Catherine Howard was born into one of the most famous of noble families – Catherine’s father was the younger brother of the Duke of Norfolk. Catherine became Henry VIII’s fifth wife. She was Anne Boleyn’s cousin and in the social circle in which she lived, it would have been expected that she would have been seen by Henry, who after the divorce from Anne of Cleves, was once again looking for a wife.
By 1540, Henry had become fat and he had lost the muscular physique he had when he was younger. He was now 49 and his lifestyle was starting to catch up with him. Catherine was just 15 or 16 when Henry asked for her hand in marriage. She was considered to be very beautiful, lively and kind. Henry described her as a “rose without a thorn”. Why did she marry someone 34 years older than she was? Simply because she had no choice – Henry was king and Catherine’s family welcomed the opportunity her marriage presented to move closer to the king. What a fifteen to sixteen year old girl thought about marrying a 49 year old man is not recorded.
Catherine did commit adultery. Given the age difference and Henry’s character perhaps this was inevitable. Catherine had an affair with Thomas Culpepper of the King’s Privy Chamber. It was soon discovered and Henry showed both of them no mercy.
Culpepper was executed in December 1541, as was Francis Dereham who was an earlier love of Catherine’s. She was executed in February 1542 aged seventeen or eighteen.
This experience of marital betrayal did not put off Henry and one year later he married his last wife Catherine Parr.