Catherine Howard

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Miniature portrait by Hans Holbein 1541, presumably showing Catherine Howard.
Signature of Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard , also Katheryn Howard or Katherine Howard , (* between 1521 and 1525; † February 13, 1542 in London ) was the fifth wife of the English King Henry VIII from 1540 until her death .

Catherine Howard's date and place of birth are unknown. She was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard , a younger and destitute son of the second Duke of Norfolk ( Thomas Howard ). Her cousin Anne Boleyn was Henry's second wife and was beheaded in 1536 on the orders of Henry VIII. Henry VIII and Catherine Howard were married on July 28, 1540 at the Oatlands Palace , Surrey , immediately after the annulment of their marriage to Anne of Cleves . The marriage remained childless. Less than two years after their wedding, the King had Catherine Howard beheaded for high treason . She was accused of premarital and extramarital relationships with other men.

Their motto was: "No will other than his" [Henry VIII.]

Early life

Family and birth

Catherine Howard was the tenth child of Lord Edmund Howard and his first wife Joyce Culpeper , daughter of Sir Richard Culpeper and descendant of Edward I. For Joyce Culpeper, the marriage to Edmund Howard, one of the younger sons of the Duke of Norfolk, was the second Marriage. The connection with the duke's son was prestigious for the Culpeper family, even if Edmund Howard, as a later son, was not entitled to inheritance and was therefore destitute. The Howards were among the ancient Norman noble families to whom most English noble families were related. At the Battle of Bosworth , the family sided with Richard III. confessed. Accordingly, it lost influence when Henry VII , the victor of the battle, ascended the English throne and founded the Tudor dynasty. Even though family members of the Howards continued to frequent the English royal court and assumed military leadership positions, the relationship between the Tudors and Howards remained tense.

Anne Boleyn

Catherine Howard was almost certainly born between 1520 and 1525. Her biographer Joanna Denny assumes on the basis of wills that she was not born before 1524, and provides further evidence that she was more likely to be born at the end of the period 1520 to 1525. A contemporary source claims that she was 15 years old when she first met Henry VIII in 1540, and other sources from the period also emphasize her youth. This would certainly not have been the case if she had already been born in 1520, since a twenty-year-old was not perceived as noticeably young in this environment.

The marriage of her cousin Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII, which was concluded at the beginning of 1533, had a great influence on the life of Catherine Howard. Educated and beautiful Anne Boleyn was the daughter of Elizabeth Howard , one of the sisters of Catherine Howard's father. Anne Boleyn, unlike her sister Mary Boleyn , had resisted courting the married King of England for several years. Thanks to her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn , she had an above-average upbringing and, among other things, had lived at the French court for some time. She was close to the Protestant faith and confident enough to withdraw from the role of royal mistress, though even her uncle Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk , urged her to do so. Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn shortly after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was annulled and had her crowned Queen of England. The connection to the English Queen brought the destitute Edmund Howard a civil servant position in Calais . His young daughter Catherine was accepted into the household of her step-grandmother Agnes Tilney , the widowed Duchess of Norfolk.

The education in the household of the duke's widow

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk; Hans Holbein

The 2nd Duke of Norfolk had left his widow Agnes a substantial fortune. Agnes Tilney was able to evade remarriage and had independent income from the two large estates of Chesworth near Horsham in Sussex and Lambeth near London. Catherine Howard was just one of the many Howard descendants who grew up in Lambeth. According to Joanna Denny, Agnes Tilney's willingness to raise Catherine Howard in her large household was due to the fact that she was an interesting match on the marriage market thanks to her connection to the English royal family, even if she did not have to expect a large dowry. The new head of the Howard family, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk , pursued a deliberate marriage policy to expand his family's influence, and may have had the support of his stepmother in it. The Duke's marriage projects included the marriage of the Duke's sister Catherine to the young Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby , the marriage of his daughter Mary Howard to the illegitimate king's son Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and his failed attempts to find his son Henry to marry the illegitimate princess Mary and the royal niece Margaret Douglas to his half-brother Thomas Howard . Such a prestigious association was not to be expected for Catherine Howard. But she had good prospects of being able to serve Anne Boleyn as lady-in-waiting and then marrying into one of the less important English noble families.

