Catherine Howard, the daughter of Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper Howard, was born in around 1525. (1) Her grandfather was Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Her mother, may have had five children in her second marriage, as well as about five from her first, died when Katherine was young. (2) She was related to Anne Boleyn (Catherine's father and Anne's mother were brother and sister).
Lord Howard had twenty-two brothers and sisters, of whom nine lived long enough to marry. Compared to the hard-working ambitious Sir Thomas Boleyn, Lord Edmund was considered to be rather lazy. He was knighted in 1515, but his career never amounted to very much. He once admitted that "If I were a poor man's son, I might dig and delve for my living." (3)
Catherine Howard was brought up in the enormous household at Chesworth House near Horsham of her step-grandmother, Duchess Agnes Howard. She seemed to have received little or no intellectual training and it was later claimed that the children were allowed to run wild. (4) One historian has commented that "Duchess Agnes had kept something closely approaching a high-class brothel, but the true comparison was to a high-class finishing school in which some quietly prospered and others more daringly looked round to exploit its opportunities." (5)
Alison Plowden, the author of Tudor Women (2002) takes a more sympathetic view of what the Howard family was trying to do: "Catherine... came under her grandmother's care, to learn obedience, good manners, some social graces and the rudiments of household management; enough, in short, to fit her for marriage to the husband who would in due course to be chosen by the family - perhaps some rising man in Court whom it would be useful to attach to the Howard interest.... A pretty child, but bird-brained and barely literate, she grew naturally into an empty-headed adolescent, one of a bevy of giggling, chattering girls who thought of precious little but clothes, young men and how to squeeze as much fun as possible out of life before they were inexorably claimed by marriage and the painful drudgery of child-bearing." (6)
It has been argued that Catherine "found herself in her element" at Chesworth House: "She was a quick developer, both physically and mentally. She also showed all the drive her father lacked. The result was that she became the leader in every escapade and act of domestic rebellion. And, because she was related to the Duchess, she got away with almost all of it." (7)
In 1536, Catherine, who was around 12 years of age at the time, Henry Manox, her music teacher, tried to seduce her. (8) She later recalled "at the flattering and fair persuasions of Manox being but a young girl I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require". Six years later Manox confessed that he was attracted to Catherine and "he felt more than was convenient" but swore that he never knew her "carnally". (9)
The relationship came to an end when the Duchess Agnes Howard found the couple embracing. It has been reported that the Duchess struck Catherine as she blamed her for what had taken place. (10) One of the servants later reported: "She (the Duchess) gave... Catherine two or three blows and gave straight charge both to her and to Manox that they should never be alone together." (11)
Catherine's next romance was with Francis Dereham, when she was about fourteen. After finding out about Catherine's relationship with Henry Manox, the Duchess locked her in her bedroom of a night. Catherine persuaded one of the maids, Mary Lascelles, "to steal the key and bring it to her". The door was unlocked and Dereham was admitted. Manox was not allowed in and he later reported: "They (Howard and Dereham) would commonly banquet and be merry there till two or three of the clock in the morning. Wine, strawberries, apples, and other things to make good cheer... were served." (12)
Catherine later admitted that she was seduced by Dereham: "Francis Dereham by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose and obtained first to lie upon my bed with his doublet and hose and after within the bed and finally he lay with me naked and used me in such sort as a man doth his wife many and sundry times but how often I know not." Evidence seems to suggest that the relationship lasted for three months in 1538. (13)
The Tudor historian, Edward Hall claimed that Dereham visited Catherine Howard in her bedroom at night. (14) They also exchanged love tokens. Dereham gave her satin and velvet gifts while Catherine gave him an armband and an embroidered friar's knot. Catherine later confessed that Dereham "knew of a little woman in London with a crooked back, who was skilled in making flowers of silk". (15)
The relationship came to an end when Manox sent an anonymous letter to the Duchess. He suggested that she should visit Catherine's bedroom "half an hour after" going to bed. He added that "you shall see that which shall displease you." Dereham was sent away and Catherine was told off for her "banqueting by night" because she feared "it would hurt her beauty". David Starkey has argued that the Duchess was more concerned about her looks than her morals. (16) Dereham was forced to go and live in Ireland where it is believed he resorted to piracy. (17) Before he left he asked her to look after £100. This money was the bulk of his savings and Catherine later admitted that he told her that if he did not return "I was to consider it as my own." (18)
