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February 12, 1542 – Catherine Howard Rehearses for her Execution

Catherine Howard paying the executioner, from the 1972 movie Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Catherine Howard was brought to the Tower of London on Friday, February 10th 1542,  she was there when the Act of Attainder against her was formally signed on the King’s behalf on the 11th. On Sunday the 12th, towards evening, she was told that her execution had been set for the following morning, and that she should prepare for her death. Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys told Charles V that her response was to ask “to have the block brought in to her that she might know how to place herself.”

This is the macabre image we are left with: this poor young woman, not yet twenty, spending hours rehearsing her death over and over again. Was it to make the process seem less terrible and foreign? Or was it to ensure that she would fulfill her last public act with all the dignity expected of the Queen of England (even though she was stripped of that rank on November 23rd). Likely both.

Either way, she succeeded: an eyewitness to the execution confirmed that she had made “the most godly and Christian end.” French Ambassador Charles de Marillac, describing the ordeal to Francis I, wrote that “[t]he Queen was so weak that she could hardly speak, but confessed in few words that she had merited a hundred deaths for so offending the King who had so graciously treated her.”

Such a sad end.


The letters from Eustace Chapuys and Charles de Marillac can be found in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 17 

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