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THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII

 

Travel is people. You may go abroad to see the famous sites, but what you remember best are the people you meet. Among them, like unexpected treasure, are a few memorable contacts that will make your travels unique, special, and delightful. "People" is devoted to some of those you may come in contact with during your Home At First travels.

WIFE #5 — KATHRYN HOWARD

This article first appeared in November, 2007.                                                  Most recent update: 2014.

VII Things You Don't Know About

Henry VIII's VI Wives

III Catherines, II Annes, & I Jane

— VTH OF A SERIES —

Wife V —

Kathryn Howard


I.

Kathryn Howard was the cousin of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Like Anne, Kathryn was a born into a noble family

and practically raised in court life in the service of noble women, first the

Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and then, in her late teens, as a lady-in-waiting to King Henry VIII’s fourth queen, Anne of Cleves.

PROBABLE PORTRAIT OF KATHRYN HOWARD — THE ONLY KNOWN
IMAGE OF THE QUEEN, FROM A MINIATURE THAT APPEARS ON
A PLAYING CARD LIKELY PAINTED IN 1541 BY ENGLISH
COURT PAINTER HANS HOLBEIN THE YOUNGER.

Probable portrait of Kathryn Howard from a miniature on a playing card circa 1541 by Hans Holbein the Younger. PD-Art.

 

Thomas Cromwell. He fell into disfavor by meddling in Henry VIII's affairs of the heart, thinking, wrongly, that they were first and foremost affairs of state. His powerful rival, Thomas Howard, the Catholic Duke of Norfolk gained influence after Cromwell's beheading in the Tower. Norfolk helped his niece, Kathryn Howard, become Henry's fifth queen. PD-Art.
THOMAS CROMWELL (ABOVE) FELL FAR
FOR BADLY MANAGING THE FOURTH
MARRIAGE OF HENRY VIII. HIS
POWERFUL RIVAL, THOMAS HOWARD,
DUKE OF NORFOLK, FOLLOWED
CROMWELL AS THE KING'S
TRUSTED ADVISOR.

II.

As King Henry VIII’s arranged marriage to Anne of Cleves disintegrated, the king noticed 19-year-old Kathryn Howard

working in the queen’s service. Kathryn’s uncle, the powerful Duke of

Norfolk, doubtless saw Henry’s interest in Kathryn as a way to gain influence with the king. Norfolk’s rival was Henry’s minister/advisor Thomas Cromwell, who had arranged the ill-suited marriage with Anne of Cleves. As the marriage dissolved, Cromwell was dismissed, imprisoned at the Tower of London, and executed. Less than three weeks after his marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled, 49-year-old Henry VIII married Kathryn Howard. That same day Thomas Cromwell was beheaded at the Tower of London. At the beheading a young, inexperienced executioner was used. He required three blows with his sword before finally separating Cromwell from his body. The Duke of Norfolk had succeeded in placing a second niece in the highest position of influence possible for a woman in 16th century England.
 

III.

Kathryn Howard may have been Queen of England, but she was a teenager married to an infirm,

overweight, and heavily burdened king thirty years her

senior. She was used to life at the court, including the flirtations and intrigues common among ladies in waiting and other courtiers. She was also likely immature, girlish, pretty, relatively uneducated, and largely ill equipped for the sophisticated role of Queen of England. Although she swore her first duty and indeed her love to the king (her motto was “No other will than his”), the teenage queen had been in love before, with a fellow courtier in the court of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, the musician Francis Dereham.

KING HENRY VIII BY COURT PAINTER HANS HOLBEIN.

King Henry VIII in a portrait by court painter Hans Holbein. PD-Art.

IV.

Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves was officially annulled on July 9, 1540. On July 28 Henry took Kathryn Howard as his fifth wife. Throughout the marriage members of the court were convinced the

young queen was obediently, if not enthusiastically, trying to honor her wedding vows. Kathryn continued to maintain a circle of friends

in her own entourage, a circle that included her former lover, Dereham, and the dashing Thomas Culpepper, a court favorite of the king. Culpepper, who had been a member of the courts since the reign of Anne Boleyn, was still young and dashing enough to catch the eye of Kathryn. Not long into her reign the young queen and Culpepper began an affair, aided by the queen’s lady-in-waiting Lady Jane Rochford, who had been married to George Boleyn, brother of Queen Anne Boleyn. Lady Rochford had turned state’s evidence against Anne Boleyn, implicating her husband in an incestuous affair with the queen, for which Anne and George Boleyn both were executed at the Tower of London.

Thomas Howard, the third of Duke of Norfolk, replaced Thomas Cromwell as King Henry VIII's top advisor. Two of his nieces (Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard) were wed to the king. Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, Henry VIII's court painter. PD-Art.
THOMAS HOWARD, THIRD DUKE OF NORFOLK,
IN A PORTRAIT BY HANS  HOLBEIN THE YOUNGER.

V.

