Guest article written by: Catherine Hunt
With minor edits by: Rebecca Larson
A Tudor Fanatics Take on Catherine Howard
Catherine’s downfall at the hands of her uncle, Duke of Norfolk, was, metaphorically speaking, like a hangman’s trap. He pulled the lever and down and she fell! Why was it so easy to do? Why was he so confident she would be pliable?
One has to think of Catherine herself. She was in the care of her great-aunt, dowager Duchess of Norfolk, with a view to furthering her education, but she rapidly fell behind in her studies, being hopeless at reading and writing but skilled in music and dance. It is also thought that she had knowledge of herbs and their medicinal uses. However ,unknown to her crafty uncle and his mother, but well-known to the girls with whom she shared a room,there was one subject she certainly excelled in SEX!!
Norfolk had one great ambition, excluding all others, which was to have a Howard on the throne of England and he believed that Catherine was the means to achieve this. Catherine already had a small taste of court life in all its glory as she had been a Maid to Henry’s fourth wife who he couldn’t stand, calling her his Flanders Mare as he found her so repulsive, he could not or would not consummate the marriage. At this time Catherine then left court. Why didn’t Henry notice Catherine then. Well he was too busy trying to get the marriage annulled, so, when Anne agreed, Norfolk went post-haste to his Mother and sent for Catherine.
He didn’t want her in the role of mistress but that of Queen. Now to Catherine herself what did that mean? Court meant finery, jewels and dancing. She had never seen the King naked but only loaded down with silk, stains and jewellery so that is what she imagined a Queen would be given.She knew nothing at all about the politics and etiquette involved. That’s why she lied when her uncle asked if she was a virgin.Why did he believe her ? He took the word of his mother,who did not know what went on upstairs,as she herself was elderly ,often dozing and when lessons were over,her charges basically did as they wished .
Catherine had two lovers well the two we know of anyway !Henry Mannox ,music teacher and another member of the staff Frances Dereham .She caught her niece kissing the former but didn’t know that Frances shared Catherine’s bed on many occasions and that they intended to marry.However he went away on business for a while and found his little darling was Queen on his return.
The King was besotted with his new little wife but what a disappointment he was to her. On her wedding night she saw an old wrinkled body with a suppurating leg and worse than that he couldn’t consummate the marriage.
After a while Norfolk was becoming agitated as there was no sign of a pregnancy.
Catherine too was agitated, but for a different reason. Dereham more or less blackmailed her into making him her secretary, arriving suddenly at court with letters of recommendation from the Dowager Duchess. Fear started as he would definitely have revealed all, had she turned him away.
Then enter Thomas Culpepper, the King’s most favored servant. Young, handsome and more to the Queens taste. They fell in love. The King was so besotted with Catherine, that he did not notice, but it came to the attention of Lady Rochford who was a natural spy and told Norfolk.
Surprisingly he told her to aid and abet the affair. Why? Well in the hope she would become pregnant! Wasn’t this a risky thing for him to do ? Well the king must have had occasional sex with his wife as he was heard to ask her from time to time if she was pregnant.
What went wrong? Dereham was known to drink a little too much and blabbed!
Catherine was ceasing to try to hide her affair with Culpepper and one day the king received an anonymous letter telling all. Norfolk tried to find out from his nieces old roommates what they knew but he had been preempted and of course they told all fearing for their own lives.
How did it all end? Catherine and Lady Rochford went to Syon House then to the dreaded tower. Inspite of all her screams and pleas the King refused to see his wife. She tried to save herself by saying that Dereham had raped her and that she and Culpepper had never gone all the way, but, Norfolk needed her head to try to save his own .So Dereham was hung drawn and quartered Culpepper Lady Rochford and Catherine all beheaded.
One would have thought that once death sentences what’s left to manipulate,the speech from the scaffold of course which Norfolk obviously wrote and she would have had to learn it parrot fashion because she had no skills to compose such a thing herself!
He even had to blow his own trumpet then as she had to start it with saying she was a Howard. He had had the decency to grant her request of being given a block to practice on so she wouldn’t feel so strange on the day. Big deal I don’t think. She was so young she didn’t even know the exact year of her birth, she used both C and K to spell her name. She had been Queen for just 18 months and could have been only 19 when she died.
There is also the most fascinating novel I have ever read which took Margaret George four years to research which is: The Autobiography of Henry eighth with notes by his fool Will Somers
My name is Catherine Hunt and I am a retired nurse practitioner plus Bereavement/Cancer Counseller who was born in Lancashire, but now live in Essex – so why this Tudor obsession? Well it all started with me in tears! At age five and a half the school discovered I had a reading age of 11 and I was put up a year and cried as I wouldn’t be in the same class as my friend. My test passage as it were was about a King I had never heard of who had 6 wives and cut off two of their heads . I asked my parents to tell me more and several books were purchased for me. I was hooked from then on! Now at age 69 I am also in the process of writing my first novel. It may seem odd to start writing so late but it’s ill health, which like other late starting authors, has given me more time as my physical activities have curtailed quite a bit. I would go so far as to say I am addicted to the Tudors even to the point of have a set of teaspoons with cameos of Henry and his wives on the handles.
Further Reading Suggestion – Tudors Dynasty Owner, Rebecca Larson:
If you are interested in further reading on Catherine/Katherine Howard, I’d highly recommend – Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne (2014). I am currently reading this book and it contains a lot of new information on her life.
In this new full-length biography of Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Conor Byrne reconsiders Katherine’s brief reign and the circumstances of her life, striping away the complex layers of myths and misconceptions to reveal a credible portrait of this tragic queen.
By reinterpreting her life in the context of cultural customs and expectations surrounding sexuality, fertility and family honour, Byrne exposes the limitations of conceptualising Katherine as either ‘whore’ or ‘victim’. His more rounded view of the circumstances in which she found herself and the expectations of her society allows the historical Katherine to emerge.
Katherine has long been condemned by historians for being a promiscuous and frivolous consort who partied away her days and revelled in male attention, but Byrne’s reassessment conveys the mature and thoughtful ways in which Katherine approached her queenship. It was a tragedy that her life was controlled by predators seeking to advance themselves at her expense, whatever the cost.