The Rose Without a Thorn

The Rose Without a Thorn, by Mercy Alicea

GW266H273Katherine Howard, the young, impulsive, beautiful, charming and vivacious girl that drove the old King Henry VIII mad with love and passion.  A girl with absolutely no qualities to be Queen of England, but beautiful and lustful enough to keep a King pleased, and eating from her hand.   Her naïve nature, and her natural desire to receive the love of a younger man guided her towards her death; but her actions also humiliated a tyrant King, who years before killed Queen Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard’s cousin for the same crimes knowing that she was innocent.  For many, Katherine Howard was a punishment for Henry; she committed the crime that condemned her cousin Anne unjustly, this shows in history that Karma is indeed aware of the evil deeds of every human being…even Kings.

Katherine Howard born around 1521-1524; her birth sources do not come to an agreement but, it is certain that her birth runs between those dates.  She was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, a younger brother of Thomas Howard,3rd Duke of Suffolk.  This familiar proximity made Katherine first cousin of Queen Anne Boleyn.  Katherine’s mother was Joyce Culpepper.

She was the 4th of ten children in her family, her mother died at a young age, also her father even with his nobility was constantly in debt, unable to take care of his children and from the age of 9, Katherine Howard was sent to her step grandmother, Agnes Tilney, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk household.   The Dowager Duchess presided over households at Chesworth House, near Horsham, and Norfolk House, at Lambeth, comprising numerous male and female attendants along with her many wards, usually the children of aristocratic but poor relatives. While sending young children to be educated and trained in aristocratic households other than their own was common for centuries among European nobles, supervision at both Chesworth House and Lambeth was apparently none. The Dowager Duchess was often at Court and seems to have had little direct involvement in the upbringing of her wards and young female attendants.  As a result of the Dowager Duchess’s lack of attention, Katherine Howard was not as well educated as some of Henry’s other wives; although, on its own, her ability to read and write was impressive enough at the time.

Her personality has often been described as vivacious, giggly, bold and brisk, but never scholarly or religiously devout. She displayed great interest in her dance lessons, but would often go off track of the lessons and make jokes. She also had a nurturing side for animals, particularly dogs.  Katherine, as well as her friends and the rest of the girls in the household not only suffered from lack of attention,  they also suffered from lack of moral advise.  What they wanted to learn about life, love and sex, normally they learned from their own sense of curiosity and of course, from the male that used to climb their windows to have secret encounters with them.  Indeed, one of Katherine’s most peculiar qualities was her curiosity for everything around her, and also as a Howard, in time she developed a great fond for gold, jewels and the power she had, but used in a very wrong way.  Behind the walls of The Dowager Duchess’s household, Katherine experienced romantic encounters, first, with her personal musician teacher, Henry Mannox.  She swore that she never consummated her love encounters with him;, after Mannox she had some other romantic encounters with another visitor to her chambers, Francis Dereham… those encounters were more profound, and they even used to call themselves, “Husband and Wife”.  Katherine and Francis created some sort of erotic relationship; when the Dowager Duchess discovered the relationship Katherine was severely scolded and punished. Of course during her interrogation she denied that she had full sexual relationships with him.

After the death of Jane Seymour, Thomas Cromwell made a match between King Henry VIII and a German Princess, Anne of Cleves, for Cromwell, this union meant the reinforcement of the Reforms in England.  Tragically for him, the King only felt repulsion for his new Queen. For those close to the King it was obvious that this new marriage would end shortly, by legal ways or bloody ones; they knew Anne of Cleves would not be queen for a long time.

The Duke of Norfolk, remembering the success in the past with his niece Anne Boleyn; found a place in the household of Anne of Cleves for the charming Katherine Howard; who immediately caught the eye of the King.  Katherine became a symbol of life for Henry; she was young, full of life, for sure she could give him more princes and the happiness that he lost a long time ago.  Katherine was lost in her sudden change of atmosphere; she was locked away from the world and now, she was in the household of a Queen, surrounded by many people, beautiful things and noticed by the King of England.  What a beautiful and amazing game to play right?