Edmund Howard died in 1539. She was now an orphan. It has been argued by Alison Weir that this left Catherine without any close relatives who had genuine concern for her welfare. She was now under the control of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and Duchess Agnes Howard "her uncle saw her merely as a tool with which to achieve his political ends, and her step-grandmather was not very interested in her". (19)
In late 1539 Catherine Howard, in anticipation of Henry's forthcoming marriage, was appointed to the household of Anne of Cleves. It was not long before Catherine had fallen in love with Thomas Culpeper, a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Culpeper was Catherine's cousin on her mother's side and she had been fond of him since childhood. However, that fondness now developed into something far more deeper. (20) "He was a handsome, delinquent boy and a favourite of men and women alike. As Henry's former Page, he had sometimes slept in his master's bed, and, when he got older, he had a queue of female admirers. But with Catherine, it seems, it was different. She was his female equivalent and there was an instant, powerful attraction between them. Soon it was rumoured, they would marry." (21)
Francis Dereham discovered about Catherine's relationship with Thomas Culpeper. He wrote to her that he had heard the rumour that they intended to marry. She replied: What should you trouble me thereabouts, for you know I will not have you; and if you heard such a report, you know more than I." (22) It is believed that the relationship came to an end because of "quarrels and they drifted apart." (23)
In the spring of 1540 Catherine Howard joined the household which had been set up for Queen Anne of Cleves. It has been suggested by Retha M. Warnicke that the two of the leading Roman Catholics in England, Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and Bishop Stephen Gardiner, arranged for the King to meet Catherine and this was part of a power struggle against two religious reformers Thomas Cromwell and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer: "That Catherine herself became queen has traditionally been attributed to a competition for power between court factions divided by religious allegiance, a conservative group led by Norfolk and Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, against reformers led by Thomas Cromwell, the lord privy seal, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer; the conservatives allegedly took advantage of Henry's disappointment with Anne of Cleves early in 1540 to direct his attention towards Catherine." (24)
Jasper Ridley, the author of Henry VIII (1984), has questioned this theory. "Henry often crossed the river from Whitehall in his barge to visit Catherine Howard in Southwark. On several occasions he met her there at parties in Gardiner's house. There is a well-established tradition that Norfolk and Gardiner introduced her to Henry in the hope that she would become his mistress and persuade him to adopt Gardiner's pro-Catholic policy and destroy Cromwell; but there is not a shred of evidence that Catherine Howard played any part whatever in Cromwell's downfall or in the shift in Henry's policy in 1540." (25)
Henry VIII was angry with Thomas Cromwell for arranging the marriage with Anne of Cleves. The conservatives, led by the Bishop Gardiner of Winchester, saw this as an opportunity to remove him from power. Gardiner considered Cromwell a heretic for introducing the Bible in the native tongue. He also opposed the way Cromwell had attacked the monasteries and the religious shrines. Gardiner pointed out to the King that it was Cromwell who had allowed radical preachers such as Robert Barnes to return to England. The French ambassador reported on 10th April, 1540, that Cromwell was "tottering" and began speculating about who would succeed to his offices. Although he resigned the duties of the secretaryship to his protégés Ralph Sadler and Thomas Wriothesley he did not lose his power and on 18th April the King granted him the earldom of Essex. (26)
In the spring of 1540 Henry VIII met the fifteen year-old Catherine Howard. Alison Weir pointed out that at this time Henry was not in good health: "It had already therefore occurred to her that she might become queen of England, and this was no doubt enough to compensate for the fact that, as a man, Henry had very little to offer a girl of her age. He was now nearing fifty, and had aged beyond his years. The abscess on his leg was slowing him down, and there were days when he could hardly walk, let alone ride. Worse still, it oozed pus continually, and had to be dressed daily, not a pleasant task for the person assigned to do it as the wound stank dreadfully. As well as being afflicted with this, the King had become exceedingly fat: a new suit of armour, made for him at this time, measured 54 inches around the waist." Catherine was able to ignore these problems: "Catherine flattered Henry's vanity; she pretended not to notice his bad leg, and did not flinch from the smell it exuded. She was young, graceful and pretty, and Henry was entranced." (27)
