It’s a question as old as time – ‘Why was Henry VIII such a dick?!’
Well, we’re looking to find out! Join us for an exploration into how new neurological research could explain why Henry VIII was a tyrant (and massive dick)
Put on your theory cap, as we explore the reasons why Henry VIII might have been a tyrant.
It’s a question as old as time – ‘Why was Henry VIII such a dick?!’
Well, we’re looking to find out! Join us for an exploration into how new neurological research could explain why Henry VIII was a tyrant (and massive dick)
Mary I has been remembered by history as ‘Bloody Mary’. The woman who burned her own people alive, ruthlessly lead her country into pointless religious upheaval and basically turned England into a clusterfuck of sadness and fear. But was Mary really that bad? Let’s find out!
Now I’m sure we can all (hopefully) agree that the beheading of an innocent teenage girl isn’t a winning start to your Queen career.
It is however worth pointing out that it’s more than arguable that Mary’s hand was forced in this; with continual attempts to make Jane queen and Mary’s hold on the throne more than shaky, Jane was way to dangerous to keep alive.
Yet Mary really didn’t want the teenager to die. Desperately attempting to spare Jane’s life by trying to diagnose Jane as pregnant (Jane wasn’t pregnant FYI and she was pretty pissed at Mary trying to get her internally examined)
In the end Mary saw no way out. For her to be Queen (and also alive!) heads had to roll.
Sadly, logic (however bleak!) does not prevail when you’re faced with a headless innocent 16 year old who is immediately martyred. And so starts the story of the woman labeled one of history’s biggest bitches.
The first born child of Henry VIII, Mary grew up in a happy little bubble. Her dad loved her, her mum (Catherine of Aragon) loved her; she was intelligent and her future was looking pretty damn bright. And then the divorce hit.
If you have divorced parents, then I’m sure you understand how rough a divorce can be on a child. But just incase, lets break this down:
Imagine that your dad is so desperate to divorce your mum he invents a whole new religion to do it (which btw turns your strict catholic upbringing on its head!). Then dad ships mum off, to essentially live in exile.
Then new mummy (Anne Boleyn) makes it clear that she’d be more than pleased if you and your mum were executed, but as that’s not happening any time soon, you’ll be stripped of your titles and made to basically serve your new baby sister (Elizabeth).
Oh…and then your dad stops speaking to you, your mum dies (obvs you’re banned from seeing her on her death bed) and then to top things off, new mummy is beheaded.
Somehow Mary turns out ok. She is super overly religious (Catholic of course, because fuck Dad’s new home wrecking religion!) and not a ton of fun, but she’s also determined, smart and a functioning adult. It could have been worse!
Mary and her dad start talking again and by the time he dies she is once more a Princess and eligible to the throne – should her brother die…
And what do you know, he does die!
Once Lady Jane Grey is out the way, Mary ascends the throne aged 37. The people are happy, Mary is happy, it’s all good. Well, apart from a few small problems.
You see, Mary was determined to return England to Catholicism, this can’t happen with Mary’s half sister Elizabeth (a protestant!) next in line to the throne. But as Mary was unmarried with no kids, Elizabeth was almost guaranteed the crown. So Mary set out to get herself a man….and so began her many problems
Mary quickly snagged herself a hot (and crucially, catholic) betrothed – Prince Philip of Spain. Sadly, for Mary, the English people hated him.
The English did not like Spain, it was foreign and they did not get on with it at all. They were certainly not happy with having a new foreign King telling them what to do and wanted nothing more than for Philip to pop back on his little boat and kindly fuck off back to Spain.
Worse than this casual xenophobia, the protestants were uprising. Afraid of what this catholic power couple would mean for them, a rebellion soon sprung up.
Life lesson: if your marriage causes a literal revolt, maybe have a little rethink.
Obviously Mary got married anyway. She was determined to get married, get up the duff and save England from the protestants and restore Catholicism. Fuck popularity, this was the lords work.
So a few months into her reign and Mary had ‘get a husband’ crossed off her to do list. Now all she needed to do was pop out a baby…easy right?
In Tudor England it was a woman’s job to have babies. In fact, it was a woman’s only job: Have all of the babies…ideally boys.
It seems simple but Mary knew differently. She had seen countless women fail at this, her mother included and she knew that without an heir, any work she did would be for nothing.
