Miniature Portrait of Catherine Howard by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Miniature Portrait of Catherine Howard by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Catherine Howard (c.1521/1525 – 1542)¬†was the fifth wife of King Henry VIII of England. She was the cousin of Henry‚Äôs second wife Anne Boleyn, through her father’s side (Lord Edmund Howard‚Äôs sister was Elizabeth Howard, Anne Boleyn‚Äôs mother). She was Queen of England from 1540-1541.

While Catherine‚Äôs grandfather was the powerful Duke of Norfolk, her father was one of the younger sons in a family with 21 children, meaning she had aristocratic pedigree but her family were poor by nobility standards. Catherine spent her childhood in the household of her step grandmother, Agnes, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. While she may have learnt to read and write there, a noteworthy feat for women in Tudor England, she was the least educated of Henry‚Äôs wives, and her upbringing at her step grandmother’s was not conventional. Catherine grew up with the children of other poor nobles, and the supervision was practically non-existent leading Catherine to commit scandalous behaviour, which would later come back to haunt her. She had a relationship with Henry Manox, her music teacher, and later had an affair with her step grandmother’s secretary, Francis Dereham.

When she was old enough, Catherine was selected to be a maiden of honour for the Kings new wife, Anne of Cleves. Henry, unhappy from the beginning with his marriage to Anne of Cleves, was soon captivated by Catherine and he married her shortly after his marriage to Anne had ended. Henry adored Catherine and called her his ‘rose without a thorn’ but Henry was 49 when they married, and by this time had injured his leg and had a painful and foul smelling ulcer on his leg.

Here Catherine made her greatest error in judgement and began an affair with Tomas Culpeper, a young, handsome nobleman who was also one of Henry’s favourites. These meetings had been organised and hidden by Lady Jane Rochford (the widow of Anne Boleyn’s brother, George Boleyn). While Catherine and Thomas never consummated their relationship they admitted when later questioned that they had intended to.

Rumours began to circulate and Henry was forced to start an inquiry about whether the rumours were true. Everything about Catherine’s previous life at her step-grandmother’s came out about Henry Manox and Francis Dereham. To make matters worse, Catherine had recently made Dereham her Private Secretary and Gentleman Usher of the Queen’s chamber.

Henry was shocked and heartbroken and the news of her previous history with Francis Dereham and Henry Manox and her future intentions with Thomas Culpeper sealed her fate. She was beheaded on 13 February 1542 at the Tower of London.

If you would like to read more about Catherine, try Katherine Howard: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s Fifth Queen, by Josephine Wilkinson.

-Danielle Triggs
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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