On July 28, 140, Henry VIII married his fifth wife, Katheryn Howard.
Katheryn had been a maid of honor to Henry’s fourth wife, Anna von Kleefes. The king’s interest in Katheryn was so obvious that ambassadors were commenting on it even before his marriage to Anna was dissolved. Anna was a very intelligent woman and took the deal Henry offered in dissolving their marriage. The newly-single Henry quickly married Katheryn at Oatlands Palace.
Henry was reportedly obsessed with Katheryn, more “in love” with her than any of his previous wives. He couldn’t keep his hands off her, even in front of the court - notable behavior for the prim king who had always found public displays of affection distasteful. (Henry never had a public bedding ceremony, and even usually conducted his weddings themselves in secrecy.)
Katheryn was pretty, “very small in stature,” with the auburn hair that seems to have run in the Howard family. She may have been only sixteen or seventeen years old when Henry married her, but she had a colorful past for that day and age. Katheryn had been sexually active before her marriage, touched inappropriately by her music teacher when she was a young teen (though today we would call this sexual abuse) and sleeping with a man she was married to by the standards of church and civil law. The Howard family seems to have decided to ignore this marriage when they sent Katheryn to court to be Anna’s maid of honor, and no one certainly alerted the king to it when he sought to make Katheryn his bride.
Katheryn herself always denied the marriage had taken place, but she did admit to allowing Francis Dereham to call her his wife in front of others, which constituted a legally binding union for the day. Katheryn doesn’t seem to have believed this was true. In her mind, they were just playing, young lovers having fun calling one another by pet names.
Despite her youth, terrible upbringing, and lack of preparation, Katheryn took her role seriously, and tried to be a good queen. Katheryn sponsored a book on midwifery that was written in plain English instead of Latin to make it more accessible to the common people.
It seems she tried to use her influence with the king for good purposes. Researcher Conor Byrne says in his biography of her that she interceded on behalf of at least four prisoners, including Thomas Wyatt and the elderly Countess Pole.
Katheryn also made it a point to show kindness to the poor, neglected Princess Elizabeth. The girl was her cousin by blood, yes, but Katheryn wouldn’t really get any benefit from this generosity, since Elizabeth was currently still in disgrace with her father. Katheryn directed that the Elizabeth be brought to court and seated directly across from her at the dinner table. She’s also noted as having sent the princess small gifts from time to time, and also to Princess Mary, who reportedly didn’t think much of her new stepmother. Katheryn and Anna von Kleefes also exchanged gifts, and reportedly danced with one another when Anna was at court.
Katheryn seems to have come to her role of queen with the spirit of reconciliation in mind. She tried to make friends with everyone across religious divisions.
The king certainly lavished gifts on his pretty young queen, but Katheryn’s own expense books show she spent more on trying to help others than she did on herself. One of her biggest purchases was fur-lined clothing she bought for the elderly Countess Pole who was suffering during her imprisonment in the Tower.
As Agnes Strickland wrote:
No sort of pomp or regal splendour distinguished the court of Katharine Howard. We find no records of her indulging her love of dress in the purchase of costly robes or jewellery, nor of gifts bestowed on her kindred or favourites. So quiet and unostentatious was the tenor of her life at this period, that the only matter worthy of notice during her residence at Hampton-court is the order to her tailor, dated March 1, to provide the following needful articles for the use of the venerable countess of Salisbury, at that time an attainted prisoner in the Tower of London, under sentence of death, and despoiled of all her substance.
She wasn’t raised to the role like Katharine of Aragon, nor supremely educated like Anne Boleyn, nor ambitious like Jane Seymour, but Katheryn Howard tried to be a good queen. It was simply that her past caught up to her, and Henry was enraged that his “rose” had been touched by others before him. Katheryn would not be the victim of a political conspiracy like her cousin. She ended up being destroyed by the king’s sexual jealousy.
History has tended to treat Katheryn with disdain, dismissing her as a “party girl” or an empty-headed slut. While most historians agree Anne Boleyn was innocent of the charges against her, most have tended to view Katheryn as guilty - if not of actual adultery, of intention. But there’s no evidence Katheryn ever “sinned with her body” against the king, or intended to. She was killed because she had come to the king’s bed experienced and made Henry look like a fool in praising her so highly as the perfect wife.
Anne Boleyn has fierce partisans, but Katheryn has been mostly ignored. Perhaps it’s time to sweep the cobwebs of myth from her memory, too.
There seems to be some misconceptions about the possible fate of Anne Boleyn’s jewelry, and so I decided to update this article.
Every queen had a selection of personal jewelry which was not part of the crown jewels. These personal jewels could include gifts from her husband during their marriage, or pieces she owned prior to her wedding. Anne’s personal jewelry would not have been considered part of the crown jewels, even after her death and her husband’s acquisition of her property.
The crown jewels were a set of gems that were handed down from monarch to monarch. You can see the crown jewels of the Tudor era in the portraits of Henry’s queens. The “consort’s necklace” is a piece which seems to have been worn by each woman after Anne Boleyn, and it appears not to have been re-set for each queen as many gems were.
Jane Seymour’s portrait is where it first turns up (though Anne may be wearing it in her portrait medallion with a cross pendant.)
Katheryn Howard wears it next.
After that, Kateryn Parr wore it with a different pendant.
