Wednesday, 19 December 2012

New Katherine Howard biography

I am so excited to announce that it looks like I will be researching and writing a biography of arguably England's most tragic queen, Katherine Howard (c.1523/1524-1542). Readers may be aware that I have conducted research into aspects of her life before, namely her birth date and family relations, and on the nature of her downfall in 1541 (which I am still looking into).

The major reason I am looking to do this is because I feel much of Katherine's life has been thoroughly misunderstood and misinterpreted. As historian Retha Warnicke has noted, there is too great a focus from largely male historians on political aspects of Tudor history, rather than delving into aspects of gender and sexuality. This is, of course, particularly relevant when looking at female figures, whether queens, noblewomen or ordinary women.

In view of this, my work will have an underlying focus of gender, women, and sexuality more generally to provide, in my view, a more nuanced view of this queen's life. While politics and faction are, of course, essential in any study of the Tudor court, a more balanced approach is necessary if we wish to de-construct the enigma of Queen Katherine.

The work should be published by CreateSpace, Amazon's own publishing company, and I am tentatively looking at a date of August 2013.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

A Tudor Mystery: What Happened to Amy Robsart?

Portrait of a lady, possibly Lady Amy Dudley nee Robsart (1532-1560).

The death of Lady Amy Dudley nee Robsart on 8 September 1560 has generated considerable controversy. What led to the death of this prosperous gentlewoman, discovered at the bottom of a flight of stairs in Cumnor Place, Oxfordshire? The only child of Sir John Robsart, Amy married the wealthy and successful Robert Dudley, son of the Duke of Northumberland, in 1550 aged eighteen. Rumours circulated at the time and have intensified in modern times that the couple's marriage was unhappy, prominently because of Robert's close relationship - some believed love affair - with the Princess and later Queen Elizabeth. An impenetrable mystery surrounds the circumstances which caused Amy's death, although there are several possible explanations: suicide, cancer, murder (by either the Queen's agents, Dudley's agents, or Cecil's agents) or, simply but tragically, an accident. For an enjoyable - if taken with a pinch of salt - fictional take of Amy's relationship with Robert and her eventual death, readers should consider reading Philippa Gregory's The Virgin's Lover.

First, let us begin with the facts. Amy Dudley, despite being the daughter-in-law of a duke (later disgraced), did not accompany her husband Robert to court in 1559 when he served the new Queen, Elizabeth I, as her faithful courtier. She seems to have spent her time travelling around the country and visiting family friends, while she seems to have enjoyed spending money on clothes from London.

We do not know the personal details of Robert and Amy's marriage. In an age in which marriages between the gentry and aristocracy were arranged for social, material and political advantage, individual couples did not prioritise finding happiness or love in marriage, although of course it was beneficial when this did occur. The couple had no children, yet we do not know whether this was due to fertility problems or whether it was because the couple were often separated. Rumours have circulated that Dudley enjoyed a love affair with Queen Elizabeth, scandalously conveyed in Gregory's novel, yet again, we lack any real proof to fully substantiate this claim. However, courtiers did mention that for over a year before Amy died, the queen and her favourite had merely been waiting for Amy to die so that they could marry.

It is plausible, however, that Robert and Amy's marriage was not entirely happy. They were often separated, had no children, and since many believed after Amy's death that Robert had actually murdered his wife, it seems credible to argue that contemporaries were aware that the marriage was somewhat difficult. After the summer of 1559, Robert never saw Amy again.

On 8 September 1560, the day after the Queen's birthday, Amy Dudley sent away her servants from Cumnor Place, as described by Robert's steward Thomas Blount:

would not that day suffer one of her own sort to tarry at home, and was so earnest to have them gone to the fair, that with any of her own sort that made reason of tarrying at home she was very angry, and came to Mrs. Odingsells ... who refused that day to go to the fair, and was very angry with her also. Because [Mrs. Odingsells] said it was no day for gentlewomen to go ... Whereunto my lady answered and said that she might choose and go at her pleasure, but all hers should go; and was very angry. They asked who should keep her company if all they went; she said Mrs. Owen should keep her company at dinner; the same tale doth Picto, who doth dearly love her, confirm. Certainly, my Lord, as little while as I have been here, I have heard divers tales of her that maketh me judge her to be a strange woman of mind.

Perhaps suspiciously, she was later described as being angry when her three servants resisted her desire that they leave. Later that day, she was discovered at the bottom of a flight of stairs with a broken neck and two head wounds. So what caused Amy's death?

Firstly, this article will consider the modern explanation of Amy suffering a malady in her breasts which caused her death. It was assumed at the time of the death in 1560 that a simple fall could not have caused Amy's death - there were not particularly many steps as it was a short flight, while Amy's headdress was described as still remaining perfectly undisturbed on her head.  In 1956, Ian Aird proposed this theory, arguing simultaneously that "a verdict of misadventure, in the case of accident, [is] not easily acceptable". Aird's profession as a professor of medicine undoubtedly aided him in putting forward the theory that, rather than suicide, accident or murder, Amy was suffering from breast cancer and so may have meant that her neck was particularly fragile and could break easily. This theory has become somewhat popular in modern times. As he noted: "in a woman of Amy's age the likeliest cause of a spontaneous fracture of the spine would be a cancer of the breast..." Indeed, the Count of Feria reported in April 1559 that Amy Dudley "had a malady in one of her breasts". When one reads Aird's article, his argument that Amy's death resulted from a fall down the stairs, which was worsened than it would otherwise have been by a weakened spine caused by breast cancer, his viewpoint is compelling. Yet it has been attacked. Simon Adams, for instance, asserts that "this theory accounts for a number of the known circumstances, but a serious illness in April 1559 is difficult to reconcile with her extensive travelling in the following months".

An alternative explanation is suicide. If she was suffering illness or depression, even potentially breast cancer, this may have led her to commit suicide in an attempt to escape a life no longer bearable. This can be supported by evidence of her "desperation" in some sources, while some historians have put forward the hypothesis that Amy sent away her servants on the morning of 8 September in order to commit suicide secretly. Robert Dudley himself may have alluded to this possibility. However, Aird attacked this view, stating that "to project oneself down a flight of stairs would not occur to a suicide now, and would have occurred even less to an Elizabethan suicide at a time when the steps of staircases were broad and low, and the angle of descent gradual". Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that, if Amy killed herself, her headdress would still have remained upright on her head when she would not have been able to do this if she was dead by the time she fell to the bottom of the stairs.

Others have suggested that Amy's death was accidental. James Gairdner, in 1898, suggested that her death was a tragic accident. The coroner's verdict in 1561 was that Amy Dudley, "being alone in a certain chamber... accidentally fell precipitously down" the stairs next to the chamber "to the very bottom of the same". This caused two head injuries and injuries to one thumb. Tragically, she had broken her neck in the fall. Because of this, she "died instantly... the Lady Amy... by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise, as they are able to agree at present". However, historians have suggested that Robert Dudley, as an influential and powerful courtier, was able to influence the jury. Aird has argued that "there are several circumstances in relation to Amy Robsart's death which made her contemporaries, and which have made the historians of later times, a little hesitant to accept unreservedly the jury's verdict of misadventure". 

Perhaps most famously, it has been theorised that Amy was, in fact, murdered. Following her death, there was "grievous and dangerous suspicion, and muttering" in both court and country, as people murmured about Amy's death and the renewed relationship between the Queen and her favourite, Dudley. William Cecil, who was Principal Secretary and who has been argued felt threatened by Dudley's increasing influence, informed the Spanish ambassador in the aftermath of Amy's death that Elizabeth and Dudley had been plotting to murder Amy by poison, "giving out that she was ill but she was not ill at all" (which somewhat contradicts the evidence put forward earlier that she was ill). In 1567, Amy's half brother John Appleyarde, in irritation with Dudley, stated that he "had not been satisfied with the verdict of the jury at her death; but that for the sake of Dudley he had covered the murder of his sister". Contemporary evidence raises the possibility that Amy was murdered.

The discovery of the contemporary Spanish ambassadors' correspondence in the nineteenth century supported the theory of murder, reporting that Amy was ill and her husband had been trying to either poison or divorce her as early as the spring of 1559. The report from 11 September 1560, three days after Amy's death, states that Cecil believed that Dudley had murdered his wife. A 1563 chronicle, written by someone violently hostile to the Dudleys, suggested that Robert Dudley's retainer, Sir Richard Verney, murdered Amy by breaking her neck (this is fictionalised in The Virgin's Lover). Catholic exiles wrote the satirical Leicester's Commonwealth in 1584 and, hostile to Dudley, suggested that Verney sent Amy's servants to the market when he arrived at Cumnor Place before breaking Amy Dudley's neck and placing her at the bottom of the stairs. The Victorian historian James Anthony Froude, having found the Spanish ambassadorial correspondence, wrote in 1863 that: "she was murdered by persons who hoped to profit by his elevation to the throne; and Dudley himself... used private means... to prevent the search from being pressed inconveniently far". Alison Weir, in 1999, suggested that Cecil, rather than Dudley, arranged Lady Amy's death because he had a murder motive, ie. to prevent Dudley's potential marriage to his mistress, Elizabeth I, and because Cecil would benefit as a result of the scandal. Other evidence has been put forward: considerable time before Amy did die, both Robert and the Queen predicted to the Spanish ambassador that she would shortly die.