With the peaceful annulment of the marriage between King Henry and Anne of Cleves, also came the bloody execution of Thomas Cromwell.  But shortly after those events, King Henry married the Young Katherine Howard, she was almost 17, Henry was 49.In those days; King Henry VIII was an obese man, and the ulcer on his leg was tormenting him, but Katherine seemed to be pleased and happy; the King was the living example of joy, he looked rejuvenated even with his painful conditions.  He used to wake up at 5 am, he returned to hunt as he used to in his younger days, and he directed the council with the strength of his past youth.  The King called her, “His Rose without a Thorn”. His eyes were full of light while she was beside him or dancing for him at court. Because of her youth and cheerful spirit, he considered her far from sin or evil ways.  Everyone was sure that the Young Queen gave him a new breath of life.  Ambassador Chapuys described her: “She is a pretty young creature, with wit enough to do as badly as the others if she were to try”. Chapuys probably was a  little poisoned in his description due to the fact that Katherine was cousin of his Nemesis Anne Boleyn.  He Already saw her as a negative element for the King.  He also called her  “Imperious and willful”.

To many courtiers, the New Queen of England was not only too young, she seemed also frivolous and empty headed.  She certainly was no match for the people and intrigues surrounding her.  Katherine was living a wonderful dream on her side, she had a powerful crown upon her head, she was out of the shadows forever, she felt the power and she loved it.  She saw herself surrounded by maids and servants who were willing to do anything for her.  The King adorned her life with gold, silver, pearls, rubies, the best clothes and many properties.

But even with all the luxuries and pleasures, Katherine faced some challenges.  The most uncomfortable of them for her, was the Lady Mary.  From the start, the relationship between the young queen and the lady Mary was hostile.  Mary did not approve the King’s new wife, first she considered her too young, frivolous, and with no religious interests, even when her Howard family was Catholic.  But what most historians think was the cause of her hatred towards Katherine Howard, was the fact that she was first cousin of Anne Boleyn.  Mary Tudor lived her entire life obsessed with her repulsion and despise towards Anne Boleyn; everything that was related to Anne, was unholy for Mary.  In the last years of her reign this fact was marked in her paranoia against her own sister, Elizabeth.

Katherine Howard was 9 years younger than Mary; this difference marked a line of jealousy from Mary’s side.  She was already on an age where she was supposed to be married and with children, and so far, she was still unmarried.   Katherine in many ways reminded Mary all about Anne Boleyn; in her heart it was certain that Katherine would be unfaithful to the King.   The young Queen complained in many occasions about how Mary did not pay her the respect she had bestowed on Henry’s previous queens, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, and, to assert her status, ordered the dismissal of two of Mary’s maids. In the following time of her reign, Queen Katherine and the Lady Mary endured each other’s presence in their Royal Duties and Public Ceremonies, far from that… there was a wall of ice between them. They seemed to only be in the same page once; it was during the imprisonment of Margaret Pole, Lady Salisbury, who once was the governess of the Lady Mary.  Queen Katherine granted the wish of the Lady Mary for compassion and some comfort for the poor lady.  The Queen sent warm clothes to Margaret Pole and asked the King for mercy on behalf of Lady Salisbury. This last request only provoked the King to the point that he scolded her firmly, and reminded her to not meddle in his affairs.

Queen Katherine’s relationship with Prince Edward was almost nonexistent but when she had the chance to meet with him in royal ceremonies, she was patient, respectful and sweet in his presence.  What it is recorded formally, is that her relationship with the Lady Elizabeth was wonderful.  For sure the bond of blood and name that made them family was very much alive.  They liked each other since they met for the first time.  Queen Katherine brought her forward, and used to call her “Kinswoman”.  Even with the danger of upsetting the King with the memory of Anne Boleyn, Queen Katherine spent a lot of time in the company of Elizabeth.  They used to dine together; The Queen also made visits to Elizabeth at Hatfield House and sent gifts to her from time to time.

Early during their marriage, Anne of Cleves was invited back to court, the former Queen acted with a lot of respect in the presence of the young Queen, winning not only the affection of Katherine, but also the admiration of King Henry; who once more proclaimed with pride that she was his “Loving Friend and Sister”.  Lady Anne of Cleves and Queen Katherine Howard developed a polite relationship while she was at court; they even danced together at court to the joy of the court, the King however, abandoned the ball room due to his constant pains.

Even with the King’s illness, his Queen was happy, rumors of the Queen being pregnant circulated in the realm, the news filled the entire Kingdom with joy and hopes of having the most expected Duke of York.  But the joy did not last, the Queen had to confess that she was mistaken, and the King was very disappointed, so much, that he became distant and cold, he had no idea, that his attitude will bring pain and shame like he never imagined in his life.

