Open main menu

Catherine Howard (DNB00)

CATHERINE Howard (d. 1542), fifth queen of Henry VIII, was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, a younger son of Thomas, second duke of Norfolk, the victor of Flodden Field. Her mother was Lord Edmund's first wife, Joyce or Jocosa, daughter of Sir Richard Culpepper of Kent, one of that family who afterwards became lords of the manor of Holingbourne. According to her latest biographer, she was widow of Sir John Leigh of Stockwell, but this is certainly a mistake, for not only was she Lord Edmund's wife long before Sir John Leigh's death in 1523, but it appears by the inquisition on Leigh's lands (15 Hen. VIII, No, 69) that he willed certain property after his decease, in the event of two nephews dying without issue, to Lord Edmund and this very Jocosa his wife, who therefore could never have been the wife of Sir John Leigh, but, as it appears by other evidence, had been the wife of his brother Ralph Leigh (Archæologia Cantiana, iv. 264; Manning and Bray, Surrey, iii. 497). Further, as regards the date of Catherine's birth, it is said that she was the fifth child in the family, and Miss Strickland infers that, she could not have been born before 1521 or 1522, because, as she informs us, Lord Edmund Howard was one of the bachelor noblemen who accompanied Mary Tudor to France in 1515. It is unfortunate that we are not told the source of this information. Mary Tudor really went to France in 1514, but we have sought in vain for evidence that Lord Edmund went thither along with her, or that he was a bachelor at that date. On the other hand, as Lord Edmund is believed to have been born between 1478 and 1480 (Howard Memorials, 12), and we know for certain that his father-in-law, Sir Richard Culpepper, died in 1484 (Hasted, Kent, ii, 188, 223, &c.), it is not in itself a very probable thing that he waited till he was over thirty-five to marry a woman who was over thirty.

Whatever the truth may be on this point, it is certain that she had a very bad education. Her father was wretchedly poor. For services at Flodden the king rewarded him with a grant of three shillings and fourpence a day, to continue for three years (Cal. Hen. VIII, ii. 1463), at the end of which time he was allowed 'diets for taking thieves' at twenty shillings a day, for about a year and a quarter (ib. pp, 1473-4, 1478). But with a family of ten children he found it hard to maintain himself, and he was compelled at times to avoid his creditors, and those who had stood surety for him were arrested in his stead (Ellis, Letters, 3rd series, i. 160; Cal. Hen. VIII, vol. iv. Nos. 3730-1). At last he was made controller of Calais, but even the emoluments of that post hardly sufficed by themselves to relieve him from his difficulties without some additional assistance, which Cromwell seems to have procured for him (Cal. vol. v. No. 1042). His first wife died, and he married a second, named Dorothy Troyes, when apparently he was glad to hand over the care of his daughter Catherine to his mother, the old Duchess Agnes of Norfolk.

A musician named Henry Mannock or Manox, belonging to the duchess's retinue at Horsham in Norfolk, who taught Catherine the use of the virginals, got on terms of familiarity with the neglected girl, and one of the duchess's women, named Isabel, carried tokens between them. After a while Isabel married and left the household, and one Dorothy Barwick of Horsham became confidante in her place. The Duchess of Norfolk, however, removed her household to Lambeth, the suburban residence of the Howard family, not, as has been suggested, with a view to the coronation of Anne Boleyn, because it appears from the deposisition of Mannock that he first entered her service about 1536, the year of Anne Boleyn's fall, so that the earliest instance of Catherine's misconduct must have occurred within four years of her marriage. Catherine, however, came to Lambeth, and had for a companion in the same dormitory one Mary Lassells, who had been nurse to her aunt, Lady William Howard, and after her death in 1533 (Howard Memorials, 87) had passed into the service of the duchess. Here some conversations took place, of which Catherine was the subject, between Mary Lassells and Dorothy Barwick, who said that Mannock was betrothed to Catherine. 'What!' exclaimed Mary Lassells, addressing Mannock, 'meanest thou to play the fool of this fashion? Knowest thou not that an' my lady of Norfolk know of the love between thee and Mrs. Howard she will undo thee?' Mannock replied with gross effrontery, and in a way that certainly showed very little real respect for Catherine, declaring that she had promised to be his mistress, and had allowed him already to take the most indecent liberties with her. On being informed of what he said, she was indignant, and went with Mary Lassells to seek him out and reproach him. The affair passed over, and nothing more seems to have been heard of it for years. But another lover appeared in the retinue of the Duke of Norfolk, one Francis Dereham, who was some way or other a kinsman of her own, and was favoured by the old duchess. The couple interchanged love tokens. He gave Catherine a silk heart's-ease, and she gave him a band and sleeves for a shirt. It is clear that the couple were fully engaged to each other, and such an engagement, according to the views then prevalent, invalidated any subsequent marriage that was at variance with it. So Francis Dereham and Catherine Howard called each other husband and wife, although their engagement was not known to the world. One day it was remarked that he kissed her very freely, and he replied, 'Who should hinder him from kissing his own wife?' Still the matter was kept so quiet that the old duchess under whose roof Catherine lived knew but little of what passed between them. Dereham brought his mistress wine, strawberries, apples, and other things after my lady was gone to bed, and Catherine was even suspected of having sometimes stolen the keys to let him in at a later hour.

