In Part One of this series, we ended with Katheryn Howard…married, and Thomas Cromwell…executed. If you missed it, I’d recommend going back and reading or listening to it – this series is the life story of Katheryn, to grasp her as a person you’ll need to hear her whole story.
After weeks of reading and researching Katheryn Howard I’ve come to my own conclusion on who she was as a person. Often we hear her called naive, or abused, but I’ve come to my own conclusion – Katheryn was merely immature and reckless. She made many mistakes in her life, ones, that if she had the maturity to think through would not have been committed.
As a queen of England Katheryn is mostly remembered as the fifth wife of Henry VIII who was his second to be executed. If it wasn’t for her scandalous downfall, and said execution, we would not have as much interest in Katheryn as we do today.
In an alternative history setting one can imagine Katheryn as the last wife of Henry VIII – she had inevitably given birth to a prince or princess, because let’s be serious…if she didn’t, then her ending would be the same. It’s also possible that she, like Jane Seymour could have died of childbed fever. All these options are possibilities.
But we know Katheryn’s sad ending. For me she will forever be, the young Howard girl who was reckless and immature and loved too quickly.
King Henry VIII and Katheryn Howard married at Oatlands Palace on the 28th of July 1540. Oatlands Palance was one of the King’s favorite hunting spots.
Leading up to the royal affair, Katheryn did not see much of her future husband. Henry remained in London for most of July 1540 on business matters which also included ending his marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.
The guest list for the ceremony was small, even smaller than that of the King’s previous wedding to the Lady of Cleves. Because of the setting of these nuptials as well as the smaller guest list, there were rumors that the Queen was already with child on their wedding day. This appears to have been only a rumor.
If her wedding night with Henry was the first time the couple slept together, Katheryn would have been greeted by a giant of a man who was thicker in the waist than he had been when he married her cousin, Anne Boleyn. The ulcer on his leg emitted an awful odor, which only became worse over time. Katheryn would have to overlook all the King’s imperfections and perform her wifely duty. Her number one job at that time was to consummate the marriage and birth a prince.
The couple couldn’t have looked more ridiculous standing next to one another. Katheryn has been described as petite, while Henry was a beast of a man.
As we have briefly skimmed over the wedding night of the King and Katheryn, there is one part of this story that we need to discuss. There are still those who believe Henry VIII had syphilis. This is untrue. Author, Gareth Russell in his book about Katheryn Howard, states the story originated in 1888 but was revived again in 1958 when a Danish historian wrote “The Medical Problems of Henry VIII”. The historian’s name was Ove Brinch and he argued that portraits of Henry show a ridge in his nose that is consistent with syphilitic gumma. There are no indications (in the medical records that survive) that Henry was ever treated with mercury, this was the most common treatment for syphilis. So…let’s just drop that tall tale and move on.
After their honeymoon was over, Henry and Katheryn began their journey back to London. It is highly likely that they made a stop along the way at Nonsuch Palace. Nonsuch was still under construction at the time and wouldn’t be finished for five more years. This palace was one of the King’s favorite hunting lodges and would have been a great stop on their way back to London.
While the royal couple and court were traveling around the countryside the plague was running rampant throughout England.It is believed the great drought and heat from that year caused the pestilence to grow and spread. This would have been another reason the court would move around so much. They were go where the plague was not.
The Queen’s Household
It wasn’t until the 8th of August that a formal announcement was made about the King’s wedding. This announcement was made at Hampton Court Palace – it wasn’t very long after that friends from the Queen’s past were looking for a job in her household. The first friend who appears to have reached out was Joan Bulmer. Joan was not enjoying married life and begged the new queen to safe her from her misery by giving her a prestigious position at court.
Katheryn appears to have been coerced into to doing so, but she gave Joan a position as one of her Chamberers…this has been confirmed by Kate Emerson’s list of ladies in the household. A Chamberer performed more menial tasks such as arranging bedding and cleaning the queen’s private chambers.
There were many others from Katheryn’s past who were able to obtain positions within her household. There was another woman by the name of Katherine Tilney who was also appointed as a chamberer. As well as a servant from the household of the dowager duchess, Alice Wilkes – she also held the same position. These women were all aware of Katheryn’s past and that she would want to keep it secret from the King and the court. It’s probable that these ladies were offered jobs as a way to keep them quiet – that they were asked to fill the position instead of petitioning for a spot.