After this fiasco, Katherine spent most of the time alone in her household, only with the company of her ladies, and of course, the continuous gifts that the King sent to her.  She knew this was a sign of reconciliation but, his absence from her life was causing her not only distress, but also the need to find another ways of “personal entertainment”.   One of her ladies, Lady Rochford, noticed that need on her mistress’s life.  Jane Rochford, was living in the shadows for a long time, she was in good terms with Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, but no much advancement came from her service to those former Queens, to her eyes, Katherine Howard was manageable, far from being strict, formal and moral like her former mistresses and if she was able to keep her Queen pleased and happy, for sure she would enjoy the benefits of that service. Besides, when you are a lady in waiting and mix yourself in deeds that could also put your mistress in serious trouble, could also give you even more rewards.

Lady Rochford was an ambitious woman that had been held back for a long time.  Her marriage to George Boleyn was unhappy, her relationship with her in laws was awful and her life after George’s execution was in a limbo.  Lady Rochford saw in Queen Katherine her chance to shine.

The King always on his part surrounded himself with people he thought he could trust, and in those days, his favorite was Thomas Culpepper.  Culpeper was described as “a beautiful youth” and he was a great favorite of Henry. It was because of this favoritism that Culpeper had major influence with the King and was often bribed to use his influence on others’ behalf. In 1539, Thomas Culpeper was accused of raping a park-keeper’s wife and then murdering a villager. However there is a possibility that the rapist was Culpeper’s elder brother, also called Thomas. Whoever was the guilty party, through influence on the King, a pardon was given. Culpeper was given the honor of being keeper of the armory and Henry eventually made Culpeper gentleman to the King’s Privy Chamber, giving him intimate access to the King, as the role involved dressing and undressing Henry and often sleeping in his bedchamber. He was part of the group of privileged courtiers who greeted Henry’s German bride Anne of Cleves when she arrived in England for her marriage.

From 1537-1541, Culpeper was given several gifts, including keeper of the manor at Penshurst Palace  and property in Kent, Essex, Gloucestershire, and WIltshire.

This close proximity to the King gave Culpeper free access to the Queen’s grounds and often came into contact with the Queen and her attendants. Thomas Culpeper was first introduced into Katherine Howard’s personal life in March 1541, when King Henry VIII went on a trip to Dover and left Katherine behind at Greenwich. At this time Culpeper began asking favors of Katherine, who was his seventh cousin, once removed. The private meetings between them are thought to have begun sometime around May of that same year.   By this time, Katherine already developed a close relationship with Lady Rochford, she trusted in her, so much, that used her as a shield of protection so she could meet in secret with Thomas Culpeper.  On these occasions only Lady Rochford and another lady-in-waiting, Katherine Tilney, were allowed entrance to the Queen’s chamber.

On June 30 Queen Katherine and King Henry VIII travelled north to York in the hope of meeting James V of Scotland. They arrived at Lincoln on August 9, where Culpeper met Katherine for another lovely and romantic secret meeting in her bedchamber. These meetings continued in Pontefrac Castle, after the court arrived on August 23. It is believed that the infamous letter Katherine sent to Culpeper was delivered during these proceedings. In this letter she wishes to know how he is and is troubled that he is ill:
Master Culpeper,


I heartily recommend me unto you, praying you to send me word how that you do. It was showed me that you was sick, the which thing troubled me very much till such time that I hear from you praying you to send me word how that you do, for I never longed so much for a thing as I do to see you and to speak with you, the which I trust shall be shortly now. That which doth comfortly me very much when I think of it, and when I think again that you shall depart from me again it makes my heart die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company. It my trust is always in you that you will be as you have promised me, and in that hope I trust upon still, praying you that you will come when my Lady Rochford is here for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment, thanking you for that you have promised me to be so good unto that poor fellow my man which is one of the griefs that I do feel to depart from him for then I do know no one that I dare trust to send to you, and therefore I pray you take him to be with you that I may sometime hear from you one thing. I pray you to give me a horse for my man for I had much ado to get one and therefore I pray send me one by him and in so doing I am as I said afor, and thus I take my leave of you, trusting to see you shortly again and I would you was with me now that you might see what pain I take in writing to you.

Yours as long as life endures,

One thing I had forgotten and that is to instruct my man to tarry here with me still for he says whatsomever you bid him he will do it.


These are the words of a girl in love, but in this case, a forbidden love.  This was indeed a sweet detail from one lover to another but in the case of Katherine Howard, it was serious proof of infidelity that in time would bring hell upon her young life.  Katherine was in love with Culpeper; but was he in love with her, truly?