The pressure was very real.
And then it happened. Mary fell pregnant.Her stomach grew, she felt her baby kick, she even had the joys of morning sickness. But the baby never came.
Mary was so desperate for a baby that her mind had created one for her.
It’s now believed that Mary was suffering from pseudocyesis, a rare condition where a person experiences the symptoms of pregnancy, believing themselves to be pregnant, when there is no child. The condition may be caused by trauma (which for Mary would make sense!) and is treated with ongoing intensive therapy.
But Tudor doctors didn’t know about pseudocyesis, or therapy. Mary was on her own.
The fear that Mary must have felt is just incredible. She would have felt like she was both losing her grip on reality and her power. So it’s no surprise then that Mary doubled down on her third problem:
Mary believed that the only way to bring England back to Catholicism, was to publically punish protestants. She invoked old laws to persecute popular protestants (bishops, arch bishops, preachers, you name it!)
During her short reign, just under 300 people were sent to the stake for the crime of not being catholic. That’s, innocent men, women and children, all burned alive.
No matter what her intentions and reasoning, no matter how hard Mary believed she was actually ‘saving’ these souls, burning people alive is unforgivable. It’s beyond not ok.
And yet…. Mary wasn’t the only one to burn her people.
Her Dad (Henry Vlll) brother (Edward Vl) and sister (Elizabeth l) all also burnt subjects at the stake and the reasoning for many of these deaths religion based.
This isn’t to excuse anyone’s actions – it’s too point out that everyone was a dick when it came to this and that this ‘punishment’ was pretty standardized for the era (yeah; turns out Tudor England is a pretty crap place to live)
On the whole, Mary was actually a lot less execution happy than the rest of her family! With her Dad raking up more executions per year on average than Mary did.
In fact, Mary pardoned a lot of people (more than anyone else in her family!) believing in reprieves and forgiveness, she was known to offer many a last minute pardons as people were about to be executed.
Look, it’s time we dropped the ‘Bloody Mary’ label.
In history we have a habit of labelling, especially when it comes to women. In the tudor era alone we’ve had callous six fingered bitch Anne Boleyn, sex kitten whore Katherine Howard, Virgin Queen Elizabeth; we know that when we dig beneath the labels we find something so much more interesting, and actual person!
So was Mary evil? No. Now, she wasn’t lovely either – you wouldn’t want to get a drink with her (mainly because I reckon she’d drone on when drunk). Mary was a person, she had a troubled childhood that shaped her, a history of mental illness and dogged determination that led to so much heartache. She’s an interesting woman and well worth another look.
This was interesting! Where can I find out more? I’m going to suggest, Anne Whitelock’s Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen, it’s a thoughtful read and tries to understand why Mary had her world view.
Anne of Cleaves has a historically bad rap, this is in no small part because she will forever be remembered as Henry VIIIs ‘ugly’ wife; ‘the Flanders Mare’. Which seems pretty bullshit:
Anne was an incredibly amazing and accomplished woman, she was smart, shrewd and is far and away the wife I’d most like to have a pint with (sorry Anne B)
Anne grew up the awkward middle child, both on Europes political stage and at home.
Princess to a small and only occasionally useful duchy, Anne was told that the only thing she would ever achieve was to be a good-ish wife.
Her older sister was a famous beauty who was soon married off, her younger sister was also beautiful and witty, her older brother was an arsehole, but a semi-successful one…and Anne was just there, under the family thumb, getting on with her wife studies and waiting to be told what to do and where to go.
Sadly for Anne, Her family decided the best place for her was on the arm of this ass hat
Henry VIII was on the hunt for wife number 4. With one wife divorced and essentially exiled, one beheaded and one dead, his dating profile wasn’t great. So it’s unsurprising that Europes princesses weren’t exactly tripping over themselves to marry this obese ageing megalomaniac.
But that wasn’t an issue for Annes family!
Anne and her younger sister had portraits taken and sent to Henry (sort of like ye olde Tinder)
Henry was immediately taken with Annes portrait and the description of her. Sure enough, Anne was picked to be Henrys bride and her passage to England was set.
For her part, Anne was thrilled. Finally she’d get away from her oppressive family and get to live her own life!
