1542: Kathryn Howard, the rose without a thorn

18 comments February 13th, 2009 Lara Eakins

(Thanks to Lara Eakins of the TudorHistory.org Blog for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1542, Henry VIII’s fifth queen, Kathryn Howard, was beheaded in the Tower of London for high treason. She was the second of Henry’s queens to face this fate, the other being Kathryn’s first cousin Anne Boleyn.

This Hans Holbein miniature is generally thought to be Kathryn Howard, though the identification is uncertain. From the TudorHistory.org blog Kathryn Howard gallery.

Kathryn Howard* was born sometime between 1518 and 1524 to Lord Edmund Howard (a younger brother of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk) and his wife Joyce Culpepper. Joyce died while Kathryn was young and her father took a post in Calais, leaving Kathryn in the charge of her step-grandmother, Agnes Tilney the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The Duchess oversaw Kathryn’s education, but apparently didn’t keep as close an eye on other aspects of the girl’s life.

Kathryn’s first physical relationship that we know of occurred in around 1536 with her music teacher Henry Manox. In her later confession she told of “the fair and flattering persuasions of Mannock, being but a young girl, suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body…”. In late 1538, Kathryn began a sexual relationship with Francis Dereham, which was to become part of her downfall as Queen.

The next year, 1539, Kathryn took a position at court, becoming a maid of honor for Henry’s soon-to-be fourth Queen, Anne of Cleves. The Dowager Duchess of Norfolk later recalled that Henry first took notice of Kathryn at Greenwich in December of 1539 during the preparations for Anne’s arrival. Henry was famously disappointed by his new foreign bride and by early July 1540 the marriage was annulled. During the short marriage to Anne of Cleves, Henry had already begun to send gifts to Kathryn and took her as his fifth Queen on July 28th at Oatlands Palace.

Henry was 49 years old and Kathryn was no older than 22 (and more likely around 19). For all that can be said against this match, the vivacious young girl brought back some of Henry’s zest for life. The King lavished gifts on his young wife and called her his ‘rose without a thorn’ and the ‘very jewel of womanhood’.

Thomas Culpepper, a distant relation of Kathryn’s through her mother, sought favor from the Queen in early 1541 which was probably when their secret meetings began. Their rendezvous were aided by Kathryn’s lady of the privy chamber, Jane Boleyn, sister-in-law to the late Queen Anne Boleyn through Jane’s marriage to Anne’s brother George.** Also at this time, Francis Dereham returned to England from Ireland and gained a position in Kathryn’s household, possibly arranged to keep his silence about their earlier relationship.

During the summer of 1541, Henry and his young queen went on progress to the north of England and returned to Hampton Court on October 29. Just a few days later everything would begin to unravel. On November 2, Archbishop Cranmer sent a letter to the King telling him of his wife’s previous lovers. Henry seemed reluctant to believe the charges at first, but upon the questioning of Dereham and Manox –- who confirmed the allegations –- Henry left Kathryn at Hampton Court and returned to London. He never saw her again.

During the interrogations of the men, Francis Dereham said that Thomas Culpepper had replaced him in the Queen’s affections. Kathryn was presented with these new allegations and admitted to secret meetings with Culpepper (as well as the relationships with Manox and Dereham before her marriage), but denied that a sexual relationship had existed between them. Culpepper was imprisoned in the Tower of London and Kathryn was moved to the former abbey at Syon and deprived of her queenship.

Dereham and Culpepper were found guilty of treason on December 1 and were executed on December 10. Dereham was hanged, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered at Tyburn. Culpepper fared better, owing to his status, and was only beheaded. The former queen and her lady Jane Boleyn never faced a trial for their actions but instead had acts of attainder passed against them. On February 10, 1542, the ladies entered the Tower of London to await their executions.

Kathryn was told on the 12th that her execution would be the next morning and according to Imperial Ambassador Chapuys, she rehearsed the execution for several hours and even requested that the block be brought to her so she would know how to place her head. A merchant named Ottwell Johnson was an eyewitness to the execution on the morning of the 13th and wrote in a letter to his brother that Kathryn and Jane both “made the most godly and Christian end” and that Kathryn, in her scaffold speech, said that her punishment was worthy and just. (The letter is among period correspondence printed in this public-domain book.)

Kathryn’s head was struck from her body with one stoke of the axe, as was Jane’s, a merciful outcome compared to other ladies who shared their fate, such as Margaret Pole and Mary Queen of Scots. Kathryn and Jane were both quickly buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower precincts, joining Henry’s other beheaded queen, Anne Boleyn and Jane’s husband, George.

[flv:http://www.executedtoday.com/video/Lynne_Frederick_as_Katherine_Howard.flv 440 330]

* Or Catherine Howard, or Katherine Howard, or Katheryn Howard. Spelling at the time, even of proper names, was fluid.

** Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, is popularly supposed to have supplied the explosive incest allegation against her husband, George Boleyn, and his sister Anne Boleyn. Being subsequently hoisted on her own petard in the game of courtly purging, she tends to get short shrift in the sympathy department — though the fact is that we really don’t know much about her.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Nobility,Other Voices,Power,Royalty,Sex,Treason,Women

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