Katherine Howard ,a Tudor mystery

.I  have more or less finished a Catherine Howard outfit so I thought it would be nice to explore both Catherine’s life and character as well as the controversy surrounding alleged portraits of her .I also discovered  a portrait that I had never seen before and which I dont think has entered the possible portraits list before and would love feedback on the image  (I mention it halfway done the page )

First the portraits

I have had problems with a “look “for  Katherine Howard as there’s no reliable image of her that all historians agree on.I opted for a hybrid of two possible  images.

This miniature which I am not entirely convinced by ,as though it’s definitely a queen that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be Catherine


and this sketch


The dress in the sketch seems to have straight sleeves but there’s a very similar portrait which has recently emerged and is claimed to be Catherine /Katherine Howard.

kath howard

There are so many similar portraits to both this and the sketch  that I feel the dismissal of this  longer full size portrait of a woman as that of  Catherine may be premature

NPG 1119; Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard after Hans Holbein the Younger

This gown shows a similar dress with an identical hood even to the chin strap which is very rare in french hood representations .It also shows a woman of similar looks to all the other portraits and the sketch.

There is in addition a  19thc miniature in the royal collections  labelled as Mary Tudor (Henry’s sister ) that looks very like these paintings right down to the hood and jewellery while the lady seems to look much younger and more Catherine’s age which was either late  or mid teens .This miniature doesn’t show sleeves but does have a similar  outfit to the Holbein sketch ,Its supposed to be copied from the Ohio portrait yet doesn’t have the same face .I wondered if it had used a lost sketch of Katherine as its original image source

mary kat miniture

To me it seems unlikely that so many discredited portraits  of  supposedly different women should all look similar ,most have been considered to be Catherine at one time or another.It seems to me more likely that they show a woman who  at the very least looked and dressed like Catherine and where therefore rightly or  wrongly  claimed as portraits of her.The only exception is the miniature above which I don’t think anyone else has mentioned.

The main objection to the images being Catherine is that the lady looks too old,looks ugly  and is dressed as a widow.We do know however Catherine owned at least one black velvet gown which must have been a favourite as she wore it to travel from Sion house during her imprisonment which had been rapid enough for her ladies not to have been able to take any great pains over choosing her wardrobe .As to the looking old ,I don’t think that we can firmly judge  age from Renaissance potraits.No one knows exactly how old Catherine was as she was not important enough to have her birth recorded though she was certainly very young  but  Tudor portraits tend to age sitters consider the teenage Duchess of Milan.


In addition if you are painting the queen it makes sense to instil the image with dignity and a more formal older looking queen may well be the result.Catherine was also described as imperious and wilful by one ambassador so the haughtiness in the portraits may show that side of Catherine

As to looking ugly ,I don’t think the lady in question looks ugly and if she does seem ugly to us she may not have seemed so to Henry ,Some described her beauty as moderate or middling  then she was also considered attractive ,graceful and  delightful so it would appear that she was attractive from temperament rather than purely beautiful.Her  demeanour and face  were described as gentle and earnest  ,which to me seems to fit the little miniature perfectly,In addition Henry seems to have had unorthodox tastes in female beauty Jane Seymour was not exactly beautiful


.It should also be remembered that the portraits show women unsmiling and full face,the passport photo look and most people don’t look that good on passport photos!

The only portrait I am not convinced  of  is the little  Tudor miniature  now considered the only painted portrait of Katherine .Its different to every other possible  portrait of Katherine ,In fact the person in the portrait  looks so similar to the Ann of cleaves portrait that captivated Henry that I would suggest they were the same person .The attribution of the portrait as Catherine Howard is based on the woman wearing the royal jewels as seen in other portraits of Henry’s wives yet not looking like any of them.If however you discard the idea that Ann of cleaves permanently wore the clothes seen below (which is incorrect  she adopted English fashions a few months  after her arrival)Then I think it very possible its Ann.She seems to have a similar build and bearing

anne c


As Annes reign was even briefer than Katherines it would make sense there was only this miniature ,which may have been considered to forerunner of a more regal full length portrait .I think a full length portrait of Anne must have been expected by those  who assumed she was their long term Queen  and those not “in the know”vastly outnumber the few who knew Henry was planning on her removal .