The first documented indication of Henry's feelings for Catherine Howard was the granting of lands, confiscated from a convicted felon, on 24th April, 1540. The following month Henry began to investigate the possibility of divorcing Anne of Cleves. On 6th May, 1540, Henry told Thomas Wriothesley the "King liketh not the Queen, nor ever has from the beginning." Henry asked Thomas Cromwell to find a way out of this problem because he had found a woman, Catherine, who he wanted to become his fifth wife. Cromwell suggested that he should arrange a divorce from Anne. The most obvious reason was the question of non-consummation, in itself this was the clearest cause of nullity by the rules of the church, but it was one that was difficult to establish. (28)
Quarrels in the Privy Council continued and Charles de Marillac reported to François I on 1st June, 1540, that "things are brought to such a pass that either Cromwell's party or that of the Bishop of Winchester must succumb". On 10th June, Cromwell arrived slightly late for a meeting of the Privy Council. Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, shouted out, "Cromwell! Do not sit there! That is no place for you! Traitors do not sit among gentlemen." The captain of the guard came forward and arrested him. Cromwell was charged with treason and heresy. Norfolk went over and ripped the chains of authority from his neck, "relishing the opportunity to restore this low-born man to his former status". Cromwell was led out through a side door which opened down onto the river and taken by boat the short journey from Westminster to the Tower of London. (29)
Thomas Cromwell was convicted by Parliament of treason and heresy on 29th June and sentenced him to be hung, drawn and quartered. He wrote to Henry VIII soon afterwards and admitted "I have meddled in so many matters under your Highness that I am not able to answer them all". He finished the letter with the plea, "Most gracious prince I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy." Henry commuted the sentence to decapitation, even though the condemned man was of lowly birth. (30)
Anne of Cleves feared that her life was in danger. However, Henry made it clear that he was willing to accept an annulment of his marriage based on his inability to consummate the relationship. This was because he feared that she was the wife of another man, Francis, Duke of Lorraine. "His lawyers had to argue that his problem was relative impotence, an incapacity limited to one woman. This was often put down to witchcraft. But publicly the annulment was justified by reference to Henry's decision to refrain from consummation until he had ascertained that Anne was free to marry him, to Anne's contract with the son of the duke of Lorraine, and to Henry's reluctance to wed her." (31)
After she made a statement that confirmed Henry's account, the marriage was annulled on 9th July 1540, on the grounds of non-consummation. Anne of Cleves received a generous settlement that included manor and estates, some of which had been recently forfeited by Cromwell, worth some £3,000 a year. In return, Anne agreed that she would not pass "beyond the sea" and became the King's adopted "good sister". It was important for Henry that Anne remained in England as he feared that she might stir up trouble for him if she was allowed to travel to Europe. (32)
Henry VIII married Catherine Howard on 8th August 1540 at Hampton Court. The historian David Starkey, has attempted to explain the reasons for the marriage: "Physically repelled by Anne of Cleves, and humiliated by his sexual failure with her, he sought and found consolation from Catherine. We can also guess that sex, which had been impossible with Anne, was easy with her. And it was easy because she made it easy. Henry, lost in pleasure, never seems to have asked himself how she obtained such skill. Instead, he attributed it all to love and his own recovered youth." (33)
Henry VIII showered her with "magnificent jewels, gold beads decorated with black enamel, emeralds lozenged with gold, brooches, crosses, pomanders, clocks, whatever could be most splendidly encrusted in her honour". Soon after the wedding he gave her a habiliment containing "eight diamonds and seven rubies" and a necklace of "six fine table diamonds and five very fair rubies with pearls in-between" and a muffler of black velvet with thirty pearls on a chain of gold. (34)
Historians have only been able to identify one portrait, painted by Hans Holbein, that is definitely of Catherine of Howard. "Dispute has raged as to whether its subject really is Catherine. But the identification of the jewels settles the issue once and for all. It also establishes, for the first time, her exact appearance. She had auburn hair, pale skin, dark eyes and brows, the rather fetching beginnings of a double chin, and an expression that was at once quizzical and come-hither." (35)
