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November 23, 1541 – Catherine Howard Stripped of her Title as Queen

Catherine Howard – from Masterpiece Theater’s Six Wives of Henry VIII

Poor Catherine Howard

I find myself feeling the same compassion for Catherine Howard as I do for Mary Stuart – both were women who continued to make poor decisions in the face of increasingly dire consequences.

Catherine Howard married Henry VIII despite a precontract – sealed with the ceding of her virginity – to Sir Francis Dereham. That was a huge mistake.

Still, it was a minor (read: non-fatal) issue compared to her decision to embark on an affair with one of Henry’s gentlemen, Sir. Thomas Culpeper. There are so many theories as to why she did this. Some point to the age difference – of course a nineteen year old with a sordid past would seek some diversion from marriage to an obese tyrant in his 50s. Some argue that she was just seeking a son to cement her position – with her background, she knew she would be vulnerable unless and until she birthed a “spare” son. Some claim she was being blackmailed. And some just believe she was an adrenaline junkie.

I don’t know why Catherine Howard did what she did (though I have ordered Conor Byrne’s new biography and hope it will explain things!). I do know it was a stupid risk, mainly because of how badly it backfired.

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Published inOn This Day

2 Comments

  1. Pamela Butler Pamela Butler

    I think Catherine Howard is one of history’s most mis-alinged women. I think it is easy to assume she did have an affair with Culpepper, but there are other plausible explanations for their meetings. It was no secret to some that she was involved with Frances Dereham…but was it truly consensual? She was so young and of course a woman with no say in her future. Culpepper would have known about Frances and may have been blackmailing her..as well as Dereham. It is no small coincidence Dereham showed up at court more or less demanding a position as well as favor. If Henry’s hypocritical self would have found out about Catherine’s “marriage” sooner, she would of course have never been queen. Henry’s wrath was well known at this point and I think she was merely trying to keep everyone quiet and Henry happy. I think it’s more than possible that her meetings with Culpepper were designed to save their necks, and may not have been an affair.

    • You are absolutely right, and I actually agree with your analysis. The problem is, I first got into the Tudors when PBS broadcast The Six Wives of Henry VIII in the 1970s (Keith Mitchell, best Henry ever, RIP). They portrayed her as guilty, and that has stuck with me. Agnes Strickland, in her seminal Lives of the Queens of England, did a great job introducing reasonable doubt into her guilt…but I could never get over Catherine’s signature “yours as long as life endures…” I also love the compelling symmetry in the way Anne Boleyn’s cousin committed the adultery that Anne was accused of…and how different Henry’s devastation was this second time around from the offhanded annoyance he displayed with Anne! From an emotional perspective, I have to stick with this interpretation…

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