Queen Catherine Howard: Facts & Execution

Instructor: Patricia Chappine

Patricia has a Ph.D. in Progress, History and Culture as well as a master's degree in Holocaust and genocide studies. She has taught heritage of the western world and U.S. history.

Queen for a mere 18 months, Catherine Howard was the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. In this lesson, read about Catherine's early life, marriage to Henry, and execution.

Introduction

Portrait of Queen Catherine Howard.
Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard's exact birth date is unknown. Historians estimate that it was sometime in 1523. A native of England, she was born to Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper. She was the niece of Elizabeth Howard, mother of Anne Boleyn.

Catherine married Henry VIII shortly after he annulled his marriage to Anne of Cleves. Reports of Catherine as queen revealed a pleasant personality. However, she was also ill-prepared for the life of a queen in an official capacity. Her extra-marital affairs would eventually lead to her execution. After two years of marriage, Catherine was tried and convicted for treason for committing adultery while married to Henry. She was beheaded shortly thereafter.

Early Life and Marriage

Despite her noble family line, her father was not a wealthy man. Since he was but one of 21 children, he did not stand a chance of inheriting the family estate, which went to the firstborn son. When Catherine was young, she was sent to live with her step-grandmother, the Duchess of Norfolk. While she did learn the basics for a noblewoman, the Duchess offered little supervision and generally let Catherine do as she pleased. She reportedly had a relationship with her music teacher, Henry Mannox, when she was only 13. Afterwards, she became involved with the Duchess's secretary, Francis Dereham. The affair was ended when the Duchess was informed.

Catherine left the Duchess's estate and became a lady-in-waiting for Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry. Henry was 50 years old when he fell in love with a 15-year-old Catherine Howard. She was described as very beautiful by those who knew her. For instance, French ambassador Charles de Marillac described Catherine as, 'A young lady of extraordinary beauty.'

Many accounts revealed Henry's deep infatuation with her. Henry showered Catherine with many expensive gifts during their courtship. He affectionately referred to her as 'his rose without a thorn.' The couple married on July 28, 1540.

As Queen

Catherine's lax education had ramifications once she officially became queen. While she was only queen for 18 months, observers noted her lack of knowledge about court proceedings. She frequented parties and balls but had little to do with any real duties. She had no interest in politics or religion.

Catherine did, however, become involved in helping two unfortunate prisoners in the Tower of London. The first, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was imprisoned for two years. In a goodwill gesture, Catherine purchased warm clothes for the woman. In another instance, Catherine asked Henry to pardon poet Thomas Wyatt, who was imprisoned for his association with Thomas Cromwell, the king's former secretary.

Execution

While married to Henry, Catherine had affairs with Henry Mannox and Francis Dereham. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, brought this to the king's attention in the hope of pushing the Catholic Catherine out of power. When confronted with the information, Catherine became hysterical. Thomas Cranmer described seeing her after her arrest '. . .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 her.'

She was stripped of her title as queen and imprisoned. In the meantime, her lovers were executed. In February 1542, Parliament passed a bill of attainder, which made it treason for a queen to fail to disclose her sexual past to the king within 20 days of their union. She was beheaded at the Tower of London on February 13, 1542. She was buried in an unmarked grave.

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