February 13, 2015

February 13, 1542: Catherine Howard Executed

Portrait (Miniature) of Catherine Howard
 by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1541
Henry called her his "rose without a thorn", but the marriage lasted less than two years.

Catherine was Henry VIII's fifth wife, and was a first cousin of Anne Boleyn. Like her cousin, she was beheaded, but, unlike Anne, there may have been a little bit of truth to the accusations.

Long before Catherine ever met her future husband, she grew up in a household where the supervision was, to say the least, lax. She apparently had a sexual relationship with her music teacher before she was sixteen. And she had a rather serious relationship with a young man named Francis Dereham. She may have married him or been betrothed to him, or they may have simply been playing house. At any rate, they called each other "husband" and "wife" and he let her hold his money when he was out of town.

Catherine's biggest problem, after she had become Queen of England, was that she had never told Henry about her past. Her other problem was that way too many people knew about it. She had to provide a lot of favors to keep people quiet. She even gave her ex-"husband" a job as her personal secretary. Boy, was that a big mistake.

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, got wind of these rumors, along with the story that she was currently having an affair with Thomas Culpeper, a favored courtier of Henry's and a distant relative of Catherine's. Henry didn't really believe any of it was true, but he gave Cranmer permission to investigate. When both Dereham and Culpeper confessed under torture, Catherine's goose was cooked.

Dereham and Culpeper were executed, and Catherine and a lot of her kin were sent to the Tower, but Catherine steadfastly denied any infidelity to the King. She claimed that she had never been unfaithful with Culpeper, and that Dereham had raped her. In the end, it didn't make any difference.

Parliament passed a bill making it a capital crime for a queen to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within 20 days of their marriage, and Catherine was definitely guilty of that.

The night before her execution, Catherine requested a block, and spent the night practicing how to lay her head on it. She died with dignity, although she appeared terrified and needed help climbing the scaffold. According to folklore, he last words were, "I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper."

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