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A British postal stamp commemorating King Henry 8th showing Catherine Howard, one of his many wives

Catherine Howard: Biography

Image Credit: Andy Lidstone / | Above: A British postal stamp commemorating King Henry 8th showing Catherine Howard, one of his many wives

Catherine Howard, born in 1521, was first cousin to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife, and niece to the Duke of Norfolk.

Catherine was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, one of the younger brothers of Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, who was Anne Boleyn's uncle.

She was raised in the household of the Duchess of Norfolk and, at the age of 19, entered the court of Henry VIII as lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of the king.

She was an attractive, lively spirit and Henry VIII noticed her immediately. Henry was unsatisfied with his marriage to Anne of Cleves from the outset, and his obvious interest in Catherine spurred her uncle, Thomas Howard, to overthrow Thomas Cromwell and place his niece on the throne at the same time.

In fact, Cromwell lost his head just a few days after the king's fourth marriage was annulled on the grounds of non-consummation, while Henry wed his fifth wife 16 days after the nullification of the marriage.

Henry VIII and Catherine were married on 28 July 1540 - it was Henry's fifth marriage. Henry was almost fifty years old and far from his former vigorous self, while Catherine was no more than 19 years of age. However, his relationship with the lively, youthful Catherine even temporarily brought him ease from the pain caused by ulcerated legs caused by a jousting accident in his youth.

The marriage was happy for almost a year, but tension soon grew as Catherine sought the company of younger men. Rumours spread quickly in the Tudor Court and, by September 1541, Archbishop Cranmer felt it his duty to inform the King of the suspicions raised against his wife.

Henry refused to believe the allegations, so genuine was his affection for Catherine, but more damning evidence emerged proving her promiscuity - and even that she was not a virgin when marrying the King. Henry was devastated.

Early in 1541, Catherine embarked on an affair with courtier Thomas Culpepper, helped by her lady-in-waiting Jane Rochford, the widow of George Boleyn. She went on a summer tour with the king while preparations were being made for her coronation.

Rather disastrously, Catherine also appointed Francis Dereham as her personal secretary, who had been her lover before her marriage to the king.

Her behaviour was treasonable and, on 13 February 1542, Catherine Howard had her head chopped off, just like her aunt, Anne Boleyn, at the Tower of London. She was only twenty-one years old.

The ghost of Catherine Howard is thought to frequent Hampton Court's Haunted gallery where she was dragged back screaming to her rooms while she was under house arrest as she wanted to plead with her husband.