.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.
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
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
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
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,