Thomas Culpeper was a young man with a full knowledge of the world and an open interest in rise higher at court.  For some, he has his own political agenda.  He was like the shadow of the King, always flattering him and making sure he was comfortable and pleased.  He took care of all his needs, making himself necessary and loved by His Majesty. And now, he also shared the bed of his Queen; he was aware of her love for him,  He made himself also necessary for her in all the senses; he gave her the passion and lust the King was not capable of  give.  If we consider Culpeper’s selfish nature,  we can agree that Culpeper was most likely using this as leverage to gain power and control over the Queen herself, since he felt he already had control over the King, this for him was the last step to his success.

In her letter Katherine states that she longs to talk with Culpeper but does not mention any desire to be intimate with him. Clever from the Queen’s part, but not enough to keep her alive in the end.

The secret romance between Queen Katherine and Thomas Culpeper continued, with the help of Lady Rochford they were free to enjoy their passion with nothing to stopped them.  The Young Queen had a talent to hide her indiscretions, and since the King was blind with her shining beauty, for the lovers, there was nothing to worry about.  Katherine Howard thought herself magnanimous and untouchable; after all, she was the Queen of England.  But soon, her party would be over.

In a Queen’s household there are many eyes.  Servants that are supposed to take care of the needs of their mistresses with no complains, but, sometimes, when a servant notices that one of them has more advancement than he or she should have, questions comes to mind, and rumors to spread.  When Queen Katherine and Lady Rochford were absolutely sure that nobody was aware of their actions against the King; those around them that already had suspects about their strange behavior started to talk among themselves and with others outside the court.  Things started to get difficult for Queen Katherine when and old friend, Lady Joan Bulmer arrived with intentions of become one of Katherine’s ladies in waiting. The Queen refused at first, Joan was her childhood friend and companion in the Dowager Duchess’s household, which meant she knew all about her and her tempestuous past; but this fact was exactly what Joan used to make her long time friend reconsider, and finally she was welcomed and taken as Lady in Waiting.

Some time later, another friend… and former “lover” came to the picture.  Francis Dereham arrived to court, and ended serving in the Queen’s household as her personal secretary and usher.  He started to behave in an improper way in the presence of the Queen, he made abrupt comments, and he used to get drunk.  He once said openly in the presence of the Queen and her attendants that if the King died he was certain that Katherine would marry him. He also hinted at favors she had already granted him and aroused Culpeper’s jealousy. Dereham had a violent temper; he attacked another gentleman usher, John Fell, who had objected to his remaining seated at a table after the Queen’s Council had risen, and laid him out. It was fortunate for Dereham that this escaped the attention of his superiors. However, it would not be long before he was in more serious trouble than he could ever have imagined.

Secrets can not survive forever, and less when indiscretions are committed sometimes so openly that are too difficult to hide.  The Queen wanted to be more away from the King than with him, and strangely, Culpeper was eager to be working outside the range of sight of the King more than ever. Rumors were increasing and finally reached important ears, one of the most important, the ears of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.  Stories of the Queen’s premarital indiscretions had finally come to his attention; so he continued to listen and investigate. Thomas Cranmer had obtained his knowledge indirectly from John Lascelles, the brother of Mary Hall, who was a chambermaid to the dowager duchess of Norfolk and therefore a witness of Katherine’s past.  Lascelles was a ‘convinced reformer’ and acted motivated by his religious convictions not personal animosity towards Katherine Howard.  But she represented the conservative Catholic faction and, with her influence, they were growing more powerful and reactionary. He wanted to stop that at all cost.   Lascelles went to Thomas Cranmer and told him everything his sister witnessed and heard about Katherine’s behavior under the care of the Dowager Duchess. Lascelles recognized the dangers for Katherine, but he continued with his testimony against her, both, John and his sister Mary named the pre contract with Dereham that would invalidate her marriage to Henry VIII. The pre contract, of course, while ending her marriage, also excused her intimacy with Dereham.

