Catherine Howard’s precise birth date is unknown but is believed to be between 1518 and 1523 in Lambeth, London to parents Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper.
Catherine’s mother died when she was quite young and she was sent to live in the household of her step-grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. There was very little supervision given to Catherine’s behaviour at this time and in many respects, she was allowed to run free.
Although she did receive an education and was able to read and write, lessons were never taken particularly seriously. The one lesson she did enjoy was music and she started a relationship with her music teacher Henry Mannox in 1536.
Her age around this time would have most likely been about 13 or 15.
Although Mannox, many years her senior, may have been practised in the art of seduction, Catherine was herself known to be flirtatious, giggly and silly and there is little doubt that she also would have pursued Mannox.
When this relationship was discovered Catherine claimed that it had not been consummated although she did allow him to touch her. She never seemed to have any concept of the possible repercussions of her actions.
In 1538 Catherine started an affair with Francis Dereham, Secretary to the Dowager Duchess, and this affair was most definitely consummated.
When the affair came to the attention of the Dowager Duchess it was ended forthwith and Dereham was sent on business to Ireland. It is believed that Catherine and Dereham had an agreement to marry on his return, but by the time he did so, Catherine was already at Court.
Catherine’s uncle the Duke of Norfolk found her a position as lady-in-waiting to Henry VIII’s fourth wife Queen Anne and it was here that Henry first noticed her.
She had a personality that was vivacious and she exuded a sexual allure that she used to attract men. It did not take long for Henry to become besotted.
Before he had even finalised his divorce from Anne, he had chosen Catherine to be his next wife. He was so infatuated with her that he lavished gifts on her including land and property that seemed so excessive as to be foolish.
Catherine, first cousin to Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn married Henry VIII on 28 July 1540.
Although she had married Henry, Catherine preferred the attention of men her own age. Henry was 49, morbidly obese and suffering with an ulcerated leg which affected his walking; even so he still thought he was attractive to young women.
It is possible that she enjoyed Henry’s company but not in the marriage bed. It did not take long for the young Catherine to seek male favours away from her marriage.
In early 1541, she started an affair with the courtier Thomas Culpeper and once set on this course her life started to spiral out of control. She was contacted by various people who knew about her past indiscretions and promiscuous behaviour and she was bribed into providing them with sexual favours to guarantee their silence. She was essentially prostituting herself.
She also made her former lover Francis Dereham her Personal Secretary, a mistake that would come back to haunt her.
Less than a year into her marriage rumours of her infidelity began to circulate for she was less than discreet regarding her affair with Culpeper.
John Lascelles a Protestant reformer received information from his sister Mary Hall who worked in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household, regarding Catherine’s promiscuity and her affairs with both Culpeper and Dereham.
Lascelles reported this information to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who then wrote to Henry. Initially he was unwilling to accept Catherine had been unfaithful, but he agreed for further investigations to take place.
Dereham was arrested and under torture he admitted having an affair with the Queen prior to her marriage to Henry but denied any sexual behaviour with Catherine since the wedding.
He did however name Culpeper as her current lover, who arrested and also under torture admitted his affair.
Dereham and Culpeper were executed at Tyburn on 10 December 1541.
Their severed heads were placed on spikes at London Bridge for all to see.
Catherine had also been arrested on 12 November 1541 and imprisoned at Syon Abbey in Middlesex. During her trial both Henry Mannox and her ladies-in-waiting testified against her.
She had the opportunity to provide evidence that would have invalidated her marriage to Henry, but she denied that there had ever been any agreement of marriage with Francis Dereham.
She was executed on 13 February 1542 at Tower Green and buried near to Anne Boleyn at the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London.