A Rose Without A Thorn: Catherine Howard

The young and spirited sixteen year old Catherine Howard would be the fifth wife of the playboy Henry VIII. Though Catherine Howard has been portrayed as a bit of a ditz on TV, The Tudors, the young girl was not as ignorant as people believe. She did however make one fatal mistake. When your husband is the most powerful man in the country and incredibly jealous and vain, it is not a good idea to cheat on him, or if you’re going to, you may want to avoid being caught. Queen for only eighteen months, the young teenager would end her life at the receiving end of an axe, claiming she would rather have lived as Culpeper’s wife. Henry’s great rose would die after a short life that made very little of an impact on English history.

A Less Than Perfect Early Life

Very little attention has ever really been given to Catherine’s early life. Catherine is believed to have been born in either 1521 or 1525. If she was sixteen when she married the King, as many say she was, she would have been born at the later date. Catherine was one of many children to Edmund Howard, youngest son of the Duke of Norfolk, and Joyce Culpeper.  Catherine was sent at an early age to live with her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, to learn proper behavior for court. This also freed up Edmund from having to raise and provide for his daughter.

Catherine was raised in a dormitory type of setting at Lambeth Palace with many other girls whose parents were attempting to improve their children’s chances at court. Catherine’s education for the most part was neglected. She learned how to read and write and enjoyed music lessons.

As Catherine grew up she became a vivacious girl and rather flirtatious. She was childish and immature and enjoyed pleasure and entertainment above all things. She had very little self-control and this would be the leading factor that got her into trouble.

A String of Lovers

Catherine wasn’t known for her strong interest in education, but she did seem to enjoy her music lessons. This was due to the keen attention of her music teacher, the young Henry Mannox. They first met in 1536  (This is conveniently the year her cousin Anne Boleyn was executed for adultery).  Mannox was hired to teach Catherine the virginal and lute and soon began teaching Catherine the art of seduction.  Catherine swore that her relationship with Mannox was never consummated. Instead, she insisted she only allowed Mannox to touch her, claiming, “… I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body….” Mannox admitted to the same.

Mannox would follow the duchess’s household to London in 1538, but Catherine soon lost interest in him. Instead her attention turned to a man named Francis Dereham, who was a gentleman in her grandmother’s household.  This relationship, unlike the last, was consummated. Catherine viewed Dereham as her betrothed and husband and even addressed him as such.  There was an engagement between the two, privately formulated that would come back to haunt Catherine later.

Dereham left towards the end of 1538 for Ireland and Catherine’s attention again turned elsewhere. In 1539 she moved closer to court, staying at her uncle’s house, and there met Thomas Culpeper. Catherine was attracted to him right away and fell in love with him, but as fate would have it, her life would take a different turn.

Another Lady in Waiting Turned Queen

Catherine joined court in late 1539 as a lady-in waiting to Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife. Henry, by all accounts, fell in love (lust) with Catherine upon first meeting her. The King made his affection known publicly in April of 1540. Catherine was given lands on the 24th and later received other gifts. The King’s marriage to Anne of Cleves was ended on July 13, 1540, making room for a new queen.  Henry during this time lavished Catherine with extravagant gifts, spending more money on Catherine Howard than any of his four preceding wives. Catherine, enjoying fine things and pleasure, responded positively and encouraged the aging King’s affection.

Henry married Catherine on July 28, 1540 at Oatlands Palace in Surrey. The wedding was beautiful but Catherine was not crowed queen. The next year the King enjoyed his new wife. Catherine spent much time amusing the King and distracting from his more depressing matters, such as the loss of the love of his people and the losing war he was fighting with France.

The Queen during her time enjoyed the masque, banquets and gifts besotted on her. She entertained Henry and for the most part avoided politics. She did assist two prisoners in the tower, with her husband’s permission, and showed careful attention to her cousin and now stepdaughter, Elizabeth, but for the most part acted the part of a newly made heiress rather than a true queen.

The Past Catching Up

Henry, in his love for his wife, was not aware of her questionable past. In fact, Catherine has seemed innocent to the King and he had not imagined the lovers she had formerly had. Catherine did nothing to encourage his curiosity either, nor was she open about this past. The past did catch up to Catherine though. It began with Joan Bulmer, a young woman who Catherine had lived with at Lambeth and knew more of the old Catherine. She requested Catherine bring her to court, subtlety blackmailing her into bringing her. Then, in August of 1541, Dereham showed up with a request to be Catherine’s secretary. Catherine agreed to avoid a truth becoming public knowledge.  Even agreeing though did not save her from a complete scandal. Dereham was overly familiar with Catherine and he aroused the jealousy of those around them at court.

A New Lover

Catherine was affectionate with the King and very caring of him, but it was clear she was not romantically in love with him. When he fell ill in the spring of 1541 the King sent Catherine away in order to keep her safe.  Catherine was already somewhat acquainted with Thomas Culpeper from her stay at her uncle’s house. However, it was in the spring of 1541 that Catherine and Thomas began their affair. Catherine wrote to Thomas, expressing her undying love. She used one of her lady’s in waiting, Jane Boleyn (the wife of George Boleyn) to help her conduct her affair. Jane would stand watch while Catherine and Thomas met in secret.

For quite a long time Henry was ignorant of Catherine’s affair. He knew nothing of her young lover. He continued to visit his wife’s bedchamber and dote on her with lavish gifts. Catherine became boulder in her affection towards Culpeper, becoming careless.  It seemed everyone was aware of the relationship except Henry. However, his ignorance could not last forever, especially in a gossiping court. When the court returned to Hampton Court in November of 1541 Catherine’s past and current affairs caught up to her.

Fall From Grace

Catherine’s indiscretions became known to the King through Cranmer, John Lascelle and Mary Hall, a woman who had lived with Catherine before she became Queen. Initially the King did not believe it, but the evidence and confirmations could not be ignored. Catherine’s fall from grace was swift.  Henry ordered an investigation after learning this and after a few days everything came tumbling down.

Several female servants were arrested along with Dereham. Dereham was tortured and in this torture confessed his former relationship, along with giving new information. Dereham named Culpeper as Catherine’s current lover. Culpeper was arrested, tortured, and confessed as well.  Catherine was confined to her room during this time. When Henry was given the news of the truth he wept. Henry’s sorrow quickly turned to anger; he even demanded a sword to slay Catherine himself.

Catherine was arrested on November 12 and she pleaded so see the King. Her pleas were denied. Two days after her arrest Catherine was taken to Syon House and was interrogated by Cranmer.  Catherine was hysterical and confessed her relationship with Dereham but did not mention the pre-contract, instead making Dereham out to be violent. Catherine was demoted from her position as Queen on November 22 and she remained at Syon house for two more months.

On December 10, Dereham was executed by being hung, drawn and quartered. Culpeper was also executed, being beheaded.  While these men were being executed members of Catherine’s family was sent to the tower.

Another Dead Howard Girl

Henry passed an Act of Attainder on February 11. This made it so Henry could punish those who intended to commit treason, which sealed Catherine’s fate. Catherine was taken to the Tower of London on February 10, 1542. Two days later they informed her she would be executed the next day. Catherine requested a block so she could practice placing herself upon it. Her wish was granted.

On Monday, February 13, 1542 several privy councilors arrived to take Catherine to the block. Catherine had to be helped up the stairs to the scaffold and Catherine made a quiet speech.  After asking for God’s mercy Catherine lay down on the block and her life was ended with the swift executioner’s axe. Catherine was not yet eighteen. She was queen for eighteen months and is remember for little, other than her dramatic affair and sad end

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