Friday, April 21, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-Catherine Howard-The Midlife Crisis Queen

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII is an eight part series outlining, you guessed it, the wives of Henry VIII. It updates every Thursday.


Image result for catherine howard
Catherine as painted by our dude
 Hans Hoblien
If we were to introduce the wives of Henry VIII a la Great Comet, we would sing 'Catherine was young', because Catherine 2.0 was very young, most likely a teenager when she married Henry. The exact date of her birth was never recorded (The Howards had a lot of kids, alright?), but it is estimated to be around 1521, making her barely more than twenty when she was executed in 1542.Catherine was, by all accounts, pretty, flirtatious, and full of energy. After Anne of Cleves, Catherine would have been a fresh breeze through Henry's life. However, contemporary accounts also agree that she was silly, poorly educated, and somewhat free in her *ahem* "affections", which made her a piss poor choice of a wife for Henry.

Catherine had been raised in the household of her grandmother, the Duchess of Norfolk, who had more grandchildren on her hands than she knew what to do with. Catherine's childhood was largely unsupervised, leaving her almost completely uneducated. She was vulnerable to the sexual advances of her music teacher, the much older Henry Mannox. Catherine swore that their relationship was unconsummated, but said that:

"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..."

By modern standards, what Henry Mannox did would be considered, at the very least, statutory rape. While the standards of the 1500s were different than today, Henry Mannox preyed on a young girl who was physically and emotionally vulnerable.

Following Mannox, Catherine later took up with Francis Dereham, with whom she had something of an understanding. There was nothing written down, but they had a verbal pre-contract to marry, and, like many couples of the era who intended to marry, they engaged in sexual relations. Dereham later left for Ireland, and Catherine changed her mind about their arrangement. This would come back to haunt her when Dereham extorted her for a position in her household.

Henry was nearly 50 at the time he married her, which is a little late for a midlife crisis, especially given the life expectancy of the 1500s, but if Henry lived today, not only would he have married Catherine, but he'd also probably be losing weight and buying a motorcycle, or a shiny red sports car. Catherine was a dramatic departure from everything he'd ever valued in the women in his life previously. To explain, I made you a crappy Ven Diagram
Why is the background checkered Irene? Why aren't the circles colored in Irene? Why aren't the circle's circular Irene? Why is the yellow circle bigger than the blue circle Irene? Why are the lines so thick Irene? I don't know. I'm technologically challenged. Shut up.

Gosh I love Ven Diagrams.

So, if you're looking at this and wondering what on earth Henry and his advisers were thinking, well, I am too. Catherine was completely unsuited to become queen. She was immature and reckless. She hadn't been raised in the English court, so she hadn't seen the rise and fall of Henry's first two wives. Catherine was completely out of her depth. There's only two really good reasons for why she married Henry. They are:

  1. Catherine was the granddaughter of the Duke of Norfolk, and Norfolks would kill for power.
  2. Henry was a horny, lecherous old man, who should have known better, but decided to ignore all common sense and marry her anyways.

Given the evidence I've provided, I think we can all agree that marrying Catherine Howard was a HUGE MISTAKE. A mistake Henry grew to regret.

See, Catherine was, as I mentioned, young and flirtatious. She liked the king, sure, but he was old and fat, and possibly very bad in bed (see the history headlines article below). Can you blame a teenage girl for wanting to hang out with someone her own age? Someone who didn't have an ulcerated leg, and a bad temper?

Image result for old henry viii
Horny, lecherous, old man who should know better.
Catherine certainly didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with entertaining a bit of stuff on the side. She started up an affair with Thomas Culpeper, who was, by all accounts, a terrible person. They carried on for quite a while, to the point that the entire court knew, but Henry was willfully ignorant. He refused to see any of Catherine's shortcomings, referring to her as his 'rose without a thorn'. There's no doubt that he idealized Catherine, and this blinded him to reality. He might have spent the rest of his life in ignorance, except the Protestant faction at court (who hated the Catholic Catherine) shook Henry by the shoulders, and made him see reason (just kidding, they slipped him a letter in church. I do not recommend touching Henry VIII without his consent.).

Henry was devastated to the point that he was ready to kill Catherine himself. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, and Catherine was merely placed under arrest.

Here's another instance where Catherine's youth and ignorance worked against her. She was under arrest, and had no idea what to do. Her family were distancing themselves from her, and she had no advisers. And though Thomas Crammer, the archbishop who interrogated her, did his best to point out that her pre-contract with Francis Dereham could potentially save her life, she just didn't quite get it. She ended up confessing to sleeping with Dereham.
Image result for catherine howard
This is the image used on the Catherine Howard
page for PBS' 'Six Wives of Henry VIII'. I feel
like some vital pieces of history, like age
may have been misunderstood in the
casting process.

What comes after that mirrors what happened to her cousin, Anne Boleyn. Catherine was taken by barge to the Tower of London, and later beheaded.

Catherine was the shortest lived of Henry's wives, probably no more than twenty when she died. She was completely and totally unfit to be queen, and this wasn't entirely her fault. She had no idea what she was getting herself into, and, as a victim of CSA, was already predisposed to risky sexual behaviors. Her greatest legacy is her alleged haunting of Hampton Court . She was just a blip on Henry's marital radar, and her story is, perhaps, the saddest of all.

Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Part Seven   Part Eight

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