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Catherine Howard fifth wife of Henry VIII

Catherine (or Katherine) Howard 1523 – 1542 was the Queen of England from 1540 until 1541, as the fifth wife of Henry VIII. She married him on 28 July 1540, at Oatlands Palace, in Surrey, almost immediately after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves was arranged. Catherine was stripped of her title as queen within 16 months, in November 1541. She was beheaded three months later, on the grounds of treason for committing adultery while married to Henry.

Catherine Howard
Queen consort of England

1523 – 1542

Lambeth, London

13 February 1542 (aged 18–19)
Tower of London, London

13 February 1542
Church of St Peter ad Vincula,
Tower of London

Henry VIII of England


Lord Edmund Howard
Joyce Culpeper
(No image available)
Catherine was a member of the largely Catholic Howard family. she was one of the youngest of many children. Her parents Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper were never a part of her life.

Lady Elizabeth Cheney Tylney was the great grandmother of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Seymour.

Anne Boleyn (wife no. 2), Katherine Howard (wife no. 5), and Katherine Parr (wife no. 6) were all cousins to Lady Dacre. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, were first cousins.

As a granddaughter of Thomas Howard 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443–1524), Catherine had an aristocratic pedigree. Her father was not wealthy, being a younger son among 21 children and disfavoured in the custom of primogeniture, in which the eldest son inherits all his father’s estate.

When Catherine’s parents married, her mother already had five children from her first husband, Ralph Leigh she went on to have another six with Catherine’s father, Catherine being about her mother’s tenth child. With little to sustain the family, her father was often reduced to begging for handouts from his more affluent relatives.

Soon after the death of her mother in childbirth (in about 1528), when Catherine was aged about five, she was sent with some of her siblings to live in the care of her father’s stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.

The Dowager Duchess presided over large households at Chesworth House in Horsham in Sussex, and at Norfolk House in Lambeth where dozens of attendants, along with her many wards—usually the children of aristocratic but poor relatives—resided.

The Dowager Duchess was often at Court and seems to have had little direct involvement in the upbringing of her wards and young female attendants. As a result of the lack of discipline, Catherine became influenced by some older girls who candidly allowed men into the sleeping areas at night for entertainment. The girls were rewarded with food and wine and gifts.

Her character has often been described as vivacious, giggly and brisk, but never scholarly or devout. She displayed great interest in her dance lessons, but would often be distracted during them and make jokes. She also had a nurturing side for animals, particularly dogs.

In the Duchess’s household around 1536, Catherine (then aged 12) was repeatedly molested by her music teacher, Henry Mannox (aged 36). He later gave evidence in the inquiry against her. Mannox and Catherine both confessed during her adultery inquisitions that they had engaged in sexual contact, but not actual coitus.

The interferences by Mannox came to an end in 1538, when Catherine, now aged 14/15, moved to the Dowager Duchess’s household in Lambeth. There she was pursued by Francis Dereham, a secretary of the Dowager Duchess. They became lovers, addressing each other as “husband” and “wife”.

Dereham also entrusted Catherine with various wifely duties, such as keeping his money when he was away on business. Many of Catherine’s roommates among the Dowager Duchess’s maids of honour and attendants knew of the relationship, which apparently ended in 1539, when the Dowager Duchess found out.


Despite this, Catherine and Dereham may have parted with intentions to marry upon his return from Ireland, agreeing to a precontract of marriage. If indeed they exchanged vows before having sexual intercourse, they would have been considered married in the eyes of the Church.


Catherine’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, found her a place at Court in the household of the King’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.

As a young and attractive lady-in- waiting, Catherine quickly caught Henry’s eye. Norfolk saw an opportunity. As the King’s interest in Catherine grew, so did the house of Norfolk’s influence. Her youth, prettiness and vivacity were captivating for the middle-aged sovereign, who claimed he had never known “the like to any woman”.

Within months of her arrival at court, Henry bestowed gifts of land and expensive cloth upon Catherine. Henry called her his ‘rose without a thorn’ and the ‘very jewel of womanhood’


The French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, thought her “a delightful young woman with auburn hair, pale skin, dark eyes and brows, the rather fetching beginnings of a double chin and an expression that was at once quizzical and come-hither”

She was was also described as “petite, plump, and pretty.” “demure and dainty, with peaches-and-cream complexion and blonde hair” “rich dark blonde hair, with hazel-green eyes” and to have a love of French fashion and low cut necklines which often exposed the breasts.

She was just under 5 feet tall, she must have looked tiny compared to the King who was over 6 feet tall.


