Catherine Howard

Fifth Queen of King Henry VIII of England

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

Known for: short-lived marriage to Henry VIII: she was his fifth wife, and was beheaded for adultery and unchastity after less than two years of marriage

Title: queen of England and Ireland

Dates: about 1524? - February 13, 1542 (estimates of her birth year range from 1518 to 1524)

About Catherine Howard

Catherine's father, Lord Edmund Howard, was a younger son, and with nine children and no right to inheritance under primogeniture, he depended on the generosity of wealthier and more powerful relatives. 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 sent to the care of Agnes Tilney, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, her father's stepmother.  Catherine lived with Agnes Tilney at Chesworth House and then at Norfolk House. Catherine was one of many young nobles sent to live under Agnes Tilney's supervision -- and that supervision was notably loose.  Katherine's education, which included reading and writing and music, was directed by Agnes Tilney.

Youthful Indiscretions

About 1536, while living with Agnes Tilney at Chesworth House, Catherine Howard had a sexual relationship -- one that likely did not get consummated -- with a music tutor, Henry Manox (Mannox or Mannock). Agnes Tilney reportedly struck Catherine when she caught her with Manox. Manox followed her to Norfolk House and tried to continue a relationship.

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

Katherine 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. Henry 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 Katherine's relationship with Manox.  Agnes Tilney again struck her granddaughter for her behavior, and sought to end the relationship. Catherine was sent to court, and Dereham went to Ireland.

Catherine Howard at Court

Catherine 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, as Catherine's father died in March of 1539.  Thomas Howard was part of the more religiously conservative faction at court, aligning against Cromwell and Cranmer, who stood more for for church reform.

Anne of Cleves arrived in England in December of 1539, and Henry may have first seen Catherine Howard at that event. At court, Catherine drew the king's attention, as he was quite quickly unhappy in his new marriage. Henry started courting Catherine, and by May was publicly giving her gifts. Anne complained of this attraction to the ambassador from her homeland.

Marriage Number Five

Henry had his marriage to Anne of Cleves annulled on July 9, 1540. Henry 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. Catherine was publicly announced as queen on August 8.

More Indiscretions

Early the next year, Catherine began a flirtation -- perhaps more, perhaps pressured into it -- 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 Catherine'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 Catherine's rooms when Culpeper was present. Whether Culpeper and Katherine Howard were lovers, or whether she was being pressured by him but did not acquiesce to his sexual advances, is argued by historians.

Catherine Howard was even more reckless than to pursue that relationship; she brought her old lovers Henry Manox and Frances Dereham to court, 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.

Catherine Howard represented a more Catholic-leaning conservative faction. The brother of a former maid at Agnes Tilney's house reported Catherine Howard's youthful escapades to the Protestant-leaning Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, including allegations of Catherine's precontract with Dereham.


On November 2, 1541, Cranmer confronted Henry with the allegations about Catherine's past and present 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 Catherine, not seeing her again after November 6.

Cranmer pursued the case against Catherine 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 Katherine's relatives were also questioned about her past, and some were charged with treasonous acts for concealing Katherine's sexual past. These relatives were all pardoned, though some lost their property.

Catherine and Lady Rochford were not so fortunate. On November 23, Catherine's title of queen was stripped from her. Culpeper and Dereham were executed on December 10 and their heads displayed on London Bridge.

Catherine's End

On January 21, 1542, Parliament passed a bill of attainder making Katherine'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, Katherine 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 Katherine Howard.

Also known as: Catharine, Katherine, Katharine, Kathryn, Katheryn


  • Anne Crawford, editor. Letters of the Queens of England 1100-1547. 1997.
  • Antonia Fraser. The Wives of Henry VIII. 1993.
  • Alison Weir. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. 1993.

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Joyce (Jocasta) Culpeper Legh, daughter of Sir Richard Culpeper (second marriage; her first to Ralph Legh of Stockwell)
  • Father: Lord Edmund Howard, younger son of Thomas Howard, second Duke of Norfolk, and Elizabeth Tilney
  • Siblings: both her parents were remarried. She had about five full siblings. Of her mother's children, Katherine had nine siblings and was the fourth child.
  • Elizabeth Cheney was her great-grandmother; other great-granddaughters of Elizabeth Cheney included Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, the second and third wives of Henry VIII
  • Catherine Howard was a first cousin of Anne Boleyn, whose mother (Elizabeth Howard, married to Thomas Boleyn) was the sister of Catherine's father

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: Henry VIII (married July 28, 1540)
  • children: none


  • Agnes Tilney, stepmother of Catherine's father, was in charge of Catherine's upbringing and education from 1531