Lady Rochford was playing a dangerous game. Kathryn Howard was Queen of England, but still a teenager, and had the power and opportunity to act on her teenage fantasies. And Lady Rochford

and other members of the queen’s entourage knew about the queen’s dalliances and affairs. And, in the closed society of the Royal Court, jealousies, competitions, and other politics made the situation ripe for spies, traitors, and self-serving informers. But the situation was made more complex by the power struggle between followers of Henry’s new state church and those who would return England to Roman Catholicism. Henry’s new advisor, the Duke of Norfolk, was a Catholic, and his extended family, which would include the queen, were suspected of being Catholic sympathizers. England’s prominent Protestants were wary of this crowd, and were likely waiting for a chance to bring them into disfavor.
 

VI.

Rumors began to reach impor-tant advisors to the king. Protestant courtiers leaked what

had become an open secret among Queen Kathryn

Howard’s entourage. One of them carried the rumor to Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, long a key advisor of Henry VIII. (It had been Cranmer who had built the case for annulment of Henry’s long first marriage to Queen Catharine of Aragon.) Cranmer carried word of the latest queen’s infidelity to Henry. Importantly, he reported the rumors that Kathryn Howard was not a virgin at the time of her marriage to Henry. This, if proved true, would be grounds for annulment. Worse would be proof that the queen had been unfaithful to Henry after their wedding. Infidelity to the king was a capital crime of treason. Henry did not at first believe the evidence Cranmer brought him. Then, some days later Cranmer returned with more solid evidence: confessions secured from Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpepper who were being held, and

Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had the high-risk duty of informing Henry VIII of his young wife's adultery. Not believed initially, Cranmer returned to the king with evidence: confessions from two implicated lovers. Cranmer survived the dangerous political climate of Henry's reign, but could not survive the reign of Henry's daughter Bloody Mary, who had him burned at the stake in Oxford for heresy. PD-Art.
THOMAS CRANMER, ARCHBISHOP OF
 CANTERBURY, WHO INFORMED THE KING
OF KATHRYN HOWARD'S INFIDELITY.
CRANMER SURVIVED THE REIGN OF HENRY
VIII, BUT DID NOT SURVIVE THAT OF HIS
DAUGHTER BLOODY MARY, WHO HAD CRAN-
MER BURNED AT THE STAKE FOR HERESY.

probably tortured, in the Tower of London. The king had heard enough. This girl he had married would no longer flaunt her immaturity and disgrace the Crown of England.

 

VII.

On November 12, 1541, after fewer than 16 months of marriage, Kathryn Howard was arrested for treason. While she denied any serious affair with Thomas Culpepper inside of her

marriage to Henry VIII, she acknowledged her love relationship with Francis Dereham while she had been a

courtier of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. However, Kathryn refused to confess that she had been engaged to Dereham. Had she done so, her betrothal would have been recognized as grounds for annulment from Henry, and she would have lost her title and been banished from the court. But she would have lived. Instead, by not acknowledging a marital relationship with Dereham, Kathryn Howard left Henry no choice but to find her guilty of a treasonous relationship with Culpepper. She was stripped of her crown and sentenced to death on November 22. About three weeks later, Dereham and Culpepper were executed — Dereham by hanging, and then being drawn and quartered, and Culpepper beheaded — at the public execution grounds of Tyburn (near where Marble Arch is today, not far from Buckingham Palace). (For other locations you can visit in and near London that have close associations with Henry VIII and his wives, see: the Tudors.)

SKETCH OF THE TOWER OF LONDON MADE DURING THE MID-16TH CENTURY,
AT ABOUT THE TIME OF THE EXECUTION OF KATHRYN HOWARD.

          Kathryn was taken from her prison west of London to the Tower on February 10, 1542. Three days later she was beheaded. There is no record of her last words, but unsubstantiated popular belief attributes these:

"I die a Queen, but I would rather
have died the wife of Culpepper."

Lady Jane Rochford felt the axe just minutes later.
Her last words were reported to have been:

“God has permitted me to suffer this
shameful doom as punishment for having
contributed to my husband's death. I falsely
accused him of loving in an incestuous manner,
his sister, Queen Anne. For this I deserve to die.”

          Both were buried in the Tower at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula near the last rests of Anne Boleyn and her brother George. Numerous other family members of the powerful Howard family were also imprisoned, several with life sentences. All were released and reinstated with their possessions. The Duke of Norfolk escaped any association with the downfall of his niece. But his time would come.

Live like a Queen when you come to London.
Stay at HOME AT FIRST’s Apartments at St. Katharine’s Marina.
They’re all named after their famous neighbors at the
Tower of London next door: the wives of Henry VIII.
For example, see HOME AT FIRST's
Kathryn Howard Apartment.

— END OF PART FIVE —
LEARN ABOUT HENRY VIII & ALL SIX OF HIS WIVES:

HENRY VIII

CATHERINE
OF ARAGON

ANNE BOLEYN

JANE SEYMOUR

ANNE OF CLEVES

KATHRYN HOWARD

KATHERINE PARR

MAKE YOUR OWN FAMILY HISTORY
— HOME AT FIRST —