The respective downfalls of Katherine Howard and Anne Boleyn share several elements in common. Prior relationship
Both Katherine and Anne had previous been involved in a relationship that could have prevented their marriage to Henry. In Anne’s case, this was with Henry Algernon Percy, who was at the time the heir to the earldom of Northumberland. The main source for this is George Cavendish, gentlemen usher to Cardinal Wolsey, who describes how a ‘secret love’ grew between Anne and Percy, who were ‘insured together, intending to marry.’ However, before their contract could become binding; that is, before
In the case of Katherine Howard and Francis Dereham, there is no doubt that a contract did exist between them, and the strong possibility that Katherine had entered into it without fully understanding what she had done made it no less valid. It came about when she and Dereham became involved sexually. Dereham’s enemies, Henry Mannock and Mr Barnes, were jealous of his relationship with Katherine and, in order to deflect whatever injury they might do to him, Dereham suggested to Katherine that they address each other as husband and wife. Katherine agreed to this and, since their relationship was public knowledge and it was consummated, Katherine became Dereham’s lawful wife. Courtly love
Another area is that of courtly love. Anne played the game of courtly love with distinction, and her relationships with men such as Henry Norris and Francis Weston should be seen in this light. However, the fine line between innocent flirtation and inclination to adultery was easily crossed, and anyone wishing to do harm to Anne could easily find grounds in these activities.
For Katherine’s part, Jane Lady Rochford had warned her that she must give men leave to look upon her, an innocent enough remark given the expectation of queens and courtiers to engage in courtly love games. Nevertheless, there is no indication that Francis Dereham ever served Katherine in the ritual of courtly love. Instead, it was later judged that his relationship with Katherine upon his coming to court was, from first to last, merely the renewal of their previous connection, and that she had taken him into her service expressly for this purpose. Moreover, Katherine’s employment of Katherine Tylney, who was seen as one of the queen’s ‘partners in crime,’ was interpreted as another means to further this ambition. In the end, Dereham was only able to persuade his interrogators of his innocence by revealing that he had been replaced in Katherine’s affections by Culpeper.
Katherine’s relationship with Thomas Culpeper does not easily fit within the parameters of courtly love. Unlike Anne Boleyn and her supposed ‘suitors’, Katherine had been in a romantic relationship with Culpeper prior to the marriage to Henry, so it was easy to misinterpret her meetings with him as an attempt to rekindle their romance. In addition, while Anne’s exchanges with Norris and Weston appear to have taken place in open court, Katherine’s liaisons with Culpeper had not. Rather, they were carried on in private places and late at night. Although Lady Rochford and Katherine Tylney had also been present, their role was seen by the councillors in charge of Katherine’s case as one of assisting the couple in their trysts. Faction
It is often claimed for both queens that they were the victims of faction within the court. In Anne’s case, it was a faction led by Cromwell, who had become Anne’s enemy, and who then took the opportunity of her fall to clear the court of those
In Katherine’s case, it was not faction that had brought her down; rather, it was the necessary consequences of her experiences prior to her marriage and which had been misconstrued as wantonness and immorality on her part. Downfall instigated by a casual remark
The downfall of both Katherine and Anne was initiated by a woman who made an extemporaneous remark to a brother. In Anne’s case, the lady in question was Lady Worcester, who made her revelation during a squabble with her brother, Sir Anthony Browne. He had accused her of immoral living, implying that the baby she was carrying was not her husband’s. Lady Worcester, seeking to moderate her faults, pointed out that her behaviour was as nothing compared to that of Queen Anne. Somehow, the story reached Thomas Cromwell, who immediately realised the implications for the queen. Obliged to investigate, he uncovered Anne’s adultery which he, hesitantly, revealed to the king.
Katherine’s past was exposed by Mary Lascelles. She had declined a suggestion by her brother, John, that she should apply to Queen Katherine for a place in her household. When pressed, Mary told him that Katherine was ‘light both in living and conditions.’ In the ensuing conversation, the whole story of Katherine’s past was brought to light. John Lascelles had little choice but to report what he knew. He spoke to Archbishop Cranmer who, in his turn, informed the king.
