Katherine Howard was still in her teens when she became the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. After the death of Jane Seymour, Henry remarried to Anne of Cleves on 6 January 1540 and Catherine was chosen to serve in the new Queen’s household. She was probably around 15 years then. She probably travelled to Greenwich Palace in December 1539 in anticipation of Anne of Cleves’s arrival. Henry was disappointed with his new wife from the start and admitted after their wedding night, “I have left her as a good a maid as I found her.” Their marital issues were compounded by the fact that Henry had fallen in love with her maid, Katherine. It is very possible that they had met before Anne’s arrival, but we do not know this for sure.
Conor Byrne’s Katherine Howard is a fresh look at a much-maligned Queen. It is quite refreshing to have someone not jump to immediate conclusions but rather look at the larger picture of the time that Katherine lived and the perils that she faced as the new Queen of a rather peculiar man. We actually know very little about Katherine, and much of it came from sources after her arrest, making the information rather coloured.
In December, Katherine was condemned to death. On the evening of 12 February, she was told that she was going to be executed the following day. She asked for the block to be brought to her so that she could practice. The following day, Catherine was led to a scaffold on Tower Green. Catherine felt weak and made no speech, only confessing that she deserved to die. She was beheaded with an axe.
Conor Byrne takes us through the information available and gives us a Queen who had no idea what she up against and had no relatives who to protect her. She never did manage to fulfil her primary duty as Queen – bear a son – and lost her head. It was a game Henry had played before, but Katherine had not.
I would highly recommend Katherine Howard: Henry VIII’s Slandered Queen by Conor Byrne as Katherine deserves a better reputation than the one that was left her. Katherine Howard: Henry VIII’s Slandered Queen by Conor Byrne is available now in both the US and the UK.