Catherine Howard (15??-1542) was the fifth wife of Henry VIII. Her marriage to Henry VIII was short. Ending after less than two years, it dissolved in scandal. Catherine was beheaded on 13 February 1542 for crimes of adultery. 

Portrait of a Tudor girl
Catherine Howard: it is unclear whether there is actually a portrait of Catherine Howard. Just as the spelling of her name, her birthdate, and her agency in her relationship is unknown, so is what she looked like.

Catherine was born into the Howard family, a very noble and powerful family. She was the second cousin to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. Although their marriage also ended with Anne’s execution for adultery, the Howard family used their connection to Anne and advanced during this time. While her family was illustrious, Catherine’s father Edmund was relatively poor for a noble. Instead of staying at home, Catherine was sent to live with her step- grandmother Agnes Howard, the Dower Duchess of Norfolk. Agnes was a wealthy woman, and she took any many of her relatives’ daughters. The girls all lived together at Norfolk House at Lambath and Horsham House. 

Catherine also had a questionable history according to the Tudor standards for a young girl. It may have been a time of romance and new religion, but young women were expected to abide by strict rules on virtue and virginity.While under her step-grandmother’s care Catherine had a romantic relationship with her music teacher Henry Manock and later her step-grandmother’s secretary Francis Dereham. Catherine would have been a young teenager at this time. Historically, Catherine is blamed for her improper manner. Some historians such as Gareth Russell claim that Catherine was in control of her romantic affairs. On the other hand, historian Josephine Wilkinson writes that Catherine was a victim of sexual assault and did not understand the implication that these affairs would have. Although women were often married at young ages in the medieval world, by some estimates of her age, Catherine would have been very young. It is hard to know how she actually viewed these relationships. 

Catherine came to Court in 1539 awaiting the arrival of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s betrothed. While in Anne’s service, Catherine met Henry VIII, and they started a relationship. He annulled his marriage to Anne of Cleves and on 28 July 1540, Catherine and Henry were married. Henry VIII was “captivated” by his new wife, and for a time their marriage was happy. While in this marriage, Catherine was accused of adultery with Thomas Culpeper. This relationship along with her earlier affairs led to her downfall and execution. Along with her execution, both Culpeper and Dereham were killed. On 10 February 1542, Catherine was taken to the Tower of London. 

Catherine Howard was young when she died. Estimates for the year of her birth range from 1518-1525. Catherine would have been between twenty-four and seventeen at her death. Regardless of the fact that Henry VIII was decades older than Catherine and with his wife Anne of Cleves when his romantic interest in Catherine started, the same rules of propriety did not apply to the King of England as it did for the Queen of England.

The Tower would be the place of her death. Catherine would be buried at the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula at the Tower of London. The Tower of London was built in the 1070s by William the Conqueror. When built it was a massive structure unlike anything that had been built in London. Throughout history, the Tower of London continued to expand becoming a massive complex. The Tower has been a defensive structure, mint, place for imprisonment and execution, a luxurious palace, and the resting place for three queens of England. The Tower still stands today, a tourist site showing the wonders and horrors of the history of England. Although her husband was notorious for his many affairs, Catherine paid the ultimate price for living what may have seemed to her a young and carefree life. Catherine Howard’s short life exemplifies the double standards girls face throughout history.

-Rebekah Mills, Junior Girl

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