Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 4, Katherine Howard & Katherine Parr


Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
  • Katherine Howard was a teenager when she married the king
  • She was petite, pert, and pretty
  • She liked men and men liked her – the king thought he was her first and only and that she loved him as much as he loved her
  • Katherine’s problems began when Henry found out that she had a past
  • From age 10 Katherine was raised in the household of the dowager duchess of Norfolk
  • Katherine’s mother was dead and her father constantly in debt
  • Katherine’s behaviour was anything but conventional even if her upbringing was
  • She enjoyed the attentions of several men, her favourite being Francis Dereham
  • Katherine and Dereham were caught kissing and given a hiding by the dowager duchess
  • The unmarried women slept together in a dormitory
  • In theory the maiden’s chamber was out of bounds to the men of the household and the door locked at night
  • In reality, the key was stolen, and the men came and went as they pleased
  • Katherine was a member of the second most powerful family in England – the Howards – who married well, into power and wealth
  • Katherine’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk was head of the house, and a Catholic
  • Katherine was cousin to Anne Boleyn
  • Mary Norris and Katherine Howard were granted places at court in 1539
  • Katherine left the duchess’s household to become lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves
  • It was a dream come true for Katherine – music, dancing, clothes, banquets, and men
  • The king began to lavish Katherine with gifts and attention – for him it was love at first sight but nothing of the sort for Katherine
  • Norfolk and his conservative allies wanted to use Katherine as a pawn in a political game to get rid of Anne of Cleves
  • Under Anne of Cleves the Catholics had been attacked and they wanted to restore their fortunes
  • Katherine was given advice on how often to see the king, what to wear and what to do
  • The king sent Anne away to court and Katherine withdrew to Lambeth
  • The king visited Katherine and his boat was routinely seen going down the Thames
  • In mid-July 1540 Henry and Anne’s marriage was annulled and 2 weeks later at Oaklands the king married Katherine
  • The honeymoon lasted 10 days and Henry was infatuated, wanting time alone with her
  • Henry suspected Anne of Cleves wasn’t a virgin and was unable to have sex with her
  • He thought Katherine Howard was pure
  • Katherine was cheerful and loving towards Henry and he was satisfied with her
  • Katherine saw Henry as old – he wasn’t like the men she was used to
  • Henry had been the youngest king in Europe when he came to the throne
  • At Hampton Court the celebrations continued with banquets and hunts, but Henry was slowed down by an abscess on his leg
  • Katherine was in the prime of life and loved to dance – Henry indulged her, but sometimes could only watch her
  • For Katherine, every day was her birthday as Henry lavished gifts on her – landed estates, magnificent dresses
  • New Year’s Day 1541 the king gave her a treasure house of jewels
  • Katherine saw this as her right and it never occurred to her that someone arrayed like a queen was expected to act as a queen
  • Katherine was closely watched, and the Howards were dependent on her not letting them down
  • Howard enemies were ready to exploit any problems
  • Spring 1541 Henry was frequently ill and disappointed that Katherine wasn’t pregnant
  • Henry withdrew from court life and looked to Katherine to divert him, but she lacked patience and wit
  • For a couple of weeks Henry left Katherine to her own devices
  • Almost a year to the day after their wedding Henry and Katherine travelled on progress to the north of England
  • Katherine played her ceremonial role perfectly
  • Henry was delighted to show off his pretty young queen, and she acted the great lady
Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
  • Behind closed doors wherever the royal party stayed Katherine stayed shut away in her apartments and her ladies were turned away
  • Francis Dereham had been appointed to Katherine’s household
  • Even the king was kept at a distance
  • At Pontefract, the king sent a message to the queen, but when the messenger tried to deliver it the door was locked
  • Late autumn 1541 Thomas Cranmer was waiting for the return of the progress
  • Cranmer was a religious reformer and opposed to the influence of the Howards
  • He could do something about it, as he had received information about Katherine’s past
  • At the end of October 1541, the court returned to Hampton Court and Henry was still besotted with Katherine
  • 1st November 1541 (All Saint’s Day) Henry shared his happiness in the chapel royal, ordering his confessor to offer up prayers on his behalf towards his wife
  • Henry was short-sighted and saw nothing peculiar in Katherine’s behaviour – perhaps he was blinded by love
  • The following day Cranmer left a letter for Henry
  • The letter detailed accusations from John Lascelles, whose sister, Mary, had been with Katherine in the dowager duchess’s household
  • Cranmer had received intelligence about Katherine’s relationships with 2 men
  • The king believed the accusations to be false but ordered them investigated
  • Henry Manox admitted he fell in love with Katherine, and he had groped her, but Katherine allowed him no more
  • Francis Dereham and Katherine were more socially equal, so she allowed him to go all the way, and Dereham even claimed the pair had agreed to marry
  • Katherine was oblivious to the investigation into her past
