Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard (1525 - February 13, 1542) Fifth queen consort of Henry VIII of England 1540-1542, sometimes known as "the rose without a thorn." She was born in about 1525, probably in London, the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and granddaughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. She married Henry VIII on July 28, 1540, at Oatlands Palace in Surrey, having caught his eye even before his divorce from Anne of Cleves was arranged.

Unfortunately, Catherine, though young, was far from innocent: In her teens, she had had an affair with Francis Dereham, a young scholar employed by her family, and the pair had been unnofficially engaged. After coming to court, she began a liaison with Thomas Culpeper, a member of the royal household, who was a relation of her mother's, and also continued to see Dereham. When her activities were discovered, she confessed to adultery, but her life was not spared. She was convicted of high treason and executed on February 13, 1542, at the Tower of London, where she was buried, at the Royal Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. On the night before her execution, she made a strange request. She asked that the execution block be brought in her chamber so that she could rehearse her execution.

Is this picture really Catherine Howard?

Painters continued to include Jane Seymour in pictures of King Henry VIII years after she was dead, because Henry continued to look back on her with favor as the one wife who gave him a son; most of them copied the portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger (below, left) because it was the only full-sized picture available. In the opposite situation, after Catherine Howard was executed, even the Howard family removed her picture from their family portrait gallery, because Henry never forgave her for her perfidy. Nobody dared make another portrait of her after she was dead.

For centuries, the picture above (also by Hans Holbein) was believed to be of Catherine, and some authorities said it is the only portrait of her that exists. Some historians now doubt that the woman in the picture is Catherine, although no one can say who else she might be, and the doubters still believe she was one of the Howards, because the portrait was in their collection. The truth may never be known, but the only evidence we have so far (aside from the provenance of the painting) suggests that the formal portrait is of Catherine: There is another picture of this woman, a water-color miniature (below, right); it has been dated (from details about how she is dressed and how the miniature is made) to the short period when Catherine was queen. In it she is wearing the jewels remarkably similar to those Jane Seymour was wearing in her official portrait; these were jewels the records show belonged to the crown, not to any queen personally, and there is no record of their having been removed from the treasury and given to anyone else. So until there is better evidence one way or the other, these will continue to be considered pictures of Catherine Howard, but with a question mark.

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