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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Spain entered England through one queen, Catherine of Aragon. The daughter of Isabella of Spain, sister of Juana of Castile, she was raised to be queen of England. Docile, religious, sweet tempered, Catherine would defer to her husband in all things. All things but one: The woman raised to be queen would die in a battle to maintain her title. Alone and separated from her daughter Catherine would die as queen of nothing, replaced by another woman and scorned by her husband. She, like many of the women in her family, would be destroyed by the wills of a man.



Catherine of Aragon was the last child of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. Her mother spent most of her pregnancy on a battlefield, waging war against the blasphemous moors.  Isabella finally gave up her war in September for the birth and Catherine was born Catalina of Spain in December of 1485. Catalina was destined for great things her parents decided and at three years old she was betrothed to Arthur of Wales, future King of England. It was decided then that Catalina would be the future queen of England and she grew up with this in mind.




Catherine left her home in Spain at sixteen, in 1501, to make the perilous crossing to England toward her new life and role.  The journey was treacherous and took three months to make. When Catherine arrived she had very little time to freshen up; King Henry and his son journeyed to where she was staying and demanded to see the Infanta. For the Spanish this was a large insult and it was the beginning to what would become a rocky relationship between the two countries.

Catherine and Arthur were married on November 14, 1501. It was decided the couple would not consummate the marriage right away, seeing how both were very young. The couple moved to Ludlow Castle to take up their positions as Prince and Princess of Wales. They were barely married six months before both became sick with the sweating sickness. Catherine survived. Arthur was not so lucky. The young prince died, leaving Catherine a widow and her fate undecided.



With the death of the prince King Henry had two options, send Catherine and her dowry back to Spain, an option he was not willing to consider, or find a new match for her. Henry had a younger son, Henry, so after 14 months he made another match. Catherine would be married to Henry. The betrothal was set and Catherine reassumed her position as future Queen of England. The match was not that simple though.


Catherine waited maybe a year before her father- in-law began to let it be known he was not so keen upon a Spanish alliance. After all, he already had Catherine’s dowry in England and his son was eligible to marry any woman, and bring in more foreign money. Henry VII was nothing if not a greedy man and he desired more money for his growing treasury. Catherine spent nine years waiting for her husband. It was not until Henry VII died that Catherine was finally married to Henry VIII and made queen of England. She had fulfilled her destiny  it seemed, but her fight would never been over.




Right after marriage Catherine became pregnant, a fact that roused Henry’s joy. In 1510 Catherine gave birth prematurely to a stillborn daughter. The joy was short lived. Catherine became pregnant again and this time gave birth to a living male heir. Henry. The castle was alight in the future promise of another king, but again Catherine would disappoint. The baby died after 52 days, leaving Catherine drowning in sorrow. After that Catherine would have pregnancy after pregnancy, followed by disappointment after disappointment. Catherine gave birth to one living child, a daughter, Mary I, who would go on to be a terror long after her mother was gone.




Henry grew out of love with his wife, no surprise. The king was younger than his wife and rather lustful. A string of unsuccessful pregnancies had left Catherine heavy and tired, older looking. The king turned his attention towards other women, always returning to his wife afterwards. Catherine endured the string of mistresses; after all she was still queen. One woman would change this. Anne Boleyn came into the picture in 1526, catching the king’s eye and refusing to give in to him. This was a new game Catherine had never seen before and though she held onto hope that the King would grow tired, as he normally did, she was in for a rude awakening call.




In 1526 Henry began to separate from Catherine.  He made inquiries to the Pope about an annulment, claiming that taking his brother’s wife had been a sin. Catherine did not know at first, and when she discovered she was beyond upset. An annulment would mean she was no longer Queen of England, further it would mean her daughter was illegitimate and would have no right to the throne. For the first time in her life Catherine would defy her husband. Instead of disappearing to a convent quietly, as Henry had hoped, Catherine put up a fight. Though at a disadvantage, Catherine wrote to the Pope and to her Nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor, pleading her case.

The fight continued for six years, with Catherine adamant in her claim that she and Arthur had never consummated their marriage. In 1533 however Anne became pregnant, and Henry was forced to make a decision. He proclaimed himself head of the Church of England and granted his own annulment. Catherine refused to acknowledge the change, but it did not matter, paper said they were divorced.