Katherine Tilney was especially dangerous because she shared a bed with Katheryn at Chesworth. Tilney was present one evening when Katheryn and Francis Dereham were being intimate.
The dowager duchess of Norfolk, and William Howard (along with his wife) were all too keen at this point to keep Katheryn’s past hidden. By the time they all realized the King’s plans for Katheryn it was too late to come clean. They would all be ruined and the Howard named tarnished once again. Little did they know what would lie ahead of them.
The household of the Queen also included family members – her grandmother, the dowager duchess of Norfolk was a Great Lady of the Household, while her half-sister, Isabel Leigh, Lady Baynton was a Lady of the Privy Chamber, and her other half-sister Margaret Howard, Lady Arundell who was a Gentlewoman Attendant.
Katheryn ended up having thirty-four women in her household in all. There were six great ladies, four ladies and four gentlewomen of the Queen’s privy chamber. There were also nine ladies of exalted rank, five maids of honor and as always, a mother of the maids.²
These thirty-four women who served the Queen were: Lady Margaret Douglas (King’s niece), Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond and Somerstet (King’s ex-daughter in law), Lady Margaret Howard (her aunt), Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, Mary Radcliff, Countess of Sussex and here’s a surprise – the King’s former mistress and mother of Henry Fitzroy, Elizabeth Blount, now Lady Clinton.
Katheryn’s privy chamber included: Her half sister, Isabel, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, Katherine, Lady Edgecombe, Eleanor Paston, Lady Rutland, Anne Parr, Lady Herbert who was entrusted with the queen’s jewels, Elizabeth Tyrwhitt, Joyce Lee and Susanna Gilmyn.
It wasn’t only women from Katheryn’s past that were looking for positions within her household, but also her ex-lover, Francis Dereham. We’ll have more on that later on.
Life as Queen
The curfew in place for the staff of the Queen was nine o’clock. If there was anything Katheryn needed in the middle of the night she would have a lady in waiting who slept nearby to attend her when needed.
As soon as the 29th of August, merely a month into their wedding, that the Privy Council noted a man had been imprisoned for having “words about the Queen”. As I dug deeper to discover who that man was I came across a statement in the Annals of Windsor (since Windsor was mentioned in the Letters and Papers) that declared the privy council was held at Grafton on the 29th of August. That the Lord Privy Seal received letters which stated the dean of Windsor was the man who spoke out against the queen – he was discharged by the keeper of Windsor and sent to prison for speaking unfitting words of the queen’s grace. We don’t know what happened to him, but we do know that Henry VIII’s pleasure was to keep him imprisoned for his further punishment.
Katheryn was slowly working her way into the official role as queen in her first few months of marriage. This would be a whole new reality for the girl who spent time as a ward in her grandmother’s household. After their initial stop at Hampton Court Palace to announce Katheryn as Henry VIII’s fifth wife Katheryn stayed away from London through most of the fall of 1540. During that time the newlyweds traveled from one household to another before returning to Windsor Castle on the 20th of October.
It was during their trip around the countryside that Katheryn chose her motto to be “No other will but his”.
In books and pop culture, Katheryn has been known as Henry’s “Rose without a Thorn”, or “The dazzling rose without a thorn”.
I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve repeated that nickname – actually wrote it in an article or made it a headline at least one time. I need to go back and edit that!
The phrase was actually referring to Henry himself and the Tudor rose. Here is a quote by Gareth Russell in Young and Damned and Fair: “The Tudor rose was the flower without a thorn, a royal succession that would inflict no more wounds on the nation.”There are no contemporary reports of the Queen being called by this nickname. There was, however, a coin made in 1526 that used the phrase…again, in reference to King Henry and the dynasty.
As queen, Katheryn had no clear agenda, whether religious or political. It appears that at the beginning of her reign she had restraint and self-preservation in mind at all times. She did, however, wish to shower favor on her servants. We can look no further than the letter she received from Archbishop Lee on the 7th of December 1540. This letter informed her that the request for her chaplain to fill the position of Archdeacon of York was declined – Lee only took orders from the King on this matter.
The Lady Mary
It’s well known that the Lady Mary was not a big fan of her new stepmother. Katheryn was disgusted by the fact that Mary would not treat her with the respect due and threatened to take away two of her maids as punishment. This shows part of Katheryn’s Howard personality.