A particularly fabulous gem might be added to the crown jewels, but that seems to have depended on the monarch who purchased it - whether he or she wanted to “gift” it to the crown - or how it was purchased (whether with the monarch’s privy purse or with the funds of the crown.) The current queen, Elizabeth II, owns many fabulous gems - tiaras, and jewelry sets - that have been passed down through her family that are her personal property and not part of the crown jewels.
When a queen was widowed, she was expected to turn the crown jewels over to the woman who would take her place as consort, but not the gems that were her personal jewelry. Mary Tudor Brandon caused controversy when she absconded with part of the French crown jewels, including the famous Mirror of Naples, and gave it to her brother in a bid to win his forgiveness for remarrying a man of her own choosing. When King Francis asked for the jewel’s return, Henry argued that the Mirror had been a personal gift from the dead king to his sister, and was not part of the crown jewels.
Anne’s famous initial pendants were an example of personal jewelry. Katharine of Aragon also had personal jewels that were not part of the collection she was forced to surrender to Anne Boleyn in 1532. Specifically, she left to her daughter in her will a “gold collar I brought out of Spain.”
The initial pendants I’ve described Anne wearing in Under These Restless Skiesare featured in portraits of Anne Boleyn or her daughter. Since no portraits from Anne’s lifetime survive (with the possible exception of the Holbein sketch) it seems likely artists painted Anne wearing pieces of jewelry her daughter had inherited, or pieces that were remembered as belonging to her.
Everyone is familiar with the famous “B” pendant, but it appears Anne had several others.
“AB,” is pictured in one of her portraits, pinned to her bodice in the Nidd Hall portrait.
An “A” pendant is worn by Elizabeth in the Whitehall Family Group Portrait.
Anne is also portrayed wearing an “HA” pendant, her initials entwined with Henry’s, a design known as a love knot. Holbein is recorded to have designed such a necklace for her; it’s tempting to imagine this is similar to the one he created. Inventories also record Anne had items with the initials “RA" Regina Anna (Queen Anne) and a large array of rings, bracelets and other items with "HA” inscribed.
It should be noted that some historians now claim the Hoskins miniature, used as the “pattern” for portraits of Anne Boleyn, is actually of Mary Tudor Brandon. However, most nobles of the day did not identify themselves by their surname, but by their title. If Mary wore an initial pendant, it most likely would have had an “S” for Suffolk. Charles Brandon’s next wife signed herself “Katherine Suffolk” in documents, just as Anne herself used the name “Anne Rochford” after her father was ennobled, as she signed herself in her only surviving letter to a woman friend, indicating the “B” portrait may portray Anne from a time before that date.
What happened to Anne Boleyn’s initial pendants? After Anne died, they became Henry’s property, both because he was her widower (though he’d had their marriage annulled) and because she was a convicted traitor. The pieces went into Henry’s storage. Some of them were noted as still being in his inventories when he died, but not the initial pendants, so they must have been dispersed before his death. Nor do they turn up in the inventories of his queens.
At some point, Henry seems to have decided to pass the jewels on to Anne’s daughter. They were not only an inheritance from her mother, but they were her Boleyn legacy. Henry used his daughter Mary’s obstinacy as an excuse not to give her the gold collar her mother had left her, but he had no such excuse in Elizabeth’s case. Secondly, though he considered her a bastard, Elizabeth was a king’s daughter and had to be groomed and bejeweled appropriately. Giving Elizabeth her mother’s personal gems would be a cheap way of fitting her out according to her station. Some believe that Kateryn Parr may have intervened to urge him to give Elizabeth her mother’s legacy.
He doesn’t seem to have minded her wearing them. Though he had initially tried to eradicate Anne’s memory by destroying her portraits, records, and emblems, he passed on the gems as they were, not bothering with the expense of re-setting them before he had them given to Elizabeth. Elizabeth chose to wear the “A” pendant in the Whitehall family portrait. Perhaps Henry shrugged and said if she wanted to mark herself with the name of a traitor, it was no skin off his nose. She was a bastard ineligible for the throne anyway.
Elizabeth may have eventually had the “B” pendant remade into the one we see in her teenage portrait wearing the red gown. Historian Eric Ives notes that he three dangling pearls are nearly identical. Elizabeth is not recorded in her later years as wearing her mother’s initial pendants. Perhaps by then she felt it impolitic to associate herself openly with Anne, though she may have worn a crown made for her mother for her coronation portrait, and had a ring made which contains an image of her mother.
So, what happened next? The Tudors were not as sentimental as we are about keeping inherited jewelry intact. Elizabeth would have done as most people and had the pieces re-made to suit the current fashion. Her mother’s pearls may have joined the long ropes she wore looped across her bodices, and the gold may have been recast into brooches or rings.
They would have gone to James I when Elizabeth died in 1603. His wife, Anne of Denmark, likely had the pieces melted down and re-set again, as was customary with monarchs. Most of the pieces in royal hands were sold off during the civil wars and the Commonwealth era. They disappear into the mists of history.
It’s thought that some of Anne Boleyn’s pearls may survive today in the State crown of Queen Elizabeth II. However, the crown was made in the time of Queen Victoria, and there’s no direct evidence that the pearls belonged to Anne Boleyn or her daughter.
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.
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.