But there were issues. For one, Anne couldn’t actually speak English, which is a bit of a worry when you’re off to go be Queen of England. She also didn’t know anything about music or dancing, which were Henrys favourite past times. Plus she hadn’t actually been raised to be a Queen.
Sure, she was a Princess and yes she’d been raised to be the best darn wife she could be…but she was princess of a tiny duchy and only ever expected to marry a Duke or maybe a low level Prince. Being Queen of one of the worlds biggest powers was a different thing entirely!
But Anne wasn’t a quitter. She spent the long journey to England trying to pick up the language and customs and learned games that Henry liked. She was aiming to wow!
And then she got there….
Henry was both a tyrant and a romantic, a combination that basically guarantees dickery.
True to dick form, he decided to don a disguise to meet his new bride, sure that their love would be so strong, she would immediately see through the rouse and leap into his arms.
Instead Anne patiently ignored the overweight sweaty man as he pawed at her and tried to get her attention. She was waiting to meet the King and neither wanted to engage with or offend this new unwanted admirer.
And then the guy kissed her and Anne stepped back in shock. Because, well you would. This was too much for Henry. He threw off his disguise and stormed out the room, leaving a confused Anne in his wake.
The damage was done, the marriage was in ruins before it even began.
Still though, the Henry and Anne had to tie knot! The wedding was set, Henry well versed in what to do and well…it would have been embarrassing not to.
But the pair didn’t consummate the union.
Rumours soon spread that Anne didn’t actually know what sex was. She told her ladies that she had ‘laid’ with the King and thought she might be pregnant – despite openly acknowledging that the two had just kissed.
This is where the question comes in:
Look, cards on the table – yes it is likely that Anne wasn’t, er…as well versed in sexual conduct as she should have been.
She came from a strict and religious upbringing and it is very likely that her mum neglected to tell her about the birds and the bees as much as she should have done, especially considering her daughter was being shipped off to go make babies.
This aside though, I reckon Anne was pretty bloody on it!
Anne knew that her marriage was heading for the rocks. She understood that this was a very dangerous situation and that if not careful she would possibly be dead or ruined in a few months time.
So Anne played the game. She learnt from past players mistakes (she wouldn’t argue back or push for reform and change like Anne B and Catherine. Though she shared a lot of their personality traits (determined, spirited and vocal) Anne worked hard to play this down for the volatile King Henry.
This will be the only time I ever say this, but…doing absolutely nothing was the best thing she could have done!
Being docile and impassive guaranteed her survival. Perhaps that’s not making any inspirational posters, but it’s true and it worked…
That’s not to say Anne didn’t occasionally show her true self. Once when discussing Henrys daughter Mary and her marriage prospects, Anne was (gasp) open and frank in her opinions.
This didn’t go down well and soon Henry was loudly complaining about Anne’s stubborn and wilful nature.
After this incident Anne made sure to double down on her docile rouse and soon She looked on track to escape this marriage with her head. Win! But that wasn’t the only thing she wanted.
Anne hadn’t known independence before coming to England. She had been strictly under her Mum and brothers control.
She had thought that marrying the King of England would be the shot at independence that she had longed for…but instead she’d become a shadow of herself as she tried to appease a tyrannical super dick.
With this marriage coming to a close, Annes future was up in the air.
The English court was soon full of gossip, Would Henry find her anouther husband? Would she live the rest of her days as a nun? Perhaps she’d be sent back to her family?
Not on Anne’s watch! She had no intention of once more living under anyone else’s rule.
Anne was determined to finally be an independent woman.
Though she was expecting it, Anne was still devastated when she was told Henry wanted a divorce. There was a lot on the line and suddenly everything felt very real.
But she quickly regained composure and determined to not repeat Catherine of Aragons mistakes, Anne complied with all of Henrys wishes.
However she was resolute on staying in England. She had started to realise the full level of her disgrace should she return to Cleves and genuinely feared that her brother may kill her in retaliation for her failure as a wife.
Shit was very real and time was running out.
Henry demanded Anne send him her written agreement to his offer of a divorce. But Anne needed more time to think and make sure she was completely safe…so she refused Henry Vlll. Steadfast that she would only speak to the King in person.
It was a big gamble, but it paid off. The marriage was annulled (saving Anne from divorce and offering her a little bit of dignity) she also received a generous lifelong yearly pension and the new title of ‘Kings Sister’; her status at English court would be higher than any other lady.
