Today in history, King Henry VIII had one of his wives put to death.
Catherine Howard (c. 1518–1524 – 13 February 1542), also spelled Katherine, Katheryn or Kathryn, was the fifth wife of Henry VIII of England, and sometimes known by his reference to her as his "rose without a thorn".
Catherine's birth date and place of birth are unknown, but are occasionally cited as 1521 or 1525, possibly in Wingate, County Durham. The new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gives her date of birth as anywhere between 1518–1524. Catherine married Henry VIII on 28 July 1540, at Oatlands Palace, in Surrey, almost immediately after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves was arranged. However, she was beheaded after less than two years of marriage to Henry on the grounds of treason for committing adultery while married to the King. Catherine was the third of Henry's consorts to have been a commoner.
When Henry had his marriage to Anne of Cleves annulled on 9 July 1540, rumours swirled that Catherine was pregnant with his child. Their quick marriage a mere three weeks after the annulment, reflected Henry's lifelong urgency to secure the Tudor succession by fathering healthy, legitimate sons, especially since he only had one, Edward. Henry, nearing fifty and expanding in girth, showered his young bride with wealth, jewels, and other expensive gifts. War with France and the English Reformation had cost Henry much of his people's goodwill, and he suffered from a number of ailments. Catherine's motto, "Non autre volonté que la sienne", or, "No other will but his", supposedly reflected her desire to keep Henry, an ailing man three decades her senior, content. At this point in his life, the King weighed around twenty-one stone (about 140 kilograms, or 300 pounds), and had a foul-smelling, festering ulcer on his thigh that had to be drained daily.
Early in 1541, Catherine embarked upon a romance with Henry's favorite male courtier, Thomas Culpeper, a young man who, according to Dereham's testimony "had succeeded [him] in the Queen's affections", and who Catherine had considered marrying during her time as a maid-of-honour to Anne of Cleves. The couple's meetings were arranged by one of Catherine's older ladies-in-waiting, Lady Rochford, the widow of Catherine's cousin, George Boleyn, the brother of Anne Boleyn.
Catherine and Henry toured England together in the summer of 1541, and preparations for any signs of pregnancy, which would have led to a coronation, were in place, indicating that the royal couple were sexually active with each other. During this time, however, a crisis began to loom over Catherine. People who had witnessed her indiscretions at Lambeth began to contact her for favours in return for their silence, and many of them were appointed to her household. Most disastrously, Catherine appointed Francis Dereham as her personal secretary, at the urging of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. This miscalculation led to the charges of treason and adultery against her two years after her marriage to the King.
By late 1541, the northern progress of England had ended, and Catherine's indiscretions had become known to John Lascelles, a Protestant reformer whose sister, Mary Hall, had been a member of the Dowager Duchess' household; Mary had been a witness to Catherine's sexual liaisons. Lascelles presented the information to Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and one of Henry's closest advisors. At first, Henry disbelieved the allegations, thinking them fabrications made by Lascelles and his sister. Nonetheless, he requested that Cranmer should investigate the matter further. Within a few days, corroborative proof was found, including the confessions of Dereham and Culpeper after they were likely tortured in the Tower of London. Cranmer also discovered a love letter to Culpeper in Catherine's distinctive handwriting, which is the only letter of hers that still survives, other than her confession
Catherine was stripped of her title as queen on 23 November and imprisoned in Syon Abbey, Middlesex, throughout the winter of 1541. Culpeper and Dereham were executed at Tyburn on 10 December 1541, Culpeper being beheaded and Dereham being hanged, drawn, and quartered. According to custom, their heads were placed on top of London Bridge. Many of Catherine's relatives were also detained in the Tower with the exception of her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, who had sufficiently distanced himself from the scandal by writing a letter on 14 December to the King, excusing himself and laying all the blame on his niece and stepmother. All of the Howard prisoners were tried, found guilty of concealing treason, and sentenced to life imprisonment and forfeiture of goods. In time, however, they were released with their goods restored.
The night before her execution, Catherine is believed to have spent many hours practising how to lay her head upon the block, which had been brought to her at her request. She died with relative composure, but looked pale and terrified and required assistance to climb the scaffold. She made a speech describing her punishment as "worthy and just" and asked for mercy for her family and prayers for her soul. According to popular folklore, her final words were, "I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper," although this is widely discredited. Catherine was beheaded with a single stroke, and her body was buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where the bodies of her cousins, Anne and George Boleyn, also lay. Henry did not attend.
Catherine's body was not one of those identified during restorations of the chapel during Queen Victoria's reign, but she is commemorated on a plaque on the west wall dedicated to all those who died in the Tower.