  • 5th November 1541 Katherine was practising dance steps when the king’s men burst in and stopped them – she was confined to her apartments
  • She wasn’t told the reason but feared the worst
  • The following morning, she was said to have made a desperate attempt to try and reach the king, screaming
  • She wouldn’t see the king again
  • Cranmer questioned Katherine several times and her story kept changing as her mood changed between confident and suicidal
  • Katherine sent a letter to the king confessing her faults – full and explicit as far as it went
  • So far Katherine admitted only to premarital sex
  • This was humiliating to Henry as it destroyed his love for her but might not have been grounds for an annulment
  • Katherine always refused to admit that her and Dereham were betrothed or married, which would have invalidated her marriage to the king
  • Cranmer dug up more dirt
  • Another man was put into the mix – Thomas Culpeper – who was a trusted servant to the king, dressed and undressing him, sleeping at the foot of his bed
  • Culpeper was a distant relative to Katherine and it was rumoured they had courted
  • Culpeper admitted he had fallen in love with Katherine and she with him
  • The two had met in private on the summer progress
  • Culpeper insisted the relationship had not passed beyond words
  • Jane Rochford had a different story and believed the relationship between Katherine and Culpeper had begun earlier than they said and that the pair had slept together
  • A search of Culpeper’s rooms revealed a letter written by Katherine to Culpeper
  • Katherine denied any sexual relationship
  • The letter was signed “yours as long as life endures”
  • Henry knew the worst and Katherine had cuckolded him with a man he trusted and favoured
  • Henry burst into tears once and on another occasion called for a sword to kill Katherine himself
  • Dereham and Culpeper were tried for presumptive treason
  • Culpeper was also tried for having criminal intercourse with the queen at Pontefract
  • Both were found guilty and sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered
  • 12 days after Culpeper and Dereham were executed members of the Howard family were arrested
  • It was said that there were so many arrests that the Tower couldn’t hold them all
  • Norfolk distanced himself from Katherine as she fell, and she was left alone
  • When Katherine was informed of her death sentence, she requested a private execution as Anne Boleyn had before her
  • The night before the execution Katherine requested the block brought to her room and practised her death
  • 13th February 1542 Katherine was led to her execution on Tower Green
  • She was weak and had to be helped up the steps of the scaffold
  • She made a short speech, asking for forgiveness for her offences
  • She was beheaded with a single stroke – she displayed more dignity in her death than she had ever displayed as queen
  • 12th July 1543 at Hampton Court Henry VIII married Katherine Parr
Katherine Parr at the National Portrait Gallery.
Katherine Parr at the National Portrait Gallery.
  • Katherine Parr was almost twice as old as Katherine Howard
  • Katherine seemed the perfect wife but under the calm exterior she was passionate – she was in love with another man and devoted to her god
  • In the year after Katherine Howard’s execution Henry showed no signs of remarrying
  • A law was passed which made it treason for a woman to conceal her premarital history
  • In early 1543 Katherine was a 32-year-old widow
  • She had been married twice and her second husband had recently died of a chronic illness
  • Katherine was independently wealthy with no parents or children
  • She was free to marry whom she wished, perhaps even for love
  • Katherine fell in love with Thomas Seymour, brother to Jane Seymour
  • He was known as something of an adventurer, and ambitious
  • Katherine encouraged him as a suitor, perhaps a last chance for a love match and children and the pair discussed marriage
  • Around spring 1543 Henry fell in love with Katherine
  • He gave her clothes and her brother became a Knight of the Garter, he also introduced her to his daughters
  • The position of queen had no attraction for her – Henry had divorced two wives and beheaded two more, and was fat and invalid
  • Katherine had also fallen hopelessly in love
  • She faced the biggest choice of her life and decided to fulfil her duty
  • In May 1543 Henry sent Thomas Seymour to be resident ambassador in Brussels
  • Henry proposed marriage and Katherine accepted his offer, marrying him 2 weeks later
  • Other women had married the king for dynastic or personal ambition
  • Katherine married the king because god had told her to
  • Katherine married the king aged 52 and having had one invalid husband knew how to look after her
  • Katherine engaged Henry in discussions on his favourite subject – religion
  • She made the best of the present, putting the past behind her
  • Henry already had good relations with all of his children, and they were all present at Henry and Katherine’s marriage
  • Katherine became particularly close to Elizabeth
  • Prince Edward sent Katherine chatty letters
  • Katherine took a particular interest in the education of the royal children
  • Katherine’s own education was limited as her gender allowed
  • The royal children learnt Latin and Greek as well as French and Italian
  • Katherine Parr decided to learn alongside the royal children
  • She impressed people at court
  • Catholics suspected Katherine of harbouring reformist sympathies
  • A year after her marriage Henry decided to lead an English army in France and during his absence Katherine was made regent and given guardianship of the royal children