With her place in English court locked down, Anne made one more brave decision.
This was – to put it mildly – a fucking ballsy move.
In Tudor England an unmarried woman was a cause for pity, a divorced and unmarried woman was a cause for pity, scorn and a side of ‘what’s her problem?’
But Anne didn’t care what anyone thought, she wanted her independence. So she ignored the whispers and wore her new title of ‘kings sister’ with humor and grace.
She visited court regularly and became a popular and beloved figure. She was given land and property, where she set up a home for herself and spent the next 17 years living the life she chose.
This was really interesting, how can I find out more? Now, I’ve never found a book on Anne that truly digs deep and does her the historic justice she deserves. But I live in hope, Josephine Wilkinson did an incredible -and waaaay overdue – book on Katherine Howard last year, so maybe one day we’ll get the Anne C book of our dreams.
Until that day, I’d suggest reading Six Wives by Alison Weir. It’s a great place to start getting more in depth looks at all of Henry Vllls wives.
Jane Boleyn was a bitch – or so history tells us
Centuries on from her execution she remains one of the most vilified figures in history. Opinion of her can be pretty much summarised by Historian C Coote:
Aww remember the good old days when historians could openly celebrate the brutal execution of people…
Cootes opinion isn’t a one off. You see, Jane is famed with bringing about the downfall and eventual execution of her husband George Boleyn and his sister, Anne Boleyn. With Jane giving false evidence which led to Anne, George and 4 other courtiers execution.
And it’s not only that! Just a few years later Jane would be embroiled in yet another royal scandal; aiding and abating the treasonous affair between Thomas Culpepper and Henry Vllls young wife, Katherine Howard. This was a scandal Jane couldn’t survive and she, Culpepper and Howard all met with the executioners axe.
It’s all this that had made Jane Boyleyn history’s favourite conniving bitch.
But is that right? Does Jane deserve to be vilified by history? As historic research keeps getting better, we’re seeing more and more cracks in what we know about Jane Boleyn. What was once hard fact is starting to look fictitious. Which raises the question – did Jane Boleyn actually do any of the things she has been demonised for?
Let’s find out!
The most common story tells us that spiteful and jealous, Jane gave false evidence that sealed the fates of Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn and 4 other unfortunate courtiers.
Jane told the court that Anne was having affairs all over the place…even with her brother. This effectively nailed down 6 people’s coffins.
Here’s the thing: the facts on this one are pretty bloody shaky at best! There’s little surviving evidence in both sides of the argument.
Which makes working out if Jane did effectively kill 6 people, detective work to the extreme.
We know that several of Anne’s ladies were asked to give evidence at her trial. To refuse was not an option (unless you fancied joining the rest of your pals at the execution block) Jane was part of this number.
We also know that during the trial one of these ladies gave false evidence that Anne and George had a more than platonic relationship. But no name is given as to who this woman was.
In the account of Imperial Ambassador Chapuys, the only description of the woman is this:
Super helpful Chaps!
But don’t worry, at his trial George Boleyn mentions the woman who sealed his fate, so maybe theres something useful there:
‘Woman’ ….yeah not that helpful either George.
So, left without a name or a description, how the hell can we possibly work out who gave this evidence?
Well we can hazard a guess at who would have been most likely to be privy to this kind of information.
On that level, it’s not looking great for Jane.
As sister in law and confidant she would be best placed to hear of/witness an affair – but remember the evidence is false – so the question is this: though Janes neck is quite literally on the line here, would she lie to this extent when:
The families of people convicted of treason didn’t tend to live out the rest of their days skipping through a field of daisies.
Yes, execution really was the worst punishment. But the potent decades of shame, poverty and even prison that the families of the accused had in store was also pretty shitty.
With her husband and sister in law convicted of treason in such a scandalous way, Jane stood to lose a lot.
The Boleyns high position of power, their titles and lands all disappeared overnight and as she and George hadn’t popped out a son she wasn’t entitled to his fortune.
Jane did get to keep her title (Viscountess Rochford) but without a place at court, lands or a fortune it was kind of useless.
It should also be noted that Jane wrote to George when he was awaiting his execution. And his reply didn’t contain the words:
In fact his reply was nice, which suggests he didn’t blame Jane for his death.
