Meet the Wives Handbook: Catherine Howard

Role as Queen

Qeen for a mere 18 months, Catherine Howard, who grew up poor, would be best remembered for her love of luxury and pleasure. She enjoyed the masques and balls at court and danced with men while Henry, unable to partner her, looked on. She relished being indulged by her husband and basked in the attention she received from everyone at court. Anne of Cleves, now known as the king's "sister," visited Catherine and knelt before her with gifts. In one instance, the two women danced the night away while Henry, with his abscessed leg retired to bed.

Catherine's husband was not only generous to her but to her family. Henry would name Catherine's brother a member of the Privy Council. In return, Catherine, although not in love with Henry, was affectionate and caring towards her generous older husband. She shared her bed with the obese king who was observed always "marvelously excessive in eating and drinking."

When the ailing king was depressed and irritable, Catherine dutifully attended him. She ignored the pus-oozing ulcers on his leg and the smells it emitted. In time, the king would have reprieve from his bad leg and went out riding and hunting.

Unlike her cousin Anne Boleyn, Catherine did not meddle in Henry's political affairs and displayed no interest in religious issues. Her most assertive moment came in the spring of 1541 when she helped two prisoners held in the Tower of London.

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, an elderly noblewoman of Plantagenet stock with a valid claim to the throne, had been imprisoned for nearly two years and suffered through harsh winters without adequate clothing. With Henry's permission, Catherine sent the countess a variety of warm clothes, all purchased at her own expense.

The queen also bravely asked Henry VIII to pardon the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt, a former admirer of Anne Boleyn. Wyatt, a frequent Tower prisoner, had been incarcerated for his association with Henry's former secretary, Thomas Cromwell, who has fallen out of favor for his role in engineering the king's marriage to Anne of Cleves and had since been executed. At his wife's request, Henry pardoned Wyatt, but insisted that he reunite with his estranged and unfaithful wife.

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