Of Henry VIII’s famous six wives, there is no doubt who possesses the worst reputation: fifth wife Katherine Howard. Anne Boleyn may be seen as the “Temptress” but is known as innocent of the adultery and incest charges trumped up to separate Henry from Anne and Anne’s head from the rest of her.
As author Antonia Fraser observes, Katherine Howard is viewed as the “Bad Girl,” a 16th Century Miss Hot Pants recklessly enjoying premarital dalliances and even more recklessly committing adultery when a queen’s adultery was treason.
Modern people may sympathize with a woman who lived in a culture in which losing her head over a man could mean – well, losing her head. However, that sympathy is tempered by viewing Katherine as a shallow, horny, hedonist.
Historian Karen Lindsey accepts Katherine’s guilt but attempts a positive spin, seeing “courage to [Katherine’s] reckless affair with Culpeper” because she was “a woman who listened to her body’s yearnings.” Trying to force a 16th Century Queen into a contemporary feminist, Sex Revolution mold does not quite gel.
Some writers, including this one, question Katherine’s guilt.