Execution of Katherine Howard~13th February 1542
The letter that sealed her fate......
Katherine Howard was the fifth wife of Henry VIII, and Queen of England, from 1540-1541.
Katherine's exact date of birth is unknown, but she is believed to have been born sometime between 1521 and 1525, in Lambeth, London.
Her parents were Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper.
Her father's sister, Elizabeth Howard, was the mother of Anne Boleyn.
Therefore, Katherine and Anne were first cousins, and both were nieces to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk.
Katherine came to court, as lady-in-waiting to Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anna of Cleves.
As a young, attractive and vivacious girl, Katherine quickly caught Henry'e eye.
Her youth, prettiness and vivacity were captivating for the middle-aged Henry, who claimed he had never known "the like to any woman".
Within months of her arrival at court, Henry bestowed gifts of land and expensive cloth upon Katherine.
Henry called her his 'very jewel of womanhood' and whether he called her his 'rose without a thorn' has been considered a myth.
Henry and Katherine were married on 28th July 1540, on the very same day that Cromwell was executed for orchestrating the disastrous marriage of Henry to Anna of Cleves.
She was a teenager and Henry was 49.
Catherine adopted the French motto "Non autre volonté que la sienne", meaning
"No other will but his".
Henry indulged her every whim, and she used this to her advantage.
Her love of parties, dresses, furs and jewels, overshadowed any Queenly duties, she should have been undertaking.
In 1540, Katherine got involved with Henry's favourite male courtier, Thomas Culpeper.
In a love letter, Culpeper had called Catherine "my little, sweet fool", and by 1541, they were meeting in secret.
Jane Boleyn, wife of executed George Boleyn (and Anne Boleyn's brother) was allegedly arranging the secret liasons between Culpeper and Katherine.
People who claimed to have witnessed her earlier sexual behaviour while she lived at Lambeth, reportedly contacted her for favours in return for their silence, and some of these blackmailers were appointed to her royal household.
Mary Lassels reportedly refused to become a part of Queen Katherine's household, stating that she had witnessed the "light" ways of Queen Katherine while they were living together at Lambeth.
When Archbishop Cranmer heard of Mary's refusal to join Katherine's househol, he immediately set to interrogating Mary.
Mary claimed that Katherine had had sexual relations before her relationship with the King, with many men.
Cranmer immediately took up the case, Lady Rochford was interrogated, and as she feared that she would be tortured, she agreed to talk.
She told how she had watched for Katherine backstairs as Culpeper had made his escapes from the Queen's room.
During the investigation a love letter written in the Queen's distinctive handwriting, was found in Culpeper's chambers.
Other than her confession - this is the only letter of hers that has survived.
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!"
Katherine was stripped of her title as queen on 23rd November 1541, and imprisoned in Syon Abbey, Middlesex, where she remained throughout the winter.
On 10th December 1541, Culpeper and Dereham were executed for treason.
Culpeper was beheaded and Dereham was hanged, drawn and quartered.
According to custom, their heads were placed on spikes on London Bridge.
On 29th January 1542, a bill of attainder was made, which made it treason, and punishable by death, for a queen consort to fail to disclose her sexual history to a king within 20 days of their marriage, or to incite someone to commit adultery with her.
No formal trial was held.
On Friday 10th February 1542, the Lords of the Council came for her, she allegedly panicked and screamed, as they manhandled her into the barge that would escort her to the Tower.
Her barge passed under London Bridge, where the heads of Culpeper and Dereham were impaled.
Katherine's execution was scheduled for 7:00 am on Monday 13th February 1542.
The night before her execution Katherine is believed to have spent many hours practising how to lay her head upon the block, which had been brought to her at her request.
She died with relative composure, but looking pale and terrified, she required assistance to climb the Scaffold.
According to popular folklore her last words were,
"I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper"
No eyewitness accounts support this, instead reporting that she stuck to traditional final words, asking for forgiveness for her sins and acknowledging that she deserved to die "a thousand deaths" for betraying the king, who had always treated her so graciously.
She described her punishment as "worthy and just" and asked for mercy for her family and prayers for her soul.
Katherine was then beheaded with one single stroke of the executioner's axe........
Jane Boleyn was executed immediately thereafter on Tower Green.
Both bodies were buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula, where the bodies of Katherine's cousins Anne and George Boleyn also lay.
Katherine's body was not one of those identified during restorations of the chapel during Queen Victoria's reign.
In all probability, it is likely that because Catherine's bones were still young, they could have perished over time.
She is commemorated on the memorial on Tower Green.
The letter to Culpeper.
It closes with Yours as long as lyffe endures, which has often been perceived as evidence of an affair between the two.
The documents held at The National Archives indicate that Katherine Howard made the unforgiveable mistake of trying to deceive the king.
Even though she might have been forced into certain sexual liaisons and in spite of the fact that she showed repentance, Katherine paid the price, with her life.