Sunday, February 13, 2011

Question from Merlin - A Katherine Howard "what if"

Another question re Katherine Howard- or more of a "what if?" really.

I've sometimes wondered- if Katherine hadn't had something going with Thomas Culpepper, and Francis Dereham had stayed in Ireland rather than returning to England and cashing in on Katherine's good fortune, what would Henry have done when the news of her earlier romance with Dereham broke? Would he have proceeded as he did (perhaps on a charge of presumptive treason for failing to disclose her lack of virginity and possible pre-contract)? Would he have had the marriage anulled on the basis of the probable pre-contract and banished Katherine from court? Or would he have forgiven her and instructed Cramner to issue some sort of "after the fact" anullment of the pre-contract with Dereham? I'd be interested to know what you think.

1 comment:

Marilyn R said...

I have been studying Katheryn's step-grandmother, Agnes Tilney, for some time now, together with the rest of the residents of Norfolk House in Lambeth arrested with her, and have been sidetracked into spending more time on Katheryn herself than I had expected.

I think, and this is only my own opinion, that at this time in his reign Henry could have done anything he liked regarding his fifth wife and would have met with little opposition. I suppose that once he found out she was not as pure as he had thought he might have felt the need to put her aside, his pride and 'honour' having taken a knock. But I wonder if all really was as wonderful between them as it seemed in the autumn of 1541, after 16 months of marriage.

When he was ill the previous spring Henry had not wanted to see Katheryn; was he already growing tired of this slip of a girl with whom he had little in common, and who showed no sign of producing more sons for him? Had he already begun to wonder how he might move on? He did have a tendency to tire of his wives fairly early on in their marriages and cast his eyes elsewhere, and now, in increasingly poor health, he must have realised that time for fathering more sons was running out for him.

Eustace Chapuys, Ambassador in London for the Emperor Charles V, wrote a gossipy letter to the Queen of Hungary on 10th November, as the news of Katheryn’s fall from grace began to leak out,

'Wrote [to you] last Lent that this King, feigning indisposition, was 10 or 12 days without seeing his Queen, or allowing her to come in his room, during which time there was much talk of a divorce; but owing to some surmise that she was with child, or else because the means for a divorce were not arranged, the affair slept till the 5th inst [5th November]'

We have to take what this man says with a pinch of salt: his master was Katherine of Aragon’s nephew and the Ambassador had done his best to fight the original Katherine’s corner. Also, Henry’s illness that spring had been real enough. But does the fact that he mentions other people gossiping about a divorce earlier on in the year indicate those closest to the King had noticed that the marriage made in heaven was, after less than twelve months at that stage, no longer quite so heavenly?

At the beginning of 1542 Henry perked up considerably after the First Reading of the Bill of Attainder that was designed to legalise the sacrifice Katheryn's young life, and by the end of January was actually paying attention to the wife of Sir Thomas Wyatt, who had repudiated her for adultery but been forced by the King to take her back! Chapuys wrote to Charles V

‘She is a pretty young creature, with wit enough to do as badly as the others if she were to try.’

I am not a Henry admirer and have never had much interest in Katheryn Howard up to now, but, if anything, her story convinces me what a pathetic excuse for a human being Henry VIII really was.