However, many historians have discredited rumours that Amy was murdered. Dudley's correspondence with Thomas Blount and William Cecil in the preceding days has been seen as evidence that he was innocent, while others have noted that both he and Queen Elizabeth were highly shocked when news of Amy's death were brought to them. It has, plausibly, been suggested that he would not have had his wife killed because of the tremendous scandal  that would ensue if he were implicated in his wife's murder. David Loades went so far as to state that "we can be reasonably certain that Lord Robert had no hand in his wife's death". Aird states that there "was no evidence that he [Dudley] had any thought of murdering his wife" even if he did wish to marry the Queen. He also asserts that "a staircase [is not] a convenient weapon for murder. To throw a person downstairs is too uncertain", it cannot be argued that "she was first murdered by some extreme violence and then thrown downstairs". Historians have also recognised that poison was a "stock-in trade accusation" in the sixteenth century to discredit political rivals and the fact that sources support one another in suggesting Amy was murdered was "no more than a tradition of gossip". As Catholic sources, and thus hostile to both Queen and Dudley, we should consider them very cautiously and sceptically. 

To conclude, I have to admit, personally, that I know too little about these mysterious events to put forward my belief of what actually happened on that day. I can only say, however, that it was very suspicious. Why did Amy send away her servants on that particular day? Was it because, to put it nicely but bluntly, she was going mad or even insane due to her illness; was it because she wished to be alone to commit suicide, or was it for some other reason? Why did the Queen and Dudley hint to the Spanish ambassador that Amy Dudley would soon die - was it because they knew she was fatally ill, or is it evidence of murder? Almost all of the sources we have about this event are highly suspect. Thus we cannot conclude with any real certainty about what happened. 

I have suspicions, however. Aird has discredited the notion that Amy was found with her headdress perfectly intact, but if this was true, surely suicide seems much less likely. If Amy threw herself down a flight of stairs, it seems highly unlikely that, dying shortly afterwards, her hood would still be perfectly in position on her head. I am also persuaded by Aird's arguments that falling down a short flight of stairs is hardly a foolproof method of suicide. However, if Amy was melancholy or despairing at this time, as some sources may indicate, perhaps she did have a motive in wishing to end her life prematurely, particularly if her marriage was unhappy, as possibly the case. Out of all the explanations, however, I believe that suicide is the least likely theory.

This leaves accident, murder, or illness. An accident is perfectly possible, but again, we are left with the simple fact that a short flight of stairs would not ordinarily kill a person. Therefore we must consider Aird's argument that Amy's body, because of the malady of her breasts, was weakened considerably, and so a short flight of stairs which, though usually would not result in death, may have caused her death if she was more fragile and physically vulnerable than a 'normal' person would be. This was the verdict recorded after her death, and many historians have suggested that it is what happened. Thus accident and illness are intertwined to provide an explanation, tragically, of accidental death.

A more unsettling interpretation is possible. If one literally accepts the Spanish ambassador's comments, bearing in mind that ambassadors occasionally spoke little to none of the language in the court in which they served, relied on informers, and were frequently deceived by officials and courtiers, it is possible to believe that Amy Dudley was murdered, either by Cecil's agents or Dudley's agents. I have to agree, however, with modern historians who argue that Dudley would not have dared have his wife murdered, as the scandal would almost certainly have meant that the Queen would not have dared marry a man who would only bring controversy and even ridicule to her status. But desperate people do desperate things - if Dudley was so determined to marry the Queen, and only saw his wife as an unnecessary complication, who knows what he might have done? 

To conclude, it is impossible to know what really happened. On the basis of the evidence, I would tentatively conclude that Amy's death was caused by both her breast cancer and an accident; ie. if she had been physically healthy, and had fallen down the stairs, she would not have died, but in tragic circumstances, when her body was physically much more fragile, a simple fall led to her death due to the thinning of her bones. I believe that we can reject suicide as a likely explanation. It is possible that she was murdered, but if one believes that much of the evidence we have for this theory is based on hostile Catholic sources which openly vilified both the Dudleys and Queen Elizabeth, this theory becomes much less tenable. Therefore, I would suggest that accidental death, acting in conjunction with breast cancer, caused Amy's death, but we cannot rule out murder.

Further Reading

Simon Adams, 'Amy Dudley, Lady Dudley (1532-1560)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2008), online edition (Last accessed 13 December 2012).
Ian Aird, 'The Death of Amy Robsart', The English Historical Review 71 (1956), pp. 69-79.
James Gairdner, 'The Death of Amy Robsart', The English Historical Review 1 (1886), 235-259.
James Gairdner, 'Bishop de Quadra's Letter and the Death of Amy Robsart', The English Historical Review 13 (1898), pp. 83-90.

For a fictional take on Amy's death and Robert and Queen Elizabeth's relationship, Philippa Gregory, The Virgin's Lover (2004) (please take it with a pinch of salt, it's not fact, it's fiction!)

Wikipedia for a general overview.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Tudor Portraiture - or the game of Guess the Sitter

Tudor portraiture is notorious in leading to frequently incorrect identifications of sitters who were almost certainly not the sitter actually painted. Yet portraiture is highly influential in our interpretations of these supposed sitters' lives, careers, choices, and actions. Drawing upon four specific case studies here, this article considers why and how Tudor portraits are incorrectly identified, and how these incorrect identifications inform our interpretations of Tudor personages.

A portrait of Mary, Lady Dacre and her son Gregory; often mislabelled as Frances Brandon, duchess of Suffolk and the mother of the 'Nine Days Queen' Lady Jane Grey, and her second husband Adrian Stokes. This portrait has proved fundamental in leading to misguided views of Frances as being a cruel woman who bullied her daughter, due to the sitter's fierce characteristics.

This article begins with Frances Brandon (1517-1559), duchess of Suffolk by right of her marriage in 1533 to Henry Grey, marquis of Dorset and later Duke of Suffolk, niece of Henry VIII, king of England, and mother of Jane Grey, later queen of England (c.1537-1554). Frances lived a remarkable life, yet her reputation has been slandered over the course of history due to the view of her being a cruel, spiteful woman who frequently bullied her daughter Jane, often violently, which is still conveyed in modern works (Alison Weir's fictional Innocent Traitor often portrays Frances violently hurting Jane both physically and psychologically). This myth occurred at the beginning of the eighteenth century, acting in parallel with the depiction of Jane Grey as a Protestant martyr who died for her religion at only seventeen years old, executed on the orders of a vengeful queen, her own cousin Mary I. 

In view of this, a portrait of Lady Mary Dacre and her son Gregory - actually painted the year Frances died, 1559 - was relabelled as Frances Brandon and her second husband, Adrian Stokes, whom she married following the execution of her first husband Henry Grey as a traitor. Supposed similarities between the sitter's features and that of her uncle, Henry VIII, were drawn to emphasise the duchess' cruel, domineering nature. It has, furthermore, been deduced that Frances and Henry physically mistreated Jane in her childhood, due to something Jane informed her tutor, Roger Ascham, as a child:

"For when I am in presence of either Father or Mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing or doing anything else, I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure and number, even so perfectly as God made the world, or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea, presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs, and other ways, (which I shall not name, for the honour I bear them), so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell". 

This passage, of course, needs to be viewed critically, particularly because this passage was only recorded much later after the actual events, and Jane's tutor Ascham actually praised her parents in an earlier letter. Furthermore, since the Victorian period, a more balanced appreciation of the character of Lady Jane Grey has developed. Rather than viewing her as a perfect child martyr, innocent and passive, as the Victorians did, historians have regarded her more critically, and while recognising her intelligence and determination, have also suggested that she was a proud, stubborn, narrow-minded, even arrogant  young woman. Frances, conversely, in contemporary sources was noted for her goodness and kindness to friends. 

We can therefore see how an incorrect identification of a sitter in a Tudor portrait can develop or intensify myths and legends surrounding that personage. Because Lady Dacre is depicted as unfriendly, cold, even ruthless, this was deployed by those who believed that it was actually a portrait of Frances, duchess of Suffolk to present her as a domineering woman who was prone to physical violence. This myth needs to be recognised for what it is: a myth.

Left: Katherine Howard, Elizabeth Seymour, or another Tudor woman? For centuries, controversy has raged as to who this sitter is.
Right: Angela Pleasance as Katherine Howard in The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970).

No less important than the portrait of 'Frances Brandon' in informing interpretations of Tudor personalities is that of a portrait supposedly depicting Katherine Howard, queen of England. Identified as being the tragic queen c. 1898 and furthered by the renowned biography of the queen by Lacey Baldwin Smith (1961), this portrait has widely been used to put forward arguments surrounding Katherine's birth date, thus influencing our views surrounding her childhood, her personality, and the nature of her sexual relationships. Baldwin Smith arguably used this portrait to support his view of Katherine as 'a juvenile delinquent'. Recently, the identification of this sitter as Queen Katherine has been challenged, notably by Lady Antonia Fraser in her biography of the six wives of Henry VIII (1992). She identified this portrait as actually depicting Elizabeth Seymour nee Cromwell, younger sister of Queen Jane Seymour; strengthened by the fact that this portrait was housed in the collection of the Cromwell family.

While agreeing with Fraser that this portrait is not Katherine, in view of the fact that it does not match up either with notions of the queen's age or her physical appearance, I disagree that it represents Elizabeth Seymour. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, as has been recognised, at least three versions of this portrait exist. The sitter was therefore far more important than the daughter of a knight, as Elizabeth was. Whoever this woman was was clearly of noble, if not royal, rank. Secondly, we do not know when Elizabeth was born, but if it was around c.1511, as has been suggested, the sitter cannot be her, because this portrait dates to the mid to late 1530s or the early 1540s, when Elizabeth was likely in her mid twenties, not aged 21, as the sitter's age is. As Janet M. Torpy stated, "a necklace, rings, a brooch bearing the Biblical story of Lot, lace, and golden embroidery all signify extreme wealth and the appropriate piety and purity". It is entirely likely that this portrait actually depicts another royal woman, of which there are no less than four possible candidates in this period: the king's daughter Mary Tudor (aged 21 in 1537), Lady Margaret Douglas, his niece (aged 21 in 1536), or either of the king's Brandon nieces, Frances (aged 21 in 1538) or Eleanor (aged 21 in 1540). 

