Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trials and Deaths of Anne Boleyn & Katherine Howard

A Spirited Girl!

The exact date of Katherine Howard's birth is unknown, yet it is thought to have been between 1520 and 1525. Several years after Katherine's birth, her mother Jocasta Culpepper died. Edmund Howard, Katherine's father and Anne Boleyn's uncle, was an impoverished gentleman unable to provide adequately for his daughter by himself. Thus, at the age of ten, Katherine was sent to live with her stepgrandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.

Throughout Katherine's youth the duchess paid little heed to her upbringing. Weir stated that the duchess grossly neglected Katherine and left her in the company of servants and other lower ranking courtiers. Due to her lack of guidance, Katherine grew into an unruly teenager often resorting to unconventional activities.

Portrait of Ann of Cleves
Portrait of Ann of Cleves

From an early age Katherine was highly spirited and would unabashedly flirt with many of the men whom she met. Unbeknownst to the duchess, Katherine and some of the other unmarried maidens of the household would entertain male guests in their shared chambers, which frequently resulted in sexual activity. Katherine was believed to have had three significant relationships during this time.

One of the men whom she entertained in the maidens' chamber was her music teacher Henry Manox. Yet, the love affair between the two was short-lived. It is believed that they never fully consummated their relationship, although there were rumors to the contrary. Another of Katherine's love interests was the dashingly handsome gentleman servitor named Francis Dereham. He too was secretly permitted access into the maidens' shared chambers, where he and Katherine pursued the depths of intimacy. Her third relationship was with her cousin Thomas Culpeper. The relationship would later prove to have profound effects on her future.

The duchess's home was an unexpectedly wild environment from which some of England's most eligible maidens arose. Starkey wrote that, despite their upbringing, many of the Howard women married well and brought wealth and prosperity to the family. Katherine was no exception. In fact, she had the most successful union of all, however temporary.

In 1539, Katherine's uncle secured her a place at court, where she served as a lady in waiting to Henry's fourth wife Anne of Cleves. During her appointment, she enjoyed the festive activities associated with court life, such as the frequent banquets, balls and the romantic attentions of courtly suitors. She was in her element.

Katherine Howard, likeness
Katherine Howard, likeness

It wasn't long before Henry VIII noticed the vibrant Katherine, with whom he promptly fell in love in the spring of 1540. He was dazzled by her charms, energy and cheerful nature, attributes he no longer had at the age of 48. Katherine was also a welcome relief from his miserable marriage, which he could barely endure. By the summer, Henry was already brewing up a scheme to end his relationship with Queen Anne of Cleves so that he could marry the enchanting Katherine.  

In June of that year, Anne of Cleves was ordered by Henry to leave the castle and take up residence at another palace in Richmond. He then instructed Katherine to return to her former residence where she grew up so as not to arouse unnecessary suspicion of their blossoming relationship. While she resided at the Norfolk residence, Henry routinely paid her visits. Despite Katherine's flirtatious ways, she maintained a mask of virtue, averting the king's sexual advancements until they were properly married.

By July, Henry had arranged to have his marriage to Anne of Cleves nullified, since they had never consummated their relationship. From then on, Queen Anne of Cleves was instead referred to as the king's honorary sister, a minor compensation for the humiliation he inflicted on her. However, the gesture was a wise diplomatic move that quelled the growing irritation from Anne's homeland of Germany. Anne of Cleves was also given a sizeable income and a manor house in which to live out her days.

Henry was then free to marry Katherine. The couple was married on July 28, 1540, in a secret ceremony at Oatlands Palace in Surrey. During their honeymoon the king reveled in matrimonial bliss with his innocent "blushing rose." According to Fraser, Henry was most contented with Katherine and was believed to have, "loved this particular wife more than he had the others."

Henry displayed his love for Katherine by showering her with lavish gifts befitting of a queen. He decorated his bride with handsome clothing and magnificent jewels. On New Year's Day in 1541, Henry adorned Katherine with an even more impressive array of jewelry made up of diamonds, rubies, pearls and gold. Henry's extravagance made Katherine giddy with delight for she had never known such generosity. Although she didn't love Henry like he did her, she was grateful to have him has her husband.

The marriage seemed to be a success. After four unhappy marriages the king was finally content, if not entirely delighted with his choice for a queen. Things were about to change abruptly.

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