It appears that this attachment was broken off on Catherine's being called to court. In anticipation of that event Dereham had said that he would not remain in the duchess's household after she was gone, to which, according to her own account afterwards, she replied 'that he might do as he list.' Dereham himself apparently gave a different account of the parting, according to which Catherine replied that it grieved her as much as him, and tears trickled down her cheeks in confirmation of what she said. Catherine, as queen, denied this utterly. Perhaps it is more charitable to herself to believe the story of her lover. He left the duchess's household and went to Ireland, or perhaps scoured the Irish seas for some time, for he was afterwards accused of piracy. He returned before Catherine was queen, and heard a report that she was engaged to be married to her cousin young Thomas Culpepper. He demanded an answer from herself if it were true. 'What should you trouble me therewith?' she answered, 'for you know I will not have you. And if you heard such report, you heard more than I do know.'

In 1540 the king had married Anne of Cleves. The marriage was from the first distasteful to the king. A catholic reaction had already set in, and Bishop Gardiner, who had for some time been excluded from the king's councils, was recalled to court. He entertained the king in his own house, and it was under the bishop's roof that a familiarity first grow up between Henry and Catherine Howard, which the bishop apparently did his best to encourage. No one, of course, could have ventured to hint at a divorce from Anne of Cleves till it was clear that the king himself was bent on it, and Richard Hilles, an English merchant, who favoured the new doctrines, writing to Henry Bullinger, at Zürich, says distinctly it was the object of the catholic party at first to set up Catherine as a rival to the queen in a less honourable position. The king, however, had views of his own, and a rumour gradually got abroad that the queen was to be divorced and the young lady to take her place. The position certainly took herself as well as the world by surprise. Old associates, beginning to perceive how matters stood, pressed their claims upon her. It was rumoured, indeed, that the king had not only begun to love her, but had actually made her pregnant before Anne of Cleves was divorced (Cal., Venice, v. 87). The report was wrong, certainly, as a matter of fact. Anne of Cleves was divorced by a decree of convocation on 9 July, and parliament besought the king, 'for the good of his people,' to enter the matrimonial state yet a fifth time in the hope of more numerous issue. He accordingly married Catherine, quite privately, at Oatlands, on 28 July (Third Report of Dep.-Keeper of Public Records, App. ii. 264), and on 8 Aug. publicly acknowledged her as his queen at Hampton Court. On the 15th she was prayed for in all the churches by that title.

The couple spent a fortnight at Windsor, and thence made a brief progress by Reading, Ewelme, and other places to Grafton and Ampthill, returning to Windsor on 22 Oct. Just after they had departed on this tour a priest at Windsor was arrested along with another person for speaking unfitting words of the queen, but the matter seems to have been trivial, for the priest was dismissed with a mere admonition, and nothing more appears to have come of it. Some very ill-founded rumours were also set afloat that the king might possibly repudiate Catherine and take back Anne of Cleves as his queen. But those rumours soon died away, as the fact was apparent that the king was, for the time at least, thoroughly enamoured of his new spouse. Opinions, indeed, were divided as to her beauty, which the French ambassador Marillac thought only mediocre, but even he admitted that she had a very winning countenance.

