Henry’s ‘rose without a thorn’ and ‘jewel’ was Anne Boleyn’s cousin and the Duke of Norfolk’s niece. Her father was the duke’s youngest brother. The Howard family together with every other noble house in the country seemed to have spent considerable time and effort dangling promising young women in front of Henry following the Cleves debacle. Of course, she was also descended from the Plantagenets so a dispensation was required but more importantly Katherine required a dispensation because of cousin Anne – Henry didn’t want a rerun of the Leviticus/Deuteronomy argument.
She was at most twenty-one-years-old if Chapuys is to be believed with a spouse some thirty years older. In all likelihood she was much younger, estimates have been placed her between fourteen and sixteen when she married the king. The Spanish envoy placed her at fifteen-years-of-age. She chose as her motto “No other will but his,” she would perhaps have done well to remember it. Her emblem was the crowned Tudor rose.
Katherine’s life was not a straight forward one. Her mother had died when she was nine at the most. She’d seen her cousin as queen, disgraced and then executed. She’d been sent to live with her step-grandmother the Duchess of Norfolk who lodged many family members in straitened circumstances. Except, the dowager was often at court and didn’t seem to have a very well organised household management which allowed Henry Manox, Katherine’s music teacher, and then Francis Dereham to take the kind of liberties that would get them sent to prison and placed on a register on their release in this day and age. And if the Spanish Ambassador’s information was correct Henry wasn’t any better except of course these were Tudor times rather than modern ones. Childhood was brief and girls a marriageable commodity so far as their parents – and in this case their uncle- was concerned.
Henry showered gifts and attention on his young bride. In fact some accounts suggest that he couldn’t keep his hands off her but Katherine did not have the education of Henry’s other wives. Katherine Parr was extremely well educated as was Catherine of Aragon . Elizabeth of York used to send her Spanish daughter-in-law books as presents and it was Katherine who some historians suggest drew Henry to Humanist literature. Anne Boleyn was no less well read and her wit which turned shrewish was certainly sharp. Perhaps Henry thought his bride was closer in character to Jane Seymour but she’d borne him a son and then died before becoming boring. Anne of Cleves had the common good sense not to protest when her marriage was annulled. Katherine Howard on the other hand made rather good friends with a certain Thomas Culpepper who was a cousin – her mother’s maiden name was Culpepper. Cheating on the king cannot have been straightforward and somewhat ironically the woman who helped her with her assignations was Jane, Lady Rochford – the same woman who’d accused her own husband of incest with Anne Boleyn.
On the 2nd November 1541 Thomas Cramner sent Henry a letter breaking the news of Katherine’s betrayal. Katherine was executed on the 13 February 1542 and unlike Anne who’d been buried in an arrow chest Katherine’s body was destroyed by lime on the orders of the king. If Katherine did not have a body she could not arise on the day of judgement. Henry believed that he’d wiped his rose without a thorn from this world and the hereafter – or so the Yeomen of the Guard giving the tour of the Tower would have their visitors believe.
A new law was passed. Women hoping to marry Henry VIII had to reveal their past love lives before they could marry the monarch.