Richard Hilles saw Catherine in the summer of 1540. He described her as "a very little girl". Alison Weir has suggested that this may refer to her diminutive stature, it could also refer to her age, as it conveys a distinct impression of extreme youth." (36) Catherine was over a foot smaller than Henry. The French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, rated her beauty as only "middling" but did praise her gracefulness, and found "much sweetness in her expression". Antonia Fraser points out that as she immediately attracted Henry "she must have considerable prettiness and obvious sex appeal" (37)
On 17th January, 1541, Henry ordered the arrest of Thomas Wyatt and Ralph Sadler. Both men had been close friends of Thomas Cromwell and were seen as religious reformers. The following month, Sir John Wallop, the conservative former ambassador to France, was also arrested. Charles de Marillac predicted a civil war in England: "There could be no worse war than the English carry on against each other... For after Cromwell had brought down the greatest of the realm... now others have arisen who will never rest till they have done as much to all Cromwell's adherents." (38)
All three men were eventually released. Eustace Chapuys claims "the Queen took courage to beg and entreat the King for the release of Mr. Wyatt, a prisoner of the Tower." David Starkey provides evidence that Catherine was involved in obtaining the release of all three men. "Catherine, like many teenagers, certainly showed herself to be wilful and sensual. But she also displayed leadership, resourcefulness and independence, which are qualities less commonly found in headstrong young girls... True, she was a good-time girl. But, like many good-time girls, she was also warm, loving and good-natured. She wanted to have a good time. But she wanted other people to have a good time, too. And she was prepared to make some effort to see that they did... Catherine, in short, had begun rather well. She had a good heart, and a less bad head than most of her chroniclers have assumed." (39)
However, Queen Catherine was unable to save the life of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. Henry VIII had ordered her arrest in May 1539. She had been considered one of the leading Roman Catholics in England. However, the only evidence against her was that she had forbidden her servants to read the English Bible, and had once been seen burning a letter. (40) Margaret was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, who was the brother of Edward IV and Richard III. She therefore had a valid claim to the throne. (41)
On 28th May, 1541, Henry gave orders for the 68-year-old Countess to be executed. It has been called one of the worst atrocities of Henry's reign. "The executioner was not the usual one employed on such occasions and was young and inexperienced. Faced with such a prisoner, he panicked, and struck out blindly, hacking at his victim's head, neck and shoulders, until he had finally butchered her to death." (42)
During this period Catherine appointed her former lover, Francis Dereham, as her secretary and usher of the chamber. (43) She later insisted that this appointment was on the urging of her step-grandmother, Duchess Agnes Howard. However, according to Retha M. Warnicke, it was possible she was being blackmailed: "It was probably intended to silence him, too, about their former relationship. She could reasonably hope for success in this, for Dereham later confessed that on two occasions she bribed him to hold his tongue." (44)
In June 1541 Henry VIII took Queen Catherine on a tour of the Northern counties. Although he had been power for 32 years he had not visited this part of England that made up a third of his kingdom. He took with him an army of 5,000 men. Progress was slow as it was a very wet summer. Charles de Marillac reported that "the roads leading to the North... have been flooded and the carts and baggage could not proceed without great difficulty." (45) The Court lingered in Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire for most of July.
They did not reach Lincoln until 9th August. The royal couple stayed at the Bishop of Lincoln's little manor house at Lyddington. On 11th August, Catherine committed the first of her indiscretions. She knew Thomas Culpeper, was in the area and she wrote him a letter: "Master Culpeper, I heartily recommend me unto you... I never longed so much for thing as I do to see you and to speak with you... It makes my heart to die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company... Come when my Lady Rochford is here, for that I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment... Yours as long as life endures." (46)
Catherine's biographer, Retha M. Warnicke, has argued: "It is possible, however, to put a different interpretation upon Catherine's letter, that its emotional tone was fuelled less by sexual ardour than by the desperation of a young woman who was seeking to placate an aggressive, dangerous suitor, one who, moreover, as a member of the privy chamber had close contact with the king. The promise she mentioned could have concerned the Dereham affair. Culpeper, it may be suggested, had established some form of threatening control over the queen's life, and although he - as he admitted - was seeking sexual satisfaction with her, Catherine was trying to ensure his silence through a misguided attempt at appeasement." (47) Jasper Ridley claims that Catherine met Culpeper in Lady Rochford's room in the middle of the night, while Henry was sleeping off the effects of his usual large supper. (48)
