Catherine was born in 1523, the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper. She was first cousins with Anne Boleyn through her aunt Elizabeth Howard. While she had an aristocratic pedigree, Catherine’s family was not wealthy. Her mother died in 1531 so Catherine spent her early childhood in the household of her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Little attention was paid to her by the Dowager Duchess and as a result Catherine was poorly educated.
In 1536, at the age of 13, Catherine was molested by her music teacher, Henry Mannox. He would later give evidence against her. In 1538 Catherine was pursued by a secretary in the Dowager Duchess’s household, Francis Dereham. They became lovers and referred to each other as “husband” and “wife.” It was ended in 1539 when the Dowager Duchess caught wind of their relationship. Catherine and Francis may have parted with intentions to marry.
Catherine’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, found her a place at court in the household of Anne of Cleves. She quickly caught the eye of Henry VIII who was clearly uninterested in Anne. The Howards took advantage of the situation and sought to gain the influence they once had during the reign of Anne Boleyn. They succeeded in this and soon Henry was bestowing gifts of land and expensive cloth upon Catherine.
Catherine married Henry soon after his divorce from Anne in July 1540. In her new position, Catherine was called upon for favors in return for silence by people who had witnessed her earlier indiscretions. She made a fatal mistake when she appointed Francis Dereham as her personal secretary. It’s alleged that in early 1541, she began an affair with one of Henry’s courtiers, Thomas Culpeper.
By November 1541, Henry was made aware of her earlier relationships. Not wanting to believe that his “rose without a thorn” had such a scandalous past, Henry ordered an investigation to find out who was slandering Catherine while she herself was kept locked up. Unfortunately for Catherine, the evidence was against her and the king could not deny her past. Catherine refused to admit to a marriage contract between herself and Dereham and instead claimed that he raped her. She did this in spite of the fact that if she had admitted to a precontract, Henry would have been able to save face and easily annul the marriage. She was stripped of her title and imprisoned in Middlesex.
Catherine remained in limbo until February 1542 when Parliament made it an act of treason for a queen consort to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within twenty days of their marriage, or to incite someone to commit adultery with her. Catherine was then found unequivocally guilty of treason and sentenced to death. She was executed on February 13 and buried in an unmarked grave in the same chapel as her cousin Anne. (x)