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"Life is very beautiful..." - Katherine Howard


Katherine Howard was the fifth wife of King Henry VIII as well as the lover of Thomas Culpepper.  Like her Boleyn cousins Anne, George and Mary, she was a niece of Thomas Howard, the patriarch of the powerful Howard family. Being young, enslaved to her passions, and not very smart, Katherine was easy for Henry Howard to manipulate, in order to gain favor with the King.

King Henry thought that she was pure before taking her to his bed, but unknown to him, she had numerous lovers. She appointed her childhood friend, Joan Bulmer (one of the very few people who knew about her past), as a Lady-In-Waiting to help keep her secret. Katherine's relationship with Henry initially seemed happy, but Henry's age and crippling jousting injury at the hands of Sir Henry Norris years ago had prevented him from keeping up with her sex drive, which frustrated her.

Later on, through the machinations of her Chief Lady-In-Waiting, Lady Jane Rochford, she began to have a secret yet intensely sexual affair with Thomas Culpepper, the King's personal groom. However, all of her secrets were eventually discovered, and she was stripped of her rank and all privileges, and subsequently executed.

Portrayed by the English actress Tamzin Merchant, Katherine Howard made her first appearance in the final episode of Season 3, and proceeded to star in the first five episodes of Season 4. The character was mentioned in several subsequent episodes, including in the series finale by the ghost of her deceased older cousin (and fellow ex-Queen), Anne Boleyn.

Season ThreeEdit

While Henry is still with his fourth Queen, Anne of Cleves, Sir Francis Bryan found and brought Katherine Howard to court in the Season 3's finale, having been tasked by Charles Brandon to find the increasingly jaded King a new sexual distraction.

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Charles Brandon (left) presents Katherine Howard (right) to King Henry as a 'distraction'

Francis picked her out of a group of young women who were the wards of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk - a noblewoman with loose morals. Katherine was revealed to be a cousin of the Earl of Surrey as well as a  niece of the Duke of Norfolk, and hence a first cousin of Anne Boleyn and her siblings, despite the considerable difference in their ages.

Though she is young enough to be his daughter, Henry is intrigued by Katherine's youth, beauty, and vitality, and quickly becomes infatuated with her when she becomes his secret mistress. The combination of her seeming innocence and insatiable sensuality brought him a powerful sense of rejuvenation that his marriage with Anne of Cleves sorely lacked in. This new attraction was also what motivated him to divorce his fourth wife, with whom he had never been happy.

Season FourEdit

Henry has married Katherine Howard in a private ceremony, and presented her to his court at the start of Season Four. The reactions of the court are widely dispersed: some hope that she would make the King happy, some hope to gain elevation through manipulating her like with the previous queens, while some - such as the Princess Mary - think she is a completely unworthy Queen. The Spanish are exasperated with Henry's many marriages, while the French are amused by the youth and beauty of his new bride.

Henry's obsessive spoiling of her becomes an irritating feature to the court, especially when he bestows upon her all of Jane Seymour's former lands and properties, as well as much of the confiscated wealth of the executed Thomas Cromwell. Though Katherine initially loves Henry, it is mainly because of his sexual appetites and his showering her with an endless supply of extravagant gifts. His old leg wound soon becomes infected again however, making him more irritable, prone to exhaustion, and unable to engage in frequent sexual intercourse. This in turn leads Katherine to become increasingly unsatisfied with her marital life. 

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Queen Katherine argues with Lady Mary

She also encounters other problems, such as interaction with the other members of Henry's family. Katherine initially tries to befriend both of the King's daughters, but with no success - Mary again displays her open contempt, and while Elizabeth is flawlessly polite to her second cousin/stepmother, she prefers to spend time with the better educated and more genteel Anne of Cleves.
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Katherine with Henry at Christmas (4.02)

Katherine eventually becomes fed-up with Mary's contempt and flat-out lack of respect and obeisance, and immaturely punishes her for her impertinence by taking two of her maids away, deepening the hatred from the Princess and her household. She is also jealous by how much the people of England love Mary more than her, and concerned that Henry will not like her if she does not conceive a child; she undergoes one false pregnancy, but never bears any children "despite all the King's attentions", making him feel like she's let him down. However, Katherine forms a surprisingly good friendship with the King's former wife Anne of Cleves, generously sharing Henry's Christmas gifts to her with Anne in episode 4.02. 
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Queen Katherine Howard dances with Lady Anne of Cleves

Katherine turns away from Henry at the end of 4.02 when she falls in love with Thomas Culpepper, the arrogant groom (right-hand man) of the King who has lusted after her since episode 4.01.  They have sex many times on the arrangement of her handmaiden Lady Jane Rochford- the abused widow of George Boleyn, brother of former Queen Anne Boleyn. As with Anne, Rochford secretly despises the current Queen and hopes to discredit her; having learned of Katherine's past from Joan Bulmer, she revealed it to Culpepper, then informed the Queen that Culpepper was in love with her. Unfortunately, in episode 4.04 Katherine's former lover Francis Dereham arrives at court blackmailing her with knowledge of her sexual history. She is forced to give him a position in her household to keep him silent on the matter, which raises the suspicions of Lord Edward Seymour.