Henry was more than willing to believe the accusations against Anne. This was to be expected, since he had authorised the action against her and should not have been too shaken by what direction it might take. In Katherine’s case, he was genuinely taken by surprise. Shocked and grieved at the news of her past life, he thought the accusations against Katherine had been forged until he was persuaded otherwise.
In each case, when the affair took its inevitable turn, Anne Boleyn was allowed to face trial, Katherine was not. Even so, Anne’s was little more than a show trial, the verdict having been decided long beforehand; indeed, she had laughed Sir William Kingston told her that even the poorest of His Majesty’s subjects had justice, for she knew the truth of it. Her supposed accomplices faced the judges before her and, when her turn came, her conviction was inevitable.
Katherine was condemned by an Act of Attainder: the pronouncement of judgement and punishment passed as law in parliament. Although she was eventually given the opportunity to speak for herself prior to her attainder becoming law, it was clear to the queen that her fate had already been decided. It being useless to fight, Katherine gave in, accepting the charges and their terrible consequences. Condemned by words, not deeds
Both queens were condemned partly on words spoken rather than actual deeds. In Anne’s case, it was words she had exchanged with Henry Norris, to which she had alluded while in the Tower. Some days before, Anne had asked him why he had not yet married Mistress Shelton. He answered simply that ‘he would tarry a time.’ Anne, however, teased him, saying that he looked for ‘dead men’s shoes, for if aught came
Katherine was condemned not by any words she had spoken, but by those uttered by Thomas Culpeper. He had told his interrogators that ‘he intended and meant to do ill with the queen and that in like wise, the queen so minded to do with him.’ Again, the eminently accommodating 1534 Treason Act was called into service. As the Act saw it, it was but a short step from intending to do ill with each other, to actually doing ill, and in order to facilitate their intent, the next step would be to remove the king. Altered status
By the time they reached the scaffold, the status of both Katherine and Anne had changed. Katherine had been removed as queen the previous November. However, Henry had never annulled their marriage, so Katherine remained the king’s morganatic wife until her death. The irony of this remained lost on the king, who failed to see that Katherine, had it been accepted that she was Dereham’s wife, had never been legally married to him and so could not have committed adultery - indeed, if anything, she had committed adultery against Dereham.
In Anne Boleyn’s case, Henry did annul their marriage. Although Cranmer did not give the specific grounds, it was suggested by Chapuys that one ground was Henry’s prior relationship with Anne’s sister, Mary. Since ‘both parties knew of this, the good faith of the parents cannot make’ Elizabeth legitimate. This may indeed have been one factor. A stronger one was Anne’s presumed precontract with Henry Percy. This was acknowledged as having been valid by the archbishop’s ecclesiastical court at Lambeth at the same time as the king’s divorce from Anne was approved. The contract with Percy, therefore, was deemed to have been lawful despite the earl’s emphatic denials that it had ever existed.
Anne, however, did die a queen. Her status had been conferred on her by an act of parliament, and it would require another such act to remove it. There is no record of any such proceeding.
Ironically, because Katherine remained Henry’s wife, the charge of adultery, insecure as it was, held. In Anne’s case, the annulment made a mockery of the charge of adultery against her, since the acceptance of her prior contract with Henry Percy implied that she had never been lawfully married to Henry. Other victims
Because they had each been charged with sex crimes, neither Katherine nor Anne went to the grave alone. Five men died with Anne Boleyn: her brother, George, Viscount Rochford,
Although both Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard acceptedthe charges laid against them and refused to speak against their fate, they did find a means by which they could declare their innocence. With Anne, this was before and after taking the sacrament just prior to her execution. Katherine spoke to a priest on the day she was carried to the Tower, where she expected to die. She had been visited at Syon by a delegation led by the duke of Suffolk, which had been appointed to calm her fears, and to hear what she might have to say ‘to make her cause better.’ Among the men was almost certainly Dr White, and it was to him that she made her final confession.
It was by the holy sacrament, therefore, that each queen professed her innocence on the peril of her soul. Both went on to make a good death, going to the scaffold shriven of guilt in the eyes of God, if not the law. Neither queen used the scaffold as a final platform upon which to utter furtive messages protesting their innocence. Instead, the scaffold speeches of both Katherine and Anne followed the standard formula, no doubt to the great satisfaction of the king.