Partly to quiet his northern subjects and partly to meet James V of Scotland at York, the king, in July, set out on a progress along with Catherine. They passed by Dunstable, Ampthill, Grafton and Northampton, through Lincolnshire, into Yorkshire, reaching Pontefract in the latter part of August, where they remained till the beginning of September. During this period took place some of those stolen interviews with former lovers which, even if they were not actually criminal, helped to bring Catherine to confusion. At Lincoln, and again at Pontefract, Lady Rochford procured meetings between her and her cousin Culpepper, one of which lasted from eleven at night till three in the morning. How interviews at such hours were kept from the king's knowledge is not explained to us, but Lady Rochford set a watch on back entrances, and the affair was effectually concealed. At Pontefract, on 27 Aug., Catherine appointed Francis Dereham as her secretary, perhaps as the best way of keeping matters quiet, though it was obviously a dangerous expedient. The royal party went on to York, where they arrived in the middle of September, but James did not make his appearance, and in the end of the month they began to move homewards again. On 1 Oct. they reached Hull, where they stayed five days, and then passed on, by Kettleby, Colly Weston, and Ampthill, to Windsor and Hampton Court, where they arrived on the 30th to keep the feast of All Saints' on 1 Nov.

The solemnities of All Saints' day were duly performed, and the king ordered the Bishop of Lincoln, his confessor, to give thanks to God with him for the good life he led and hoped to lead, 'after sundry troubles of mind which had happened to him by marriages' with her who was now his queen. But next day at mass Archbishop Cranmer put a paper into the king's hand which he requested him to read in the strictest privacy. It contained information given him by John Lassells, the brother of that Mary Lassells who had been a servant of the old Duchess of Norfolk, and who was now married in Sussex. Knowing her old familiarity with Catherine, Lassells had advised his sister to apply for service with the queen. She replied that she would not, but was very sorry for the queen. 'Why so?' asked Lassells, and his sister told him in reply of her former intercourse with Dereham and Mannock, and that a maid in the house had refused to share her bedroom in consequence. Perplexed with this dreadful news, the archbishop at first consulted the lord chancellor and the Earl of Hertford, who agreed that it ought to be communicated to the king, and that no one was so fit to do it as the archbishop himself.

Henry was unable at first to believe the news, and he ordered a strict investigation. The lord privy seal (Fitzwilliam, earl of Southampton) was despatched secretly first to London to examine Lassells, the informant, and then into Sussex to examine his sister, making a pretence of hunting. Sir Thomas Wriothesley was at the same time sent to London to examine Mannock, and to arrest Dereham, not on the charge of criminal intercourse with the queen, but on a charge of piracy. On being questioned, however, Dereham himself confessed to having frequently lain with the queen. Mannock confessed to no such intercourse, but admitted that he had been allowed to take liberties. The result of the secret investigations was most painfully convincing. The king shed bitter tears over the discovery—a thing, as his privy council observed, 'which was strange in his courage.' It was months before he recovered his old buoyancy of spirits.

He commissioned Archbishop Cranmer, Lord-chancellor Audley, the Duke of Norfolk, the lord chamberlain, and the Bishop of Winchester to wait upon the queen and interrogate her upon the matter. She at first denied her guilt till she found that denial was hopeless. She then disclosed everything, and the archbishop took her confession in writing. Thus the case was complete against both her and her accomplices by their own confession; but it was not admitted that since her marriage with the king anything criminal had taken place. It might be doubted whether a capital charge could be founded on these acts alone; but even the use of torture did not wring more from Dereham, and the king could only point to the vehement presumption of criminal acts done afterwards.

As regards Catherine herself, if the case could have been judged impartially, she had really committed adultery in marrying the king, not in any acts done with Dereham. But she steadily denied that she had ever consented to become Dereham's wife. After her confession Cranmer was sent to her again. The archbishop found her almost out of her mind with terror. The announcement of the king's intended mercy relieved her anxiety for a moment; but little could be extracted from her.

On 11 Nov. Cranmer was instructed to proceed further, and when he had obtained all the information he could get to take the queen's keys from her, and intimate the king's pleasure that she should remove on Monday to Sion House. She was still to have the name and dignity of queen, but with a very much reduced establishment, three chambers only being allowed to her, 'hanged with mean stuff,' and a very modest attendance of servants. Next day the lord chancellor declared to the judges the fact of the queen's misconduct; and such members of the council as had been privy to the investigation were instructed to set forth the whole matter on Sunday the 13th to the ladies and gentlemen of the household, without making mention of any pre-contract with Dereham. The king and his council were evidently bent on establishing a case of adultery, but the information as yet would hardly serve. The pre-contract would have invalidated the marriage altogether, and there were no evidences of unlawful intercourse after the marriage had taken place. But if this could not be established in the case of Dereham, there was a considerable presumption in that of Culpepper. Catherine, however, had not yet fully confessed all that had passed between herself and her cousin; and Cranmer, Paulet, and Wriothesley were instructed to question her further.