On 2 November 1541, Henry VIII arrived to celebrate mass in the Holy Day Closet at Hampton Court. Waiting for him was a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury.  In that letter, Thomas Cranmer described in a very detailed form, all the news and reports about Queen Katherine’s low past.  Henry was reluctant to believe Cranmer’s report, that his young and virtuous wife could have been unfaithful.  Full of anger, the King left Hampton Court and the investigations began.  The Dowager Duchess of Norfolk was interrogated and eventually arrested in the Tower of London, many of the Queen’s ladies and maids were also sent to the Tower.  Soon, the Tower was full of members of the Howard family, and one morning, while the young and vivacious queen of England were in her chambers practicing dance lessons with her ladies, the royal guard of the King suddenly appeared, announcing her that by order of the King she was under house arrest, and that only Lady Rochford would remain in her service.  The Queen was desperate and in tears, she asked the Sergeant why this was happening to her, and his reply was a cold stare and a tense silence.  But in her mind she knew…and Lady Rochford too.

The chain of arrests continued… Francis Dereham was arrested on his way to the Queen’s chambers.  He was taken to the Tower and the process of interrogation began. It is reported that he was tortured unmercifully, but he only admitted that    he and Katherine had been pre-contracted. Since a pre contract was as binding as a marriage, and could be annulled only by an ecclesiastical court, this would render Katherine’s marriage to King invalid. Ambassador Marillac heard that ‘Dereham to show his innocence said that “Culpepper had succeeded him in the Queen’s affections’.   These words lead towards Culpeper’s arrest.  He  tried to save himself by arguing that he had met with Katherine only because the young queen was ‘dying of love for him’and “would not let him end the relationship”. A dashing lover don’t you think?  Thomas Culpeper later confessed that he “Intended and meant to do ill with the Queen  and that in like wise the Queen so minded to do with him”.  This sealed the fate of the Queen.

Unaware of what was going on in the Tower of London, with her  lovers under arrest  along with almost all related to the Howard line; The Queen was in waiting of news, those finally arrived, and they were devastating.  The council formally took away her title of Queen, and some of the King’s servants were sent to grab back all her jewels.  Katherine was in tears, and asked for a moment with the King, that she needed to speak to him. Once again she was forbid of that, but that would not stop her this time; she escaped her guard and ran towards the Chapel, she screamed to the top of her lungs, she begged the King for Mercy but soon she was dragged back to her chambers.  The King was not even there… but at least she had to try.

Now it was the turn of Lady Rochford, She was desperate and claimed that it was unfair to blame her for the Queen’s unmoral actions against the King.  She was also aware that for being “forced” to obey the Queen’s commands she could  face execution.  That intense fear provoked a breakdown in her, and days later, she stopped being herself., and was declared insane.

Autumm, 1541.  The King ordered the imprisonment of Katherine Howard on an Abbey in Middlesex.  There she was going to be interrogated by Thomas Cranmer and Members of the King’s Council.  Before leaving her beautiful and luxurious chamber, the charges against her were read by her Uncle, Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk:

My Lady Catherine Howard. You have been charged with treason. The grounds for this charge is that you entered into marriage with His Royal Highness, King Henry VIII having knowledge of a previous betrothal to both Henry Mannox and Frances Dereham. It is also stated that you employed these persons, here at the Palace, with the full intention of continuing this sordid lifestyle. You have, not only brought shame upon your name, but have grievously sought to destroy His Majesty the King. It will be in your best interest to admit to these crimes and plead for his mercy”.

Her reply was:

“I am innocent of all charges and will never admit to these lies. If there is any ground of truth in these statements, then it is because of childish ignorance and the evil companions with whom I was formally surrounded. I also seek to state, that I am faithful to the King and would never wish harm upon him. I will seek his mercy, but not by admitting to these treacherous lies”.


After that, The Queen started her walk towards the place that would be her prison.  Once there, she was questioned over and over,  For being so young, Katherine showed a great potential in the skills of protect herself.  Her answers were direct but with lack of substantial proofs.  She swore the relationship with Mannox was not fully consummated. ‘‘At the flattering and fair persuasions of Mannox being but a young girl I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require,”.  

During the process of interrogation, it was more than clear that her relationship with Francis Dereham was far more serious than it was expected before.    The Queen’s confession on the matter gave even more proof:

“Francis Dereham, by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose and obtained first to lie upon my bed with his doublet and hose and after within the bed and finally he lay with me naked and used me in such sort as a man doth his wife many and sundry times but how often I know not”.

However, not even the sorrow nor the exhaustion of the process made the young girl admit infidelity.  She protected herself as much as she could, and even placed the blame towards Lady Rochford; saying that it was her who first proposed that she as queen could be free of having a liaison with any men at court. She said that once, when she tried to “stop Culpeper’s love advancements” Lady Rochford told her: Sweet Little Fool, yet you must give men leave to look, for they will look upon you”.