Henry and Anne’s marriage was annulled on 9 July 1540. The former queen received a generous settlement. She was referred to as “the King’s Beloved Sister”. She was invited to court often and, out of gratitude for her not contesting the annulment, Henry decreed that she would be given precedence over all women in England save his own wife and daughters.

Henry and Catherine were married at Oatlands Palace on 28 July 1540, the same day Cromwell was executed. The marriage was made public on 8 August, and prayers were said in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. Henry “indulged her every whim”

As Queen Catherine was expected to choose a badge and motto. She Chose… Motto: No Other Will than His Symbol: Crowned union white & red rose without a thorn Heraldic meanings: Rose Red for Grace and beauty Rose White for Love and faith (same as Henry’s except without a thorn)”A Rose without a thorn.”

Her predecessors were.. Queen Katherine of Aragon Motto: Humble and Loyal Symbol: A crowned pomegranate. Heraldic Meaning: Pomegranate: Fertility and abundance The association is derived from the fact that the pomegranate is a fruit composed almost entirely of seeds this represent fertility

Queen Anne Boleyn
Motto: the Most Happy
Symbol : Crowned falcon holding a sceptre on a tree stump with red and white flowers sprouting.
Heraldic Meanings:
Falcon/Hawk: One who does not rest until
objective achieved. The falcon or hawk
signifies someone who is hot or eager
in the pursuit of an object much desired.

Queen Jane Seymour
Motto: Bound to Obey & Serve
Symbol: Crowned phoenix rising from a Castle between red and white Roses
Heraldic Meanings:
Phoenix: Resurrection. The phoenix is a symbol from Greek mythology, of immortality, rebirth and renewal.

Queen Anne of Cleves
Motto: God Send me Well to Keep
Symbol: a gold escarbuncle The escarbuncle is a symbol of supremacy and it is an interesting example of a charge developed by the evolution of the shield itself.

Her successor
Queen Catherine Parr
Motto: To be Useful in all that I do
Symbol: A Maidens Head Crowned, rising from a large Tudor Rose
Heraldic Meaning:
This is a symbol of youth, freshness and innocence. The figure of a Woman is sometimes a representation of a goddess or the personification of a virtue such as justice.

She was too young to take part in administrative matters of State. Nevertheless, every night the groom of the stool, came to her chamber to report on the King’s well-being. little changed at court other than the arrival of many Howards. Every day she dressed with new clothes in the French fashion bedecked with precious jewels.


She enjoyed the masques and balls at court and danced with men while Henry, unable to partner her, looked on. She relished being indulged by her husband and basked in the attention she received from everyone. Anne of Cleves visited Catherine and knelt before her with gifts. In one instance, the two women danced the night away while Henry, with his abscessed leg retired to bed.

Catherine did not get along well with her stepdaughter Mary who was seven years older than her. Mary refused to acknowledge Catherine Howard as her stepmother and give her the respect she had previously given to Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves. The tension was said to be so bad that they constantly bickered when each others company.

Catherine did get along with her stepdaughter Elizabeth, but they hardly saw each other. Catherine would’ve only seen Elizabeth if she was with Henry, who occasionally visited her. Henry did not want much to do with Elizabeth. He even went as far as declaring her a bastard and disinheriting her from the throne after her mother’s execution.

Catherine was the third of Henry VIII’s wives to have been a member of the English higher nobility or gentry (however low down the line), Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were from continental Europe.


The King embarked on a lavish spending spree to celebrate his marriage, with extensive refurbishments and developments at the Palace of Whitehall. This was followed by more expensive gifts for Christmas at Hampton Court Palace.

“That winter the King’s bad moods deepened and grew more furious. Undoubtedly the pain from his ulcerous legs was agony, but did not make relations any easier at court. He accused councillors of being “lying time servers”, and began to regret losing Cromwell. After a dark depressed March, his mood lifted at Easter. Preparations were in place for any signs of a royal pregnancy, reported by Marillac on 15 April as “if it be found true, to have her crowned at Whitsuntide.

In spring 1541, Catherine embarked upon a romance with Henry’s favourite male courtier and her cousin, Thomas Culpeper. Culpeper called Catherine “my little, sweet fool” in a love letter, she considered marrying him during her time as a maid-of-honour to Anne of Cleves.

Culpeper had close access and often came into contact with the Queen and her attendants. He was first introduced into Catherine Howard’s personal life in March 1541, when King Henry went on a trip to Dover and left Catherine behind at Greenwich. At this time Culpeper began asking favours of Catherine.


The couple’s meetings were arranged by one of Catherine’s older ladies-in-waiting Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford (Lady Rochford), the widow of Catherine’s executed cousin, George Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s brother.

