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Sunday, February 13, 2011

In Memoriam...Katherine Howard

Today in 1542 Henry VIII executed a second wife, his infallible "Rose Without a Thorn" Catherine Howard.  My heart goes out to this child who walked out to her death on Tower Green on a cold February morning.  She had been abandoned by her husband, what little family she had, and her lover Thomas Culpepper had been executed.  She was truly alone, and left the world with a reputation as a harlot. 

Lady Jane Grey was executed in the same spot several years later, on February 12 1554, completing a trio of queens executed on the lawn of the royal palace turned prison.  Jane left this world under Henry's fanatical daughter Mary, and died with the reputation of a sainted martyr.  She too, however, was alone.  Her husband had been executed and her parents had gone back to the country, leaving her to die.  Her father, fool that he was, more or less brought down the axe on her head by trying to raise a second rebellion in her name after she was imprisoned and Mary had been declared queen.

Two girls, near to each other in age, who died a day and 12 years apart in the same spot, and yet they were so different, but found themselves in similar situations.  Catherine had a reputation as an empty-headed wanton and Jane was a pious scholar.  Both were trapped in marriages that they probably did not want, at least in the sense of loving their husband.  I think (and this is just my opinion) that Catherine loved Henry in some sense, but not with the passion and exhilaration that a young girl feels when they first fall in love.  That first blush of infatuation and the crazed things that teenagers will do for it most likely was not for Henry, but for Culpepper, Catherine's alleged lover.  Jane was forced into marriage by her ambitious parents and married Guilford Dudley, the son of Edward VI's chief counselor.

But this article is not about Jane, it's not that I do not feel sorry for her or do not admire her faith and strength to the very end, but Jane was all that she should be as a young woman of her time.  She was learned, obedient, and a faithful protestant. She  had lived for a time with Katherine Parr, Henry VIII's last wife and had been educated for several years with her royal cousins, Edward and Elisabeth. She was an exemplary young woman and her death was a tragedy.

Catherine Howard, however, was not all that she should be.  She was raised by her grandmother, the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and was quite experienced in the love of men for her young age.  Some say she was sexually abused, which perhaps she was, but girls married and became mothers at such a young age in Tudor England that perhaps she considered herself of an age to experiment sexually.  At any rate, she was young and pretty and most likely wanted attention from men as her own father had left her to be raised by the Duchess upon the death of her mother.  Today we talk about the importance of a father figure in a young girl's life, and we know that without that guiding influence many young girls seek attention in all manner of unhealthy ways.

I'm not sure that Catherine was empty-headed either.  Though we will never know one way or the other, I think she was a typical teen, and she still possessed the idea of "it won't happen to me."  Teenagers today think that pregnancy won't happen to them, that car accidents will not happen to them, that alcohol poisoning will not happen to them.  They think this because they are so young, and death is such a foreign idea to them.  The mind of an adolescent is till growing and changing, so rational thought is not always something they have the ability to produce.  Catherine simply thought she would not be caught when she had an affair with Culpepper.  She was probably in love, and felt that she would do anything to be with him.  Who among us cannot remember sitting by the telephone, praying that it will ring and that special boy or girl will be on the line?  The euphoria that came with that phone call beat out all other feelings did it not?  I'm sure it was the same for the doomed young queen, contact with Thomas thrilled her, and she threw caution to the wind.  Poor child, she thought her crazy, tyrannical husband would forgive her anything, that he adored her that much.  She was wrong.  She should have taken the example of her cousin Anne to heart.  A wife that caused trouble for this king, especially in any way that unmanned him had only one fate.  Death.  The video below shows Anne Boleyn's spirit watching over Catherine, and I like that idea.  If Anne was with her, then she was not alone.

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