Meanwhile, the old Duchess of Norfolk, on hearing that the queen and Dereham were arrested, sent a servant named Pewson to Hampton Court to learn particulars. She certainly knew that Catherine had in past years held stolen interviews under her roof both with Mannock and with Dereham. She, moreover, had even then in her custody two coffers belonging to Dereham, which contained papers apparently of some importance. She hastily broke them open and examined what was in them.

Now, the duke her stepson was sent to Lambeth to search Dereham's coffers, and when it was found that she had done so herself, it was naturally suspected that she had destroyed some papers that would somehow have compromised her. She was closely questioned and professed that her only motive was to search for evidences and send them to the king. She foresaw clearly her committal to the Tower, from which she did not hope to come out alive. Pewson also was arrested; and all who had opportunities of knowing the queen's misconduct were likewise placed in custody. Among these were her uncle, Lord William Howard, and his wife, her aunt, the Countess of Bridgewater, Joan Bulmer, Catherine Tylney, one Robert Davenport, and a number of others.

Meanwhile, Culpepper and Dereham were tried and condemned on 1 Dec. The evidence against them had been elicited from themselves and others, partly by the use of torture. Yet Culpepper denied his guilt to the last. There is in the Record Office a letter addressed to him by Catherine Howard before she was queen, which reads, to say the least, not unlike a love letter, and shows that even in those days Lady Rochford was a medium of communication between them; but it proves nothing as to criminal intimacy. Lady Rochford would have been brought to trial at the same time but that three days after her arrest she went completely out of her mind with the horror of the situation. She was, however, very carefully tended in order that she might afterwards be put upon her trial and brought to condign punishment. The queen, too, still remained untried at Sion House, while her guilt was prejudged by the sentences already executed upon Dereham and Culpepper.

She remained untried even when another batch of prisoners, including Lord William Howard, Robert Davenport, Catherine Tylney, and several others of less note, was brought up at the Guildhall three weeks later, and condemned of misprision for concealing what they knew. These received their sentence on 22 Dec., which was perpetual imprisonment and forfeiture of goods to the king. The Duchess of Norfolk was pardoned her life, confessing that she had done wrong in breaking up Dereham's coffers; and perhaps she saved herself even from very extreme treatment by revealing to the lord privy seal and Mr. Secretary Wriothesley the place where she had hidden a sum of 800l. Ultimately she received a complete pardon and was released from her confinement on 5 May 1542 (see Strickland, iii. 172). But for the present she was kept close. So many were involved in the charge of concealing Catherine's misconduct that there was no room in the ordinary prisons, and special arrangements were made for receiving them in the king's and queen's lodgings. They were visited in their cells by the Duke of Suffolk, the Earls of Southampton, Sussex, and Hertford, and other members of the privy council.

Yet it was to show his clemency, according to current report, that Henry did not bring Catherine to trial until parliament met (Chapuys to Charles V, 3 Dec., in Froude's The Pilgrim, p. 159). In other words, he would not appear of his own accord to break his promise of pardon to her. On 16 Jan. 1542 parliament met at Westminster, and on the 21st a bill of attainder against the queen and Lady Rochford was read for the first time. The names of the Duchess of Norfolk, Lord William Howard, and others were also included in the bill as guilty of misprision. The second reading, however, was postponed for an unusual time. On the 28th the lord chancellor declared to the house certain reasons why it should not be hastily proceeded with; the queen was not a mere private person, and her cause ought to be thoroughly weighed; and he suggested that a deputation from both houses should wait upon her and encourage her to speak boldly whatever she had to say in her own defense. The deputation was agreed to, subject to the king's approval, but on the Monday following (30 Jan.) the chancellor explained that it had been put off by advice of the council, who thought it more important that they should petition his majesty, first, not to take his misfortune too heavily, considering how the weal of the whole realm depended upon him; secondly, that they might confirm in parliament the attainder of Culpepper and Dereham; thirdly, that parliament should be free to proceed to judgment in the case of the queen and her other confederates that the matter might no longer hang in doubt; fourthly, that afterwards the king might give his assent to what was done by commission under the great seal without words or ceremony which would renew his pain; and, fifthly, that if any had offended the statutes in speaking freely of the queen, they should have the benefit of a general pardon.

