Obit of the Day (Historical): Catherine Howard, 5th Wife of Henry VIII (1542)
On February 13, 1452 Catherine* Howard became the fifth of six women to have their marriage to King Henry VIII ended. Unfortunately for the Queen consort (a title held by royal spouses who were not crowned) she was part of an even more elite group: beheaded former spouses of Henry.
Howard, who was the first cousin of Anne Boleyn (beheaded in 1536), was lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves, the king’s fourth wife. Howard caught the king’s eye and they had an affair, while he was still married to Anne.
When Henry found out that Catherine was pregnant, presenting the possibility of another male heir, he pushed for the annulment of his marriage with Anne of Cleves^. He received it, as the head of the English church it was rather easy, and Anne was to live on treated as “the king’s sister.
Henry VIII and Catherine Howard married on July 28, 1540.
By November 1541, she would be accused of treason and adultery. It was discovered that Catherine was in a relationship with Thomas Culpepper, an aide to the king. She was also accused of having sexual relations with Francis Dereham - and in a boldness most often associated with Henry, she appointed Dereham her personal secretary.
By early 1542 Culpepper and Dereham admitted to the queen consort’s infidelities under torture and a letter was discovered in Culpepper’s position, written by Catherine in 1541, that exposed her feelings for him.
She was beheaded on February 13, 1542. According to legend she stated before she was executed, “I die a Queen, but would rather have died a Culpepper.” It is not believed to be true.
Catherine Howard was between the ages of 18 and 26 when she died. Birth records are unavailable.
Sources: Harlots, Harpies, and Harridans: Infamous Women in History, Tudorhistory.org, Historic Royal Palaces, and Wikipedia
Image, left: Portrait miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger. “The portrait, believed to be Catherine Howard, has been persuasively identified through the jewels on her dress, which match those in her inventory.” - courtesy of Wikipedia
Image, right: Catherine Howard’s letter to Thomas Culpepper, apparently written in her own hand, which was used as evidence against her for adultery and treason. It was written in 1541. Courtesy of Infamous Women in History
* Her name is spelled Catherine, Katherine, or Kathryn in various sources.
^He had already had one marriage annulled to Katherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn causing a religious schism and creating the Anglican Church. Read Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel for an excellent fictional portrayal of that period in Henry’s reign.
Some of the Henry the VIII story. The part about annulment is why he broke from the Catholic church and formed the Church of England, which I believe is the Anglican Church in Canada. More research necessary before I’m sure.