Katherine Howard

Portrait of a young lady, though to be Katherine Howard by Hans Holbein the Younger (1540). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Johanna Strong

Katherine Howard was born to Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper likely in 1523. She was Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk’s niece and was first cousin to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. She spent much of her early life at her step-grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household. It was here that she was educated and where she learned tasks deemed appropriate for an early modern woman. It was in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household that Katherine likely had her first sexual encounter, though many historians now believe that it was an abusive rather than a consensual relationship.

Katherine was placed in the household of Henry VIII’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves and it was here that her beauty and charisma attracted the notice of the king, who was unhappy in his current marriage. After the annulment of Henry’s marriage with Anne of Cleves, Henry and Katherine were married on 28 July 1540 at Oatlands Palace. Henry doted on his young bride, calling her his ‘rose without a thorn’.

This joy was quickly eclipsed by 1541 by rumours that Katherine had taken lovers while she was married to the king. Henry was furious and became even more so as Katherine’s past at the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household was revealed to him. On 7 November 1541, Katherine was questioned by Archbishop Cranmer about her actions and she was stripped of her title as queen consort in late November 1541. On 7 February 1542, Parliament passed a Bill of Attainder against Katherine, finding her guilty of treason. She was executed by beheading at the Tower of London on 13 February 1542. She is buried near her cousin and fellow-queen Anne Boleyn at the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula at the Tower of London and her ghost is said to roam the Haunted Gallery at Hampton Court, where rumour has it that Katherine made her final unsuccessful attempt to persuade Henry of her innocence.

Recommended Reading

Conor Byrne, Katherine Howard: Henry VIII’s Slandered Queen (Cheltenham, England: The History Press, 2017)

Gareth Russell, Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of Henry VIII (London: Simon & Schuster, 2017).

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