On the 5th of December 1540, Chapuys wrote a letter to the queen of Hungary where he mentions the Queen’s behavior toward the Lady Mary:
He informed that queen of Hungary that he told Lady Mary about the Queen of England’s threat to take away two of her ladies. That it was the princess’s fault because she treated the Queen without the respect that was due.
Somehow Lady Mary figured out a way to appease the Queen for awhile. The royal ladies got along for about two months before Katheryn had to make good on her threat against Mary. Two of Mary’s ladies were removed from her household – her punishment for not showing the Queen the respect that she had to her predecessors.
Sadly, one of Mary’s ladies who had been removed, died not long after from apparent grief. Mary’s ladies were very attached to her, evidently.
From the Past
It was while the royal couple were at Windsor Castle that Francis Dereham arrived in London from his time away in Ireland. If you recall, from Part One, Dereham still believed he and Katheryn would marry upon his return. Imagine his surprise when he found out she was married to another man. The King of England, of all people too.
When a servant of the Howard household heard of Dereham’s return, they told Margaret Howard,(Katheryn’s aunt) that “If I were Dereham I would never tell to die for it”. It was all too obvious that if Dereham wished to live, he would need to stay quiet. With that in mind that Dereham was impulsive and possessive, so his silence would need to be obtained, for all their sakes.
Francis was smart…or dumb, depending on how you look at it. He knew that Katheryn would want to keep their past a secret and so he requested a job in her household. He most likely approached his former employer, Agnes Tilney, dowager duchess of Norfolk to obtain a post. Tilney then approached the Queen about it the matter.
There were only a handful of people included in the decision to bring Dereham onboard – Katheryn herself, the dowager duchess, the Countess of Bridgewater, William Howard and his wife Margaret Howard. Whatever they decided would inevitably affect them all, one way or another.
From the moment Francis Dereham showed up in London it caused great anxiety in the Queen, and those near here who were familiar with their past.
As part of their plan, William Howard brought Dereham with him to court sometime before Halloween 1540. This would be the perfect opportunity to have what would look like a spontaneous meeting with her uncle and his male companion, but really it had all been planned.
Katheryn is quoted as saying, “My lady of Norfolk hath desired me to be good unto him, and so I will.”²
Unlike it is often portrayed, Francis Dereham was not made the Queen’s private secretary. The position of the Queen’s Private Secretary was held by a man called Thomas Derby – followed by a man named John Huttoft. Huttoft served the Queen until she lost her title.
It seems that the group was not certain what role would best fit Dereham’s situation. They knew better than to grant him a position with great power because that would look very suspicious. What he was given is not clear, but whatever it was kept him close enough to be watched but not so close to be deemed suspicious.
The Privy council noted that the King and Queen left Windsor on the 23rd of November for Woking Palace. This was another of Henry’s favorite hunting spots. The location was small so the royal couple only brought with them a small retinue. This trip was needed for the aging King and he was quoted as saying that “he feels much better than when he resided all winter at his houses at the gates of this town (London).”¹
The couple’s next stop, merely two weeks after they arrived at Woking, was Oatlands Palace – the place they were married roughly five months earlier. They stayed at Oatlands for eleven days while continuing their hunting and hawking.
At this point in time, Henry VIII and Katheryn Howard were married merely five months. Katheryn had already had bad words spoken of her by the dean of Windsor, dismissed two of Lady Mary’s attendants and was left worrying about whether or not the people from her past would speak of it.
Defining Her Role
On the 18th of December, Queen Katheryn arrived back at Hampton Court Palace and was ready to completely embrace her position as Queen.
It was three days later that she met ambassador Chapuys for the first time. Chapuys would undoubtedly report what he saw and experienced to his master, Charles V. He stated that the queen was most magnificently dressed – and was decorated with jewels. Other than that he didn’t have much to say. Some have declared that this means Katheryn was more attractive than Jane Seymour because Chapuys had much more to say about Jane’s appearance.
There is no doubt that Henry lavished gifts on his new bride. Being the Queen of England and having a husband who would give you the world left Katheryn Howard very fortunate during the Christmas season. It was reported that she received a pearl necklace with 200 pearls, a necklace with six large diamonds and five rubies as well as pearls and more diamonds to accent – these were among the most awesome gifts received. She also received a black velvet muff which would keep her delicate hands warm in the cold winter months. The list of gifts went on and on. It must have been an amazing time for Katheryn.