But this portrait, like the one thought to be of Frances Brandon, has informed interpretations and representations of Katherine Howard, whom it was commonly thought to portray for a long period of time. In the television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970), as depicted above, Angela Pleasance, in her appearance as Queen Katherine, is clearly shown wearing a costume based on the dress worn by the sitter in this portrait. Her portrayal of Katherine is as a hedonist teenager who selfishly manipulates Thomas Culpeper to impregnate her, while she is seen to use physical violence against her cousin and is given to hysteria. This portrait was fundamental in Baldwin Smith's interpretation of Katherine as an older, knowing girl who firmly held the upper hand in her relationships and was prone to manipulating her lovers. Yet as my research has indicated, she was probably somewhat younger than this portrait suggests.
This portrait has also led to historians suggesting that Katherine was not as beautiful as legend indicated that she was. This can be refuted, since there are at least three contemporary statements which suggest that the queen was uncommonly attractive; one Spanish citizen gushingly stated that she was the most beautiful woman 'in the kingdom'. This does not support the notion that the woman in this portrait is of the queen.

Left: a portrait inscribed as being Anne Boleyn, 1530s.
Right: unknown woman. Identified as being Anne Boleyn by Roy Strong, yet others have identified this woman as being another of Henry VIII's queens, either Katherine of Aragon or Jane Seymour. Alison Weir suggests convincingly that it shows Mary Boleyn, Anne's sister.

Thus we can strongly see that portraiture is highly influential in guiding assessments and interpretations of Tudor personages. It seems unsurprising, therefore, that this is arguably best illustrated with the case of Anne Boleyn. The two portraits above have both been identified as showing the second queen of Henry VIII - despite the fact that neither bears any resemblance to contemporary descriptions of the queen. 

The sitter on the left was identified by noted Tudor historians David Starkey and John Rowlands as a contemporary likeness of Anne Boleyn. This has resulted largely from a hostile account of Anne at her coronation in 1533, which described the queen as having a fat, even disfigured, neck, resulting from a swelling which she then tried to conceal at her coronation. Further problems arise from the fact that this woman is blonde, whereas Anne was, famously, dark. This woman clearly wears a nightrobe, while the somewhat plain, rounded face bears little resemblance to contemporary reports of Anne as being narrow-faced, with high cheekbones. Yet, again, a misidentified portrait has been used to promote interpretations of its supposed sitter. Here the case seems to be that hostile accounts which vilified the queen should be regarded as historically accurate, or at least not as wild in their claims as historians have conventionally supposed. 

The portrait on the right epitomises the game of 'Guess the Sitter' in Tudor portraiture. To my knowledge, there has been no less than four sitters put forward. Originally identified as being of Henry VIII's first queen, Katherine of Aragon, this was ruled out by the fact that the portrait was painted in c.1525, when Katherine was aged forty, yet the sitter is twenty-five. This also rules out another identification of the sitter as being Jane Seymour, who was twenty-fine in c.1533 and so comes too late after this portrait was painted. Roy Strong, however, suggested that it depicts Queen Anne. There are, again, problems here. The sitter is blonde, while Anne Boleyn did not come to public attention until 1527, when the king proposed marriage to her. In 1525-6 she was a maid of honour to Queen Katherine, and so was not important enough, in a sense, to be painted in a portrait miniature. It is more likely to portray Mary Boleyn, Anne's older sister, who gave birth to a son - possibly the king's - in 1525; if one supports the view that she was born around 1499, this may tentatively be said to present Mary Boleyn. 

Above: a portrait identified as being Thomas Boleyn, earl of Wiltshire and father of Anne. Recently, however, it has been argued that it actually depicts James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond.

Developing the game of 'guess the sitter', the portrait above has often been cited as a likeness of Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and father of Anne. Indeed, we can see how this has informed interpretations of the earl's physical appearance and supposed resemblance to his daughter Anne, as seen in Joanna Denny's biography of the queen published in 2004. Denny suggests that Anne Boleyn was not dark, as is often believed to be the case, but was actually fair in her complexion, while having auburn, as opposed to black, hair, on the basis of this portrait showing 'striking' similarities between father and daughter. However, this is almost certainly untrue, since historian David Starkey has indicated that it portrays James Butler, not Boleyn. As Starkey notes, there is "an utter dissimilarity between the Windsor drawing [of Boleyn] and Boleyn's superb tomb brass". Once again, we have been deceived as to the real sitter of a Tudor portrait.

Above: Lady Jane Grey or Queen Katherine Parr?

A portrait above shows a superbly dressed noblewoman, dated to the early-to-mid 1540s. It was initially identified as portraying Lady Jane Grey, England's first queen regnant, in 1965 by Roy Strong. This occurred due to Strong's perception of similarities between this portrait and an engraving of Jane published in 1620. Yet, as Susan E. James has convincingly suggested, the portrait actually portrays Katherine Parr, sixth queen consort of Henry VIII. This seems all the more convincing since Katherine was queen in the period 1543-1547, when this portrait was executed, and since Lady Jane was born in around 1537, she would have been only eight years old, or thereabouts, when this woman sat for  the portrait. This is clearly not a portrait of an eight year old girl. The fact that this sitter wears jewellery which other queen consorts of the period, such as Katherine Howard, adorned, indicates that it represents Katherine Parr, who would have obtained this jewellery in her right as queen. Yet, once again, a misidentification of a portrait has influenced judgements about the sitter. Frequently, this portrait is advertised in both written works (ie books) and online as showing the tragic Nine-Day queen. It probably represents her one time great-aunt, Katherine.

Tudor portraiture is therefore precarious. Whether one uses it as a source in interpretations or not, it must be carefully scrutinised before making grandiose claims. The game of Guess the Sitter is, unfortunately, a very frequently occurring one in terms of Tudor portraiture, yet it serves to show how mysterious and yet compelling this period continues to remain.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Boleyn Marriage and the Birth of Anne Boleyn

Was Anne Boleyn a 'thin old woman' of thirty-six years old when she was executed on sensational charges of adultery, incest, and attempted regicide in May 1536, or was she actually a 'fearful beauty' of only twenty-eight?

Portraits: The Nidd Hall portrait (left) is often used to support the argument that Anne was born c.1501, since she is depicted as looking tired and aged. By contrast, the National Portrait Gallery portrait of Anne (right) depicts her, in the words of Joanna Denny, as 'radiant' and a 'beauty'. Readers should note that neither of these portraits was painted from life - they were both done years after Anne's death.

When Sir Thomas Boleyn, a rising courtier, married the daughter of the second duke of Norfolk, Elizabeth Howard, sometime between 1498 and 1501, he could surely not have envisaged the momentous consequences for the nature of English history that his union with this prosperous gentlewoman would eventually lead to.[1] Between the date of that marriage and c. 1505, Elizabeth gave birth to no less than five children who survived, although it seems likely that she also suffered miscarriages and/or stillbirths, a tragic series of events her daughter, Anne, would one day also experience. These children included two daughters, Mary and Anne, and three sons, Thomas, Henry, and George, the only one of whom to survive was George, later beheaded for incest with his sister Anne.

Thomas Boleyn was later to inform Sir Thomas Cromwell, the Master Secretary and a decisive player in the fall of Queen Anne, that his wife Elizabeth brought him ‘every year a child'.[2] If one takes the view that the couple had wedded in 1498 at the earliest and 1501 in the latest, this surely indicates that their eldest child must have been born in 1501-2 at the latest and possibly as early as 1499. There is considerable controversy about which of the Boleyn children was the eldest, with historians usually focussing on it being either of the Boleyn daughters, Mary or Anne. Eric Ives, the principal biographer of Anne Boleyn, suggested that Mary Boleyn was the elder daughter after carefully considering surviving contemporary evidence. In 1597, during the reign of Mary’s niece Elizabeth I, Lord Hunsdon, grandson of Mary, petitioned the Queen for the Boleyn earldom of Ormonde which had reverted back into Boleyn hands on the grounds that the Queen’s aunt Mary was the elder of the two Boleyn sisters. As one would expect, he would surely not have contemplated this had he been aware that his grandmother was younger than the queen’s mother. Furthermore, Mary Boleyn actually married before her sister Anne, in February 1520 to William Carey, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber who later died of the sweating sickness in the summer of 1528. As Ives indicates, ‘nor was a marriage for Anne discussed in England until nearly two years after Mary was Mistress Carey’.[3]

Opposing this argument, Warnicke argues that Hunsdon made a mistake and that his daughter Elizabeth ‘later confirmed his error by having it engraved on her tombstone that Mary was younger than Anne’. She also draws attention to the fact that Hunsdon was actually unsuccessful in his attept to obtain the title of Ormonde via this method.[4] Furthermore, the contemporary John Weever in his work Ancient funerall monuments (1631) stated that Anne was the elder daughter, not her sister Mary. [5] However, Warnicke’s argument that Mary Boleyn was never a maid of honour at the French court, along with her sister Anne, can be disputed. The name ‘M. Boleyn’ was on a list of ladies in the period October-December 1514, which indicates that she became a maid of honour the year after Anne was sent to the court of Margaret of Austria in the early summer of 1513. [6]

In considering which Boleyn daughter was elder, one has to consider social, religious, and cultural values prominent in the early Tudor period which would have influenced marriage customs, appointments at court, and family politics. Although it is strange that Anne was appointed a maid-of-honour a year before her sister Mary – in Warnicke’s words, ‘by contemporary custom, the younger child would not have been favored with such a splendid opportunity to the detriment of her older sister...’[7] – it would make even less sense why the younger daughter would have been married before the elder, since according to Tudor family customs, the eldest child was almost invariably married before other siblings as a means of extending family influence and securing prestige. From Ives’ perspective, ‘the decision to leave Anne to make her career in France’ surely suggests ‘there was no place for her in Boleyn family plans’ and her ‘failure to marry while in France suggests that she was not much of a prize’.[8] As has been suggested, there may have been a completely reasonable explanation why Anne was appointed a maid-of-honour in 1513 before her elder sister Mary the year after – it has long been supposed that Anne was intellectually superior to her sister, or perhaps Mary was ill or incapacitated at this time, or perhaps their ambitious father was hoping to secure an appointment for his eldest daughter at court to serve Katherine of Aragon in 1513 while his youngest daughter was appointed a maid-of-honour in France. On a balance of probability, however, it does seem likelier that Mary was older than Anne.