Henry continues to dote on his unfaithful wife without knowing of her infidelity, but she is eventually investigated in episode 4.05 and her fate is easily predictable. He receives an anonymous letter from Archbishop Cranmer, claiming Katherine has lied to him about her sexual history (ironically, during a church service in which Bishop Gardiner declares that Katherine is the perfect companion for Henry). Henry is not convinced she has deceived him, but nonetheless orders her confined to her apartments until the matter is investigated, with only Jane Rochford to attend to her needs (as stated by the sergeant of the guards). This immediately causes Katherine to panic: Dereham, now her private secretary, has been loudly boasting of his past sexual relationship with her while drunk, and under threat of torture (and later torture itself) he gives away full details of their history, to Henry's shock and fury. Katherine's household is immediately discharged by Sir Thomas and two of the guards formerly in her service; all of her coffers and chests are sealed and placed under guard, and all of her jewelry is returned to Henry. For her offenses against Henry, the King and his council have also ordained (most likely in an offscreen private meeting) that she also has forfeited the title of Queen and must therefore be known as Lady Katherine Howard. Upon hearing all of this, Katherine briefly breaks out of her confinement and runs through Whitehall pleading to talk with Henry, but he simply gives her a cold stare and allows the guards to drag her back to her apartments.

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Catherine is put under house arrest on her husband's orders.

After being stripped of her goods and titles and confined to a church (and her marriage to Henry annulled because of her deceit to the King on her prior sexual encounters), Katherine is nonetheless grateful to be alive. Bishop Gardiner tells her she should simply admit to being guilty of a pre-contract with Dereham and the King will place her in a nunnery for her spiritual protection, but she unwisely insists she was raped and there was no pre-contract between them, hoping to retain some shred of her dignity. Although Gardiner seems to feel sorry for her, he knows immediately that she isn't telling the truth, and the investigation continues. Katherine's former lover Dereham names Culpepper under torture, and with the revelation of her adultery against the King she is sentenced to death and taken against her will to the Tower of London, where her cousins are buried. Lady Rochford, after being interrogated (but not tortured, since she is a noblewoman), is likewise thrown in the tower after it is revealed from Culpepper that she arranged Katherine's trysts in the first place.

Unlike Anne Boleyn, who was at least afforded a suite and allowed to keep three of her handmaidens while she was in the Tower, Katherine is shut away alone in a small, windblown cell with a wood-framed bed. She is offered a confessor by her kind-hearted warden when told by him that she is going to die, but declines, saying, "I've spoken to God so rarely, I do not think he'd know who I was." Culpepper is beheaded on Henry's orders, while Dereham is brutally hanged, drawn and quartered; Katherine is horrified to see their heads—displayed on spikes—when she first enters the Tower.  She spends the night before her execution practicing the process of laying her head on the chopping block, which she asked to have bought to her cell. Lady Rochford had been declared insane after suffering a breakdown in the Tower, but Henry ordered the drafting of a bill allowing for mad people to be executed and it became a law very quickly.  

Katherine and Rochford are both brought to the scaffold at Tyburn (rather than on the Tower Green, where Anne Boleyn was executed) at the end of episode 4.05, where first Rochford is executed. The blood is not even wiped off from the previous execution and the adulterous Katherine Howard is beheaded—just before she is, she glimpses her former friend, Joan, in the crowd and realizes that she sold her out under threat of torture. Goaded to a single spark of defiance despite her fear and misery, she shouts out "I have come here to die! I die a queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpepper!" and then lays her head on the blood-slicked slab. Henry reacts to Katherine's death even more indifferently than he did to Anne Boleyn's, hosting a party consisting of 26 beautiful women.

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Katherine Howard at her execution

Katherine does not appear in the series finale with the illusions of the other deceased Queen Consorts (Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour) but she is mentioned. Anne Boleyn indicates they were actually first cousins (Katherine was the youngest niece of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk who was also Anne's maternal uncle), and that she empathizes with and pities Katherine. Like Anne, she was drawn into unfortunate circumstances through her love for the King, and like Anne, she was beheaded on suspicion of adultery (although in Anne's case the charges were false). When Henry has multiple flashbacks of his past during the final scene, one of them includes Katherine smiling and dancing.

