Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 4, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr


Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
  • After 4 failed marriages Henry VIII married Katherine Howard
  • She had a guilty secret
  • Final wife Katherine Parr more obedient but not all she seemed
  • 1539 Henry VIII aged 48, first 3 wives dead
  • Henry stuck in a loveless marriage with Anne of Cleves – called her fat and ugly, he was so disgusted he couldn’t have sex with her
  • Big problem for Henry and the Tudor dynasty
  • The king only had one son, and child deaths were common
  • Just months into his marriage to Anne Henry began to look around for her replacement but didn’t look far
  • 1539 aged 17 Katherine Howard arrived at the Tudor court – came from a rich and powerful noble family
  • Henry fell in love at first sight
  • Katherine was everything Anne wasn’t – made him feel manly
  • Henry saw Katherine as virginal “blushing rose without a thorn”
  • Within months of arriving at court it is believed Katherine became Henry’s lover
  • Spring 1540 Henry was seen making regular trips day and night to Katherine’s house, and planned to wed her
  • Anne had to go – just 6 months after the wedding Henry left Anne
  • Used her previous engagement to a French nobleman to annul the marriage – she was paid off and sent away
  • 28 July 1540 Henry and Katherine married, just 2 weeks after the annulment of Henry’s previous marriage
  • Being queen was everything Katherine dreamed it would be
  • Henry showered Katherine with jewels and showed her off at banquets and hunting expeditions
  • Henry in love and lust, drunk with desire – sexual problems disappeared