The route of the Royal Progress turned inland towards Yorkshire the scene of the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion a few years previously. Henry spent a few days hunting at Hatfield Chase. It contained ponds and marshes as well as scrub and woodland. Men in boats went on to the water where others hunted in the woods. It is estimated that over 200 stags and deer were killed as well as "a great quantity of young swans, two boats of river birds and as much of great pikes and other fish." (49)
Henry VIII then moved to Pontefract Castle. According to the French ambassador who accompanied Henry, the castle was visited by the nobility and gentry who lived in Yorkshire: "Those who in the rebellion remained faithful were ranked apart and graciously received by the King and praised for their fidelity. The others who were of the conspiracy, among whom appeared the Archbishop of York, were a little further off on their knees... One of them, speaking for all, made a long harangue confessing their treason in marching against the sovereign and his Council, thanking him for pardoning so great an offence and begging that if any relics of indignation remained he would dismiss them. They then delivered several bulky submissions in writing." (50)
Henry VIII and his party visited York before retuning to London. He arrived back at Hampton Court on 29th October. While the King had been away Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had been contacted by John Lascelles. He told him a story that came from his sister, Mary Hall, who had worked as a maid at Chesworth House. She claimed that while in her early teens Catherine had "fornicated" with Henry Manox, Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper. (51)
Cranmer had never approved Henry's marriage to Catherine. He did not personally dislike her but he was a strong opponent of her grandfather, Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. If Lascelles's story was true, it gave him the opportunity to discredit her supporters, the powerful Catholic faction. With her out of the way Cranmer would be able to put forward the name of a bride who like Anne Boleyn favoured religious reform. (52)
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had a meeting with Mary Hall. She told him that when she heard about Catherine's relationship with Manox in 1536 she went to see him and warned him of his behaviour. Manox replied: "Hold thy peace, woman! I know her well enough. My designs are of a dishonest kind, and from the liberties the young lady has allowed me, I doubt not of being able to effect my purpose. She hath said to me that I shall have her maidenhead, though it be painful to her, not doubting but I will be good to her hereafter." Hall then told of Catherine's relationship with Dereham. She claimed that for "a hundred nights or more" he had "crept into the ladies dormitory and climbed, dressed in doublet and hose" into Catherine's bed. (53)
On 2nd November, 1541, Archbishop Cranmer, presented a written statement of the allegations to Henry VIII. Cranmer wrote that Queen Catherine had been accused by Hall of "dissolute living before her marriage with Francis Dereham, and that was not secret, but many knew it." (54) Henry reacted with disbelief and told Cranmer that he did not think there was any foundation in these malicious accusations; nevertheless, Cranmer was to investigate the matter more thoroughly. "You are not to desist until you have got to the bottom of the pot." (55) Henry told Thomas Wriothesley that "he could not believe it to be true, and yet, the accusation having once been made, he could be satisfied till the certainty hereof was known; but he could not, in any wise, that in the inquisition any spark of scandal should arise against the Queen." (56)
Henry also gave orders that Catherine Howard was to be confined to her apartments with just Jane Boleyn (Lady Rochford) in attendance. Eustace Chapuys told Charles de Marillac that she was refusing to eat or drink anything, and that she did not cease from weeping and crying "like a madwoman, so that they must take away things by which she might hasten her death". (57) It was also reported that Lady Rochford was guilty of aiding and abetting Catherine to commit high treason.
Sir Richard Rich and Sir John Gage were given the task of questioning Thomas Culpeper, Francis Dereham and Henry Manox. According to Alison Weir, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) Rich and Gage "had supervised the torturing, with instructions to proceed to the execution of the prisoners, if they felt that no more was to be gained from them by further interrogation." (58)
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer visited the Queen in her apartments on 6th November. His main objective was to obtain a confession that she had committed adultery. Without it, no one could proceed against her, for pre-marital fornication was neither a crime nor acceptable grounds for annulling a marriage. He found the Queen "in such lamentation and heaviness as I never saw no creature, so that it would have pitied any man's heart in the world to have looked upon".
