Skip to content
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
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 1 st 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 5 th 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 13 th 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 12 th July 1543 at Hampton Court Henry VIII married Katherine Parr
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
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 30 th August the child was a daughter Katherine fell ill with puerperal fever and she was delirious On 5 th 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