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.
UPDATE: I have read from another source that Elizabeth’s necklace may have had religious significance instead of belonging to her mother. Apparently an AM pendant (with the M being formed in the bottom portion of the A) sometimes referred to Auspice Maria, “under the protection of the Virgin Mary.” I will continue to research this aspect and update this post according to what I find.
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.
Seven or eight thousand people crowded the Tower green on a cold February morning. It was the day before Valentine’s Day, 1542, and the people were gathering to see a rare spectacle, the execution of a Queen of England.
When Anne Boleyn was awaiting the executioner, her jailers fretted that she would declare her innocence before the crowd and so they tried to keep the audience small. This time, they had no such concerns. The young woman lodged in the royal apartments was resigned to her fate.
This was no innocent martyr to Henry’s desires, as the people saw it. Katheryn Howard had sinned, and now she would pay for it with her life. These were the kind of executions parents liked to bring their children to, ones which clearly demonstrated the wages of sin. And Katheryn was only the second queen in history to be executed. The show was bound to be interesting.
It was probably nine AM when the doors to the royal apartments opened and Katheryn stepped out into the cold morning air. She was a tiny girl, plump and pretty, possibly only sixteen or seventeen years old. That morning, she wore a black velvet gown, chosen from among the six she had been allowed. Its fabric suited her rank; its color suited the somber occasion to which she wore it.
Behind Katheryn walked Jane Parker, Lady Rochford. She had appeared to have a mental breakdown under the stress of the inquisition and imprisonment, but she had apparently found peace, because she walked with quiet dignity behind Katheryn as they headed to the scaffold.
Katheryn had to be terrified. She was not to be granted the elegant, swift death delivered by a swordsman as her cousin had before her. No, Katheryn would bow her head to the block under the blade of an axe. The hideously botched execution of Margaret Pole could not have been far from her mind.
Frightened she might be, but Katheryn was determined to die with dignity. The night before, she had asked her jailer, Sir John Gage, to bring the block to her chambers so she could practice laying her head on it and not fumble before the crowd.
She climbed the few steps of the scaffold now. It was likely the same one used for Anne Boleyn - stored away and reassembled when needed - but this time, the niceties hadn’t been observed. There’s no mention of the yards of expensive black velvet that had adorned the scaffold like a macabre parade float when Anne died.
Anne had been an anointed Queen; Katheryn had been stripped of the rank that had been a courtesy title due to her marriage to the king and was now “merely Katheryn Howard.” She had been granted her last request for a “private death” inside the walls of the Tower, but that was all.
Katheryn walked across the raw boards covered with a thick layer of straw meant to absorb her blood. The executioner waited by the block, his ax resting on the floor. A black hood covered his face. He knelt in front of the woman he was about to kill and asked for her forgiveness for the task he had to do. Katheryn forgave him and handed him a purse of coins, a tip to ensure a swift death. She turned faced the crowd.
Katheryn had not been trained as a courtier, and taught from birth how deal gracefully with public scrutiny as Anne Boleyn had. Katheryn was just a simple gentlewoman with scant education, and little adult supervision in her formative years. She’d only reigned as queen for one year, a position she had to learn “on the job” as it were, completely unprepared for court etiquette. Certainly, nothing in Katheryn’s short life had prepared her for this.
Witnesses say Katheryn looked pale and frightened - one says she seemed so weak that she could barely speak. The French Ambassador had written that Katheryn spent her last days in constant tears, but now she stood solemn and composed, though she could not completely conceal her fear.
From where she drew the strength and courage, God only knows, but in her last moments, Katheryn comported herself like a queen, and faced death with dignity far beyond her tender years.
A witness wrote of her last moments in a tone of pride, saying that Katheryn
[…] made the most godly and Christian end that ever was heard tell of (I think) since the world’s creation […]
Though we don’t have the exact wording of her final speech passed down to us, we know that Katheryn praised the king for his goodness to her, confessed that she deserved death, and exhorted the people to take example from what happened to her, and amend any sin in their own lives.
When she finished speaking, Katheryn disrobed, stripping off her outer gown and sleeves. She had no jewelry to remove, it having been seized as soon as the investigation into her affairs began. But the fabric of her outer gown was costly and the French hood she wore had valuable gold trim. The garments would be laid aside for the executioner as part of his payment. Her auburn hair would have been tucked up into a white linen cap to leave her little neck bare.
She would have then been blindfolded by the ladies attending her.
Wearing only her kirtle and chemise in February chill, Katheryn prayed as she knelt down in the pile of straw in front of the block. She laid her throat on the bare wood as she had practiced. Tradition was that the condemned would thrust out their arms as a signal that they were ready. Sometimes, a friend would take their hands and hold them stretched forward, but Katheryn’s friends had been taken from her when she was brought to the Tower.