Unable to get much sense out of the Queen he returned the following day. Cranmer told her that if she made a full confession the King would probably show mercy. She eventually confessed that Francis Dereham called her "wife" and she used the term "husband" and that it was common gossip in the household that they would marry. He had "many times moved me unto the question of matrimony" but she refused all his proposals. Catherine made a serious mistake with this confession. Under the law of the time, if she had made a pre-contract of marriage with Dereham, her marriage to Henry was invalid and therefore she could not be convicted of adultery. (59)
Queen Catherine admitted that she had on many occasions gone to bed with Dereham. "He hath lain with me, sometimes in his doublet and hose, and two or three times naked, but not so naked that he had nothing upon him, for he had always at the least his doublet, and as I do think his hose also; but I mean naked, when his hose was put down." Catherine claimed that she had not willingly had sexual intercourse with Dereham and that he had raped her with "importunate force". Catherine admitted that the last time she saw Dereham was in 1539. He said he had heard a rumour that she was romantically involved with Thomas Culpeper and the couple were about to marry. She replied: "What should you trouble me thereabouts, for you know I will not have you; and if you heard such report, you know more than I." (60) This was the first time that Thomas Culpeper's name had been mentioned. Archbishop Cranmer knew that Culpeper was a highly favoured gentleman of the King's Privy Chamber. Cranmer was searching for someone who had committed adultery with the Queen. Cranmer now had another candidate and he ordered the arrest and questioning of Culpeper. (61)
Catherine Howard also confessed about her relationship with Henry Manox. "My sorrow I can by no writing express, nevertheless I trust your most benign nature will have some respect unto my youth, my ignorance, my frailness, my humble confession of my faults and plain declaration of the same, referring me wholly unto your Grace's pity and mercy. First at the flattering and fair persuasions of Manox, being but a young girl I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body, which neither became me with honesty to permit, nor him to require." (62)
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer thought this confession would please Henry VIII as he could now see his marriage to Catherine was invalid and he would be free to marry again. However, Henry wanted more time to think about the situation. He therefore ordered Catherine to be sent to the former Abbey of Syon at Brentford. He also told Cranmer to arrange for all those who were involved in the affair to be sent to the Tower of London to await questioning. (63)
Manox was the first to be cross-examined. He told them he had been employed by the Duchess Agnes Howard to teach Catherine music and singing and admitted having tried to seduce her. When the Duchess discovered them kissing she had beaten them both and commanded that they should never to be alone together again. This had not deterred Manox, and on another occasion she had agreed he might caress her private parts. In his words he had "felt more than was convenient". However, he told his interrogators: "Upon his damnation and most extreme punishment of his body, he never knew her carnally". (64) The Privy Council, seeing that he had committed no crime, released him.
As Kelly Hart has pointed out, Catherine was highly unlikely to have become too involved with Manox. She knew that to marry a man of his background would have been to cause her serious problems: "They (Catherine and Manox) could only have married if they had eloped, to lead an impoverished life. In an age where a woman might starve to death if she married a man of little means, Catherine was understandably aiming for someone who could keep her future children in luxury." (65)
Thomas Wriothesley interviewed the Queen's servants. Katherine Tylney and Margaret Morton both gave evidence that Thomas Culpeper met the Queen in Lady Rochford's chamber. Morton testified that while at Pontefract Castle in August 1541, Lady Rochford locked the room from inside after both Catherine and Culpeper went inside. Morton also said that she "never mistrusted the Queen until at Hatfield I saw her look out of her chamber window on Master Culpeper, after such sort that I thought there was love between them". On another occasion the Queen was in her closet with Culpeper for five or six hours, and Morton thought "for certain they had passed out" (a Tudor euphemism for orgasm). (66)
Jane Boleyn (Lady Rochford) was interviewed in some depth. She had previously given evidence against her husband, George Boleyn, and sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn. She claimed that at first Catherine rejected the advances of Culpeper. She quoted her as saying: "Will this never end?" and asking Lady Rochford to "bid him desire no more to trouble me, or send to me." But Culpeper had been persistent, and eventually the Queen had admitted him into her chamber in private. Lady Rochford was asked to stand guard in case the King came. Rochford added that she was convinced that Culpeper had been sexually intimate "considering all things that she hath heard and seen between them". (67)
Antonia Fraser, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992), is highly critical of the evidence provided by Lady Rochford: "Lady Rochford attempted to paint herself as an innocent bystander who had somehow been at the other end of the room where the Queen was meeting Culpeper, without knowing what was going on. Catherine on the other hand reversed the image and described a woman, like Eve, who had persistently tempted her with seductive notions of dalliance; while Culpeper too took the line that Lady Rochford had 'provoked' him into a clandestine relationship with the Queen... Once again, as with the technicalities of the Queen's adultery, absolute truth - and thus relative blame - is impossible to establish." (68)