George and Anne’s Dad also appears to have been in the same camp; arranging a yearly small pension for Jane.
Armed with this pension, Jane convinced Thomas Cromwell – the Kings right hand man and key player in the Boleyn downfall – to offer her financial and social support. With this in place, she returned to court and started to try and claw her way back into a good position.
Her hard work paid off and Jane served Jane Seymour until Seymours death and then her successor, Anne of Cleeves.
She started to get back in Henry’s good books, performing a role in Seymours funeral and giving evidence to help Henry divorce Anne of Cleeves (because being nice to Henry Vlll involves a lot of deaths, wives and court proceedings.)
But then all Janes hard work turned to shit.
As she had with the two previous Queens, Jane also served Henrys new young bride, Katherine Howard (who was a relative, through Jane’s marriage to the -deceased- George Boleyn)
Jane quickly become Katherines confidant and soon the two women became embroiled in a secret so great that it would end both their lives.
The story goes that Jane and Katherine worked together to hide the new Queens relationship with one Thomas Culpepper. A favourite of the King and Katherine’s cousin. with Jane acting as secret keeper and go between.
But the relationship didn’t stay in the shadows for long. Katherine and Culpepper were caught and accused of adultery. Soon they, along with Jane, were sent to the Tower of London to await their fate.
Now, hiding a Queens affair seems like a monumental fuck up on Janes part and hardly fits in with the behavior of someone trying to regain the Kings favour and move on from their scandalous past.
But as with everything in this story – it’s not that simple!
To summarise: Katherine had a hidden past of sexual abuse; a past that would put her marriage at risk if Henry ever discovered it. It’s likely that Culpepper discovered this and was blackmailing Katherine (for sex, for power, etc.)
Culpepper was not a nice guy, he was a known rapist and murderer and volatile as fuck. Basically not someone you want to be around.
So maybe Jane got involved in the situation because she wanted to gain the trust of the new Queen, maybe she just felt bad and wanted to help. whatever it was that led her to make that choice, once Culpepper knew of Janes involvement it would have been near impossible for her to back out.
Personally I think this really puts pay to the picture of Jane as a master manipulator.
Jane entered an obviously dangerous situation, where the gains in no way outweighed the risks.
Unless Jane just lived for the drama, it seems very unlikely that she got involved due to a machiavellian lust for power and more likely that she made one bad decision and the situation spiraled beyond anyone’s control.
Either way Jane ended up in The Tower of London facing execution and under this intense stress she had a severe mental breakdown.
Or did she? Because one theory that has followed Jane through history is this:
This really fits the cunning bitch narrative, but yet again, is based around literally no evidence.
We do know that Jane had a full on breakdown in the Tower. Completely breaking away from reality, everyone around her became deeply worried about what was going on with her mental health. From the guards to her family; they all agreed that Jane was very unwell.
However there’s no evidence that suggests this entire mental break was a cunning rouse.
Jane was eventually removed from the Tower of London and cared for by members of the court in their home.
However Henry wasn’t letting her off that easily! It was against the law at the time for a person suffering ‘madness’ to be executed. But that wasn’t going to stop Henry ‘I invented a religion for a divorce’ Vlll.
Henry Vlll changed the law just so Jane Boleyn could be executed – I mean, I guess you have to give Henry props for determination.
And so on 13th February 1542, Jane Boleyn was beheaded inside the Tower of London alongside Katherine Howard.
As with her life, Jane’s execution managed to create it’s own mythology, with Jane tearfully apologising for her role in the deaths of Anne and George Boleyn (she didn’t and yet again, there is no evidence that she did)
Wow this was really interesting where can I find out more? I would suggest checking out Julia Foxes book ‘The True Story of The Infamous Lady Rochford.’ It’s a great deep dive and has a good pace.
Catherine Howard is widely known as the dumb wife, the spoiled bimbo wife, the promiscuous wife. The one who got what she deserved.
Now I’m not saying the rest of Henry Vllls wives don’t have wildly unfair labels attached to them – of course they do. But I’d argue that Catherine’s current historic portrayal is both demonstrably sexist AND hides her incredible true story. A girl who was tormented with sexual assault, blackmail and was constantly used as a puppet for more powerful men’s plans. YET grew up to be determined, ballsy and full of life.
It’s time to get to know the real Catherine. So let’s start by knocking down some of the misconceptions around her.