To hurt Catherine more, Henry made her leave court and took away their only child. She was forced to live in seclusion for three years at Kimbolton Castle until her death on January 7, 1536. She was not even allowed to say goodbye to her daughter.


Catherine was born on a battlefield in a war and died fighting her own war. In the end she was granted one wish, her daughter would become queen one day, but she would shame her mother with the acts of horror she would commit while on the throne.


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Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary

The Queen known as Bloody Mary, Mary Tudor, was the only child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Raised with the belief she would one day be queen, abandon by her ruthless father, and lost without her pious mother, Mary made history for being one of the most violent monarchs in history.

The Spanish Infant


Mary was born February 18, 1516. She was the first living child of her parents union. They had been trying for an heir for fifteen years with little success and plenty of heartaches. Henry was tired of waiting for an heir and Catherine was worrying about her ability to carry a child to term. Mary was a joy to her mother and hope for her father, but it was short lived, for she would remain their only living child. For the most part Mary had a wonderful childhood, bull of love and attention, until 1533, when her mother’s marriage was annulled her father married a new queen, Anne Boleyn.

The Lady Mary


After the rise of Anne Boleyn Mary’s position changed drastically. Anne, who felt Mary was a threat to her future children, did everything in her power to belittle the princess. Princess Mary became the Lady Mary and she was forced to wait as a servant on her half-sister, Elizabeth. Though Mary was strong willed, the threats on her life and continued mistreatment became too much. Eventually she submitted to her father’s will and declared herself a bastard, making her life no easier, but somewhat pleasing Anne. Her life would not improve until 1536, when Anne was beheaded.

The Succession


Mary had a succession of stepmothers. The second stepmother, Jane Seymour, gave birth to Mary’s first brother, changing the line of succession. Now, Mary was second in line for the throne, a fact that upset her. Jane soon died though and Mary was given another stepmother, Anne of Cleaves, who she liked greatly. However that marriage was short lived and her next stepmother, Katherine Howard, was six years younger than her.  Mary was angry about this, but the marriage was short lived and her final stepmother was wonderful, despite the fact that she was a heretic in Mary’s eyes. This would be Mary’s final stepmother, for her father died , 1547, leaving her nine year old brother to rule.

Two Monarchs to Live Through


Edward, also a Protestant, set into motion an Act of Uniformity, which Mary defied and she continued to celebrate Mass. Edward would struggle with his sister over this issue for the rest of his reign, but he would not win.

Edward however, did intend to make a change. Knowing he was growing sick, and being manipulated by his advisors, Edward changed the succession so his crown would pass over his half-sisters and fall to his cousin Jane, who was also a Protestant.

When Edward died, in 1553, the crown passed to Jane and she became Queen of England. Mary at the time was growing an army of supporters, knowing she would have to take her crown by force. When Mary received news that her brother was for sure dead, she sent proclamations throughout her country to declare herself as the rightful queen. Her number of supporters increased during this time, all believing she was their rightful queen.

The Privy Council, realizing what they had done and the error they had made (along with the price they would pay) announced Mary the true Queen of England and she left to claim her throne in London.  Mary executed two conspirators right away and later executed her own cousin, Jane. This was the beginning of her bloody reign.

False Pregnancies and a Bloody Terror


Mary soon married her Spanish cousin, Phillip of Spain. Mary fell in love with his portrait and thought the marriage would strengthen her attempts to return England to Catholicism. Shortly after her marriage, a physician announced the Queen was pregnant. With the hope of a child, Mary felt a renewed rigor to restore her country to the true faith.  Mary returned land to the monasteries her father had destroyed and restored heresy laws that allowed killing heretics.

Mary arrested several holy men and put them on trial, then burned them at the stake. Mary burned 275 people during her reign, only causing more people to grow to hate her.

While her country began to despise her Mary retreated to give birth to her child. She waited for her labor pains but they never came and by July 3rd, a month after her due date, Mary grew very worried.  With embarrassment, Mary exited the chamber and signs of pregnancy disappeared, though no one pointed out the lack of a child.

Mary came out of confinement with a new vigor for burning heretics. She continued on her rampage until discovering she was pregnant again in 1557. She entered confinement and February of 1558 only to discover in April that she was again mistaken.