The axe rose and fell. The executioner was good - it took only one blow before Katheryn’s head was severed. Chapuys reports that the ladies serving her lifted her torso and moved it aside, after covering it with a black cloak.
Another woman needed to occupy the block. Lady Rochford stepped forward. The king had passed legislation to allow him to execute insane persons because of Lady Rochford’s mental breakdown after her arrest. Chapuys had written that she had periods of lucidity and perhaps she was in one now, or had found peace. Either way, she was calm and dignified, and she made a speech similar to Katheryn’s before she knelt down in the bloody straw and laid her neck on the dripping block. The axe fell again.
Later, a legend would arise that Katheryn had declared on the scaffold that she died a queen but would rather have died as Culpepper’s wife, and that Lady Rochford had admitted she deserved to die for lying about her husband and Anne Boleyn. Fanciful nonsense, and nothing more.
It was over. The crowd wandered away, leaving behind the two bodies which lay on the scaffold while their blood drained out through the boards, dripping onto the grass below. Sometime later - how long the records do not say - Katheryn and Lady Rochford’s bodies were taken to the chapel of St. Peter-ad-Vincula where Anne and George had been buried. No mention is made in the records of cerecloth being provided for their burial (the waxed linen shroud in which bodies were normally buried), only the black cloak that was laid over Katheryn’s remains on the scaffold. Since the cloak was valuable and would not have been buried with her, the implication is that their bodies were buried directly in the earth with no shroud. I cannot say one way or the other. I hope the little queen and Lady Rochford were given at least that scant courtesy.
A few feet beneath the paving stones, hasty graves were scratched out for both women to the right of the altar, and they were buried.
But this anonymous burial was not enough. Someone wanted nothing of Katheryn Howard to remain. Her grave was filled with lime, meant to hasten decomposition. It raises the question of who gave the order and why, because this was not - by any means - an ordinary part of the burial process.
It seems we’ll never know for certain, but there was one person who wanted to completely erase the “rose without a thorn” from memory, just as he had sought to erase Anne Boleyn.
Three hundred years passed, and the little chapel fell into a pitiful state of disrepair. Queen Victoria gave her permission for a restoration. She ordered that an attempt be made to identify the famous persons buried in the chapel, a task which proved more difficult than anticipated.
The tiny chapel had been in continuous use as a parish church, and there over a thousand burials within its walls. When a fresh interment occurred, the prior occupant of the grave would be shoved aside in an unceremonious jumble of bones. The remains believed to be Anne Boleyn’s had been pushed aside for a lead coffin occupied by a woman who had died in 1760. In other places, the bones of unknown persons mingled with older burials.
This is what they found when they excavated the area where Katheryn Howard and Lady Rochford were believed to be buried:
Close by, somewhat in a south-east direction, and nearer to the wall of the chancel, gathered together in two distinct groups, were found the bones of two females; these were examined and carefully sorted, they appeared to belong to a person of about thirty to forty years of age, and to another who must have been considerably advanced in years. It is worthy of note that these latter remains were a little to the south-east of the younger female.
These groups had been much disturbed, and many bones are missing: the younger female had been of rather delicate proportions, the elder had been tall, and certainly of above average height.
These remains are believed to be those of Lady Rochford and Margaret of Clarence, Countess of Salisbury: and, as was subsequently discovered, they had been removed somewhat to the east of their original resting places, in order to make room for two unknown persons, who had been buried close to the step of the chancel, probably about one hundred years ago.
Search though they might, they found no trace of Katheryn Howard. They speculated that the lime had dissolved her young bones to dust.
No remains which could be identified as those of Queen Katharine Howard were found; it should, however, be borne in mind that lime has been most extensively used in these interments, and as Katharine Howard was only twenty years old when she was beheaded (at which age the bones have not become hard and consolidated), it is very possible that even when Judge Jeffreys was interred in the chancel, her remains had already become dust. It was at first supposed, as she had been buried on this spot, that her remains had been discovered, when the group of female bones were found lying near the Duke of Northumberland; but a closer examination showed that the age and size of the bones (Katharine Howard is said to have been very small in stature) would not support that supposition, and these are now believed to be the remains of Lady Rochford.
Only Katheryn Howard’s memory remains.
In recent years, the legacy of Anne Boleyn has begun to be re-examined. Even Lady Rochford has been the subject of new scholarship, sweeping away the cobwebs of myth that have clung to her memory. Perhaps it’s time we do the same with Katheryn Howard.
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.”
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.