This sits across almost all historic interpretation of Catherine Howard, including those by noted historians. Though Alison Weir offers a sympathetic view of the young Queen in her book, Six Wives, she still sees her as ’empty headed’. Whilst Suzannah Lipscomb describes her as ‘a stupid girl’.
This trend also crops up in more fictitious offerings, with Phillipa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance portraying Catherine as vacuous and thoughtless. And let’s just take a quick look at how shes shown in pop culture smash hit, The Tudors:
For her time Catherine Howard was educated as well as any woman was expected (or could be hoped) to be.
She was proficient in household skills, dancing, needlework and music. Put bluntly she was educated in a way that was suited to her gender and class.
Is she is less educated than Henrys other wives? Yes.
Catherines cousin Anne benefited from an education at European courts, Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleeves were educated as European Princesses and Katherine Parr was extremely fortunate in having a mother who valued girls education.
But Catherine Howard was never expected to be royalty, she was never expected to be high up in court, the most she was expected to accomplish was a good marriage and her education was the best a woman in her position could hope for. If anything Catherine Howard’s education is the most similar to Henrys favourite wife Jane Seymour.
In fact when Catherine becomes consort she rather cannily models herself after this beloved late wife.
She learns from the mistakes of her predecessors and becomes ‘the rose without a thorn’. Catherines motto ‘no other will but his’, takes what Henry sees as Jane Seymour’s best traits but makes them her own.
She’s submissive and sweet but also more charming, charismatic and vivacious than Jane could ever have been. This is not the move of a teenage bimbo but rather the calculated work of a determined and intuitive young woman.
Acclaimed Historian Lacey Baldwin Smith called Catherine Howard a ‘common whore’ also writing that ‘there never was such a whore’ as she.
And you can see why history loves this portrait of Catherine! It’s just so juicy! A beautiful and promiscuous young woman pulled up to the highest position in the land. Her aging husband gifts her with wealth, comfort and security and she repays him by sleeping around with his most trusted servants and friends.
It’s a story as old as time…but it isn’t a true one.
Now w jnow that Catherine had sexual partners before marrying Henry Vlll. However modern evidence shows that these early relationships were not romantic whirlwinds but deeply traumatic experiences, based in neglect, emotional abuse and were most likely forced.
That’s right, Catherine Howard was a victim of sexual abuse (feeling bad yet?)
When Catherine was around 12 Henry Mannock was employed as her music tutor. Mannock took a liking to his young student and started attempting to seduce the pre-teen.
Catherine turned down his initial advances stating ‘I will never be naught with you and able to marry me you be not’. Still Mannock continued his persuit and eventually Catherine gave in, giving her tutor permission to touch her ‘secret parts’ in hopes this would placate him and he would ‘desire no more’.
It didn’t work.
Mannock continued to abuse his position of power over Catherine. Actually boasting to friends that he had been with her so much that he knew of a secret mark on her body.
Finally Catherine’s Grandmother (who she was living with at the time) found out about the ‘affair’ and ordered that Mannock never be alone with Catherine. But not before beating Catherine for flinging away the great commodity of her virginity.
But despite the threat of Mannock being extinguished, there would be no respite for Catherine.
When Catherine was 13, Francis Dereham, a man of low but noble birth was installed as ‘Gentleman Usher’ in the house. Meaning that he was essentially Catherine’s boss. (Warning, its going to get really bleak again)
Though Dereham started affairs with other girls in the house his attention soon turned to Catherine Howard. Once more the young girl resisted and denied consent. Once more she was ignored.
There are accounts of Dereham lifting Catherine’s dress past her naval so he could get a good look at her body. It didn’t stop there, Dereham had a key that allowed him access to the quarters where Catherine and the other girls slept, and using this he frequently ‘lay’ with her.
Soon the pair formed a relationship of sorts, Catherine allowing the affair to go forward under the promise that one day Dereham would marry her.
Dereham did not marry Catherine.
He eventually left, returning to Catherine’s life only when she became Queen. Using their prior relationship as leverage to force himself onto her privy council – in doing so helping to set up both their demises.
so I hear you say:
I mean have you seen her husband?
