Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard: an amorous young queen falls from grace

Accused of adultery

On 2 November 1541, Henry VIII arrived to celebrate mass in the Holy Day Closet at Hampton Court. Waiting for him was a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. This letter told Henry the alarming and intimate news that his young wife, Catherine, had been accused of adultery.

A sinful past and a questionable present

Henry was reluctant to believe Cranmer’s report, that his young and virtuous wife could have been unfaithful. Truth was, however, that rumours about Catherine’s less than innocent qualities had circulated since her marriage to the King earlier in the year.

Catherine’s past apparently included an adolescent dalliance with her music teacher and her present a queue of flirtatious and ambitious courtiers.

Henry left Hampton Court and the interrogations to find out the truth began. Confessions from past lovers soon emerged and Catherine was confined to her lodgings at the palace. At first, she denied everything, but then confessed to her past, while insisting that she had been a dutiful wife since her marriage.

Eventually it emerged that Catherine had - at the very least - held illicit nocturnal meetings with a junior member of the King’s Privy Chamber called Thomas Culpepper. What actually went on behind Catherine’s bedroom door was never proved: but the intent to commit adultery and to deceive the King was enough.

The end for Henry’s fifth queen

On 13 November, Sir Thomas Wriothesley, one of the King’s principal secretaries, summoned Catherine’s household to the ‘Great Chamber’ at Hampton Court. This may have been the Great Watching Chamber which still survives today.

All were dismissed, and the Queen herself ordered out of the palace to house arrest at nearby Syon. She left the next day. Her jewellery that she had left behind at Hampton Court was inventoried: never a good indication of future prospects.

Culpepper and another confessed lover of Catherine, Francis Dereham, were executed in December. Catherine herself had only one journey left to make.

Leaving Syon for the Tower of London on 7 February 1542, Catherine faced five more days of bleak imprisonment before, at dawn on 13 February, like Anne Boleyn before her, she was beheaded. Catherine was 20 years old.

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