So if Mary was older than Anne, then when was she born? Estimates for Mary’s birth usually run between 1498 and 1502. Warnicke’s suggestion that she was born in 1508 is not supported by contemporary evidence.[9] If Mary was born in 1508, she would have been only eleven years old  when she married William Carey – since she married in February 1520, and as Warnicke herself admits, she may only have been born after March 1508 – which seems totally implausible. As Ives argues, only landed heiresses were married at the young age of twelve, which was something that the Boleyn sisters were not. [10] Warnicke weakens this argument by conceding that most Tudor women married at the age of twenty. [11] Considering court customs and prevailing social and cultural views about women, it seems likely that Mary was born considerably earlier than 1508. If she was appointed a maid of honour to the French queen in the summer or autumn of 1514, she must have been thirteen or fourteen years old at the least. The Emperor Maximilian was later to write that this was the minimum age a European teenage girl should be in order to expect an opportunity of being appointed a maid of honour to an aristocratic noblewoman. Bearing this in mind, it seems likely that Mary was born in around 1500. She was to marry William Carey in the early spring of 1520, when she would likely have been nearing her twentieth birthday, which was the average age that Tudor gentlewomen married at. If her parents, moreover, had married between 1498 and 1501, and she was the eldest child as is here being suggested, a birthdate of 1500 seems plausible.

As Weir suggested, if Mary was older than Anne, then Anne cannot have been born before around 1501.[12] Since the nineteenth century, there have been two schools of thought – or divergences between Tudor scholars – in terms of when this most controversial queen was born, arguing a date of either c.1501 or 1507. As Ives recognised, 1507 was the most popular date well into the early twentieth century. This is supported by contemporary evidence from the late sixteenth century. The memoirs of Jane Dormer (1538-1612), duchess of Feria and maid of honour to Queen Mary I, Anne’s stepdaughter, have been frequently cited as providing evidence of a 1507 birth date. Referring to Anne Boleyn’s execution on 19 May 1936, the Duchess stated: ‘but to come to her death... she was convicted and condemned [and] she was not twenty-nine years of age’, ie. suggesting that Anne would have celebrated her twenty-ninth birthday in the summer of 1536.[13] If she was correct, the Queen was therefore born in 1507. This birth date has been supported by other existing evidence from the sixteenth century. William Camden, who wrote a life of Queen Elizabeth I which was subsequently published in 1615, stated that Anne was born in 1507 – MDVII. However, Russell’s argument that 'the fact that he stated 1507 quite specifically cannot be dismissed, anymore so than the Duchess of Feria's pronouncement in her memoirs' should be reconsidered in light of alternative evidence which decisively challenges this argument that Anne was born in 1501. [14] Camden actually expressed confusion about Anne's date of birth. Besides recalling that she had been born in 1507, he later opined that the king had fallen in love with her aged thirty-eight (1529), when Anne was supposedly 'in the twentieth year of her age', providing a birth date of c.1509. In the same breath, Camden reported that Henry had been married to his first queen for seventeen years (1526) when these events happened. According to Camden, Anne's birth could variously be placed in 1506, 1507, or 1509, which does not suggest that he is the most reliable of sources for the date of birth of Elizabeth I's mother.

As has been established earlier in this essay, Thomas Boleyn decided to grant his youngest daughter Anne the prestige of being appointed a maid of honour to the Archduchess Margaret of Austria in the early summer of 1513. With reference to Mary Boleyn, it has been established also that a maid of honour had to be aged thirteen at the very youngest in order to enjoy such a prestigious appointment – as Warnicke states, girls had to be at least thirteen since ‘on ceremonial occasions they were expected to serve as “decorative foils” to their mistress’.[15] Surely then it makes little sense why a young girl of only six or seven years of age would have been chosen to act as a maid of honour to the new French queen, Mary, sister of Henry VIII, when other girls were aged at least thirteen or fourteen. By contemporary custom, this seems an implausible conclusion to make. In 1981 Hugh Paget, the art historian, analysed a letter which Anne wrote to her father Thomas in the summer of 1514, and concluded that Anne must have been born in 1501 at the very latest. Readers should bear in mind that this early date had actually been suggested in the nineteenth century by the prominent Victorian historian of the queens of England, Agnes Strickland.

Some historians continue to advocate a birth date of 1507, despite its inherent improbability; most famously Warnicke. Yet in Ives’ words she ‘requires us to believe that Henry VIII summoned a now seven-year-old Anne from Brussels in order that his sister could converse in French with a beginner in the language who would today be in a primary school’. [16] When one actually looks at a copy of the letter Anne wrote in 1514, it is clear that it is written in ‘the formed hand of at least a teenager’, not a seven-year old, as G.W. Bernard makes clear. [17]

The actual nature of historical sources which describe Anne Boleyn as being born in 1507 need to be rigorously challenged. As Joanna Denny indicated, Jane Dormer's memoirs should be viewed only with considerable caution, since she was hostile to Anne and resented her daughter Elizabeth, by virtue of her extremely close relationship with Queen Mary. It is entirely possible that she chose to characterise Anne as being a young and foolish woman in order to belittle her or weaken her status; instead of portraying her as an independent, fiery woman (as the hostile Nicholas Sander does; more importantly, he presented Anne as being born in around 1500), she remembered Anne as a worthless younger woman. William Camden, despite his different religious beliefs to Dormer, may have read her memoirs published by Henry Clifford - it has never been proved that he did not.

The archduchess’ reference to Anne Boleyn in a letter to Thomas in 1514 as ‘so bright and pleasant for her young age’ has often been cited as evidence that Anne must have been born in 1507 – if she had been born in around 1501, and was therefore the usual age of a maid of honour in European courts, it would make little sense why her youth was emphasised, in Warnicke’s words: ‘had she been twelve or thirteen and thus old enough to be a maid of honor, these reporters would not have regarded her age as noteworthy’. [18] Yet this approach is problematic. If one follows the argument that Anne was sent to the archduchess’ court in the early summer of 1513, when she would not yet have been twelve years old, it does not seem wholly impossible that she would have been seen as rather younger than most other girls. Indeed, if she was still only eleven, she would not yet have reached the minimum age of thirteen that the Emperor expected most maids of honour to be. Furthermore, this was only a minimum – many girls at court would have been somewhat older than thirteen or fourteen. The fact that Thomas Boleyn described his daughter as 'le petite Boulaine' is also likely to have been because of her status as his younger daughter, rather than her age.

The argument that Anne Boleyn may have been born in 1507 because another girl at the Burgundian court, Anne Brandon, was born around 1506 and so there were other pre-pubescent girls serving the archduchess, makes little sense for several reasons. First, as Warnicke states, Brandon’s birth date is actually unknown. [19] She may have been born in 1503 and would therefore have been aged ten or eleven, rather than merely seven. The suggestion, therefore, that Anne Boleyn may have been close to her twelfth birthday when she arrived in spring 1513 becomes a great deal more compelling. Second, she was the daughter of future Duke of Suffolk, Charles Brandon, a considerably more influential nobleman than Thomas Boleyn was as yet, and so Charles may have been granted special privileges in allowing his relative to reside at court at a young age which the daughter of Thomas Boleyn would simply not have enjoyed. Finally, as Ives has pointed out, Anne Brandon’s status at court was actually unknown and so it is unhelpful to attempt comparisons between her status and that of Anne Boleyn. [20]

There is, indeed, other contemporary evidence to support an earlier birth date of 1507, somewhere around 1500-1501. Lord Herbert of Chadbury, who was a prominent historian in the late sixteenth century, wrote that Anne returned to England at the age of twenty. We know that Anne returned in January 1522 in order to contract a marriage with her father’s chosen man, James Butler, an Irish relative, in order to settle family disputes over the earldom of Ormonde. If one follows Herbert’s claim, she must have been nearing her twenty-first birthday and so would have been born around 1501. Warnicke’s attempts to reinterpret this to mean that Herbert was referring to 1527 – based on her suggestion that Anne only became Katherine of Aragon’s maid of honour that year – makes little sense. It seems apparent that Anne was appointed as a maid of honour to the English queen on her return to England in the winter of 1522, and not as late as 1527. Indeed, if Herbert had been referring to Anne's age when she was at court in 1527, he would more likely have stressed that this was when the king fell in love with her, for by 1527 their relationship were certainly well-known. An Italian observer writing in 1600, furthermore, believed that Anne had been born as early as 1499, while the Spanish ambassador’s comment in February 1536, the last year of Anne’s life, that Anne was ‘a thin old woman’ would seem to make little sense if she was still a ‘radiant’ beauty of only twenty-eight. Admittedly, he often made spiteful comments about Anne, who he hated and viewed as a she-devil, but the Nidd Hall portrait of Anne (albeit only painted at least fifty years after Anne’s death) can cautiously be seen to support this view.