Katherine s Personality

Finally a quick did you know section on Katherine Howard .She is always seen as the thick “Tudor bimbo,”a   air headed trophy wife  for an old rich man .Shes also seen as something of a loose woman,she certainly had premarital “affairs but these where when she was extremely young ,,maybe as young at 12/13 when her music teacher seems to have persuaded her to let him  take  sexual liberties ,,in this modern age she would probably have been considered a victim in this particular relationship .The second when she was certainly no older than 15/16,was one  she felt at the time had involved a form of marriage,Derehem and Catherine called themselves husband and wife when with each other and in front of close friends ,she was given his money to look after and they had slept together .Catherine could have produced witnesses to their vows to marry and  for the consummation for the marriage  ,this in the days before church marriages where the norm this would have been enough in law to make them husband and wife in any unbiased church court .Despite accusations she never tried to keep this relationship secret until she became queen and may well have thought Henry  knew of it when he initially showed interest in her.

She certainly did have some kind of  affair  after she married Henry unfortunately she choose the disreputable Thomas Culpepper as the object of her affections

Shes often considered to have been something of a spoilt brat and no doubt this was a side of her character ,Henry showered her with gifts of silks ,furs jewels and even estates,For someone who grew up having to share a room  with half a dozen other girls and who had very few personal possessions to suddenly have jewel chests full of pearls and gold and gemstones and dozens up on dozens of gowns must have been like a teenagers dream come true ,added to which instead of being bossed around by everyone and looked down on as a poor relation now everyone ran around for her and had to do as she told them.This would be more than enough to make a teenager a bit stroppy .

She was  certainly described by an ambassador as imperious  and wilful ,of modest beauty ,but delightful

There is also a hidden side to Catherine ,she does not appear ,like Henry’s  other wives to have tried to bribe Henry  into marriage by withholding her sexual favours as there were rumours she was pregnant well before their actual marriage so its possible she would have been happy to remain a mistress,She had at this time met Thomas Culpepper who she seems to have been genuinely fond of having fallen out with Dereham to begin a serious relationship with Culpepper .If the king had not suddenly noticed Katherine she would probably have married Culpepper .As it was she married Henry but later resumed  her relationship with Culpepper.During her time as Henry’s wife she does seem to have taken a great deal of time in trying to amuse Henry and keep him cheerful and looked after him with affection.The rekindling of her (possibly  adulterous )affair with Culpepper  dated from the  time when she was exiled from Henry’s presence for several weeks because Henry was ill with a presumed infectious disease.Bored she obviously make bad mistakes .Cupepper may well have been using Catherine to gain power and possibly even greater power as a joint regent as Henry’s health was declining and there were regular rumours that  Catherine  was pregnant.Only Prince Edward would stand between Culpepper and the regency and children died with depressing regularity in Tudor England  ,,being the lover of a possible future queen regent  who was also young ,pretty and infatuated with him was  no doubt a pleasant prospect.Despite the assumed evidence against Katherine confirming her physical adultery ,theres is a chance that this was assumption based on indiscreet exchange of affections,,getting Katherine pregnant with a bastard child wouldn’t serve Culpeppers purposes and  Katherine with the spectre of her cousin Ann before her might have thought twice about actual adultery .

(Culpeper was not a pleasant character,he had raped a peasant woman  getting friends to hold her down ,he had murdered some one else who tried to help her ,.The king knew and pardoned him so he may well have felt above the law.)


Its true she couldn’t read or write particularly well but she could do both which considering that no great pains were taken over her education does show some intelligence .Dereham  her first actual lover trusted her with his savings  of one hundred pounds a huge amount by Tudor standards when he went on a journey when she was still a young teenager so she must have been fairly competent and trustworthy.She was also extremely kind to both Henry’s  daughters  especially Elizabeth who was something of an outcast as both bastard and daughter of a disgraced and hated past wife ,Catherine called her kinswoman ,which was brave  as they were indeed kin ,,Ann Boleyn and Catherine where cousins.

She also seems to have been quite free of  resentment , there is an amusing incident after Catherine becomes queen ,the past discarded Queen Ann of Cleves visited court where Catherine received her so pleasantly the two women spent the night dancing together while Henry went to bed early .