  • Katherine led prayers for the king’s safety and success in France – she wrote the prayer herself in English rather than the traditional Latin
  • It was a declaration of intent
  • Archbishop Cranmer may well have helped Katherine and was undoubtedly delighted
  • Katherine’s sympathies seemed to lie with Cranmer’s own
  • Cranmer and Katherine were in daily contact during the king’s absence, so he had ample opportunity to enlist her to his cause
  • Katherine’s mother had been one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies – she looked back on this with horror, worshipping false idols
  • Cranmer probably reprised the role he played for Anne Boleyn, becoming Katherine’s tutor
  • Katherine believed god had given her a task to complete the reformation in England
  • Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, hated women with opinions, especially anti-Catholic opinions
  • At first Gardiner’s relationship with Katherine was good
  • By 1545 Gardiner’s hunt for heretics began to close in on Katherine
  • Henry’s return from France didn’t stop Katherine’s religious education
  • She invited clerics and scholars to court and was ready to change the role of student to that of teacher
  • Katherine was also a published writer – ‘Prayers and Meditations’ was printed in 1545 in a small version to mimic the books that hung at ladies’ girdles
  • The book was a great public success
  • Cambridge University wrote, asking for her patronage and protection
  • Katherine was following the trail of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn
  • Katherine’s apartments were more like a revivalist meeting than a courtly household
  • Her ladies also adopted Katherine’s stance and tried to win others over
  • Henry trod a fine line in religion, tramping on those too radical and too traditional
  • Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, dressed her dog in clerical robes and named him Gardiner
  • Katherine was working on a second book, more radical than the first
  • She wouldn’t publish ‘Lamentations of a Sinner’ until after Henry’s death as it showed that she had become a Lutheran, a heretic
  • Autumn 1545 Henry suffered a new attack of thrombosis in his leg, spending many weeks in bed
  • Katherine tried to divert him with theological discussion
  • She seems to have gone further and tried to convert the king to her faith
  • There was a court faction to discredit and supplant Katherine Parr
  • Gardiner overheard an altercation between Katherine and the king and Gardiner took advantage
David Starkey
  • Henry seemed to have become sick of Katherine’s preaching
  • Gardiner tried to persuade the king that Katherine was at the centre of a heretical conspiracy
  • Henry gave permission for an investigation of Katherine
  • Gardiner questioned courtiers and their wives who were close to Katherine
  • They were questioned on what they believed and what books they read
  • Anne Askew, a Lutheran, was interrogated in the Tower and racked to try and get her to implicate Katherine
  • Henry signed a warrant for Katherine’s arrest
  • Before it could be delivered officially it found its way to Katherine
  • Katherine was pushed over the edge and broke down
  • She needed to make a decision – subdue her conscience and survive, or follow her conscience and face death
  • Katherine chose to subdue her conscience and she made a plea to Henry that she was only trying to distract him from his pain with debate
  • She blamed the imperfections of her sex, only wanting to learn from the king
  • Henry’s anger and suspicions ebbed and became convinced of Katherine’s innocence
  • The next day Henry and Katherine were walking in the gardens when the guard arrived to arrest Katherine
  • The councillor in charge hadn’t been told of the reconciliation and Henry drove him away
  • Katherine begged the king to forgive the conspirators against her
  • Her life had been in danger but now she was safe
  • Katherine’s triumph marked the beginning of the end for her enemies at court
  • In November 1546 Gardiner was dismissed from the king’s privy council and the following month the Duke of Norfolk was sent to the Tower
  • A death warrant was drawn up, but Henry was in no condition to sign anything
  • At Christmas 1546 Henry became dangerously ill and Katherine wasn’t allowed to see him
  • A month later Henry was dead
  • Katherine witnessed the funeral but wasn’t allowed to attend
  • Katherine’s mind had already turned back to before her royal marriage
  • Katherine had married the king because of a sign from god
  • She saw Henry’s death as a sign that she could marry for love
  • She threw herself immediately into the delights of a passionate love affair
  • Katherine married Thomas Seymour in May 1547 and Princess Elizabeth joined their household
  • A year after Henry’s death Katherine was pregnant with Seymour’s child
  • Her joy was short-lived
  • Katherine discovered that Seymour was planning to replace her with Princess Elizabeth
  • Katherine was heart-broken
  • In June 1548 Katherine travelled to Sudeley Castle for the birth of her child and was reconciled with Elizabeth
  • Childbirth proved Katherine’s undoing as with so many of Henry’s wives
  • Born 30th August the child was a daughter
  • Katherine fell ill with puerperal fever and she was delirious
  • On 5th September 1548 Katherine died, and was buried as Henry’s widow
  • Katherine’s was the first protestant royal funeral
  • Henry’s six wives were each expected to be queen, lover, companion and mother to a Tudor dynasty
  • Only Jane Seymour succeeded and she died giving birth to the longed-for son

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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