catherine howard

And so to Wife #5, Catherine Howard, reincarnated in Wife After Wife as wild child Caitlyn Howe.

 Poor Catherine, a pretty, lively young thing thrown into the path of the ageing, widening, ulcerating (he wasn’t appealing by now) Henry, age 17(ish) to his 49. Already grossed out? It doesn’t get any better.


This miniature portrait of Catherine Howard, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, is believed to be the only surviving image of Catherine painted from life.

A letter from Catherine to Thomas Culpeper: ‘… I never longed so much for a thing as I do to see you and to speak with you … it makes my heart die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company … Yours as long as life endures …’

A few facts about Catherine: 

  • All sorts of adjectives are chucked at Catherine: flighty, frivolous, naive, silly, wanton (good word), tragic. I’m going to choose naive and tragic.


  • Her mother died when Catherine was about five years old, and her father was rather useless. Always in debt, always asking for handouts.


  • She was first cousin to Anne Boleyn – a poor relation.


  • She lived in the household of her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, along with other impoverished aristocratic young ladies


  • When she was 13, she caught the eye of her music tutor. In her trial for treason she said, ‘Being but a young girl, I suffered him to … touch the secret parts of my body …’ Abuse, in other words.


  • The next relationship began when she was 15. She wanted to marry Dereham, and there were vows, just between the two of them, but this was what did for her – along with her affair with Culpeper.


  • Fair to say, security at the girls’ dorm at Grandma’s was lax. So – naive, but probably not in some ways.


  • Sent to court to attend Anne of Cleves, Catherine soon caught Henry’s eye, and once Anne had been despatched (head still intact) it was all on.


  • Catherine probably did have a relationship with Henry’s favourite courtier, Thomas Culpeper. This really wasn’t a wise move, no matter how gorgeous he may have been. In a love letter, Culpeper called her ‘my little, sweet fool’. Harsh but fair.


  • Catherine’s past, and her love affair caught up with her. Henry was devastated (hypocrite).


  • On news of her arrest for high treason, she famously ran screaming down the gallery (now the Haunted Gallery) at Hampton Court.


  • Before entering the Tower, she passed by Culpeper’s head on a spike at London Bridge. He and Dereham met the stickiest of ends, being hung, drawn and quartered.


  • The night before her execution, Catherine is said to have asked for a block on which to practise laying her head. She was still a teenager.

Tune in again – Catherine Parr next!

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