved hard to identify, with previous debate naming the sitter as Mary Tudor or Elizabeth Seymour. This arose because not only was Catherine Howard’s marriage to Henry, and time at Court short lived, making the window for portrait sitting small, but she was, as the daughter of a younger brother of a Duke, one of the many obscure and relatively poor aristocracy of whom family portraits in youth may well have been unlikely
Now, it is agreed that the portrait is indeed Catherine Howard, firstly because of the clothes and jewellery – Henry VIII is known to have inundated Catherine with such gifts in his attempts to please her – and secondly because it bears a striking similarity in face shape and features to that of a miniature in the Royal Collection. The portrait of Catherine Howard will sit next to a portrait of Anne Boleyn and her lesser known sister Mary, as part of the ‘Losing your head over Henry’ Exhibition in Hever Castle’s Long Gallery. The exhibition explores the relationship between the Boleyn and Howard families, both fiercely ambitious for their daughters to become Queen of England and both eventually disgraced, as Anne and Catherine were beheaded.
...Hever Castle is best known as the family home of Anne Boleyn, but is also where it is believed Henry VIII first met and then courted Anne and now boasts one of the best collections of Tudor portraits after the National Portrait Gallery.