Look – there is no concrete evidence for an affair between Henry Vlll’s servant Thomas Culpepper and Catherine Howard. However, it is widely accepted that an affair of sorts probably did happen or would have happened eventually (yes it is that super vague and complicated)
For the sake of argument (and ease) let’s say the affair did happen – what does that say about Catherine’s decision making skills?
Look – You do not want to be married to Henry Vlll. Fact. He is a categorically crap husband, especially at this time of his life.
Prone to volatile outbursts and mood swings, he also has a scary amount of power at his disposal (hello one executed wife and Thomas Cromwell his most trusted advisor beheaded on the same day as Catherine and Henrys wedding) oh and he also his a gaping leg wound – just for added sex appeal.
Now imagine being Catherine, a teenager with little experience of Court and a string of abusers behind you. Now married to the King of England, who also happens to be a tyrant. I’d argue that’s a slightly precarious position.
Enter Thomas Culpepper.
Was Catherine finally about to get the knight in shining armour she deserved? Nope! Guess what – Thomas Culpepper was also a dick! Not just any dick though…he was a rapist AND murderer!!!
Prior to meeting Catherine, Thomas Culpepper was accused of raping a park keeper’s wife (whilst serval of his men held her down) and then when people from the local village tried to apprehend him for this crime, he murdered one of them – but don’t worry, Henry Vlll pardoned him for both the rape and the murder, because hey, boys will be boys.
Culpepper’s contemporary, George Cavendish, described Culpepper as violent, disorderly and arrogant. So essentially an all around stand up gent.
Yet, Culpepper rose quickly at court, and soon becomes one of Henry Vlll’s most vaulued servants.
Around 1541 Culpepper started taking particular notice of Catherine Howard. This date is important because it is also when Francis Dereham blackmailed his way into being on Catherine’s privy council.
It is very likely that Culpepper caught wind of Dereham and Howards previous relationship (because Dereham had a fun habit of telling people all about it).
And it’s also worth noting that around this time the aging Henry Vlll falls very ill and it is looking more and more likely that he may die.
So it’s more than arguable that Culpepper took all of this and used it to his advantage; using knowledge of Dereham and Howards sexual past to gain leverage to meet with the young Queen in private and start to position himself for power come Henry’s death, (perhaps even as the former Queens new husband), through a mixture of flirtation and blackmail.
The dates fit in with this theory, as does what we know about the kind of man Culpepper was.
When both Catherine and Culpepper are arrested for their potential affair, both are quick to point the finger at the other.
Culpepper admitted to intending to do ‘ill with the Queen’ but made it clear that Catherine Howard seduced him.
This -again- seems unlikely.
Catherine made a point that her servant, Jane Rochester, was in attendance at every private meeting she had with Culpepper. Serving as both a guard and a witness.
If you’ve heard Jane Rochesters name before, that’s because she was married to Anne Boleyn brother, George. Jane witnessed Anne’s downfall and it was suspected that she provided information that helped send her husband and sister in law to their deaths. So then why would Catherine put a potietial informant in prime place of witnessing treason, if she was the initiator of a sordid affair?
Then there’s the infamous love letter from Katherine to Culpepper. I’m inclined to agree with historian Retha Warnicke’s reading which tells a tale of blackmail rather than passion. Katherine’s wording seems tense and desperate to placate Culpepper, particularly around the ‘promise’ he has made her – most likely a promise to withhold information about her sexual history.
Catherine Howard was so much more than her historic portrayal until now has allowed her to be. And it’s important that as this new evidence and understanding of Catherine’s abuse is acknowledged, we don’t let history rebrand her, from ‘the slutty one’ to ‘the tragic victim’.
Catherine Howard was a victim of sexual abuse, but she was so much more than that. She was brave, determined and fiesty. Thurst entirely unprepared into a perilous position, Catherine didn’t shrink away, but embraced it. Learning from the Queens that came before her and shrewdly turning their mistakes into her road to glory. She learnt how to manage a tyrant and until her abusers caught up with her, it looked like Catherine would be the Queen that survived Henry VIII.
In a Me Too era, Catherine’s story not only needs to be told, but celebrated.
This was interesting, how do I find out more: I’d suggest checking out Josephine Wilkinson’s book: Katherine Howard, The Tragic Story of Henry Vlll’s Fifth Queen. It’s a good starting off point; a thorough read and not so heavy you need an encyclopaedia and pack of highlighters to get through it.