Meet the Wives Handbook: Catherine Howard

Ultimate Fate

After admitting her relations with Dereham and Culpeper (see King Vs. Queen), Catherine Howard was banished to Syon Abbey where she would remain for two months. Her rich clothes and jewels were confiscated. On November 22, 1542, the title of queen was also taken from her. Catherine was terrified but at least she was not in the Tower, where her cousin, Anne Boleyn was sent to await her fate. She held out hope that the king would forgive her.

Meanwhile, evidence against Catherine continued to build as her lovers and other witnesses were interrogated. Dereham and Culpeper were questioned and tortured. Her ladies-in-waiting, terrified of being implicated, betrayed their mistress and provided damning evidence.

In January 1542, with the king's consent, parliament passed a Bill of Attainder condemning to death Catherine Howard and her lady-in-waiting, Lady Rochford, who had assisted the queen in her affair with Culpeper. Though the king never signed the bill, the royal seal was placed on the document to signify his assent. A few weeks later, a frenzied, struggling Catherine was taken to the Tower of London, where many of her family were already interned. Catherine's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk escaped this fate by abandoning his niece and begging for the king's mercy.

The night before she was to be executed Catherine requested that the executioner's block be brought to her so that she could rehearse for her final appearance as queen. Throughout the night, Catherine practiced placing her head on the block, determined to die with dignity and composure. At around seven o'clock on Monday, February 13, Catherine was escorted to the scaffold. She was so weak she could barely stand, but managed to make a short speech in which she admitted she was justly condemned. She prayed for the king and asked for God's mercy. A few moments later, the king's "rose without a thorn" was beheaded -- with a single stroke. Catherine's body was taken to the nearby Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where she is buried near Anne Boleyn. She was not yet 18 years old.

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