Catherine was instrumental in having several prisoners pardoned and when she  learned an old lady ,the countess of Salisbury had been imprisoned in the  tower for many years she sent warm clothing and a warm hat  . She  had never met the old lady and she could have been in a great deal of trouble if Henry had been informed when he was in one of his less pleasant moods as The countess was imprison ostensibly as a traitor but by far the more likely reason was to punish her absent Son Cardinal Pole and to remove one of the very few remaining Plantagents  .Catherine loved expensive cloths ,furs and jewels but she was generous to her ladies in waiting and a fairly easy going mistress .She was vivacious and loved dancing but she does not appear to have been entirely vacant headed.Sadly we have almost nothing of Catherine ,she did not have any children who might have wished to preserve  her memory ,she does nor seem to have had tutors or governesses , she had no close relations ,no  rich influential friends  who cared enough about her to keep her possessions or writings or portrait.Its probable she never had her portrait painted until she caught the kings eye .

her only remaining legacy is an openly affectionate  letter to her lover Thomas Culpeper

Letter to Thomas Culpepper

Master Culpeper, I heartily recommend me unto you, praying you to send me word how that you do. It was showed me that you was sick, the which thing troubled me very much till such time that I hear from you praying you to send me word how that you do, for I never longed so much for a thing as I do to see you and to speak with you, the which I trust shall be shortly now. The which doth comfortly me very much when I think of it, and when I think again that you shall depart from me again it makes my heart to die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company. …you have promised me to be so good unto that poor fellow my man which is one of the griefs that I do feel to depart from him for then I do know no one that I dare trust to send to you, and therefore I pray you take him to be with you that I may sometime hear from you one thing. I pray you to give me a horse for my man for I had much ado to get one and therefore pray send me one by him and in so doing I am as I said afor, and thus I take my leave of you, trusting to see you shortly again and I would you was with me now that you might see what pain I take in writing to you. Yours as long as life endures,


About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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19 Responses to Katherine Howard ,a Tudor mystery

  1. Pingback: Os misteriosos retratos de Catarina Howard | Boullan

  2. Sandra says:

    Really enjoyed this post and the pictures. Mmm you might be on o something.

  3. Juliette says:

    I feel that the fact that the necklace in pictures 3, 4 and five which look all the same would attribute to the fact that it is the same woman. A very interesting post

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    • Hello
      Yes ,to start with and get blog traffic up ,offer free use images ,as bloggers are often looking for images for their own blogs ,,plus I fee it shows an attitude of being willing to input to the blogging community ,I like to do it as I have found other peoples blogs invaluable .Also use twitter ,flickr ,stumble upon ,readit,tumbler ,deviant art ,linked in etc to promote your posts
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  7. df says:

    I don’t mean to be rude but it is hard for me to take anything you say seriously when all i can focus on is the grammatical mistakes and I am a french Canadian, English is my second language… I would love to read more about this because I think it is very interesting but this article reminds me of a teenager who wrote it without correcting her mistakes.

    • I am sure you didnt mean to be rude,however as I explain a number of times in the blog and in my about me post, I have dyslexia ,spell checks dont always correct mistakes and I dont “see” grammatical mistakes.I have an honours degree and several other qualifications so I am not a teenager and very well qualified to deal with the topics I write about and I do use the spell check but its not always effective on the blog for some reason.

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  9. Therese says:

    Hi, Thanks for getting all these pix in one place. I’ve personally always rooted for the third one on the basis of her age as painted by Holbein, black being the most expensive dye, the royal red and gold. However, one thing I can’t reconcile is the brooch with the young man’s head – too young for Henry at that time. I also thought the Tudor wedding ring was on the middle finger not index finger as seen here (but not sure about that!)? Any thoughts on the miniature head she’s wearing? Thanks.

    • Hi
      glad the post was helpful ,I dont know about the brooch ,its possible its a male relative or even maybe a younger view of Henry as I dont think he was veyr quick at admitting his age and change of health and build ,or it could have been retouched like other details on paintings sometimes are,perhaps from clumsy restoration esp in Victorian times .I would be interested in your thoughts,I dont have internet at the moment so my response maybe delayed but please dont assume I wont relpy

  10. Therese says:

    Hi there, Thanks for getting back to me. Yes – I sort of thought if it was Henry, he would have had some sort of cap on as a formal royal, even if it was him when he was younger. If you zoom in, there are two faces – one silhouette looking out, which is even stranger. I think you’re right on the possibility of a clumsy restoration. Interestingly, I found all the painting’s details online at the Met, which you might have seen, and they mention the painting’s restoration and the experts disagreeing etc. at http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436667
    But they don’t really say anything about the brooch, just “The damaged glazes modelling the faces in the brooch have been restored.” Yet if it’s Kathryn, I think that is the biggest mystery of all! Also, I know of miniatures being worn closed, but didn’t know they wore these open ones like a brooch, so I wonder if it is indeed a made-up restoration added later, or maybe it’s her dead parents(?). Very strange.

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