On the 31st of January 1541, it was noted in Letters and Papers that the King gave Katheryn, a plethora of lordships and manors as well as castles and a couple of forests and parks. The list of items received is quite unbelievable. Katheryn was now a very wealthy woman.
A couple of months later, we get a hint at the generosity of the young Queen, when on the 1st of March 1541, it shows up in the council notes about the Countess of Salisbury: A letter sent to the Queen’s tailor to make “a night gown furred¹ (actually two²), a kirtle of worsted¹ (or woollen kirtle²) and a petticoat furred and four other items¹. (a bonnet, four pair of shoes, four pair of hose and a pair of slippers²).” Margaret Pole had made complaints about the cold at the Tower – now, this would give her what’s due to someone with her rank.
The King’s tailor also received a letter and was informed to make a large gown of damask furred with black ‘cony’ as well as nine other items for his relative, Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle who was also in the Tower of London at the time.¹ Now, scholars have said that this made Katheryn the generous party, however, after reading the excerpt it makes me wonder if it was all Henry’s idea after all – that Katheryn only suggested he do the same for Margaret Pole as he would for his half-uncle, Lord Lisle. It is quite possible that Katheryn was attempting to make a mark in her role as queen by finding causes that were worthy to her.
In January 1541, Sir Thomas Wyatt was arrested and sent to the Tower of London on suspicion of treason, and on the following day Sir John Wallop was arrested. Katheryn’s role in their freedom has been noted by history, because, three months later (in March), while the royal couple were staying at Greenwich, Henry VIII announced his intentions to free both Wyatt and Wallop – he said he couldn’t refuse his queen’s request.
On the 26th of that month there was also a note from the Council to William Howard that mentions the King’s pardon. William Howard had been named Wallop’s successor as ambassador to France, and so he was kept in the loop. “A great intercession was made for him (Wallop) and Wyatt by the Queen, the King has pardoned him and holds him in no less estimation than ever. Wyatt acted in the same way, and at the great suit of the Queen, the King pardoned him.Their pardons have been delivered and they sent for hither to Dover to the King.”¹
Ambassador Chapuys wrote a letter to Charles V the following day that discussed Henry and Katheryn’s reason for being at Greenwich stated – it was the Queen’s first entrance into London. He stated: “It was the first time since her marriage that she had passed through London by the Thames, the people gave her a splendid reception, and the Tower guns saluted her.”¹
In his letter to Charles V, Chapuys also mentioned the fate of Wyatt and Wallop: ‘From this triumphal march she took occasion to ask the release of Wyatt, which the King granted, though on hard conditions, that he should confess his guilt; and that he should take back his wife from whom he had been separated upwards of 15 years, on pain of death if he be untrue to her henceforth. On the same day full pardon and release was given to Mr. Wallop, who, since his return to England, had been detained a prisoner in the house of my lord Privy Seal.”¹
Soon rumors were abundant that the Queen was with child – ambassador Marillac, the French ambassador, wrote that “this Queen is thought to be with child, which would be a very great joy to this King, who, it seems, believes it, and intends, if it be found true, to have her crowned at Whitsuntide. Already all the embroiderers that can be got are employed making furniture and tapestry, the copes and ornaments taken from the churches not being spared. Moreover, the young lords and gentlemen of this Court are practising daily for the jousts and tournaments to be then made.”¹
By Easter that year, some of the ladies of the Queen’s household had begun to notice the preferential treatment Lady Rochford received. As with any setting that contains a bunch of women, jealousy began to set it. This decision on the part of Katheryn Howard may not have been the moment that she made a fatal mistake but it definitely did not help her cause.
Continue on with more of Katheryn’s story in Part Three !
¹‘Henry VIII: December 1540, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1898). British History Online
²Russell, Gareth; Young and Damned and Fair (2016)
Russell, Gareth; Young and Damned and Fair – The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of Henry VIII (2016)
Loades, David; The 6 Wives of Henry VIII (2014)
Licence, Amy; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII (2014)
Fraser, Antonia; The Wives of Henry VIII (1994)
Weir, Alison; The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)
Byrne, Conor; Katherine Howard: A New History (2014)
Kizewski, Holly K.; Jewel of Womanhood: A Feminist Reinterpretation of Queen Katheryn Howard (Thesis 7/30/14 – University of Nebraska – Lincoln)