A Sick Queen


After her second false pregnancy the queen became incredibly ill. She drifted in and out of consciousness and made her will for succession, naming her sister as the heir. On November 16, 1558 Mary died, leaving behind a legacy of blood and destruction.

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Isabel of Portugal: The Spanish Madness

The long train of Spanish monarchs affected with madness began with one queen. Isabel of Portugal, mother of Isabella of Castile, is known as the woman who introduced madness into the Spanish line. Married to a man twice her age, Isabel was forced to compete with her husband’s advisor for his affection. After the birth of her first child, Isabel suffered from what could be called postpartum depression. From there, her decent into madness only worsened until she was forced by her stepson to live out her days in a gloomy castle, almost completely in seclusion. Isabel died in 1496, alone, apart from the ghost she claimed haunted her regularly.

A Portuguese Princess

Isabel of Portugal was born in 1428 to Prince Joao of Portugal and his wife/niece, Isabel of Braganza. Not much is known about Isabel’s childhood, seeing that she was not the daughter of the King and it had not been anticipated that she would play such a role in history. Isabel did not really become of interest until 1447, when she took center stage as the possible bride for King Juan II of Castile. Alvaro de Luna, the trusted advisor of the King, set his eyes on Isabel as the second queen of Castile, and therefore Juan, a weak and gullible man, headed his advice. Juan and Isabel were married on July 22, 1447. Isabel was 19, Juan was 42.

Struggle for Power

Though Juan was thrilled with his marriage, as any old man marrying a young pretty girl is, Isabel was less than pleased. Not only was she married to a man old enough to be her father, (In fact Juan had a son by his first wife four years older than Isabel) but Isabel was being placed on the shelf underneath her husband’s advisor, de Luna. Isabel was melancholy, headstrong, jealous, ambitious and possessive. All of these contributed to her growing resentment of de Luna, who attempted to control everything about the King (including when he could have sex with his wife). The weak Juan never pushed back on his advisor, but Isabel was not ready to play the role of doormat. Soon a power struggle broke out between the young queen and the handy advisor.  Like many women of the time, the Queen used her feminine charm against her enemy and was able to convince her husband through whispered pleas in the bedroom to end this power struggle. Of course, the end would be in her favor.

Childbirth and Insanity

During her struggle with de Luna, Isabel became pregnant. After her traditional confinement Isabel gave birth to a daughter in April of 1451. Isabel’s experience with childbirth however left her feeling incredibly depressed. She shut herself away and sat motionless, refusing to speak to anybody except her husband. The queen was a nervous wreck, indulging in hysterical tantrums on a regular basis. It was during this time of insanity that Juan finally grew tired of his wife’s constant nagging and agreed to get rid of de Luna. De Luna, remaining one step ahead of the game, found out about the plot and murdered one of the key instruments. This however only backfired and Isabel was able to convince her husband to arrest and execute his top advisor and her number one rival.


The death of de Luna may have left Isabel feeling satisfied, but it left the King feeling weak and depressed. His health began to decline rapidly after the death of his friend, and he was often found weeping. During this time Isabel gave birth to another child, a son, Alfonso. The happiness that could be found in producing an heir was short lived however. Nine months after that joyous moment Juan took to his bed and died on July 20, 1454. His son from his first marriage, Henry IV, became king.

Henry IV, enjoying his new found power, sent his stepmother and two stepsiblings to live in the gloomy and secluded castle of Arevalo. It would be here in her seclusion that Isabel plunged completely into madness.

The Mad Widow

Every year Isabel seemed to grow more and more unhinged, sinking deeper into her own depression. Her mental abilities deteriorated and she began to hallucinate, claiming to be plagued by ghosts. Isabel wandered the castle, calling out to de Luna, claiming his spirit haunted her. Around 1452 Isabella was taken away from her mother, leaving the dowager queen completely alone. The more years she spent in seclusion, the crazier she became. Towards the end of her life Isabel could not even remember how own identity, let alone the identity of anyone else. It was in this tattered state that the sad woman’s life ended. In 1496, alone in the castle, Isabel was finally relieved of her madness. Only in death was she able to escape from the insanity that had haunted her most of her life. However, her legacy lived on through her daughter Isabella, and later, her granddaughter Juana, who favored her maternal grandmother’s temperament.

