|Born||c1520, Lambeth, London|
|Died||13 February, 1542, Tower of London, Beheaded|
|Buried||Church of St Peter ad Vincula, London|
Married to Henry VIII
|Marriage Dates|| 1540-1541
Catherine Howard was a cousin of Henry VIII’s ill-fated second queen, Anne Boleyn; and like Anne, Catherine would die on the scaffold at Tower Green. Her birthdate is unknown, but her father was the younger brother of the duke of Norfolk. Though personally impoverished, Catherine had a powerful family name and thus secured an appointment as lady-in-waiting to Henry’s fourth queen, Anne of Cleves. While at court, she caught the eye of the middle-aged king and became a political pawn of her family and its Catholic allies. Catherine’s greatest crime was her silliness. Raised in the far too permissive household of her grandmother, she was a flirtatious and emotional girl who rarely understood the consequences of her actions. She made the mistake of continuing her girlish indiscretions as queen. Henry was besotted with her, calling her his ‘Rose without a Thorn’ and showering her with gifts and public affection. Catherine was understandably more attracted to men her own age and, after just seventeen months of marriage to the king, she was arrested for adultery. The distraught king at first refused to believe the evidence but it was persuasive. Unlike Anne Boleyn, Catherine had betrayed the king. She was beheaded on 13 February 1542, only nineteen or twenty years old. The drama of her execution lends gravity to a brief life which would otherwise pass unnoticed.
Catherine Howard’s short life is one of the great cautionary tales of Henry VIII’s reign; there is about it something strangely pathetic and small, but also powerful and moving. Catherine was neither particularly beautiful or intelligent, but she was a charming, flirtatious girl who rose, virtually overnight, from obscurity to become queen of England. She was the daughter of the 2d duke of Norfolk’s youngest son, Edmund, and his wife, Jocasta (Joyce) Culpeper. She was one of too many children for her impoverished parents and the date of her birth was not recorded; most historians believe it was 1521. Edmund was not an auspicious individual and, like most younger sons, spent most of his life in constant need of money. He complained to the king’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell that he wished to be a poor man’s son for at least then he could work without shame. But he was an aristocrat, a member of one of the greatest noble families of England, and he could do little but beg for help from one relation to another. He sent his daughter to live with her grandmother, the dowager duchess of Norfolk, and thus avoided responsibility for Catherine’s upbringing. This should not reflect badly upon him since it was typical of the times; and though Catherine’s grandmother complained ceaselessly about the expense of supporting numerous grandchildren, she did provide a comfortable home. She did not, however, provide strict supervision – a fact which would have dire consequences for the entire Norfolk family after Catherine became queen.
Catherine was raised in a type of dormitory at Lambeth Palace, crowded in with other young girls (some were servants to her grandmother) and her education was not intellectual. Rather, her days were spent passing the time in the most pleasant manner possible. The duchess’s household was not wealthy and Catherine understandably chafed at her constricted lifestyle. There was within her a strong love of luxury and inability to control her desires; this was a lack of self-control, a realization that certain things should not be done, must not be risked, no matter how much she wanted something. While she was simply one of many daughters of an impoverished lord, this immaturity did not matter. But when she became queen, it remained and past indiscretions also returned to haunt her.
Catherine grew into a merry and vivacious girl, not conventionally beautiful but graceful and charming. She possessed all the vitality of youth, something which proved irresistible to her aged king. The only part of her sporadic education which she seemed to enjoy were her music lessons; in particular, she enjoyed the attentions of her music teacher, a man named Henry Mannox. They first met in 1536, when Catherine was just fifteen years old. Hired to teach her the virginal and lute, Mannox soon began a practiced seduction of his young pupil.
Catherine later swore the relationship was not consummated. ‘At the flattering and fair persuasions of Mannox 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,’ she later told interrogators. Mannox admitted the same. Since Catherine later confessed to more serious transgressions, there was no reason for her to lie in this instance. And one can certainly condemn Mannox for taking advantage of his young student.
As a mere music teacher, Mannox was too far below her in social status for a serious relationship to develop. Though he followed the duchess’s household to London in 1538, Catherine’s attentions soon turned elsewhere. She fell in love with a gentleman-pensioner in her grandmother’s household named Francis Dereham. This relationship was far more serious and undoubtedly consummated. There is much evidence on this point, including Catherine’s own confession: ‘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 dothhis wife many and sundry times but how often I know not.’