You can’t read The Six Wives Of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser and NOT feel the worst for Katherine Howard out of all of them.
Granted, Anne got killed too, but at least she was smart and savvy and old enough to know what she was getting into.
Katherine Howard was just a ditsy, silly, unintelligent teenage girl in way over her head. That’s why her story is so sad.
If Henry had been one bit of the good Christian he claimed to be, he’d have just had her banished or sent to a convent.
That he insisted on her death basically tells you what a frigging sociopath he was.
Out of all the wives, Katheryn Howard tugs hardest at my heartstrings. She was such a sweet, tender-hearted girl. She tried so hard to be a good queen. Every one of her recorded actions during her reign is one of kindness… Instead of buying jewels and finery for herself, she used her privy purse to buy clothing for the elderly Countess Pole because she’d heard the old lady suffered from the cold in the Tower. She didn’t really know this woman – they certainly weren’t in the same social circles. And she’d get absolutely nothing out of assisting a prisoner deep in the king’s disfavor. But she did it anyway.
Likewise, she was kind to Princess Elizabeth. Yes, the girl was her cousin, but she was a bastard, and a female bastard was one of the most useless things on the planet. Also in the king’s disfavor, no one wanted anything to do with the child. But Katheryn took it upon herself to be kind to her, seating the girl across from her at dinner, and sending her gifts.
She interceded, too, for Thomas Wyatt, begging the king for mercy. Conor Byrne says she did this for at least five other people.
Henry killed her because she wasn’t a virgin when he married her. His famous tantrum when he screamed and demanded a sword to slay her himself came before the investigation found she’d been meeting with Thomas Culpepper. That was just icing on the proverbial cake. Adultery was never proven or even seriously alleged – just that she’d met with him with the intentions of continuing her “sordid life.”
Katheryn died because she broke the king’s heart and made him look like a fool. Henry was publicly proven not to be the expert on women he’d claimed to be, able to discern a woman’s purity from the firmness of her breasts.
It was why he passed the ridiculous law making it treason for a woman to conceal her sexual past when the king expressed an interest in marrying her.
She didn’t have to die for him to end his marriage to her and end any doubt about the legitimacy of future heirs. After all, his next wife was a woman believed to be infertile.
She had to die because he now hated her as much as he’d loved her. This woman he’d bragged was the perfect wife, for whom he thanked God he’d found after all of his previous marital turmoil.
He hated her so much that he didn’t even give her the mercy of the sword. After the hideously botched execution of Margaret Pole, Katheryn had to be terrified… and he knew it.
He kept her waiting for months to find out what he was going to do to her. Kept her isolated in in old nunnery with nothing to do all day but worry. No wonder Lady Rochford broke down under similar conditions in her own prison.
More than any of the other wives, Katheryn Howard was sacrificed on the altar of Henry’s ego. She died because of Henry’s sexual jealousy. (Executing Dereham, whose only crime had been sleeping with an unmarried girl years before she met the king was just petty and spiteful.)
History has compounded this cruelty by making her the wife who “deserved it.” Dismissing her as an empty-headed twit, interested only in jewels and dancing and boys.
But the truth is that she – like many of Henry’s other queens – was chosen for a role she never sought, tried to make the best of it and be a good queen, and was destroyed because of Henry’s ugly personality.