Katherine Howard executed

catherine howardOn February 13th 1542 Henry VIII’s fifth queen, his “rose without a thorn”, was executed.   Historians and programme makers often focus on her naughty ways but in reality she was little more than a child- nineteen at the most- when she died having been groomed for abuse during her childhood and then made into a political pawn for the Howard family and the Duke of Norfolk.

Katherine’s final days were played out according to a script familiar to Henry VIII’s method for getting rid of people who’d let him down one way or another.

Parliament sat in the middle of January 1542.  Its purpose was to bring Acts of Attainder against Katherine and her lady in waiting Jane Boleyn – Lady Rochford.  At the same time the dowager Duchess of Norfolk was also accused as were Henry Manox, Frances Dereham and the decidedly unsavoury Thomas Culpepper who was also a distant cousin to Katherine, as was Dereham.

On February 10th Katherine was taken from Syon House where she’d been sent when news of her misdemeanours had first surfaced to the Tower.  Once she was in the Tower she was questioned  as to her guilt so that semblance of a fair hearing could be maintained as she wasn’t actually tried in the way that Anne Boleyn was brought to trial.  Perhaps that had been Thomas Cromwell’s neat lawyers mind in action.

On February 11th Parliament passed an act saying that it was perfectly acceptable to execute the insane.  This meant that Jane Boleyn who was definitely not a well woman having accused her own husband of incest with a former queen, her sister-in-law, and who now found herself guilty of allowing Thomas Culpepper to canoodle with her cousin Katherine Howard could be executed without breaking any laws.

On the evening of February 12th Katherine asked to have the block upon which she would lay her head the following day fetched to her chamber.   She rehearsed the actions that would end her life, confessed her sins and on the 13th a crowd gathered to watch the second of Henry VIII’s queens meet her death at the hands of the royal executioner.

Katherine  wearing black velvet stood in front of the crowd and made the traditional address seeking pardon from the king and dying as a good Christian.  In one recorded version of her address she is supposed to have said:

…long before the King took me I loved Culpepper, and I wish to God I had done as he wished me, for at the time the King wanted to take me he urged me to say that I was pledged to him. If I had done as he advised me I should not die this death, nor would he. I would rather have him for a husband than be mistress of the world, but sin blinded me and greed of grandeur, and since mine is the fault mine also is the suffering, and my great sorrow is that Culpepper should have to die through me.

Sadly this piece of theatre is the work of later historians.  As Wilkinson records, there is no evidence of this speech in any of the foreign ambassadors’ reports to their various masters.  It needs hardly be added that a put down of that nature would have been to juicy to be ignored.

Katherine Howard was executed with a single stroke of the axe.  Jane Boleyn, mad or not, was executed immediately afterwards having seen her mistress die before her. Dereham who had put cuckold’s horns on the kings head had been executed by hanging, drawing and quartering at Tyburn in December the previous year.  Thomas Culpepper had been executed by axe on the same day.  Manox who most modern readers must find repellant for the way in which he groomed and abused  Katherine from his position of trust within the dowager’s household escaped execution.

Wilkinson, Josephine. (2016) Katherine Howard. The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s Fifth Queen. London:Murray

Mortimer’s Cross

sun-in-splendourIn the aftermath of Wakefield on December 30 1460, the Lancastrians must have believed that their way to London, reclamation of Henry VI and the crown was only a matter of time.  Their march south would lead them back to St Albans.  A second battle would be fought and they would vanquish the Yorkists but they never gained access to London.  More on that anon.

Edward, Richard of York’s son, known until this point as the Earl of March heard about his father’s and his brother’s deaths whilst he was raising troops on the Welsh border near Ludlow.

On 2nd February a parhelion was seen in the sky.  Essentially a parhelion is what appears in the sky when light refracts off ice crystals high in the sky.  The refracting light creates an illusion – in this instance of three suns.

It could have been a disaster for eighteen-year-old Edward.  His men were superstitious.  They could easily have read the signs in the sky as an omen of disaster.  Instead, Edward declared that “the sun in splendour” was a sign that the Almighty favoured his cause.  The English Chronicle details Edward’s motivational speech on the topic:

The noble erle Edward thaym comforted and sayde, “Beethe of good comfort, and dredethe not; thys ys a good sygne, for these iij sonys betoken the Fader, the Sone, and the Holy Gost, and therefore late vs haue a good harte, and in the name of Almyghtye God go we agayns oure enemyes.

 

Aside from a quick mind and a way with words Edward also had geography on his side.  He knew the area and he was already in position – so he got to choose where he met with the Lancastrians led by Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire and of Ormond whose army moved to intercept young Edward.  He selected a position with a river on his left flank and a steeply wooded slope on his right.  This meant that he could not be outflanked.

It should be noted that James Butler, an Irish noble, had plenty of Irish soldiers or kerns amongst his troops.  This was an added incentive for the Yorkists.  Locally recruited their wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and sweethearts would have been in their minds.  The Sack of Ludlow in 1459 must have been in everyone’s minds.

The English Chronicle and William of Worcester are the key sources for what happened at Mortimer’s Cross  on February 3rd and they aren’t what you might describe as military historians and neither do they always agree.

Essentially medieval battles usually began in a flurry of arrows. There would have been a charge and hand to hand fighting.  Edward, taking advantage of his height, fought with a pole-axe.

Ultimately the Lancastrians broke.  It’ said that James Butler was one of the first to flee the field. He has a bit of a reputation for leaving the party before it’s over during the Wars of the Roses, though oddly Jasper Tudor who also presumably did a runner leaving his elderly father on the battle field, doesn’t suffer from the same reputation.

Gregory’s Chronicle gives an account of the dignity with which Owen Tudor met his end.  Unable to believe that he was to be executed until his collar was torn from his doublet he died, it is said, thinking of Katherine of Valois.  Edward and his men left Owen’s head at the market cross in Hereford where a “madwoman” washed it and surrounded it with lit candles.  Owen was paying for the execution by Lord Clifford of Edward’s brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland a month earlier at Wakefield.