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.
On the 28th, the same day that Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell was executed, Henry VIII married his “rose without a thorn”, young Katherine Howard, at Oatlands Palace.
The historian Agnes Strickland writes of how “the king had exhausted his treasury when he married his Flemish bride [Anne of Cleves], so he could not honour Katharine Howard with either a coronation or a marriage festival.“
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On the same day of Thomas Cromwell’s execution, 07/28/1540, Henry VIII married the teenager, Katherine Howard at Oatlands Palace located in Surrey. Presiding over the ceremony was the Bishop of London, Edmund Bonner. The ceremony was a low-key affair since Henry had just annulled his marriage with Anne of Cleves. The couple were married at Oatlands Palace. The couple spent the night in an ornate “pearl bed” which had been brought from Greenwich Palace specifically for this occasion. They did not announce their marriage until August 8th at Hampton Court Palace. The French Ambassador, Charles de Marillac, reported that ‘The King is so amorous of her that he cannot treat her well enough and caress her more than he did the others.’
Other envoys also reported favorably on Katherine, stating what had attracted her to Henry: ‘It was upon a notable appearance of honor, cleanness and maidenly behavior and that High Highness was finally contented to honor that lady with his marriage, thinking in his old days -after sundry troubles of mind which had happened to him by marriage- to have obtained such a perfect jewel of womanhood and very perfect love towards him as should have been not only to his quietness but also to have brought forth the desired fruits of marriage.’
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licences
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