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Juana the Mad: A woman ahead of her time

In 1509 the Queen of Spain found herself imprisoned within a room in a castle by her own father. Forty-six years later she died alone and abandon. The unmemorable death of Juana of Castile was the result of a family full of greed, power, hate, love and mental illnesses.  Very few people know much about Juana of Castile. Though her tale is one of interest, love and betrayal, it appears history, like her own family, has forgotten her chilling life.

The mad beauty whose only crime was wanting a dedicated husband.

The Perfect Princess

Juana of Castile was the third child of the infamous rulers Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Born on November 6, 1479, Juana was immediately betrothed to Philip of Flanders, the Duke of Burgundy, as a political move. Juana’s ambitious parents planned to marry her off in order to build more allies in Europe and strengthen their own ambitions. Juana was groomed by her mother to be a perfect bride.

Some historians claim that Juana of Castile showed signs from an early age of being unstable, however the likelihood of this is slim. Isabella of Spain was nothing if not meticulous and cunning; she never would have went through with a marriage if she felt her daughter was going to be unpredictable and dangerous. Juana shows every sign of having been an intelligent and well-behaved child that grew up being pruned to be the wife of Philip the Handsome.

A Rare Thing

In 1496 all the hard work was put to the test as Juana was placed on a ship and sent off to marry Philip in Flanders.  Though Juana had left her family she did not have the chance to be unhappy. Upon meeting her groom, both Philip and Juana felt a stirring of lust within in them. Philip in fact insisted on marrying his bride upon her arrival so the marriage could be consummated. The next few weeks seemed to be blissful for the young couple. It was a rare thing, an arranged marriage that resulted in real feelings.

Philip the Handsome

Of course, the time and culture dictated that a wife be fully committed to her husband, but the same was not expected of the male. Philip, living up to his title, felt the need to share his male beauty with all the women of the court. Juana of course, felt a tiny sting of jealousy at this. It did not help that she was constantly pregnant, giving birth to six children in nine years. During this time women were confined for a period of their pregnancy.

During this time Philip allowed his attention to stray. One such time, Juana caught her husband in his extramarital affair.  Juana, giving into her jealousy, attacked the woman, cutting of her precious hair. Today this might be something we put in a movie for a comic effect, during this time however a woman was expected to turn her eyes away and ignore it, especially a princess. Juana however didn’t seem to believe in going along with the crowd and made her point loud and clear; her man was off limits.

Of course, a woman making decisions was unheard of in this time, and this is when the rumors of Juana’s ‘madness’ began to circulate. The idea that Juana could be so irrational made many courtiers believe she had inherited the same mental sickness her maternal grandmother was believed to have had. It did not help that Juana’s own husband and father helped to circulate these rumors.

A Fight to be King

On April 12, 1555, Isabella of Castile meant her death. With no living male heir the crown would be passed to her oldest living daughter, Juana. The crown of Castile was eagerly sought after, by Philip of Flanders and by Ferdinand of Aragon. Juana’s own personal ambitions for her country and crown were overlooked. In fact, Juana’s own mind and actions were now her greatest downfall. Her decision to stand up for her vows was the perfect catalyst for her father to launch a campaign to dismiss his daughter and have her locked up, making him once again, King of Spain. It was Juana’s own personal grief that would lead to her downfall.

The Queen of the Tower

In 1506 the beloved Philip the Handsome died of typhus, leaving Juana pregnant and grief stricken. Juana, still deeply in love with her husband, only made her situation worse. Accompanying her husband’s body for burial, she demanded they only travel at night, to avoid other women who might be tempted by Philip. She also demanded the coffin to be opened so she could see her husband regularly. These actions were all the ammunition Ferdinand needed to rule Juana unfit for the crown.

Not wanting to be challenged, it was not enough for Ferdinand to simply deem Juana unfit. He imprisoned Juana in a room with no windows; cutting her off from the thing she loved the most, Philip. Still legally queen, Juana ruled her youngest daughter, who was kept in prison with her, and the windowless tower, where she spent the remainder of her father’s rule. After her father died, her son Charles ascended to the throne, and continued with what his grandfather had begun, leaving his mother to rot in the tower, consumed by her own grief.

Juana of Castile was the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country’s throne, and she lived her life as a woman ahead of her time in ideas, only to be met with hostility and hatred. She died a sad and lonely woman, abandon by every man in her life she had dared to love.

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