Picture source http://tudorhistory.org/howard/gallery.html
I have written extensively on Katherine Howard in my “Inspirations from History” series, so please do feel free to check that out.
On this day in history, 13th February 1542, the young Katherine Howard and Lady Jane Rochford were beheaded upon Tower Green where 6 years earlier Katherine’s Cousin and Jane’s sister in law had lost her head. But why were these two executed, the young Katherine who was once Henry VIII’s “Rose Without A Thorn” and a woman who had been part of the Boleyn circle?
We all know the story of course, young Katherine Howard and her affair with Thomas Culpeper; with their rendezvous being helped along by the apparently scheming Lady Rochford – and an incriminating letter from Thomas Cranmer being found by Henry VIII in his chapel pew. Because of this letter Katherine’s pre-marital activities came to light resulting in the arrest of Dereham and Mannox and of course Thomas Culpeper. All three were executed for their part in the affair and it is said that on her way to the Tower she passed beneath the heads of these men which were on display on Tower Bridge. Did she see them? Was it like in Showtime’s The Tudors when Katherine saw the severed head of Culpeper and broke down? Probably not.
The night before her execution, Katherine asked that the block be brought to her prison room in the Tower so she could practice how to place herself properly. It seemed she wanted to make sure that in her last moments, she knew exactly what to do and act composed.
The next morning, on Monday 13th February 1542 Katherine made her last walk to the scaffold where she made her final speech. Folklore states that she spoke the following “I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpeper”. This is completely apocryphal and was not spoken at all. Execution speeches had to follow a set script as it were, and this sort of thing would not have been done. Following her speech, she laid her head on the block and it was removed in one swift stroke. She was followed out by Lady Rochford, the woman who had helped her in her trysts with Culpeper. She had gone mad whilst imprisoned and Henry had to pass a special law allowing the insane to be executed for treason. Yet as she faced the crowd, the axe and the remains of the former Queen being wrapped ready for burial she seemed composed and was able to give a final speech before she too, lost her head.
Both women were buried in the nearby Chapel of St Peter Ad Vicula, where today their resting places are marked with simple tiles. Previously those buried there lay forgotten, including Katherine’s cousin Anne Boleyn, until Mary I had Katherine’s act of attainder reversed as it never bore the signature of the King. Now visitors can see the final resting place of the young Queen. When I visited last year I found the little chapel to be very moving, knowing especially that this young woman was buried there, this woman who was vilified for so long as a whore, an adulteress. Personally I see her as a naive girl, pushed into marriage with an aging obese king, and I think she did what she did because she needed to feel loved. You can of course read more on this in my previous post on Katherine which goes into much more detail (and is much much longer!)