52 Ancestors #7 Catherine Howard


This challenge is set forth by No Story Too Small, and this week’s theme is “Love.”

One of the most interesting stories of “Love” in my ancestry comes from the journals of Tudor history.

howard2Catherine Howard was the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. She was also my cousin. Her father was Edmund Howard and her mother was Joyce Culpepper. Joyce’s father was Sir Richard Culpepper.

In the 1200s, the Culpepper’s were split into two definitive lines by brothers Walter and Thomas into the Preston Hall Culpeppers and Bayhall Culpeppers, respectively. In the 1400s, the Bayhall line split into two lines with brothers again, so instead of Preston Hall and Bayhall, we now have Preston Hall, Wigsell, and Bedgebury. Catherine’s maternal grandfather, Sir Richard Culpepper, was of the Preston Hall line. Catherine had many Culpepper cousins, one being my 12th great grandfather William Culpepper of the Wigsell line, and another being Thomas Culpepper of the Bedgebury line. Though distant, Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper were cousins.

Just to make history even more confusing…Catherine’s paternal grandfather was Thomas Howard Duke of Norfolk. This man was Anne Boleyn’s grandfather too. Catherine and Anne (Henry VIII’s second wife) were first cousins.

On 28 July 1540, sixteen-year-old Catherine married King Henry after he ended his politically motivated marriage to (fourth wife) Anne of Cleaves. Henry was nearly fifty years old. For fourteen months, the newlyweds were happy, but then the rumors began. Henry became convinced his young bride was having relations with a few men, the most painful being his trusted servant, Catherine’s cousin, Thomas Culpepper.

In my opinion, one can imagine Catherine at sixteen-years old being quite overwhelmed by all the attention she was receiving along with her new-found feelings of superiority and immortality simply because she was Henry’s wife. And it is possible that Thomas in his mid-twenties, was merely playing a game with a teenage girl. The excitement of this game would be hard to top, especially with a prize as valuable as the wife of the King. Then again, they may have actually loved each other.

Catherine and Thomas were charged with treason, tried, and convicted. Thomas was beheaded 10 Dec 1541. Catherine was stripped of her title of Queen, locked in her chambers, and her future remained in limbo until Parliament decided what to do with her. On 10 February 1542, she was taken to be executed. She traveled by boat to the Tower and undoubtedly passed under the bridge where Thomas’s head was impaled. I wonder if she looked up. Her execution was held Monday, 13 February 1542.

According to popular folklore, her final words were, “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpepper”. Did she really die for love, or was she simply a young girl who didn’t realize the place next to the King was a fragile one?

The above portrait, which has always been reported to be that of Catherine Howard, is now in dispute by the National Portrait Gallery in London. Apparently the poor girl lost her head…and now her face. Below is a letter she sent to her cousin/lover Thomas Culpepper.


GW402H604Master 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. That 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 die to think what fortune I have that I cannot be always in your company. It my trust is always in you that you will be as you have promised me, and in that hope I trust upon still, praying you that you will come when my Lady Rochford is here for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment, thanking you for that 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 I 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,

One thing I had forgotten and that is to instruct my man to tarry here with me still for he says whatsomever you bid him he will do it.


4 responses to “52 Ancestors #7 Catherine Howard

  1. Hi Lori, I enjoyed your post. My 10th great grandfather is John Colepeper, 1st Baron Colepepper. Glad the lover of Catherine Howard, Thomas Culpepper didn’t go down that branch of the family. Alison Weir told me he raped the gamekeeper’s wife and Henry V111 forgave him.

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