Mary Hall testified that she saw Catherine and Culpeper "kiss and hang by their bills (lips) together and as if they were two sparrows". Alice Restwood said that there was "such puffing and blowing between (Catherine and Dereham) that she was weary of the same". Margaret Benet admitted that "she looked out at a hole of a door and there saw Dereham pluck up (Catherine's) clothes above her navel so that he might well discern her body". Benet went on to say she heard the couple talk about the dangers of her becoming pregnant. She heard "Dereham say that although he used the company of a woman... yet he would get no child". Catherine replied that she also knew how to prevent having children. She told Dereham that she knew "how women might meddle with a man and yet conceive no child unless she would herself". (69) David Starkey has asked the question: "Was this confident contraceptive knowledge? Or merely old-wives' tales? In either case, it explains why Catherine was prepared to have frequent sex with no apparent heed to the risks of pregnancy." (70)
Thomas Culpeper appeared before the Privy Council to give evidence in his defence. He claimed that although Lady Rochford had "provoked him much to love the Queen, and he intended to do ill with her and likewise the Queen so minded to do with him, he had not passed beyond words". Edward Seymour told Culpeper that his intensions towards Queen Catherine were "so loathsome and dishonest" that in themselves they would be said to constitute high treason and so therefore he deserved to die. (71)
The trial of Culpeper and Dereham began on 1st December, 1541 in Westminster Hall. Dereham was charged with "presumptive treason" and of having led the Queen into "an abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous and licentious life". He was accused of joining the Queen's service with "ill intent". It was claimed that Dereham once told William Damport that he was sure he might still marry the Queen if the King were dead. Under the 1534 Treason Act, it was illegal to predict the death of the King. (72)
Culpeper was accused of having criminal intercourse with the Queen on 29th August 1541 at Pontefract, and at other times, before and after that date. During the trial Culpeper changed his plea to guilty. Dereham continued to plead his innocence but both men were found guilty. Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, sentenced them to be drawn on hurdles to Tyburn "and there hanged, cut down alive, disembowelled, and, they still living, their bowels burnt; the bodies then to be beheaded and quartered". (73)
Charles de Marillac reported that Culpeper especially deserved to die, even though he did not admit to having full intercourse with Catherine, "for he confessed his intention to do so, and his confessed conversations, being held by a subject to a queen, deserved death". Marillac explained that Henry had "changed his love for the Queen into hatred, and taken such grief at being deceived, that of late it was thought he had gone mad". Henry also suggested that she was such a "wicked woman" that she "should have torture in her death". (74)
Francis Dereham was tortured on 6th December. According to Thomas Wriothesley he admitted that he had said that he might "still marry the Queen if the King were dead". He also admitted having sexual intercourse with Catherine Howard in 1538 but he vehemently denied committing adultery with the Queen. Later that day, the King was asked if he would change the sentence to beheading. He agreed for Culpeper but stated that Dereham "deserved no mercy". The decision was one based on the background of the two men. Men of the higher class were rarely "hung, drawn and quartered".
Culpeper were executed on 10th December 1541. Culpeper asked the crowd to pray for him. No block had been provided. He knelt on the ground by the gallows, and was decapitated with one stroke of the axe. Dereham then suffered the full horror of being hanged, castrated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered. Both heads were set up on pikes above London Bridge. (75)
Henry VIII now asked Parliament to pass a new law that would enable him to order the execution of Catherine Howard. Members were told that Catherine had led "an abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous and vicious life" and had acted "like a common harlot with divers (many) persons... maintaining however the outward appearance of chastity and honesty". (76)
The proposed new law stated that "an unchaste woman marrying the King should be guilty of high treason". Anyone concealing this information was also guilty of high treason. The proposed law also stated that any woman who presumed to marry the King without admitting she had been unchaste would merit death. The Act was passed on 16th January 1542. As David Starkey has pointed out the "key clauses of the Act were flagrantly retrospective". (77)
Catherine Howard was told on 25th January that she could go to "the Parliament chamber to defend herself". She declined the offer and submitted herself to the King's mercy. She was visited by a deputation of members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Catherine told them that she deserved to die and her only care was to have a good death. She asked to have the block brought to her in advance so "that she might know how to place herself". (78)
Eustace Chapuys reported that the "Queen is very cheerful, and more plump and pretty than ever; she is as careful about her dress and as imperious and wilful as at the time she was with the King, notwithstanding that she expects to be put to death, that she confesses she has deserved it, and asks for no favour except that the execution shall be secret and not under the eyes of the world." (79)