One must also consider attitudes to marriage and family customs in early Tudor England as a means of establishing Anne’s birth date. Having returned to England in early 1522 in order to marry her relative James Butler, Anne would confidently have expected to have become a countess sometime that year aged twenty-one. However, the marriage negotiations, mysteriously, failed, and nothing came of the proposed marriage. Her father made no more moves to marry his youngest daughter, until famously in 1526 the king himself fell in love with ‘this fresh young damsel’. Supporters of 1507 have argued that it is totally implausible that a Tudor gentlewoman would have been left unmarried as ‘old’ as twenty-five or twenty-six, yet this view does not take into account the fact that, aged twenty-one, Anne had expected to marry some four years earlier. Contemporary social customs do not support the suggestion that ‘having reached the age of 25 without a husband, Anne would have been sailing dangerously close to the "unmarriageable age," something which it is almost impossible to believe her father would have allowed’.[21] Martin Ingram’s research, for instance, has indicated that the mean age of women who married in early modern England was usually twenty-four, while in some areas of England it was as late as twenty-seven. Following Warnicke’s argument that most Tudor women married aged twenty, it makes little sense why a young lady of twenty-five would have been regarded as at an ‘unmarriageable’ age in 1526-7. Indeed, Anne’s later supplanter, Jane Seymour, was consistently referred to by the Spanish ambassador as ‘a young lady’ in 1536, when she was actually aged twenty-eight.

Furthermore, Henry VIII proposed marriage to Anne in 1527. If one believes that she was born c1501, she would have been around twenty-six and confidently expecting to marry the king that year and perhaps bear his long-awaited heir the year after. There is no reason to suppose that she had to have been only nineteen or twenty in order to be regarded as having ‘apparent aptness to procreation of children’. Surely no one at court could have envisaged that the king’s mission for an annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon would take six long years – as Ives has pointed out, Anne and King Henry expected to marry immediately.
In 1529, Anne ‘worried aloud that her time and youth would all be spent for nothing’, famously railing at the king for his failure to bring about their marriage and, as a consequence, lessening the chances of her bearing a child.[22] It seems questionable why she would have made such an issue of this had she been aged only twenty-two; yet if she was closer to twenty-eight or twenty-nine, it becomes more apparent why Anne fretted about her diminishing chances of bearing a healthy male heir once she became queen. One writer has actually suggested that Anne made this comment in 1531, supposedly aged thirty, but Chapuys' dispatches make clear that she actually made the comment on St Andrew's Day, 1529.[23] A consideration of similar court ladies' experiences will justify a 1501 birth date in this context. Mary Boleyn, born in 1499-1500, married in 1520, aged 20-21; Jane Parker, born around 1505, was married in 1524-5, aged 19-20, and Elizabeth Howard, Anne's mother, born c.1480, had married in 1499-1500, aged 19-20. If Anne was only twenty-two in 1529, as supporters of 1507 believe, then it does not make any sense why she would have bewailed her lost youth, when she was actually at the perfect age for marriage in context of Tudor customs. Yet if she was 27 or 28, it becomes far more obvious.

There is other compelling evidence for Anne being born earlier than 1507, and around 1501. Gareth Russell, in his essay 'The Age of Anne Boleyn' writes:

'One question the 1501 side of the debate has never fully answered is the issue of Anne's suitability to be the mother of the King's children... Why did no-one highlight the fact that she was simply too old to be the mother of the next Heir to the Throne?' 

Russell then cites the letter to the Vatican in 1528-9 which stresses Anne's 'apparent aptness to procreation of children' which would seemingly indicate that she was a young woman of about 22, rather than an older court lady of 28 or 29.

However, reading evidence in a new light weakens this argument. Following Anne Boleyn's execution in 1536, her husband Henry VIII married her former lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour, and in the Parliament held in June 1536, Lord Chancellor Audley described the Queen Jane as such:

'that our excellent Prince... hath consented to accept that condition and has taken to himself a wife, who in age and form is deemed to be meet and apt for the procreation of children'.[24]

Jane Seymour's exact age is unknown, but if 29 women walked at her funeral only one year later, she must have been aged around 28 when Audley made this comment. Thus, it is entirely appropriate that Anne Boleyn, at about the exact same age, had been described as likely to bear children. 

To summarise, there is no reason to believe that a woman in her mid twenties was considered ‘old’ in context of early modern Tudor customs, nor is there any reason to suppose that her likely age of thirty-five at death is highly unlikely in view of the fact that Anne still became pregnant regularly during her queenship. It also seems tenuous to argue that Anne’s father and the archduchess would only regard Anne as being 'young’ if she was aged six or seven rather than being eleven or twelve, particularly in view of the sense that children this young were simply not appointed maids of honour in the first place. Although the discovery of the remains of a Tudor woman in the Tower of London aged between twenty-five and thirty was believed to have been Anne, this is not necessarily the case since Victorians commonly believed that Anne had been only twenty-nine at her execution and so this presupposition may have influenced their judgments. Furthermore, it is not certain that this woman was Anne – it may have been another, since, as has been recognised, there were four other decapitated females buried in the Tower: teenage queens Katherine Howard and Jane Grey, the Lady Jane Rochford, and Margaret, countess of Salisbury. All in all, a birth date of between 1500 and 1502, most likely 1501 has to be regarded as more likely than that of 1507.

Briefly, in view of Boleyn family history it seems apparent that George Boleyn was the youngest surviving Boleyn child and not, in Warnicke’s view, the eldest.[25] George took part in his first masque at court at Christmas 1514 and was later married in late 1524 to Jane Parker. It has been seen as significant that he was made his first grant in April 1522, perhaps when he was eighteen years of age. If one follows that Mary and Anne were older than George, being born in 1500 and 1501 respectively, and he married in 1524 perhaps aged twenty, a birth date of c1504 seems highly likely. His older brothers Thomas and Henry, who died aged young, were likely born in 1502 and 1503.

This article has refuted the notion that Anne Boleyn was born in 1507. It seems apparent that we should be regarding her birth date as likely to have been in the summer of 1501. Furthermore, it seems even less credible to claim that her sister Mary was younger and only eleven or twelve years old when she married in 1520. Surviving contemporary evidence and contemporary social and cultural customs indicate a birth date of 1499-1500, meaning that Mary was likely aged fourteen when she became a maid of honour to the French queen in 1514 and around twenty when she married Carey in 1520. Mary’s brother, George, was probably born in 1504 as the youngest surviving Boleyn child. This would, therefore, support Thomas Boleyn’s claim that Elizabeth Howard bore him every year a child, if the two married in around 1499 and their daughter Mary was born either that year or the next, followed by Anne, followed by Thomas and Henry, and lastly by George in 1504. It is also possible, of course, that Elizabeth suffered failures in pregnancy; her daughter Anne was to suffer at least two. If the Spanish ambassador’s depiction of Anne as a ‘thin old woman’ in the winter of 1536 can be regarded as spiteful, there is also a chance that it was, unfortunately, an accurate presentation of a queen whose miscarriage the month before had undoubtedly saddened and, plausibly, weakened her.

[1] The date of Thomas Boleyn’s marriage to Elizabeth Howard is unknown. Her jointure was settled on her in November 1501, which indicates that a marriage had taken place that year at the very latest; see Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (Oxford, 2005), p. 17. As Ives conjectures, 1498 is probably the earliest possible date for the marriage. R. M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (Cambridge, 1989), p. 9 suggests a marriage date of 1501, but no evidence is provided to substantiate this suggestion.
[2] Ives, p. 17.
[3] Ives, pp. 16-17. It also seems implausible that Queen Elizabeth would actually have allowed Hunsdon to obtain the earldom of Ormonde if she was aware that her mother Anne was older than Mary, since she would have obtained it otherwise.
[4] Warnicke, p. 258.
[5] R. M. Warnicke, ‘Anne Boleyn’s Childhood and Adolescence’, The Historical Journal, Vol. 28, No. 4, Dec., 1985, p. 940.
[6] Warnicke, ‘Childhood’, p. 951. See also A. Weir, Mary Boleyn: The ‘Great and Infamous Whore’ (Jonathan Cape, 2011), for an argument which refutes this view.
[7]Warnicke, Rise and fall, p. 9.
[8] Ives, Anne Boleyn, p. 17.
[9]Warnicke, Rise and fall, p. 9. See also ‘Anne Boleyn’s Childhood and Adolescence’, pp. 939-952.
[10] Ives, Anne Boleyn, p. 369.
[11] Warnicke, Rise and fall, p. 35.
[12] A. Weir Mary Boleyn, p. 16.
[13] G. Russell, ‘The Age of Anne Boleyn’ (April 2010), http:// (last accessed 24 Nov 2012)
[14] Ibid.
[15] Warnicke, Rise and fall, p. 10.
[16] E. W. Ives, ‘Stress, Faction and Ideology in Early-Tudor England,’ The Historical Journal, Vol. 34, No. 1, Mar., 1991, p. 195.
[17] G. W. Bernard, Fatal Attractions (Yale, 2010), Chapter 1.
[18] Warnicke, Rise and fall, p. 12.
[19] Warnicke, Rise and fall, p. 259.
[20] Ives, Anne Boleyn, p. 368.
[21] G. Russell, ‘The Age of Anne Boleyn’ (April 2010), http:// (last accessed 24 Nov 2012)
[22] Warnicke, Rise and fall, p. 95.
[23] G. Russell, 'Age'.
[24] J.A. Froude, The Reign of Henry the Eighth, ii. xi., p173. 
[25] Warnicke, Rise and fall, p. 9. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The birth and childhood of Katherine Howard, queen of England