After all this time, finally the process of interrogations ended.  And all the evidence was presented to the King.  He was devastated, humiliated and even threatened to kill Katherine himself with his dagger.  After composed himself, the King order the executions of all of them. Even for Lady Rochford, who was insane by the time. To destroy her salvation path, the King abolished the law that disallowed the execution of insane people, so she had no way to escape her fate.

The indictment, was then read to the Former Queen Of England:

Katharine, Queen of England, formerly called Kath. Howerd, late of Lambyth, Surrey., one of the daughters of lord Edmund Howard, before the marriage between the King and her, led an abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous, and vicious life, like a common harlot, with divers persons, as with Frances Dereham of Lambeth and Hen. Manak [Manox] of Streteham, and at other times, maintaining however the outward appearance of chastity and honesty. That she led the King by word and gesture to love her and (he believing her to be pure and chaste and free from other matrimonial yoke) arrogantly coupled herself with him in marriage. And the said Queen and Francis, being charged by divers of the King’s Council with their vicious life, could not deny it, but excused themselves by alleging that they were contracted to each other before the marriage with the King; which contract at the time of the marriage they falsely and traitorously concealed from the King, to the peril of the King and of his children to be begotten by her and the damage of the whole realm. And after the marriage, the said Queen and Francis, intending to renew their vicious life, at Pomfret, and at other times and places, practiced that the said Francis should be retained in the Queen’s service; and the Queen, at Pomfret, did so retain the said Francis, and had him in notable favour above others, and, in her secret chamber and other suspect places, spoke with him and committed secret affairs to him both by word and writing, and for the fulfilling of their wicked and traitorous purpose, gave him divers gifts and sums of money on the 27 Aug. and at other times. Also the said Queen, not satisfied with her vicious life aforesaid, on the 29 Aug, at Pomfret, and at other times and places before and after, with Thomas, late of London, one of the gentlemen of the King’s privy chamber, falsely and traitorously held illicit meeting and conference to incite the said Culpeper to have carnal intercourse with her; and insinuated to him that she loved him above the King and all others. Similarly the said Culpeper incited the Queen. And the better and more secretly to pursue their carnal life they retained Jane Lady Rochford, late wife of Sir Geo. Boleyn late lord Rochford, as a go-between to contrive meetings in the Queen’s stole chamber and other suspect places; and so the said Jane falsely and traitorously aided and abetted them.

Katherine remained silent at the moment.  All was lost, and even when if she were going to live or die was not yet determined… she knew that her existence as it was, was over.


On 10 December 1541, Dereham paid a horrific penalty for his ‘crimes’ against his Majesty the King; he was hung, drawn, and quartered (disemboweled and castrated while still conscious), like Starkey one said,”All for sleeping a few times with an attractive and willing teenage girl who at the time was not married”.  As a traitor, Francis Dereham suffered an agony that words can not describe.   Thomas Culpeper  was also executed that day, though he suffered a more merciful beheading; this was ordered by the king, perhaps because of Culpepper’s higher rank and personal service in his household.  Before he die, he simply asked the crowd to pray for him, and with one struck, he lost his head. Dereham and Culpeper’s heads were fixed on spears atop London Bridge and remained there as late as 1546.

The final fate of Katherine Howard remained unknown after the executions of Dereham and Culpeper.  It is reported that she had several breakdowns and moments when it was necessary to remove objects around her that she may use to took her own life.  Katherine was afraid, alone and with the certainty that the King would not spare her life.  She was aware that years before her…her cousin Anne Boleyn died for the same accusations.  Even when she was naïve… she knew that high treason and adultery was very difficult to forgive.  She wrote a final letter to the King, in this letter she made no admittance of her relationship with Culpeper, but she repeated exactly her confession related with her affairs with Mannox and Dereham. It seems she wanted to be true in what she said during her interrogation, in that way, she hoped to touch the King’s heart and maybe, stay alive:


I, your Grace’s most sorrowful subject and most vile wretch in the world, not worthy to make any recommendation unto your most excellent Majesty, do only make my most humble submission and confession of my faults. And where no cause of mercy is given on my part, yet of your most accustomed mercy extended unto all other men undeserved, most humbly on my hands and knees do desire one particle thereof to be extended unto me, although of all other creatures I am most unworthy either to be called your wife or subject.

