Meet the Wives Handbook: Catherine Howard

Love Life

By the time Catherine Howard married Henry, she was already sexually experienced (see Trouble Alert). Her pre-marital affair with Francis Dereham and with Thomas Culpeper during her marriage would bring about her downfall and execution. Henry, in contrast, was completely devoted to Catherine and so in love with her that he never suspected his unfaithful wife.

The Queen's Lovers

Francis Dereham

At the age of 13, Catherine fell in love with Dereham, a gentleman in the service of her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Dereham visited Catherine in the girls' dormitory at Lambeth, reportedly lying on her bed, kissing Catherine, and, according to servants' tales, indulging in "puffing and blowing." Catherine and Dereham called each other "husband" and "wife," exchanged love-tokens, and were once reportedly caught by the duchess kissing passionately. As Catherine would later state in her confession, Dereham "used [her] ... as a man doth his wife." Their relationship, however, cooled after Dereham left for Ireland on business and Catherine began her career at court. Once Catherine became queen, Dereham wasted no time getting back in touch with the woman he considered his common-law wife. When Dereham asked Catherine for employment, she panicked, feeling blackmailed, and foolishly appointed him her private secretary. Dereham was over-familiar with the queen and aroused jealousy by those at court who felt that Catherine was giving him preferential treatment. Dereham had hoped to renew their relations, but Catherine already had a new lover -- Thomas Culpeper.

Thomas Culpeper

Catherine first met Thomas Culpeper, a distant cousin and member of Henry's Privy Council, while she was still maid-of-honor to Anne of Cleves. Once Henry began his courtship of Catherine, however, the pair's relationship came to an end. But their separation would not last. By spring 1541, Thomas and Catherine were back together again, as shown by the love letter Catherine wrote to Thomas that year (see In Her Own Words). Cheating on the king was a tricky business and Catherine needed a loyal confidante to shield her from inquisitive courtiers. To do the job she recruited one of her ladies-in-waiting -- Jane, Viscountess Rochford, Anne Boleyn's sister-in-law, who had accused her husband of incest with Queen Anne.

While Culpeper and Catherine rendez-voused in the queen's rooms, Lady Rochford stood watch. Disaster nearly struck one night when, at Pontefract Castle, the king unexpectedly arrived at Catherine's apartments, but Lady Rochford had taken the precaution of bolting the queen's doors from the inside to prevent anyone from entering unexpectedly, and calamity was avoided. Nevertheless, Catherine and Thomas's affair would soon be discovered and since adultery against the king was treason, the two -- along with Lady Rochford -- would perish.

Thirteen/WNET PBS