The upbringing of the children and young people in the Agnes Tilney household was not very targeted. Catherine Howard apparently learned to read and write, but did not receive the meticulous upbringing that her young relatives Mary Shelton , Mary Howard, or the royal niece Margaret Douglas , who served as ladies-in-waiting at Anne Boleyn, had received. From the trial of Catherine Howard it is known that the upbringing in the household of the dowager duke was not very strict. In addition to a large number of men, the household also included dozens of women. Some of them served the Duchess as ladies-in-waiting or as chambermaids, while a far larger number worked as laundresses or kitchen maids. The women and girls, some of whom were married and sexually experienced, usually slept together in large rooms with only a few thin curtains hanging between the beds. In some of the large aristocratic residences, the interior doors were locked at night to prevent affairs between male and female household members. Some had separate wings for the two sexes, which could only be reached via separate staircases. The dowager, who often stayed at the royal court, had not implemented comparable measures in her household and left her protégés to the supervision of some older women on the "unwise assumption that they would teach the children correct and moral behavior" . Midnight visits from men were not uncommon in the dormitories in Lambeth. It can be assumed that Catherine Howard was an ear and possibly an eye witness of sexual acts after her admission to the Agnes Tilney home. If the assumptions of her biographer Joanna Denny are correct, Catherine Howard was only eight years old at the time. It may not have been sufficiently clear to her that extramarital intercourse could have serious consequences for her as a female member of the English upper class.

Henry Manox and Francis Dereham

From 1536, Catherine Howard received music lessons, as is customary for women on her shift. Her teacher was Henry Manox . In the same year there were erotic games between them. Catherine Howard was between 11 and 16 years old at the time. Both Henry Manox and Catherine Howard admitted these gimmicks in the adultery trial. According to both statements, there was no sexual intercourse. Catherine Howard and Henry Manox were surprised by Agnes Tilney while dancing. Henry Manox was then dismissed from the service of the duke's widow. Catherine Howard escaped corporal punishment other than the two or three blows she received from Agnes Tilney. On behalf of Agnes Tilney, William Howard, the eldest son of the dowager duke, gave his step-niece a sermon by pointing out to her, among other things, the shame of having an illegitimate child for the Howard family.

She had her second affair from 1538 with the ambitious Francis Dereham , who was in the service of the Duke of Norfolk. The exact year of birth of Francis Dereham is unknown. But he was probably much older than Catherine Howard. He came from an impoverished family and, as a so-called gentleman, belonged to the lower nobility. He initially had an affair with Joan Bulmer , but left it in favor of Catherine Howard, with whom he slept. The relationship was known to many members of Agnes Tilney's household. For Francis Dereham, Catherine Howard was a very attractive match because of their family connections. In the later adultery trial, Francis Dereham tried to make it clear that he had older claims on Catherine Howard. A reciprocal vows and consummated marriage were binding in the eyes of the Church too. A later marriage could be declared invalid if such a relationship had previously existed.

Agnes Tilney initially had no knowledge of what was going on in her house.

Catherine at the royal court

In 1539/40 Catherine was called to the king's court as a lady-in-waiting for Heinrich's fourth wife, Anna von Kleve . Here she also met the courtier Thomas Culpeper and fell in love with him. Before a relationship or even a marriage could develop from this, the English king noticed Catherine. Agnes Tilney commented: "His Highness the King took an affection for Catherine Howard the first time he saw her." Heinrich, 30 years older than Catherine, was quickly charmed by the young woman's youth and naturalness.

When the king's interest in Catherine became known at court, she was instructed how to behave towards the king. Already in April 1540 it received a country seat from Heinrich. His wife at the time, Anna von Kleve, had to leave the court in London on the pretext of being brought to safety from the plague that broke out in London. Although only about six months had passed since their wedding, Heinrich had the marriage declared invalid on July 9, 1540. He married Catherine Howard on July 28, 1540, about three weeks after the annulment. Catherine made a commitment to the king "to be fresh and cheerful in bed and at the table".

royal coat of
arms of Catherine Howard

Heinrich called Catherine, according to contemporary reports, "rose without thorns", or "blushing rose without thorns" and showered the young woman with gifts. For example, Heinrich is said to have given her an overgarment with eight diamonds and seven rubies as well as a necklace with six exquisite table diamonds and five very beautiful rubies with pearls in between for New Year 1541. Heinrich experienced a second spring with Catherine and hoped that she would give him another son. But Catherine did not become pregnant, which was perhaps also due to the declining fertility of the king, who probably suffered from syphilis . The fun-loving young woman found her way neither in her role as the first lady of England, nor in that of the wife of the greatly aged king. While her husband often withdrew early because of migraines and a leg ulcer, Catherine danced at balls.