On 29th January 1542, Henry gave a banquet attended by sixty-one young women. It was claimed that the women had been chosen as candidates to become the next Queen of England. Chapuys reported that "the common voice is that this King will not be long without a wife, because of the great desire he has to have further issue." It was claimed that Henry was particularly attentive to the 20-year-old Anne Bassett. It was rumoured that she had been his mistress for several years. (80)
The Act of Attainder was passed by Parliament on 6th February 1542. Catherine Howard and Jane Boleyn (Lady Rochford) were both sentenced to death and loss of goods and lands. Henry went into the House of Commons and thanked them "for that they took his sorrow to be theirs". Chapuys told Charles V that Henry had "never been so merry since first hearing of the Queen's misconduct. (81)
On 10th February 1542, officials arrived at the Abbey of Syon to take Catherine to the Tower of London. As soon as she learned what they had come for, she became hysterical and had to be dragged to the waiting barge. On her journey to the Tower she passed under London Bridge, where the rotting heads of Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham were still being displayed. The Constable of the Tower, Sir John Gage, reported that over the next couple of days Catherine "weeps, cries and torments herself miserably without ceasing". (82)
At seven o'clock on Monday, 13th February, 1542, Catherine was taken to Tower Green. Gage reported that she was so weak with crying that she could hardly stand or speak. Before her execution she said she merited a hundred deaths and prayed for her husband. According to one witness Catherine said she "desired all Christian people to take regard unto her worthy and just punishment". The executioner severed her head in a single blow. (83)
Lady Rochford followed her to the block. Eustace Chapuys reported that she was "in a frenzy" brought on by the sight of Catherine's "blood-soaked remains being wrapped in a black blanket by her sobbing ladies". It was reported that she made an speech where she called for the preservation of the King before she placed her head "on a block still wet and slippery with her mistress's blood." (84)
David Loades, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) claims that Lord Chancellor Thomas Audley was unhappy with the decision to execute Catherine Howard: "Lord Chancellor Audley seems to have some qualms about it, fearing that justice might not be seen to be done, but perhaps it was felt that the spectacle of another queen on trial for substantially the same offence might have brought ridicle upon the English Crown." (85)
Catherine... came under her grandmother's care, to learn obedience, good manners, some social graces and the rudiments of household management; enough, in short, to fit her for marriage to the husband who would in due course to be chosen by the family - perhaps some rising man in Court whom it would be useful to attach to the Howard interest... A pretty child, but bird-brained and barely literate, she grew naturally into an empty-headed adolescent, one of a bevy of giggling, chattering girls who thought of precious little but clothes, young men and how to squeeze as much fun as possible out of life before they were inexorably claimed by marriage and the painful drudgery of child-bearing...
Catherine Howard was an extreme, but by no means untypical example of the way in which her world regarded its women-folk as pawns in the game of high politics. Silly, feckless and over-sexed, she'd been incapable of meeting the demands made upon her and had become the inevitable victim of a system which ruthlessly eliminated its failures.
It was not long before Catherine attracted the attention of the King. By April 1540, he was said to be very enamoured of her, and before the month was out had made her substantial grants of lands confiscated from convicted criminals. Catherine's youthful charm rejuvenated Henry, and she seems to have responded warmly to his advances, having no doubt been well primed by her family. It was certainly a dazzling experience to be courted by the King, and Catherine was not without ambition - Norfolk and Gardiner had explained what their purpose was in pushing her into the spotlight. Yet she was no Anne Boleyn, being a good deal younger than Anne had been, and far more empty-headed, although she was precocious enough when it came to experience of men. It had already therefore occurred to her that she might become queen of England, and this was no doubt enough to compensate for the fact that, as a man, Henry had very little to offer a girl of her age. He was now nearing fifty, and had aged beyond his years. The abscess on his leg was slowing him down, and there were days when he could hardly walk, let alone ride. Worse still, it oozed pus continually, and had to be dressed daily, not a pleasant task for the person assigned to do it as the wound stank dreadfully. As well as being afflicted with this, the King had become exceedingly fat: a new suit of armour, made for him at this time, measured 54 inches around the waist. He was frequently irascible, quick to burst out in temper, and given to bouts of black depression as the years advanced. Yet on occasion he could still exert himself to be charming, especially to the ladies, and he was doing that now for Catherine's benefit, behaving as if he were the magnificent specimen of manhood who had vanquished so many women in his youth. Catherine flattered Henry's vanity; she pretended not to notice his bad leg, and did not flinch from the smell it exuded. She was young, graceful and pretty, and Henry was entranced. The Catholic faction watched with satisfaction as their affair progressed. The Queen, not now so naive as formerly, watched too; she bore Catherine no rancour on a personal level, for she was not in love with her husband, yet this new development made her fearful. If henry believed she stood in the way of his future happiness, what might he not do to rid himself of her.