My sorrow I can by no writing express, nevertheless I trust your most benign nature will have some respect unto my youth, my ignorance, my frailness, my humble confession of my faults, and plain declaration of the same, referring me wholly unto Your Grace’s pity and mercy. First, at the flattering and fair persuasions of Manox, being but a young girl, I suffered him a sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body which neither became me with honesty to permit, nor him to require. Also, Francis Derehem by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose, and obtained first to lie upon my bed with his doublet and hose, and after within the bed, and finally he lay with me naked, and used me in such sort as a man doth his wife, many and sundry times, and our company ended almost a year before the King’s Magesty was married to my Lady Anne of Cleves and continued not past one quarter of a year, or a little above.

Now the whole truth being declared unto Your Majesty, I most humbly beseech you to consider the subtle persuasions of young men and the ignorance and frailness of young women. I was so desirous to be taken unto your Grace’s favor, and so blinded by with the desire of worldly glory that I could not, nor had grace to consider how great a fault it was to conceal my former faults from your Majesty, considering that I intended ever during my life to be faithful and true unto your Majesty ever after. Nevertheless, the sorrow of mine offenses was ever before mine eyes, considering the infinite goodness of your Majesty toward me from time to time ever increasing and not diminishing. Now, I refer the judgment of my offenses with my life and death wholly unto your most benign and merciful Grace, to be considered by no justice of your Majesty’s laws but only by your infinite goodness, pity, compassion and mercy, without which I acknowledge myself worthy of the most extreme punishment.”


There was no reply for this letter, as it happened years before with her cousin Anne Boleyn, The king showed no mercy or yield in his decision to put an end to the traitors in his life… or those who had wounded him or simply were of no further use in his life.

The King was also suffering for all that happened.  Katherine was his hope for a new start; she represented the probability of recover his lost youth. Her vitality and endless energy filled him with life, desires, strength and wishes to be the King he was in his golden years.  With her treacherous actions she killed all that, and for him that was a wound too profound, something that would bring him pain until the day of his death.  She dared to do, what her cousin Anne never did to him.  For sure this was also a heavy weight for him to bear.  But he has to make a decision, of course, Lady Rochford had to die, even when she was not even herself anymore. But Katherine… what about her?  He knew she was just a child…but with a heart so twisted and a spirit so cruel that dared to betray him in the lowest way.   Only the echo of the chanting of the crows outside his window were the only sound that accompanied his sorrow.  Ambassador Chapuys, who knew King Henry for a long time, reported on December 3rd 1541:  “This King, has wonderfully felt the case of the Queen, his wife.  He has certainly shown greater sorrow and regret in losing her, than at his faults, loss or divorce of his preceding wives”. 

Henry VIII loved Katherine Howard in his own way, just like he loved the others… he seemed to love them according to their nature; he loved Catherine of Aragon with respect and devotion; he loved Anne Boleyn with passion, lust and desire, he loved Jane Seymour with kindness, tenderness and hope, In his way he loved Anne of Cleves, he learned to see her like a true friend, a sister that was willing to sacrifice her honor, just to set him free and obey his command.  Katherine Howard… Katherine was his desire to be the Henry he once was.  In many ways she gave him what her cousin Anne gave to him in the past… but with a new face, with a stronger spirit, and then  she broke his heart… and now she had to pay for that..

Finally, On Friday, 10 February 1542, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk,  took Katherine Howard to the Tower of London. She struggled and had to be forced aboard the barge. She repeated the story of her cousin Anne Boleyn, she walked on the same steps towards her cell in the Tower, of course, the “kindness” that was shown to Anne, was not given to her. She was in a common cell, alone, feeling the cold, the dampness, the strong sound of the wind across a window she was unable to reach, there was barely light around her…she felt in a tomb already.  On Sunday night, she was informed that she was going to die, on Monday, February 13th, in the morning.  She heard her sentence quietly…she did not even cry, she just listened.  She was told that members of the King’s council would accompany her, and lastly, she was asked if she wanted a confessor, she did not reply, and the Constable of the Tower took her silence as a no, and was ready to leave when she stopped him with a request:  “May I ask one favor?  Could you bring the block to me?  I wish to know how to place myself”.  Her wish was granted.  That night the block was brought to her cell, and she spent the whole night practicing how to place her head. It would be her last act on stage, she wanted to make sure that she would face her execution with dignity and as calmly as possible.

Hours passed, while Katherine was rehearsing for her execution, King Henry was having a sumptuous banquet with a dozen of beautiful young ladies.  Once again the King buried his feelings, guilt and remorse in the pleasures of his court.