In his biography of Queen Katherine Howard, published in 1961, Professor Lacey Baldwin Smith suggested what would seem to have been a plausible date of birth for Katherine Howard, the fifth queen of Henry VIII. After carefully analysing the evidence, in particular using the likely date of marriage of Katherine’s parents and her subsequent place in the order of children born to Edmund and Joyce Howard, as well as relying upon the dispatches of Charles de Marillac, French ambassador during Katherine’s reign as queen, Smith asserted that a birth date of circa 1521 was plausible.[1] This date of birth has been subsequently accepted by the majority of modern historians who frequently refer to Katherine being a girl of nineteen at the time of her marriage to Henry VIII. However, not all historians have been convinced by Smith’s arguments; Joanna Denny, in her popular biography on the life and reign of Katherine Howard, argued that 1525 was a likelier date of birth. Primarily, the 1521 date has been put forward on the basis of the French ambassador’s dispatches, which referred to Katherine being aged eighteen during the time of her relationship with Francis Dereham in about 1538-9. It will be argued here, however, that the 1521 birth date is based upon an inaccurate reading of the French ambassador’s dispatches – and that he actually referred to the queen in 1541.[2]
Unlike Denny, who relied overwhelmingly on the fact that Katherine had been omitted from a family will made by Sir John Legh in 1524, yet had been included in a later edition made by his wife in 1527[3], this will rely upon comments made by a Spanish citizen in around 1540, the evidence of a portrait which has strong evidence in suggesting it depicts Queen Katherine during 1540-1541, and numerous contemporary remarks made on the queen’s age that a birth date of 1524, as opposed to 1520-1521, is more likely. A correct reading of the French ambassador Marillac’s comments, made in the context of Queen Katherine’s fall, will show that he meant that the queen was in her thirteenth year at the time of her first sexual relationship, ie. in 1536. Furthermore, contemporary attitudes to childhood and adolescence will be analysed in order to place the numerous comments about the queen’s age in a coherent context which further supports a later birth date, and advance a wider understanding of social mores in early modern England.
In order to initially establish a plausible date of birth for Katherine, it would seem logical to consider the likely date of her parents’ marriage. This remains an area of mystery for modern historians. Agnes Strickland, the popular Victorian historian, asserted that Katherine’s father, Lord Edmund Howard, a younger son of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey and later Duke of Norfolk, had been a bachelor nobleman who had escorted Princess Mary Tudor, sister of the future Henry VIII, to France for her marriage to King Louis of France in the autumn of 1514.[4] However, as James Gairdner recognised in his Dictionary of National Biography entry on the queen, there is neither evidence that Lord Edmund accompanied the Princess to France, or that he was a bachelor nobleman, compounded by the fact that Strickland does not cite her sources.[5] This unlikelihood is further developed by the fact that Edmund Howard was hardly a favourite of Henry VIII; in fact, he appears to have been largely excluded from royal favour throughout his career.[6] Thus it remains questionable why he would be accorded such an honour as to accompany the King’s beloved sister to France, unless he were amongst the King’s inner circle. On the other hand, Baldwin Smith suggested that Lord Edmund married his wife, Jocasta Culpeper, after 1514 because beforehand, it would have been unlikely that ‘Edmund, merely as the third son of the Earl of Surrey, could have snared such an eminently respectable and affluent lady’.[7] Since Jocasta was a wealthy and prosperous lady of some standing in Kent – she was co-heir of Sir Richard Culpeper of Aylesford, Kent – this would appear to be a plausible conclusion to make. What is clear from this is that both Edmund and Jocasta were already in their mid-thirties at their marriage in circa 1514-15, a highly late age at which to marry in an era in which girls frequently married as young as twelve and boys were regarded capable of matrimony at fourteen; Katherine Howard’s uncle and Edmund’s brother, Thomas Howard, was himself of the opinion that a girl ‘who strikes the fire of full fourteen, today [is] ripe for a husband’.[8] Gairdner recognised this and commented on the unlikelihood of a marriage as late as 1514 because ‘it is not in itself a very probable thing that he [Edmund] waited till he was over thirty-five to marry a woman who was over thirty.’[9] This rests on the conclusion that Edmund was born in c. 1478 and Jocasta in approximately 1480, as Denny suggested. On the basis of Strickland’s conjecture, in conjunction with Baldwin Smith’s theory on the marriage date, it would seem logical to conclude that the Howards married not before 1514 but certainly before c.1517-18.
Having established a plausible date of marriage, the historian must now consider where Katherine herself fitted into the birth order of the children begotten by her parents. To begin with, it is unclear how many natural children Edmund and Jocasta had.[10] Jocasta had married in around 1496, at the age of sixteen, to Ralph Legh, who was a relative of her stepfather. She certainly had issue with him, but historians have long since supposed that the five or so children she had with Ralph came under the ten ‘starving’ children Edmund was claiming in 1527, whom he accepted as his own.[11] This would seem unlikely. Genealogical tables suggest that Isabel Leigh – nee Baynton – was the eldest daughter of Jocasta’s union with Ralph, born around 1496-7; thus at the time of her mother’s death in the mid to late 1520s, she would have been aged in her early thirties. However, even Isabel’s birthdate is in dispute. She married Edward Baynton on 18 January 1531 and had three children with him; thus, she would have been circa 35 at marriage and around 40 when her son, Henry, was born in 1536, which does not seem plausible that the eldest daughter of a prosperous union would have remained unwed until her mid thirties. Baldwin Smith referred to the ‘hapless confusion’ of how many children Jocasta had with Ralph and were then looked after by Edmund after Ralph’s date in about 1509-10.
 Lord Edmund wrote in 1527 to Cardinal Wolsey that he was ‘utterly undone’ by the fact that he had to bring up ten starving children without sufficient means in which to do so.[12]Antonia Fraser suggested that the couple had six children together[13], while other historians’ estimates range between four and ten. Evidence will be put forward to compellingly suggest that Edmund and Jocasta had some six children in around thirteen years of marriage, of which Katherine was the youngest. Firstly, in a will of 1524 made by Sir John Legh, the father-in-law of Edmund Howard, reference was made to the sons of the marriage: Charles, Henry and George. Charles was a prominent nobleman whose influence increased with the rise to power of his sister Katherine; he became famous for an ill-fated relationship with the king’s niece, Lady Margaret Douglas. His early influence at court would seem to indicate that he was the eldest son of the union, born perhaps around 1515-16. Although it has been incorrectly stated that Henry Howard died young[14], there is no evidence to suggest this, and there exists evidence to suggest that, like Charles, he was awarded a knighthood by the king. He married Anne, but which Anne is unclear. Like both his brothers, Henry’s influence increased considerably following his sister’s extraordinary marriage to the king. George Howard was certainly born before 1524, as he was referred to in the will made by Sir John Legh in that year[15]; he was the only one of Katherine’s three brothers to prosper in the long-term in the aftermath of her execution in 1542, acquiring a knighthood in 1547 and various offices in the following decade. It has been established by several historians that he was the youngest of the three sons born to Edmund and Jocasta.[16] Retha Warnicke suggested that George, like his youngest sister Katherine, was brought up by Agnes, dowager Duchess of Norfolk in the early 1530s, spending his childhood there as a result of his father’s escape abroad.[17] Prominent in the reigns of Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, he died in 1580[18], comparatively the most successful – in the long term – of the surviving Howard siblings. If we date Charles’ birth to around 1515 – supporting this is the fact that Lady Margaret Douglas, his lover, was born in October of that year, making it likely that he was close to her in age – it would logically follow that Henry was born the following year or so, with George born in approximately 1519.[19] Genealogical tables which identify George Howard as being born in 1525 are clearly incorrect[20]because, as has been noted, he was mentioned in his grandfather’s will in 1524.
Unlike the Howard sons, of whom there is little evidence in terms of their respective marriages, ample evidence exists of the marriage alliances made by Jocasta's daughters which exists to provide plausible conjectures for their respective dates of birth. Margaret was Jocasta's daughter by her marriage with Ralph Legh and married Thomas Arundel by settlement dated 20 November 1530.[21] This opposes other claims made that she married him in either 1531 or 1533.[22] Since, legally, girls had to be at least twelve years of age in order to marry – Jocasta, Katherine Howard’s mother, herself married in her mid teens, while one historian would argue that the sister of Anne Boleyn married at just twelve[23] – we can therefore date Margaret’s birth to no later than c.1518. Some evidence exists, however, to suggest that she was in fact born in around 1515 in Tisbury, Wiltshire, where she later died.[24] 
Mary Howard married Edmund Trafford who had been born in 1526; Denny suggests in 1532, but since she also claims that Mary married Edward Baynton – confusing her with her half-sister, Isabel – this date is impossible since Edmund would have been only six years old.[25] Further complications arise out of the fact that Mary was ‘claimed’ by both Howard and Legh families.[26] Yet the fact that Mary Howard was mentioned in the will of her grandmother Isabel in 1527 would convincingly argue that she was the daughter of Edmund and Joyce Culpeper. Since her husband Edmund was born in 1526, Mary must have been close in age to him, as recorded by the History of Parliament. The fact that it was her sister Katherine who was selected to serve Anne of Cleves, and the probability that she was still unmarried during her sister's reign as queen, indicates that Mary was younger than Katherine, and was probably born in 1525.
Where does this leave Katherine Howard? The evidence would seem to suggest the following birth order for the five surviving Howard children from the union of Edmund and Jocasta in circa 1514-15: Charles, Henry, George, Katherine and Mary. Some historians would no doubt raise eyebrows at the fact that ‘only’ five children resulted from a union which lasted thirteen years until at least the mid 1520s – Starkey claimed that Jocasta was dead by the late 1520s[28], which is borne out by the fact that Edmund remarried in around 1528. The other five children of the ten children Edmund was claiming in 1527 would therefore, reasonably, seem to be the four children from Jocasta’s first marriage with Ralph. It is also plausible that Jocasta suffered miscarriages; these and stillbirths were common enough for the time – Jocasta’s niece by marriage, Anne Boleyn, would suffer two; while Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, suffered at least six. No doubt historians further raise eyebrows at the fact that a forty-four year old woman was still conceiving children; yet this should not be seen as particularly remarkable; the Spanish ambassador Eustace Chapuys referred to women at the age of fifty-one who were conceiving children, while Thomas Cromwell, the king’s secretary, admitted to Chapuys that his own mother had been fifty-one when she had given birth to him in 1485.[29]
Strickland, having considered the evidence, surmised that Katherine could not have been born before 1521-22, if she was one of the younger  children of the union.[30] This has generally been followed by most modern historians, who have misinterpreted the evidence of the French ambassador Marillac’s exchanges and an erroneous portrait of ‘Katherine’ to suggest the Queen was born in around 1521. Yet the frequent references to the youth of the queen – made from notables such as the Protestant theologian Bullinger to the Queen who Katherine displaced, Anne of Cleves – as well as a possible portrait of c1540-1 portraying the queen does not support this date. Furthermore, historians have frequently relied on Marillac’s dispatches without viewing his dispatches critically. Marillac did not refer to the queen being eighteen years of age during her relationship with Dereham in the period 1538-1539 (which he cannot have known anyway because the only evidence which supports this date is Katherine’s own confession, which does not appear to have been made accessible to the public) but as eighteen when she was experiencing an affair with Dereham. Since the government accused her of carrying on her “abominable” affair with Dereham after her marriage, and the fact that Katherine was initially abused by Henry Manox in 1536-7 may have meant that Marillac confused information relating to Manox which he in fact believed to be related to Dereham, a correct reading of the dispatches therefore suggests a 1524 birth date.[31]

