On the same day that Thomas Cromwell was executed Henry VIII married his fifth wife, a former lady-in-waiting of Anne of Cleves, another Catherine at Oatlands Palace near Weybridge in Surrey. The new queen’s father, Lord Edmund Howard was one of Norfolk’s younger brothers. Both brothers had pressed Catherine upon the king as a prospective bride.
Henry VIII is supposed to have ‘cast a fantasy’ towards the petite young girl as soon as he saw her. Catherine was vivacious, pliable and devoid of guile, very different from her dead cousin Anne. Henry’s cousin Catherine enjoyed the good life as queen; she was treated as and behaved as a spoilt child. Henry VIII spent money on her as he had on no other wife.
‘The King had no wife who made him spend so much money in dresses and jewels as she did.’[i]
|Arms of the Earl of Sussex|
Along with the dresses, treats and jewels that came her way were sprinkled favours for her relatives. At court Queen Catherine surrounded herself with old friends, including the widow of another of Henry’s cousins; Lady Rochford[ii]Agnes Tilney
On 21st July 1540 Henry was given a purple jacket and doublet woven with gold and silver tinsel. On 8th September he and his father were given conjointly the stewardship of Cambridge University. In November Henry was made a Justice of the Peace for Norfolk.
The Garter and a Diversion
n April a greater honour was bestowed upon Henry; he was made a Knight of
the Garter in a ceremony at Windsor. He was due to take up his stall on 22nd
May. In between times Henry and Sir Thomas Seymour were sent to France to
observe Sir William Fitzwilliam, the Earl
of Southampton and Lord John
Russell resolve a border dispute between the French garrison at Ardres[iii] and the
English garrison at Guisnes.
|Earl of Southampton|
Both sides massed armies and on 5th May Henry and Thomas Seymour arrived in Calais, immediately inspecting the fortifications and mustering men. On the 7th the same was done at Guisnes along with a military parade. Having shaken a spear in the face of the French, the English exchanged gifts with the French Governor, Monsieur de Biez. Hunting and dinner parties were arranged. The French ambassador in London wrote to Paris;
‘Where nothing but war was talked of there is no mention but of wishing to live at peace.’[iv]
Henry was back in England in time to shop for his Garter ceremony; he purchased his mantle, black velvet cap, collar and medallion of St George without reference to his shaky finances. The gold collar was six troy ounces more than the maximum provided for by the order’s regulations and his St George medallion was encrusted with ten diamonds.
The day before the ceremony Henry was a guest of Edward Seymour at Sheen. Over dinner, along with his fellow knight-elect Sir John Gage, Henry was talked through the ceremony he would undergo. The Earl of Sussex acted as the king’s deputy.
Around this time Henry was also made Cupbearer to the king, a post he held with Lord Hastings and Sir Francis Bryan. With this post came free lodgings wherever the court might be and provision of food, candles, fuel and drink. Now Henry no longer had to wait to be summonsed to court and, more importantly, had access to the king.
Adultery and the Queen
Catherine soon became bored of her obese husband whose fumblings and flatulence may very well have repelled her. His once athletic body was decaying and his legs were ulcerated and puss-filled bandages were permanently wrapped around them. His mood swings frightened all his courtiers, let alone his young queen.
Catherine’s attention was diverted away from the marriage bed as Henry VIII took her on a progress around Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, showing off his new toy. The king returned to Hampton Court at the end of October and ordered prayers to be said for the queen for;
‘The good life he led and trusted to lead [with] this jewel of womanhood.’[v]
The conservative faction led by Norfolk and Bishop Gardiner was opposed by the religious progressives who counted Cranmer among their number. Among the progressives was a Protestant preacher named John Lassells[vi] who was the brother of the nurse of Lord William Howard’s[vii] children. Lassells was informed by his sister of the queen’s behaviour before she married, claiming that Catherine had not been a virgin when she married Henry VIII.
Lassells immediately rushed to inform the Archbishop who was so afraid of the king’s temper that he dare not tell him the bad news face to face. Instead he left a letter in the royal pew in the Chapel Royal. Cranmer’s letter accused Catherine of behaving licentiously with a lute player called Henry Manox, who had been teaching the young girl to play the virginals while staying at a Norfolk residence in Horsham. He claimed that;
‘I know her [Catherine] well enough for I have had her by the cunt, and I know it among a hundred.’[viii]
Two years later, the letter averred, Catherine had an affair with one Francis Dereham, now the queen’s secretary and usher of her bedchamber. The king ordered the Earl of Southampton as Lord Privy Seal to investigate and refute the allegations which he did not believe.
Under interrogation Manox changed his tune, admitting only to taking liberties with the young girl, not having sexual intercourse with her. Dereham, on the other hand, admitted to swiving her. Even now Henry VIII was inclined to spare the girl he doted on, that was until evidence was uncovered about Catherine’s love for Thomas Culpepper, one of the king’s former pages.
The Loss of a Second Howard Queen
The young couple had been trysting at night after the king had retired to bed, although both denied having sexual intercourse. The most striking piece of evidence was a love letter that Queen Catherine wrote to Culpepper;
‘For I never longed so much for thing as I do to see you and to speak with you, the which I trust shall be shortly now….When I think again that you shall depart from me again it makes my heart to die, to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company.’[ix]
After being tortured Culpepper confessed to committing adultery with Catherine[x]. Catherine made her own confession. On 1st December Dereham and Culpepper were tried and found guilty of treason, Norfolk officiated at the trial which Henry attended. The two men were executed at Tyburn on 10th, while Catherine’s brothers paraded on horseback throughout London. In December 1541 Henry was granted the rectory, manors and possessions of Rushworth College in Norfolk.
On 11th February Catherine was found guilty of treason Henry was one of the nobles who, perforce acting as deputy for his father who had returned to Kenninghall, attended at Catherine Howard’s execution on 13th. She was followed to the block by Lady Rochford. Catherine was the third of his cousins to go to the block.
Norfolk was more than happy to throw the rest of his family, including his stepmother , to the wolves to save himself and his heir. He helped interrogate Catherine[xi], was one of the chief informers against his stepmother, ransacked Dereham’s coffers and wrote an abject letter to Henry VIII;
‘Yesterday came to my knowledge that mine ungracious mother-in-law [stepmother], mine unhappy brother and his wife, with my lewd sister of Bridgewater[xii] were committed to the Tower; which by long experience, knowing your accustomed equity and justice…am sure is not done but for some their false and traitorous proceedings against your Royal Majesty.’[xiii]
The Howards committed to the Tower were tried for misprision en masse and were sentenced to life imprisonment and forfeiture of goods.
Henry VIII’s Last Victim – Jessie Childs, Vintage Books 2008
The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune – David M Head, University of Georgia Press 2009
House of Treason – Robert Hutchinson, Phoenix 2009
Henry VIII – Robert Lacey, Weidenfeld & Nicholson & Book Club Associates 1972
The Earlier Tudors – J D Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992
Rivals in Power – David Starkey, MacMillan London Ltd 1990
The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992
[i] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[ii] George Boleyn preceded his sister to the block
[iii] Where late in 1540 the French had built a castle and a bridge into the Calais Pale
[iv] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[v] House of Treason - Hutchinson
[vi] Or Lascelles
[vii] Another of Norfolk’s half-brothers and known as Howard of Effingham
[viii] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[ix] Rivals in Power - Starkey
[x] Although whether this actually happened, as with Anne, is problematic. Anne was too canny to have committed adultery, but Catherine was not endowed with her cousin’s intelligence
[xi] Recommending that she be burnt alive
[xiii] Rivals in Power - Starkey