Henry VIII’s fifth queen has, like her first cousin Anne Boleyn, become notorious as one of the two wives King Henry had beheaded. But while Anne is now commonly recognized as innocent and unjustly killed, Katheryn has yet to have her reputation laid to rest. She has been labeled as a tart, a whore, a fool, and a malicious adulteress. Katheryn’s real crime was being pretty. With dark blonde or golden brown hair, a plump and petite little figure, vivacious spirit, and flirtatious disposition Katheryn had potential, and her powerful family knew it. Her uncle Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and his allies were all too pleased to truss Katheryn up and parade her under the old King Henry’s nose. When the King divorced Anne of Cleves and promptly wed Katheryn, who was between the ages of 15-18 at the time, her kin prospered immensely. Henry lavished her with jewels, furs, fine clothes, and property. He called Katheryn his “rose without a thorn.” But when details of Katheryn’s sexual past were brought before the King and she was placed under arrest, she was left utterly alone by those who were previously happy to profit by her success.
But while there is so much attention paid to Katheryn’s faults and downfall, her true self is often ignored. Katheryn was indeed flirtatious and young, and perhaps giddy, but she was also kind. When confronted with the terrible condition of several prisoners in the Tower of London, namely Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury, Katheryn personally paid for new clothes, coats, hats, and slippers to be made for them. She also begged for the release of Sir Thomas Wyatt and interceded on his behalf. Katheryn also showed particular kindness to her younger stepdaughter Elizabeth, who she may have had a soft spot for as the child of her ill-fated cousin. She nursed and enlivened her husband the King, but his great love for her was apparently conditional.
In the end, Katheryn was a beautiful young woman who was used as a pawn for her family’s gain. She was wed to an old and sick man in the prime of her life and was ultimately brought down by her own vivacity. She was called a whore and was stripped of her title for having sex before marriage, but had she been a man it would have almost been expected. Katheryn was a girl who by mere chance became a queen and she died for the things she did without any notion of what her future held, and crimes that were never fully proven.
And by the way, she never said that she “would rather die the wife of Thomas Culpeper.”
On November 6th, 1541, Katherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, was left at Hampton Court Palace by her husband; she would never set eyes on him again. Four days previously, he had been passed a note during mass that spoke of her sexual liaisons with other men.
Popular folklore says that she managed to escape from her rooms, running screaming down the corridor to where Henry was at mass to try and see him to plead for her life. She was unsuccessful, and was dragged back to her rooms by the guards. The gallery is now said to be haunted by her screaming ghost, still trying to reach Henry and plead for her life.
This is now popularly thought to be fictional story, as Katherine had been confined to her apartments since the accusations were brought to Henry’s attention and it was likely that she was unaware of just how serious the charges against her were.
My first post as a part of the Studyblr community! yay! I love this little bio of Katheryn by Conor Bryne, but it definitely reads like a uni student essay. I like the attempt he’s made at taking a “feminist” perspective of her circumstances, but (sort of predictably) it was a bit of a hit-and-miss on a few points and he couldn’t completely remove certain (misogynistic seems harsh so I’ll use close-minded?) biases from his arguments. Its a good read though, and a lot kinder than PG or AW interpretations.
From her relative obscurity in the Dowager’s household, Katherine was now fussed over and feted. Attention and money were showered on her as her family rushed to prepare her for sacrifice. A fortune was spent on her clothes. Norfolk was willing to finance her presentation in the very latest French fashions, certain that the girl was worth the risk. With her long blonde hair and wide green eyes, she was the picture of innocence. She was their tool, the pretty little doll dressed to provoke an aging lecher to lust after her.
“Master Culpeper, I heartily recommend me unto you, praying you to send me word how that you do. It was showed me that you was sick, the which thing troubled me very much till such time that I hear from you praying you to send me word how that you do, for I never longed so much for a thing as I do to see you and to speak with you, the which I trust shall be shortly now. The which doth comfortly me very much when I think of it, and when I think again that you shall depart from me again it makes my heart to die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company. Yours as long as life endures.”
True, she was a good-time girl. But like many good-time girls, she was also warm, loving and good-natured. She wanted to have a good time. But she wanted other people to have a good time, too. And she was prepared to make some effort to see that they did.
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII - David Starkey