  • Newlyweds had a 10 day private honeymoon
  • “Caresses her more than he did the others”
  • Henry believed he finally found his perfect wife
  • Didn’t stop to question how a supposed virgin knew her way so well around the bedroom
  • Rumours soon began to spread and secrets about her past were whispered
  • 2 November 1541 Henry VIII arrived in the private chapel at Hampton Court for mass and discovered a letter on his seat
Thomas Cranmer by Gerlach Flicke 1545.
Thomas Cranmer by Gerlach Flicke 1545.
  • The letter was written by Cranmer and claimed Katherine wasn’t an innocent virgin, but had a dark past
  • Chesworth House in Sussex 1532 aged 11 or 12 Katherine was sent to live in the household of the dowager Duchess of Norfolk
  • Learnt what it took to be successful at court
  • Alleged that while Katherine lived there men would visit the dormitory at night
  • It was said she engaged in illicit sex
  • Henry refused to believe the allegations at first
  • Henry ordered it investigated in secret, believing someone was against Katherine
  • Henry notoriously bad-tempered, but possibly refused to believe after Anne Boleyn that another of his wives was tempted in that way
  • Cranmer knew of immoral living at Chesworth
  • There was a witness – Margaret Bennett – brought in for questioning
  • Saw Katherine with a young gentleman called Francis Dereham, and they undressed each other
  • Katherine admitted to knowing how to meddle with a man and not conceive a child
  • Katherine wasn’t a virgin when she married the king
  • Women needed to disclose their full sexual history – if the queen fell pregnant there should be no doubt as to the father
  • Cranmer had to tell Henry the truth about Katherine’s past
  • Henry was devastated and broke down in tears
  • Katherine had no idea that she had been discovered until 7 November 1541 Cranmer confronted her
  • Katherine denied it, but offered her mercy to get a confession
  • Admitted to youthful mistakes of sleeping with Dereham
  • Katherine wrote a full confession asking for mercy from the king to avoid the executioner’s block
  • Henry thawed on reading Katherine’s words – would spare her life
  • Katherine was sent to the nunnery at Syon
  • Henry relieved – he loved Katherine and couldn’t bear to lose her
  • Henry believed the incidents took place before he knew her but Cranmer wasn’t satisfied – he didn’t believe the affair was a thing of the past
  • Dereham was arrested and taken to the Tower, tortured to confess
  • Dereham denied he was still having sex with Katherine, but claimed that someone else was
  • Thomas Culpeper was reported to have replaced Dereham in Katherine’s affections – trusted advisor of Henry VIII and gentleman of the privy chamber
  • Culpeper’s rooms were searched for evidence of an affair
  • They found a letter from Katherine to Culpeper “it makes my heart to die … that I cannot be always in your company”
  • Signed “yours as long as life endures, Katherine”
  • The letter was as good as a death warrant – being unfaithful could be considered high treason
  • Possible that they weren’t having a sexual affair, but he was someone she was close to and could talk to
  • Culpeper arrested and denied having had sex with Katherine
  • “I intended and meant to do ill with the queen and likewise the queen did with me” – Culpeper’s admission of wanting to have sex with the queen
  • Partial admission of guilt sealed his own fate
  • 1 December 1541 Culpeper and Dereham found guilty of treason
  • Katherine was denied the opportunity to defend herself and was condemned to death by an act of parliament
  • On the evening before she was due to be executed the block was taken to her
  • Katherine had requested it to make a good impression on the scaffold
  • She wanted to die with dignity so practiced how to lay herself
  • At 7am on 13 February 1542 Katherine walked to the scaffold in the Tower of London – with her dying words achieved dignity
  • “Worthy and just punishment”, “amend your ungodly lives”
  • Katherine forgave the executioner and paid him a gold sovereign
  • Henry didn’t watch the execution – Katherine was the latest in a long line of betrayals
  • Henry was free to marry again but didn’t have his next wife waiting in the wings
  • Henry had a bad reputation, unlikely to find a wife willing
Katherine Parr at the National Portrait Gallery.
Katherine Parr at the National Portrait Gallery.
  • Late 1542 Katherine Parr joined Princess Mary’s household
  • Katherine was bright and attractive, twice widowed by older men
  • Financially independent, didn’t have to marry for security, but could marry for love, to Thomas Seymour
  • The two were planning to marry until the king intervened
  • Mature, intelligent, beautiful, experienced, self-assured and caring
  • Henry looking for a nursemaid? Wanted an equal
  • Katherine of Aragon was her godmother – looking back to his first marriage
  • Katherine echoed the queen he’d chosen right at the beginning
  • Spring 1543 the king asked Katherine to marry him
  • For Katherine it was a disaster as she loved Thomas Seymour
  • Had no ambition to be queen – proposal from the queen was the equivalent of a royal command
  • Turned to god for an answer
  • 12 July 1543 Henry and Katherine were married privately at Hampton Court
  • Why would Katherine marry Henry when she loved Thomas Seymour?
  • Katherine wasn’t marrying for love or the crown – she believed god wanted her to be queen for a reason
  • In order to divorce Katherine of Aragon Henry split the English church from Rome and started the reformation
  • Henry hesitated before it was complete – caught between Catholic and protestant
  • Katherine was a devout protestant and wanted him to finish reformation
  • Katherine wrote and published 2 original books, kept at Sudeley Castle
  • Prayers and Meditations – first work to be written by a woman and published in her own name
  • Lamentation of a Sinner – spiritual autobiography
  • Attacked the superstitious Catholic church “persecutor of the gospel”
  • Katherine believed it was her god-given mission to rid England of Catholicism
  • Henry didn’t know of Katherine’s religious convictions
  • Extreme reformers were considered heretics for which the punishment was death
  • Katherine had to keep her beliefs secret at first
  • The marriage was a great success – Katherine had experience looking after temperamental old men
  • Marriage reinvigorated Henry
  • 1544 Henry VIII attacked France and left Katherine as regent
  • Henry trusted Katherine obviously
  • Was the trust misplaced?
  • With Henry away Katherine became emboldened and held prayer meetings in her private rooms, spreading the gospel
  • Stephen Gardiner was a close advisor of the king and hated Katherine and her protestant ideas
  • To return England to Rome Katherine needed to be destroyed
  • Summer 1546 Henry returned from France and Katherine saw her opportunity
  • Katherine pressed Henry to finish his reformation, but she had gone too far – didn’t want to be pushed into further reform
  • Age when words could be treasonous
  • Perhaps Katherine thought she could sway the king
  • Katherine was overheard by Gardiner
  • Henry VIII “to be taught by my wife”, Gardiner manipulated Henry by invoking Henry’s paranoia
  • Katherine faced losing her head and didn’t suspect a thing
  • Henry decided Katherine should be arrested
Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
  • Before the arrest Katherine received a tip-off, knew what happened to previous wives when they went to the Tower
  • Katherine had warning and could decide what to do
  • She decided to deny her faith and live rather than die a martyr
  • Her life depended on what she said to Henry
  • Henry set a trap for Katherine and expected her to walk into it
  • Katherine claimed she wasn’t instructing the king, but wanted to hear the king’s opinion of the truth
  • Katherine denied her beliefs and escaped with her life
  • Katherine was Henry’s final wife, but knew him best of all – he wanted obedience
  • Religious reform was Katherine’s life, but she knew she couldn’t carry it out if she went to the executioner’s block; she chose to live
  • Katherine’s words had a powerful effect on the king who had been betrayed so many times by wives, friends and advisors
  • Henry believed Katherine had been true to him all along
  • Believed he’d chosen the right woman to marry
  • 28 January 1547 Henry VIII died after 3 ½ years of marriage to Katherine Parr, aged 55
  • 4 months after Henry’s death Katherine married Thomas Seymour
  • She finally married for love, and Katherine suddenly and unexpectedly fell pregnant
  • August 1548 she gave birth to a daughter named Mary
  • Within days of the birth Katherine fell ill with a fever and worsened
  • 6 days later she died
  • Known as the queen who survived Henry but only outlived him by 18 months
  • Her tomb is at Sudeley, no happy ending for Henry’s final queen
  • Henry’s death ended a 38 year quest to find the perfect queen and a longed for son and heir
  • Henry had been a young and passionate lover and changed to a bitter and sick tyrant, haunted by betrayal
  • All thanks to his six extraordinary queens, all very different
  • The queens created Henry by pursuing, rejecting and creating them
  • English history made by Henry, and Henry made by his six queens.

Author: Helene Harrison

I have an MA in History, with a thesis entitled 'The Many Faces of Anne Boleyn: Perceptions in History, Literature and Film'. I have an interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses along with my love of reading and literature.

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