Katherine Howard

katherine howard emblem.pngHenry’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.




6 thoughts on “Katherine Howard

  1. Good article. Lady Rochford was a spy. A cruel envious creature with pride and lust combined. Her husband would not touch her and that led to his death. I would like to say that Kate Parr was not named as to fashion to Henrys Spanish Queen of that Christian forename but of Galic spelling as Kateryn Parr KP Her brother William and sister Anne both called her Kate in private. My ancestors signed her name with a K and accepted Katherine as her name but never deserted her Parr surname ever. She was well schooled by her able mother and may also have learned Greek herself. I do not think the claim she studied it with Princess Mary in class as said by two living historians as her mother Lady Maude Parr had lost her husband and incomes so as ward of court would not have been invited to school with the Royals. Kate was a bright girl and her wedding portrait in crimson and gold by the court artist Littlejohn is so much like my sister Lady Pauline Parr who died of cancer aged 36 on the same day that Katherine died is and is buried in Appleby Church yard as Blackfriars is no more than a ruin now.

  2. ” Catherine Parr was extremely well educated. Elizabeth of York used to send her books as presents and it was Catherine who introduced Henry to Humanist literature.” The mention of Elizabeth of York and Katherine Parr, is that a typo? If not, can you source that Elizabeth of York who died prior to Henry ascending the throne, sent Katherine Parr books…Elizabeth died prior to the births of several of his wives including Katherine Parr who was born in 1512 (Elizabeth died in 1503). In fact the only one of Henry’s wives she could have met would have been Katherine of Aragon, but not as her second son’s bride….Neither Katherine introduced Henry to Humanism in either case, especially as the books that are noted as being received by Catherine were supposedly sent by Henry’s mother, who did indeed introduce Henry to humanism through his teachers long prior to her death. There is in fact famous painting in which Thomas More (famous humanist) and Erasmus (one of the leading humanists in the world in Henry’s youth) are meeting Henry in 1499…2 years prior to Catherine’s arrival in England.

    • It is a typo it should be Katherine of Aragon – thank you and I will change it but Tremlett makes the reference to Katherine’s learning and her influence over Henry during their early years of marriage so for the time being I’m leaving that bit alone and folk can read your comment. It would I think be fair to say that Katherine of Aragon did influence her husband during their early years, although the failure to provide a son meant that as early as 1514 there were rumours about Henry’s intentions.

  3. Thanks for the article! Could you cite a source for Henry “ordering” the destruction of Katherine’s body with lime? It would be extremely helpful for my research!

    • Good question – if I recall correctly it was based on an 1876 excavation which revealed nothing in the way of bodies but rather a lot of lime but I don’t think there’s a written piece of evidence as in an account with the purchase of lime or an order of some description. I think you want D. C. Bell – Notices of the Historic Persons Buried in the Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula in the Tower of London for some account of the excavations – obviously to be absolutely sure a more modern and forensic approach would need to be taken. Hope that helps.

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