Attitudes to marriage provide telling insights into when Henry's fifth consort might have been born. Barbara J. Harris, in her study English Aristocratic Women 1450-1550 (Oxford, 2002), discovered that forty-one aristocratic females from a sample of fifty-three were sixteen or younger when they married; only three were aged 21 or more. If aristocratic girls were, on average, married between 13 and 16, it seems likely that Katherine would fall into that pattern being a daughter of the brother to the duke of Norfolk. Her mother had married while a teenager and her sister Margaret married in 1530 aged around fifteen. When she married the king in the summer of 1540, Katherine might have been about fifteen or sixteen. In view of these aristocratic customs, and recorded comments about her respective youth, it is certain that she was still a teenager. If born between 1523 and 1525, she must have been aged from fifteen to seventeen; with sixteen a probable age.
A Spanish observer in the 1540s, who recorded his findings in a document known as ‘The Chronicle of Henry VIII’ – or the so-called ‘Spanish Chronicle’ – suggested that the queen was not above fifteen when she married Henry VIII in 1540.[32] This has been often rejected by modern historians, because the ‘imagination [of the author] is considerably better than his facts’ and could substantially be said to be ‘garbled street gossip, strongly laced with the picaresque’.[33] G.W. Bernard claimed that the Chronicle was created much later than the events it describes, in the reign of Elizabeth I, by Spanish Catholics hostile to her.[34]However, in context of this, it would seem difficult to argue why Catholics, even Spanish Catholics, would be hostile to Katherine and so misrepresent her rise to power and marriage to the king. She herself was Catholic – albeit she was not notably pious or devout – and came from the principal Catholic family of England. One problem with this evidence is that it describes Katherine as about fifteen, while claiming she was in the service of Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VIII, in the aftermath of Jane Seymour’s death.[35] This clearly is not true – she had not been at court in the service of Mary in 1537-8; she was appointed a maid of honour to the German Queen Anne of Cleves in the winter of 1539. Furthermore, the marriages to Henry VIII are reversed; instead of being the king’s fifth queen consort, Katherine is instead his fourth, with Anne succeeding as opposed to preceding her.
On the basis of this, the evidence supplied by the ‘Spanish Chronicle’ in relation to the queen’s age is therefore tenuous. Yet in context of the numerous comments made about the queen’s age, a birth of little older than fifteen in 1539-40 does not seem impossible; in fact, it becomes very plausible. The Protestant theologian Bullinger in Zurich was informed by the merchant Richard Hilles that ‘the King’s affections were alienated from the lady Anna [of Cleves] to that young girl Katherine Howard’.[36] [my italics] Before proceeding, we might ask ourselves what a ‘young girl’ was in mid-Tudor England. As has been noted, girls were able to marry at the age of twelve; Katherine’s own uncle believed a fourteen-year old girl was ready, or ‘ripe’, for a husband. There does not seem to have been a concept of childhood at this time, hence why children could be tried and executed – they were seen as adults. A popular historian decisively refuted a later birthdate for Katherine, claiming that puberty occurred later in Tudor England[37], which is nonsensical, to say the least. Since girls could marry at twelve and were able to bear children within a few years – Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, bore him at the age of thirteen, while Warnicke claimed that Mary Boleyn became the King’s mistress at the age of around sixteen[38] – this would seem to suggest that puberty occurred earlier, rather than later. It seems questionable why Hilles would describe Katherine as a ‘young girl’ if she was only five years younger than Anne, as modern historians often suggest.
Anne of Cleves, in the wake of Katherine’s fall in the autumn of 1541, herself referred to Katherine as a ‘child’.[39] Much of the Queen’s behaviour during her short reign could be said to have been explained by an immature girl who was too young to be involved in royal politics. The Spanish observer suggested that her cruel treatment of Princess Mary was because of her youth – she was ‘too young’ to maintain a queenly dignity over her stepdaughter, likening her to a ‘mere child’.[40] Although of course it may have resulted from a plea for mercy from her husband, Katherine frequently referred to her ‘youth’ during her fall: ‘I trust your most benign nature will have some respect unto my youth, my ignorance, my frailness…’ She also, in the same letter, referred to herself as a ‘young girl’ at the time of her relationship with Dereham some two or three years previously.[41] George Cavendish, a former servant of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, alluded to Katherine’s youth no fewer than ten times; this consistent repetition of her youth would seem to indicate that the queen was exceptionally young at her marriage to Henry VIII.[42] Collectively, it would seem astonishing that a variety of well-placed observers, ranging from the king’s rejected fourth wife to an English merchant, would emphasise Katherine Howard’s youth were she no more than four or five years younger than the royal noblewoman, Anne of Cleves, she had displaced. Since her uncle, the duke of Norfolk, expressed the opinion that fourteen-year-old girls were of an age to marry and bear children, this could indicate that his niece Katherine had only somewhat recently surpassed that age, leading to observers commenting upon her remarkable youth.
There is further evidence to indicate a 1524 birth date. In the autumn of 1539, as Henry VIII prepared to marry for the fourth time to the German princess Anne of Cleves, Katherine’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, secured appointments for three of his nieces as maids of honour to the new queen as her household was built up, ready for her expected arrival in the winter of 1539 in what must be interpreted as family politics in Henry VIII’s court.[43] These nieces included Katherine, her cousin Katherine Carey, daughter of Mary Boleyn, and Mary Norris, daughter of Henry Norris, who had been executed in 1536 with Anne Boleyn. Their birth dates are significant in providing evidence of Katherine’s own age at appointment. Katherine Carey was born almost certainly in the spring of 1524[44], making her fifteen years old when she was selected by Thomas Howard as a maid-of-honour to the future queen; while Mary Norris was even younger, having been born in 1526. Thus, two of the new queen’s maids of honour were aged thirteen and fifteen at appointment which was fairly usual – the Emperor Maximilian had written earlier in the century that a maid-of-honour was usually aged thirteen or fourteen at appointment.[45] It therefore becomes far less likely that Katherine Howard was born as early as 1519-21. Had she been born in those years, she would have been aged between eighteen and twenty at appointment as a maid-of-honour – it is not impossible that she would have been aged in her later teens, but the fact that she was appointed as a maid-of-honour in the autumn of 1539 along with two young cousins does not tend to support an early birth date. It should be remembered here that Katherine’s cousin was Anne Boleyn, queen consort of Henry VIII, who had been in power from 1533 to 1536. Katherine, as traditionally modern historians would seek to suggest, would have been aged thirteen to fifteen in those years; quite possibly as old as seventeen, if one accepts the 1519 birth date (resulting largely from a questionable portrait identification, which will be discussed in detail). The Duke of Norfolk, as an ambitious nobleman who strongly desired developing the influence of his family at court, would surely have endeavoured to have appointed Katherine to her cousin’s household some years earlier than that of 1539. The reason he did not is almost certainly because Katherine was too young – she seems to have been nine at the time of Anne’s marriage and coronation, and twelve at her execution.
The identification of portraits has been critical in assessing the age of Henry VIII’s fifth queen. In 1898, a portrait was identified as Katherine Howard, because it dates from the late 1530s-early 1540s. The picture portrays a twenty-one year old woman, dressed in black – which has been described as funeral attire, which Katherine of course had no occasion to wear, or black merely to demonstrate the lady’s status and wealth – with a serious expression bordering on matronly subservience. Her eyes are dark and her chin is prominent, with a large nose. Three versions exist of this portrait, which in itself serves to demonstrate this lady’s importance, as she was obviously in high demand as a sitter. Her hair is reddish-brown, with pale skin. How does this appearance correspond with contemporary descriptions of Katherine? The French ambassador Marillac – who has already been noted as a questionable observer – met the queen in 1540, and described her as ‘small and slender’, with a ‘delightful countenance’. This does not match up with the appearance of the sitter. Her frame and height appears larger than ‘small and slender’. Her countenance does not seem ‘delightful’ with neither an expression of youthful happiness or mischievous flirtatiousness, characteristics usually associated with the queen. The portrait would seem to represent Katherine Howard as it was identified by David Starkey as her in 2008. The lavish costume and expensive jewellery proclaim a royal status, reinforced by the dignified, almost superior expression of the sitter. Yet the fact that the sitter wears royal jewels does not automatically mean that it is Katherine. The dress of the sitter suggests that it originates from the late 1530s or early 1540s; particularly in terms of the French hood which evolved from that worn by Anne Boleyn in the early 1530s. More to the point, in the late 1530s there were other notable royal women at court of a similar age: Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII; Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of Queen Margaret and niece of Henry VIII, Frances Brandon, niece of Henry VIII and married to Henry Grey in 1533, and her sister Eleanor. Any one of these women could have been the sitter in this portrait. Lady Antonia Fraser, in her 1992 biography, argued that the portrait depicted the younger sister of Jane Seymour, Elizabeth.