PersonalityEdit

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Katherine at Christmas

Katherine was kind and sweet-natured, but being young and childish, she was rather immature and demanded respect while doing nothing whatsoever to earn it. She also lacked both Anne Boleyn's education and Catherine of Aragon's political experience; her resulting dim-wittedness and lack of decorum earned her nothing but contempt from Henry's daughter Mary, who treated her with visible disrespect, to Katherine's anger. She was easy to use and her own staff and family members- including her cousin, the Earl of Surrey- remorselessly used her as the Boleyns and the Seymours had used their daughters. Katherine never really had what it took to be Queen, though- young, spoiled and immature, she fell out of love with the King and became Thomas Culepper's lover. Katherine was by far the youngest of Henry's wives, which was probably why she was so immature and stupid in the first place; a Queen of intelligence would know much better than to be adulterous to the King, as Catherine and Anne Boleyn had both known. However, Katherine did have a few endearing traits besides her beauty, dancing skills and sex appeal. She was generous to those who were her friends (such as Anne of Cleves and Joan Bulmer) and had a genuinely gentle nature; she had no real malice towards anyone except Princess Mary, and this was because Mary was so disrespectful towards her. Like Anne, she was being used as a piece in the political game of chess played by the Howard family; unlike Anne, however, Katherine understood nothing about politics and was neither intelligent nor bold enough to be a player in her own right, making her ultimately a victim of Surrey and Norfolk's ruthless plots.

BackstoryEdit

Katherine was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, a younger brother of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. and she was the first cousin of Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife and previous Queen Consort of England, whose mother was Katherine's father's sister. She was the fourth of ten children in her family, and from the age of about 9 or 10, Katherine was brought up in her step-grandmother's household, Agnes Tilney, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Her mother had died young and her father, despite being a nobleman with a very high-born name, was constantly in debt; being one of 21 children, and having many of his own, his inheritance had been almost nothing and he was constantly in need of money.

She came to Henry's court as a lady in waiting to Henry's fourth queen Anne of Cleves. Like her predecessors, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, Katherine caught the King's eye while she served the current queen when it is believed she was just 16 years old and Henry was 49. The King quickly dispatched Anne of Cleves, and married Katherine sixteen days later. Henry was extremely taken with his lively new queen, who amused him as his weight and the wound he recieved from jousting in his earlier days bothered him more and more.

On November 24, 1541 Katherine Howard, who the King and his Council had forfeited from her from the title of Queen two days earlier, was indicted for having led "an abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous life before marriage, like a common harlot with divers persons... maintaining however outward appearance of chastity and honesty". After her marriage to the King, she again showed Dereham notable favour, while she was inciting Culpepper to carnal knowledge, telling him she loved him above the King.

Katherine Howard never confessed to adultery, and neither did Culpepper or Dereham. Buckingham had been put to death for intent to commit treason. It was the King's will that Katherine suffer under an act of Attainder which supposedly proved her treason. Katherine herself was condemned to die for the presumption that she had committed adultery. On a Sunday, Katherine was informed she was going to die. Perhaps the horror of the clumsy death of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury had communicated itself to her. Of course, Katherine, like most of Henry's wives, suffered and was executed, proof that she condemned herself by marrying the King; just like her cousin Anne Boleyn.

Gentility: The granddaughter of Thomas Howard, the 2nd Duke to Norfolk, Katherine was also the cousin of Queen Anne Boleyn

Position: Lady in waiting to Anne of Cleves, she eventually became Queen Consort of England.

Physical AppearanceEdit

In the series, Katherine is portrayed as having long golden blonde hair and green-blue eyes. Like all of Henry's queens, she wore beautiful jewelry and crowns, and Henry himself spoiled Katherine rotten with jewels, dresses and dogs- he did dote on his young queen. The following paragraph describes the real Katherine Howard:

"Sparkling eyes set far apart, with whitened skin unmarred by freckles and tinted with a high and contrasting colouring, were regarded as the epitome of feminine loveliness. Both Katherine and her cousin, Anne Boleyn, had these characteristics, and although the Venetian ambassador was not captivated by Anne's charms, he admitted that her eyes were black and beautiful and that these more than anything else pleased the King. Katherine Howard was not unlike her cousin, and legend has it that she was Henry's most beautiful queen. What ever the truth, all her critics agree that she had auburn hair, was small, plump and vivacious overflowing with so much vitality that Marillac could write that he had nothing to report except a continuous amount of banqueting and dancing at court" - Lacy Baldwin Smith.

QuotesEdit

  • "I come here to die, I die as a Queen, but I'd rather die as the wife of Culpepper."
  • "I've spoken to God so rarely, I do not think he would know who I was."
  • "Life is very beautiful."
  • "I love you."

GalleryEdit

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