Trial and Execution

In the spring of 1541, Catherine began an affair with her admirer Thomas Culpeper. Howards enemies at court had noticed this infatuation and set up an intrigue. When Heinrich was on a tour with Catherine, the previous life of Catherine was searched due to a denunciation. The music teacher Henry Manox and the secretary Francis Dereham were interviewed and confessed to their affairs with Catherine. However, these adventures all took place before the wedding to the king. Returned to Hampton Court on November 1, 1541, the king brought the findings of the investigation. But the latter only reacted when the suspicion of infidelity was added during the marriage. On November 5th, after dinner, the King suddenly left Hampton Court without a word and went to Whitehall. Catherine was arrested on November 12th and taken to Syon House . It was hoped to be able to prove the invalidity of the royal marriage. Dereham admitted to being intimate with the young Catherine during the interrogation, but denied a marriage vow. Culpeper admitted his affection for Catherine, but steadfastly denied full " carnal knowledge ". Lady Rochford , who is said to have made very incriminating statements at the trial of Anne Boleyn and who was Catherine's confidante, also played a key role in this process. She weighed heavily on Catherine and her lovers. Dereham was sentenced to death by hanging and quartering and executed; Culpeper received his sentence commuted to beheading due to his formerly good relationship with the king . Catherine was taken to the Tower of London on February 10, 1542 and her execution was scheduled for February 13.

The night before her execution, the execution block was brought to her cell at her request. She practiced her execution by resting her head on the block over and over again. The next morning she was beheaded in the Tower. Her body was buried without a plaque next to her cousin Anne Boleyn under the nave of the Chapel of the Tower ( St. Peter ad Vincula ). In 1876 the remains were transferred to the chapel's tomb.

The portrait of Catherine Howard?

Picture by Hans Holbein in 1541. Possibly Catherine Howard

No portrait of Catherine Howard has survived. It was not until 1840 that a miniature picture by Hans Holbein the Younger from 1541 was associated with Catherine. At that time, Holbein was the king's court painter. The unknown woman in this miniature portrait is wearing jewelry that is believed to have belonged to Catherine.

Due to a great resemblance to the woman in the miniature, another larger portrait painted by Holbein is assigned to Catherine. According to the label, the one pictured was 21 years old. Catherine should have been born in 1520. It is possible that the person depicted is Elizabeth Seymour , Jane Seymour's sister .

Film adaptations

Movie Original title actress year
Henry VIII's private life The Private Life of Henry VIII. Binnie Barnes 1933
The six wives of Henry VIII. The Six Wives of Henry VIII Angela Pleasence 1970
Henry VIII and his six wives Henry VIII and his six wives Lynne Frederick 1972
The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Documentary) The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Michelle Abrahams 2001
Henry VIII Henry VIII Emily Blunt 2003
The Tudors The Tudors Tamzin Merchant 2009-10


  • Joanna Denny: Katherine Howard. A Tudor Conspiracy . Portrait, London 2005, ISBN 0-7499-5120-6 (English).
  • Antonia Fraser: The six wives of Henry VIII . Classen, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-546-00081-1 .
  • Marita A. Panzer: England's Queens . Piper , Munich / Zurich 2003, ISBN 3-492-23682-0 .
  • Lacey Baldwin Smith: A Tudor Tragedy. The life and times of Catherine Howard . Pantheon Books, New York 1961 (English).
  • Helga Thoma: Unloved Queen. Marriage tragedies at Europe's royal courts . Ueberreuter , Vienna 2000, ISBN 3-8000-3783-1 (as paperback: Series Piper 3526, Munich / Zurich 2003, ISBN 3-492-23526-3 ).

Web links

Commons : Catherine Howard  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Both in the 16th century and among historians today, the first name is spelled differently. From her only surviving signature, she spelled her name Katheryn herself , but this ancient spelling of her name is rarely used. Her biographer Lacy Baldwin Smith used the modern spelling Catherine , Antonia Fraser and Joanna Denny have chosen the more traditional Katherine spelling .
  2. The first name of Catherine Howard's mother is sometimes given as Jocasta. See, for example, Denny, p. 8
  3. a b Denny, p. 8
  4. Denny, pp. 19-31
  5. Denny, pp. 45-46
  6. Denny, pp. 45-47
  7. Denny, p. 46
  8. Denny, pp. 57-58
  9. Denny, pp. 58-59
  10. Denny, p. 61. The complete passage reads: The duchess was almost 60 and uninterested in the upendung and instruction of so many of her minor relatives. She was content to leave supervision to the older women, in the altogether not wise assumption that they teach them correct and moral behavior .
  11. Denny, p. 62
  12. Denny, pp. 85 and 86; Panzer, p. 56
  13. a b Denny, p. 89
predecessor Office Successor
Anna of Kleve Queen Consort of England
Catherine Parr