Biography of Catherine Howard, Queen of England

Katherine Howard, an engraving from a print
Katherine Howard. The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Catherine Howard (c. 1523–February 13, 1542) was the fifth wife of Henry VIII. During her brief marriage, she was officially the Queen of England. Howard was beheaded for adultery and unchastity in 1542.

Fast Facts: Catherine Howard

  • Known For: Howard was briefly the Queen of England; her husband Henry VIII ordered her to be beheaded for adultery.
  • Born: 1523 in London, England
  • Parents: Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper
  • Died: February 13, 1542 in London, England
  • Spouse: King Henry VIII (m. 1540)

Early Life

Catherine Howard was born in London, England, sometime around 1523. Her parents were Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper. In 1531, through the influence of his niece, Anne Boleyn, Edmund Howard obtained a position as comptroller for Henry VIII in Calais.

When her father went to Calais, Catherine Howard was placed in the care of Agnes Tilney, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, her father's stepmother. Howard lived with Agnes Tilney at Chesworth House and then at Norfolk House. She was one of many young nobles sent to live under Agnes Tilney's supervision—and that supervision was notably loose. Howard's education, which included reading and writing and music, was directed by Tilney.

Youthful Indiscretions

About 1536, while living with Tilney at Chesworth House, Howard had a sexual relationship with a music tutor, Henry Manox (Mannox or Mannock). Tilney reportedly struck Howard when she caught the two together. Manox followed her to Norfolk House and tried to continue a relationship.

Manox was eventually replaced in young Howard's affections by Frances Dereham, a secretary and relative. Howard shared a bed at the Tilney home with Katherine Tilney, and the two were visited a few times in their bedchamber by Dereham and Edward Malgrave, a cousin of Henry Manox, Howard's former love.

Howard and Dereham apparently did consummate their relationship, reportedly calling each other "husband" and "wife" and promising marriage—what to the church amounted to a contract of marriage. Manox heard gossip of the relationship and jealously reported it to Agnes Tilney. When Dereham saw the warning note, he guessed it had been written by Manox, which implies that Dereham knew of Howard's relationship with him. Tilney again struck her granddaughter for her behavior and sought to end the relationship. Howard was sent to court, and Dereham went to Ireland.

At Court

Howard was to serve as a lady in waiting to Henry VIII's newest (fourth) queen, Anne of Cleves, soon to arrive in England. This assignment was probably arranged by her uncle, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and one of Henry's advisors. Anne of Cleves arrived in England in December 1539, and Henry may have first seen Howard at that event. At court, she caught the king's attention, as he was quite quickly unhappy in his new marriage. Henry started courting Howard, and by May was publicly giving her gifts. Anne complained of this attraction to the ambassador from her homeland.

Marriage

Henry had his marriage to Anne of Cleves annulled on July 9, 1540. He then married Catherine Howard on July 28, generously bestowing jewelry and other expensive gifts on his much-younger and very attractive bride. On their wedding day, Thomas Cromwell, who had arranged the marriage of Henry to Anne of Cleves, was executed. Howard was publicly made queen on August 8.

Early the next year, Howard began a flirtation—perhaps more—with one of Henry's favorites, Thomas Culpeper, who was also a distant relative on her mother's side, and who had a reputation for lechery. Arranging their clandestine meetings was Howard's lady of the privy chamber, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, widow of George Boleyn who had been executed with his sister Anne Boleyn.

Only Lady Rochford and Katherine Tilney were permitted into Howard's rooms when Culpeper was present. Whether Culpeper and Howard were lovers, or whether she was pressured by him but did not acquiesce to his sexual advances, is unknown.

Howard was even more reckless than to pursue that relationship; she brought her old lovers Manox and Dereham to court as well, as her musician and secretary. Dereham bragged about their relationship, and she may have made the appointments in an attempt to silence them about their past.

Charges

On November 2, 1541, Cranmer confronted Henry with the allegations about Howard's indiscretions. Henry at first did not believe the allegations. Dereham and Culpeper confessed to their part in these relationships after being tortured, and Henry abandoned Howard.

Cranmer pursued the case against Howar zealously. She was charged with "unchastity" before her marriage, and with concealing her precontract and her indiscretions from the king before their marriage, thereby committing treason. She was also accused of adultery, which for a queen consort was also treason.

A number of Howard's relatives were also questioned about her past, and some were charged with treasonous acts for concealing her sexual past. These relatives were all pardoned, though some lost their property.

On November 23, Howard's title of queen was stripped from her. Culpeper and Dereham were executed on December 10 and their heads displayed on London Bridge.

Death

On January 21, 1542, Parliament passed a bill of attainder making Howard's actions an executable offense. She was taken to the Tower on February 10, Henry signed the bill of attainder, and she was executed on the morning of February 13.

Like her cousin Anne Boleyn, also beheaded for treason, Howard was buried without any marker in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. During Queen Victoria's reign in the 19th century, both bodies were exhumed and identified, and their resting places marked.

Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, was also beheaded. She was buried with Howard.

Legacy

Historians and scholars have struggled to reach a consensus about Howard, with some describing her as a deliberate troublemaker and others characterizing her as an innocent victim of King Henry's rages. Howard has been depicted in a variety of plays, films, and television series, including "The Private Life of Henry VIII" and "The Tudors." Ford Madox Ford wrote a fictionalized version of her life in the novel "The Fifth Queen."

Sources

  • Crawford, Anne. "Letters of the Queens of England, 1100-1547." Alan Sutton, 1994.
  • Fraser, Antonia. "The Wives of Henry VIII." 1993.
  • Weir, Alison. "The Six Wives of Henry VIII." Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.