Monday February 13th. It was cold, the sun barely appeared upon the mass of grey clouds and small layers of frost were covering parts of the ground. The black wooden scaffold was set exactly in the same spot where her cousin Anne Boleyn was executed, and a relatively large crowd was there, to witness the event. The Former Queen of England was dressed in a discreet black velvet gown, she looked thinner that she used to be, pale, fragile, but calmed and reconciled with her destiny.  Behind her, was Lady Rochford,  she was nervous and in tears, she knew she was going to die, perhaps the cold truth made her recover her senses, for the last time.  The Young Katherine climbed the steps of the scaffold, alone, her former lady in waiting, who soon would follow her towards the path of death stayed behind, looking up, silently saying goodbye to the queen she aided to doomed, and with that, destroyed herself in the process.   Katherine Howard looked around, she saw familiar faces…she saw commoners shedding tears for her.  The youth and the essence of innocence in the presence of Katherine perhaps made them forget the charges against her. For the wise people in the crowd, Katherine was just a victim of her young years, her lack of knowledge and the passion that is part of the nature of every human being.

Katherine took a deep breath… and with the dignity of a Queen, she addressed to the crowd, she made a short speech, she asked the crowd for forgiveness, she asked the crowd to pray for the King and herself.  She told them she knew that her actions guided her towards a just and worthy punishment, and that her case should have been taken as an example.  Indeed wise words for someone so young and naïve.

An eyewitness of her execution, explained all this in his own words:

I se the quene & the Lady of rotcheford suffer wt in the tower whos sowles (I doubt not) be wt god, fforthay made the moost godly christyans ends, that ever was hard tell of (I thinke) sins the worldes creation, uttering thayer lyvely faeth in the blode of Christe onely, wt wonderful! pacience & costancy to the death, & wt goodly wordes & stedfast contenance they desired all christen people, to take regard unto thayer worthy and just punisshement wt death for thayer offences, agenst god heinously from thayer youth upward, in breaking of his comandements, and also agenst the Kinges Royal maiesty, very daungerously: wherfor thay being justly condempned (as thay sayed) by the lawes of the realme & parlement, to dye, required the people (I say) to take example of them, for amendement of thayer ungodly lyves, & gladly to obey the kinge in all thinges, for whose preservation they did hartely pray, and willed all people so to do comending thayer sowles to god, & ernestly calling for mercy uppon him….”  

The legend that claims she boldly said that she die a Queen but that she would rather die the wife of Culpeper has no bases, so it is consider just a romantic folklore to add more drama to the tragedy of the young Queen.

After a moment of silence, she looked above, then down, slowly she kneeled before the block, as she practiced the night before, and with dignity she placed her head.  With just one blow of the axe man, Katherine Howard died.  A river of blood covered the block and the scaffold, all was in silence, while two of Katherine’s former ladies in waiting had the pity of being there to recover the head and later the body of their mistress, and accompany her to her final resting place.  Of course, they will show the same mercy to Lady Rochford.   Katherine’s headless body was carried away, dripping blood and finally placed in a cart of straw.

It was now the turn of Lady Rochford, she climbed the steps and with horror she saw herself stepping in the blood of the Queen; she had to place her head in it, because the block was totally covered in blood.  She looked terrified; but she decided to also speak to the crowd.  According to the French Ambassador, Lady Rochford gave a “Long Discourse”. While a merchant named Otwell Johnson, said that she “asked forgiveness for her many sins”.  After that, she kneeled on the puddle of blood that her mistress left behind; she placed her head on the bloodstained block and also with one struck of the axe, her head fell, and her own blood was mixed with the blood of the Queen of England, in an horrific end of a tragic story.

Katherine Howard…a young girl, full of life, with desires, passions and dreams to be loved and happy.  She followed the wrong way in her short existence.  She got blinded by the shine of gold and the sweetness of power; she was attracted by passion like a moth to the flame…and ended up burned.  Her ashes are the remembrance of how cruel the world was on her days… especially in higher places.  She was used and betrayed by those who were supposed to guide her and protect her.  She was a victim of her own nature, victim of circumstances, and of an era that was bounded to obey Kings… and destroy all that went against them.  The Rose without a thorn died… but her actions marked the life of a tyrant King… for eternity.




Mercy Rivera

Mercy Rivera is a popular short deep introspection fiction and non-fiction history writer composing in both English and Spanish. Mercy is also well known for her beautifully crafted historically themed videos.