Moonday’s Heroic Hunk was to have been short this week. I’m doing NaNoWriMo and am unfortunately behind (read that WAY behind). Also, this is another of Henry VIII’s very short marriages but I got too involved with the story. Henry was almost fifty when, in July of 1540, he annulled his marriage to Anne of Cleves and married Katherine Howard who was twenty or so. Their marriage lasted less than two years and ended with the beheading for treason (read that adultery against the king) of a silly young girl.
Katherine Howard, the daughter of a poor younger son of the Duke of Norfolk, had been sent to live with the Dowager Duchess as her ward. The Duchess, however, was often busy at court and provided little supervision for her wards. Consequently, Catherine was neither intelligent nor well-educated like her first cousin Anne Boleyn and she did not possess the skills or maturity to make her way at court.
Catherine apparently had two affairs in her very early youth while with the Duchess. Her first affair was actually a dalliance with Henry Manox , her music teacher. Her relationship with Frances Dereham was far more serious—they called each other “husband” and “wife.” Their actions may have constituted a precontract of marriage which should have prevented Catherine’s marrying King Henry.
The fall of this particular bride was especially poignant. When the Duchess discovered Katherine’s misbehavior, she removed her from her household and sent her to Court as a lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves. The downfall of her first cousin, Anne Boleyn (Queen #2), had placed the Howard family out of favor. They didn’t care who they threw into Henry’s path to regain favor and restore the Catholic faith—and Katherine had caught the King’s eye. As the King’s courtship of Katherine progressed, so did their influence.
Katherine’s motto “No other wish but his” was ill-chosen. On her arrival at Court, she and the handsome and popular Thomas Culpepper had hooked up briefly. After Katherine married the King, Lady Rochford (the widow of George Boleyn, Anne’s brother who was unjustly accused of and executed for incest with Anne) assisted the couple with their assignations. (Rita’s Note: One wonders at her motivation.)
Imagine young Katherine’s predicament. Henry, still convinced of his appeal to women, weighed in at about 300 pounds. While married to Anne, he had fallen during a joust and injured his leg. Ten+ years later the festering wound had ulcerated and the foul-smelling discharge had to be drained every day. Katherine not only had to submit to Henry’s frequent efforts to secure an heir but her fertility was monitored by the whole Court. It is not surprising that she turned to Culpepper.
Unfortunately, her past caught up with her. In addition to folks from her past who knew about her indiscretions, both Manox and Dereham appeared at Court and demanded and were given positions in her household. By November of 1541, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, presented Henry with evidence of her adultery. A substantial part of the evidence against her was obtained by torturing Culpepper and Dereham. In December, both men were executed for treason (Culpepper by beheading and Dereham was hung, drawn, and quartered) and their heads were placed atop London Bridge.
Poor Katherine’s family had deserted her, Cranmer was after her head, and the King had spurned her. In January, Parliament passed the bill of attainder against her and by February she was imprisoned in the Tower. The hours before her execution on February 13th were spent practicing placing her head on the block.
She required assistance to climb the scaffold. Facing execution, she asked for mercy for her family and prayers for herself. The executioner took her head with one stroke of the axe and she was buried in the same chapel as her Cousin Anne. A plaque commemorates her death. She never confessed to infidelity.
Two stories are connected with her death. Her last words were reported to be: “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper.” The other relates to her ghost wandering in Hampton Court to the Chapel where she tried unsuccessfully to reach Henry who was in the Chapel. On a personal note, when I visited Hampton Court the area outside the Chapel was icy cold. It was May. Next week, we bid Henry VIII goodbye. ‘Til Moonday, Rita Bay