[46] Yet this is unlikely. The sitter does not bear any resemblance to Jane, although Fraser argues otherwise; furthermore, since Elizabeth is generally believed to have been born between 1511 and 1513, she would have been aged twenty-one in 1532-1534, considerably before her sister came to prominence. As recognised by Weir she was not an important enough person to wear such expensive costume or merit wearing royal jewels, as the mere daughter of a knight. Mary Tudor was aged twenty-one in 1537, Lady Margaret in 1536-7, Frances Brandon in 1538 and her sister Eleanor in 1540. Yet because Lady Margaret appears to have been in disgrace in 1536-7, due to her ill-natured liaison with Thomas Howard, this perhaps makes her less likely to have been the sitter, if she was banished from court at that time. The similarity in facial features between Frances Brandon and one version of the portrait formerly identified as Katherine could suggest it actually depicts Frances. There is no confirmed portrait of Eleanor Brandon, so we cannot know for certain what she looked like; Mary Tudor seems, from the basis of a portrait of her in 1544, to have been more slender and fairer than the sitter in the ‘Katherine Howard’ portrait. Both the portrait of Frances and the one thought to be of Katherine have a similarly prominent nose, pale skin, round chin and auburn hair. Since Frances appears to have been a favourite of her uncle Henry VIII, and was aged twenty-one in 1538, when the costume worn by the sitter was both fashionable and a symbol of high status, this could, tentatively, be said to depict the future mother of Lady Jane Grey, as opposed to the fifth queen of Henry VIII.
Having, then, considered portraiture as a means of assessing Katherine Howard’s true age, this will also be looked at in supporting the argument that she was aged sixteen or seventeen when she became Queen of England in the summer of 1540. There exists a portrait in the New York Museum of Metropolitan Art, entitled ‘Portrait of a Young Woman: Style of Hans Holbein the Younger’, English and dated between 1540 and 1550. The portrait depicts a young girl, in the seventeenth year of her life, with pale skin, reddish-blonde hair, dark blue eyes, a small chin and curved lips. Her expression suggests both mischievousness and yet royal superiority. The lavish costume proclaims her highborn status; her expensive jewellery confirms that she is one of the most important ladies at the English court. As Starkey recognised in his identification of a portrait as Jane Grey: “It would be unusual for someone [of evident youth] to sit for a miniature unless they had very high status.”[47] Therefore, the youth of this sitter strongly suggests she must have been very important to warrant being painted. The portrait has, more to the point, been attributed to the early 1540s; Susan E. James and Jamie S. Franco have gone as far to suggest it depicts Katherine Howard. Both the locket and the gold setting for the cameo seem to have been designed by Holbein, perhaps to flatter the young queen. The costume belongs to approximately 1540. The continental dress conforms to what we know of the fashion worn by Katherine Howard; at his visit to court in 1540, the French ambassador Marillac stated that she and her ladies wore the most fashionable French fashions. If we are able, moreover, to date it to approximately 1540, this effectively discounts the other English royal ladies as candidates for the sitter: Mary Tudor would have been twenty-four in 1540, Lady Margaret twenty-five, Frances Brandon twenty-three, and Eleanor Brandon twenty-one. It is unlikely to belong later to the decade because fashions had once more evolved by 1550, as seen in portraits of contemporary English noblewomen. Furthermore, the portrait bears a strong resemblance to a sketch done of Katherine by Holbein, perhaps around the time she became Queen. Henry VIII lavished expensive jewellery on his ‘rose without a thorn’, particularly at Christmas 1540 when Katherine received ‘a square containing 27 table diamonds and 26 clusters of pearls’, a brooch constructed of 33 diamonds and 60 rubies with an  edge of pearl, and a ‘muffler of black velvet furred with sables containing 38 rubies and 572 pearls’.[48] The Queen appears to have adored brooches, particularly one given by her by the King to mark the Feast of All Saints. The brooch in the portrait is singularly prominent, a symbol of powerful status. There is therefore a strong case to be made that this portrait depicts Queen Katherine sometime in 1540-41.
Further evidence of the queen’s likely age is the letter she composed to Thomas Culpeper in the spring of 1541, at the beginning of their liaison. It is appallingly spelt and written, reflecting Katherine’s lack of education which reflected the values of a society which disapproved of the education of women. The handwriting is extremely bad, like that of a young child; a comparison with the letter written by her cousin, Anne Boleyn, at the age of thirteen in 1514 reveals how elementary Katherine’s writing was. It is neither refined nor
elegant, and would support the argument that she was aged around seventeen as opposed to twenty-one or twenty-two, which was an age at which her calligraphy would have been expected to have been somewhat more refined.
In conclusion, taking the collective evidence into account, it seems impossible to date Katherine Howard’s birth to a date as early as 1519-21. The identification of a portrait as her in 1898 seems to have been made incorrectly, at a time when false identifications were notorious (for instance, see the numerous erroneous identifications of portraits as Anne Boleyn). The costume does proclaim a royal lady, but the appearance of the sitter does not match the descriptions we have of Katherine, either as the small and slender girl – to the point of being ‘diminutive’ – suggested by the French ambassador or the most beautiful girl in the kingdom extravagantly described by the Spanish author of the ‘Chronicle of Henry VIII’. I have suggested here that it depicts Lady Frances Brandon, niece of Henry VIII and mother of Jane Grey. The French ambassador’s comment of Katherine being eighteen at the time of her relationship with Francis Dereham has often been cited as evidence that Katherine was born in 1521, but an accurate reading of Marillac’s dispatches disproves this argument by instead suggesting a 1524 birth. Although historians have been dismissed the Spanish chronicler as erroneous and inaccurate – which to some extent is true – he appears to have been informed when he described the Queen as fifteen in 1539-40, when she attracted the attentions of Henry VIII. On the basis of his comments, the likelihood of a portrait depicting the Queen as seventeen in 1540-41, the birth order of her siblings and the numerous comments made about her youth by several different observers, a 1524 birth date seems likely. Aristocratic customs and early modern attitudes to youth clarify this and indicate that it is probably virtually certain that the queen was born about 1524, married Henry VIII aged about sixteen, and was executed before her eighteenth birthday. This article should hopefully have led historians to reconsider their theories surrounding the queen’s youth, while providing a central context for Katherine Howard’s career.
* This essay is part of a series detailing the career of Katherine Howard, which I intend to one day publish in a full length study of the queen. I wish to pay tribute and give thanks to Professor Retha M. Warnicke, who generously emailed me her chapter on Katherine Howard from “Wicked Women” which assisted me in my study of the queen’s downfall in 1541-2. I would also like to praise Professor David Starkey for his thought-provoking account of the queen’s downfall, see “Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII” (Vintage, 2004), which has led me to reconsider why Queen Katherine fell from power in 1541. Readers will notice that my footnotes are incomplete; I intend to complete these shortly.
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[1] L. Baldwin Smith “A Tudor Tragedy: The Life and Times of Catherine Howard” (London, 1961), p41. See also ‘Appendix’, pp. 194-6.
[2] I wish to pay tribute to Professor Retha M. Warnicke of Arizona State University for pointing this out to me. See R. M. Warnicke, ‘Katherine Howard’, in “Wicked Women of Tudor England: Queens, Aristocrats, Commoners (Queenship and Power” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 45-77.
[3] J. Denny, “Katherine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy” (Portrait, 2005), p. 8. However this approach is problematic since, as Baldwin Smith recognised, male relatives often excluded their female dependents from wills in attaining property or land. See Baldwin Smith, ‘Appendix’, pp. 194-6.
[4] See A. Strickland “Lives of the Queens of England”, vol III (1840-1848).
[5] J. Gairdner, ‘Catherine Howard’, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Vol. 09 (1887). (last accessed 21 November 2012)
[6] For a fuller discussion, see Baldwin Smith “A Tudor Tragedy” pp. 34-41.
[7] Baldwin Smith “A Tudor Tragedy”, pp. 40-41.
[8] Cited by Baldwin Smith “A Tudor Tragedy”, p. 45, p. 50.
[9] Gairdner, ‘Catherine Howard’.
[10] This problem has been recognised by Baldwin Smith “A Tudor Tragedy”, pp.40-41. For other views, see A. Fraser “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” (Phoenix, 2009) , D. Starkey “Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII” (Vintage, 2004), and J. Denny “Katherine Howard”, pp. 6-8.
[11] See A. Weir “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” (Vintage, 1992), J. Denny “Katherine Howard”, pp. 6-8, and Baldwin Smith “A Tudor Tragedy”, see ‘Appendix’, pp. 194-6.
[12] Cited by Baldwin Smith “A Tudor Tragedy”.
[13] A. Fraser “Six Wives”.
[14] A. Weir “Six Wives”
[19] This opposes the claim on that he was born c1525.
[27] See his letter to Wolsey, 1527.
[44] This refutes claims that she was born in 1529; if she was, she would have been only eleven years old at appointment, which was younger than the expected thirteen or fourteen.
[48] L.P. XVI 1389, cited by Baldwin Smith ‘A Tudor Tragedy’ p136