All this seems very much like a roundabout way of relieving the king from the imputation of breach of faith for bringing Catherine to the block after he had promised to spare her life.

A curious point as to parliamentary practice in those days arises from a study of the different evidences bearing upon this case. Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, writing to Charles V on 29 Jan., says that 'the resolution of the peers will be laid before the representatives of the people in two days;' and in the paragraph immediately following he adds:—'At the very moment I was writing the above I was informed that the commons house had this morning come to the same resolution about the queen and the ladies as the bishops and peers have done, and the queen, it is to be feared, will be soon sent to the Tower.' What Chapuys refers to as 'the resolution' of the peers seems to have been the first reading of the bill; and the question suggests itself, whether a bill once read in the lords could have gone down to the lower house and passed through the different stages there before it came before the peers again for a second reading. Unfortunately, we have no journals of the House of Commons at that date; but the interval that elapsed before the second reading in the lords rather favours the supposition.

The bill was read there a second time on 6 Feb., and a third time on the day following. Before the royal assent was given the Duke of Suffolk and the Earl of Southampton waited on the queen and obtained from her a very pitiful confession, accompanied by a prayer that her crime might not be visited upon her family, and that the king would allow some of her dresses to be given to those servants who had attended her since she fell into disgrace. She still seemed, or at least was reported to be only a few days before, 'very cheerful and more plump and pretty than ever; as careful about her dress and as imperious and wilful as at the time when she was with the king.' Yet she now looked for nothing but death, unless she was still buoyed up by a vain confidence in the king's promised word, to which she did not venture to appeal, and she only asked that her execution should be private. On 10 Feb. she was conveyed from Sion House to the Tower by water by the Duke of Suffolk, the lord privy seal, and the lord chamberlain. Next day the royal assent was given to the bill in parliament by commission, and the Duke of Suffolk and Lord Southampton declared the result of their interview with the queen. There is no appearance, however, that her confession extended to acts of infidelity after marriage. On the evening of Sunday, 12 Feb., she was informed that she was to die on the following day. She desired that the block on which she was to suffer might be brought to her that she might know how to place herself. Her wish was gratified, and she made a kind of rehearsal of the coming tragedy. Next morning at seven o'clock all the king's council except the Duke of Suffolk, who was unwell, and her uncle Norfolk, presented themselves at the Tower to witness the execution, her cousin, the poet Surrey, with the rest. She was beheaded in the same place where Anne Boleyn had suffered. A cloth was thrown over her body, and some ladies carried it away. Lady Rochford, still in a kind of frenzy, was brought out and suffered the same fate. 'They made the most godly and christian end,' writes a London merchant three days after to his brother at Calais, 'that ever was heard of, uttering their lively faith in the blood of Christ only, and with godly words and steadfast countenances they desired all christian people to take regard unto their worthy and just punishment.'

The features of Catherine Howard have been preserved in two portraits, the one a drawing by Holbein, engraved by Bartolozzi, the other a miniature supposed till lately to represent Catherine Parr, engraved in Mrs. Dent's 'Annals of Winchcombe and Sudeley' (as to the latter see Mr. Scharf's remarks in the Archæologia, xl. 84). It would seem that she had hazel eyes, auburn hair, and a bright, cheerful face, but such as might very well justify Marillac's opinion that her beauty was only commonplace.

[State Papers, i. 689-712, 721-8; Burnet, ed. Pocock, v. 249-52; Third Report of Dep.- Keeper of Public Records, App. ii. 261-6; Nicolas's Privy Council Proceedings, vii. 17, 21, 147, 352-6; Journals of the House of Lords, i. 168, 171-2, 175-6; Kaulek's Correspondance Politque de Castillon et de Marillac; Froude's The Pilgrim, pp. 158-62; unpublished manuscripts in Public Record Office. A modern life of Catherine will be found in Miss Strickland's Queens of England, vol. iii.]

J. G.