On 30 June Catherine and King Henry VIII travelled north to York in the hope of meeting James V of Scotland. They arrived at Lincoln on 9 August, where Culpeper met Catherine for another secret meeting in her bedchamber. These meetings continued in Pontefract Castle, after the court arrived on 23 August.

It is believed that the infamous letter Catherine sent to Culpeper was sent during these proceedings. In this letter she wishes to know how he is and is troubled that he is ill.

On 27 August 1541, Francis Dereham approached his former lover seeking employment, while the court was still on progress. Queen Catherine made him her Private Secretary and then a Gentleman Usher of the Queen’s Chamber. Dereham was a braggart, unable to keep his mouth shut. He brashly boasted that if the King died, he would marry Catherine, elaborating the situation by explaining he had been generously favoured by grants.

Mary Hall had been in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk at Lambeth while Katherine was there under her lax guardianship. When Katherine became Queen her brother John Lascelles had suggested to his sister that she should seek a place in Katherine’s household, but Mary refused, giving as her reason that she knew Katherine to be ‘light both in living and in condytions’ nd describing the Queen’s several sexual indiscretions before her marriage.

Mary Hall said At night Dereham would creep up to share Catherine’s bed in the girls’ dormitory. She refused to sleep nearby because of all the “puffing and blowing” that came from Catherine’s bed.


After hearing this John Lascelles reported such news to Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who then interrogated Lascelles’ sister and upon doing so became informed of Catherine’s previous illicit sexual relations while under the Duchess’ care.

Cranmer immediately took up the case to be made to topple his rivals—the Roman Catholic Norfolk family. Lady Rochford was interrogated, and from fear of being tortured, agreed to tell all. She told how she had watched for Catherine backstairs as Culpeper had made his escapes from the Queen’s room.

On 2nd November 1541, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer left a letter for Henry VIII in the Holy Day Closet at Hampton Court Palace detailing Catherine Howard’s colourful past, and how she had “lived most corruptly and sensually”.


The King was not willing to believe that his bride was not the virginal rose he thought she was, but Catherine was still ordered to keep to her chamber. Cranmer found Catherine’s frantic, incoherent state pitiable, saying, “I found her in such lamentation and heaviness as I never saw no creature, so that it would have pitied any man’s heart to have looked upon her.” He ordered the guards to remove any objects that she might use to commit suicide.

Catherine’s ladies were questioned and Dereham implicated Thomas Culpeper. On the 7th November, Catherine was interrogated by Cranmer and her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. At the start of the interrogation, Catherine wept and proclaimed her innocence, but started telling the truth the following day.


During interrogation, Francis Dereham had confessed to having intercourse with Catherine but claimed that they had been contracted to marry. Establishing the existence of a precontract between Catherine and Dereham would have had the effect of terminating Catherine’s royal union, but it also would have allowed Henry to annul their marriage and banish her from Court, but still she steadfastly denied any precontract, maintaining that Dereham had raped her.

Catherine then went on to write a letter of confession to the King, begging for his mercy and stating that her relationship with Dereham had ended “almost a year before the King’s Majesty was married to my lady Anna of Cleves”, but the King’s Council were now aware of Culpeper, who subsequently confessed to a recent relationship with the Queen.


When questioned Catherine was quoted as saying, “At the flattering and fair persuasions of Mannox, being but a young girl, I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body, which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require.”


A few days later, Cranmer with his findings confirmed, reported the news of Catherine’s love life to the king. Henry broke down in tears then asked for his sword so he could run her through himself.

When questioned again by Cranmer and Wriothesley, Catherine admitted to having secret meetings with Culpeper but refused to confess to adultery. She laid the blame on Culpeper, for wanting the meetings, and on Lady Jane Rochford for organising them. Culpeper admitted to the meetings but denied full blown sex, although he confessed that he did intend to sleep with the Queen and that the Queen also desired it.

Catherine was stripped of her title as queen on 23 November 1541. Culpeper and Dereham were arraigned at Guildhal on 1 December 1541 for high treason. They were executed at Tyburn on 10 December 1541, Culpeper being beheaded and Dereham being hanged, drawn and quartered. According to custom, their heads were placed on spikes atop of London Bridge.

Many of Catherine’s relatives were also detained in the Tower with the exception of her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, who had sufficiently distanced himself from the scandal by retreating to Kenninghall to write a grovelling letter of apology. They were later pardoned and released.

Catherine herself remained in limbo until Parliament introduced a bill of attainder on 29 January 1542, which was passed on 7 February 1542. The Royal Assent by Commission Act 1541 made it treason, and punishable by death, for a queen consort to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within twenty days of their marriage, or to incite someone to commit adultery with her. This solved the matter of Catherine’s supposed precontract and made her unequivocally guilty.

When the Lords of the Council came for her, she panicked and screamed aloud, as they manhandled her into the waiting barge that would escort her to the Tower on Friday 10 February 1542, her flotilla passing under London Bridge where the heads of Culpeper and Dereham were impaled (and remained until 1546). Entering through the Traitors’ Gate she was led to her prison cell. Catherine’s execution was scheduled for 7:00 am on Monday, 13 February 1542.


The night before her execution, Catherine spent many hours practising how to lay her head upon the block, which had been brought to her at her request.

At around seven o’clock on Monday, February 13, Catherine dressed in a practical black velvet gown was escorted to the scaffold. She was so weak she could barely stand, but managed to make a short speech in which she admitted she was justly condemned. She prayed for the king and asked for God’s mercy. As she finished her speech, her ladies stepped forward and removed her mantle and placed a linen cap on her head. A blinfold was then placed over her eyes and she was helped to place her head on the block and arrange her skirts.A few moments later, she was beheaded with a single stroke.

Lady Rochford was executed immediately after. She suffered a full nervous breakdown and by the beginning of 1542 was pronounced insane. Her “fits of frenzy” meant that legally she could not stand trial for her role in facilitating the queen’s adultery, but since he was determined to have her punished, the King implemented a law which allowed the execution of the insane for high treason.

Both their bodies were buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where the bodies of Catherine’s cousins Anne and George Boleyn also lay. Other cousins were also in the crowd, including the Earl of Surrey. King Henry did not attend. She is commemorated on a plaque on the west wall dedicated to all those who died in the Tower.

Upon hearing news of Catherine’s execution, Francis I of France wrote a letter to Henry, regretting the “lewd and naughty [evil] behaviour of the Queen” and advising him that “the lightness of women cannot bend the honour of men”

After Henry disposed of Catherine Howard he remarried to the two time widowed, Catherine Parr, two years after Catherine execution. Parr was part of the Protestant rebels and showed great interest in the “new faith.” She was also the first English Queen to publish her own prayer books. Parr was also influential in convincing Henry to restore his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to the succession, whom he had previously bastardized.

On stage
.In 1998 Emilia Fox played Catherine in Katherine Howard at the Chichester Festival Theatre, in Chichester, Sussex; she would later play Henry’s third wife Jane Seymour in the 2003 ITV drama Henry VIII.

In film and television
.Gabrielle Morton in Hampton Court Palace 1926
.Binnie Barnes in The Private Life of Henry VIII 1933
.Angela Pleasence in The Six Wives of Henry VIII 1970

.Monika Dietrich in the slapstick British
comedy Carry On Henry 1971
.Lynne Frederick in Henry VIII and His Six Wives 1972
.Michelle Abraham in David Starkey’s television
documentary on Henry’s queens 2001

.Emily Blunt in Henry VIII 2003
.Tamzin Merchant in The Tudors 2009
.Elena Valentine in Henry VIII and
His Six Wives 2016

.Dawn Addams in Young Bess 1953
.Lauren McQueen in Six Wives With Lucy Worsley 2016

In novels
.Katherine Howard A Tudor Conspiracy by Joanna Denny
.Katherine Howard A New History by Conor Byrne
.The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

.Gilt by Katherine Longshore
.The Six Wives The Queens of Henry
VIII by David Starkey
.The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

.Young and Damned and Fair The Life and
Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court
of Henry VIII by Gareth Russell
.Katherine Howard: The Tragic Story of Henry
VIII’s Fifth Queen by Josephine Wilkinson
.Catherine Howard: Henry’s Fifth Failur
by D. Lawrence-Young

.Catherine Howard: Or, the Throne, the Tomb
and the Scaffold. an Historical Play, in Three
Acts by William E Suter
.Tudors: The History of England Volume II
by Peter Ackroyd
.The Winchester Goose: at the Court of Henry
VIII by Judith Arnopp

In music
.Rick Wakeman recorded the piece “Catherine Howard”
for his 1973 album The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
.The song “Marry Me” by Emilie Autumn is about
the time period that Catherine was married
to King Henry VIII.
.Catherine’s story is related in the song
“Catherine Howard’s Fate” by the band
Blackmore’s Night.

Catherine Howard’s arms as Queen consort

Catherine Howard
Queen consort of England
1523 – 1542

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Amy-p

    Poor tragic young Catherine.

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