February 13: Love, Tudor Style
2012/02/13 § 2 Comments
On this day in 1542 Catherine Howard was executed.
Catherine was the fifth and final unlucky wife of Henry VIII. He divorced #1, executed #2, lost #3 after she had a baby, and divorced #4. If only Catherine had a girlfriend who could have told her to head for the hills when she caught the king’s wandering eye, but she didn’t. Or, maybe she was one of those girls who thinks she’ll be “the one to change him.” Oh, Catherine!
The happy-for-the-moment couple was married in July, 1540. Before long, people started to talk, and apparently for good reason. It’s not all that surprising that the twenty-something Catherine enjoyed the company of handsome young men, and not only because Henry was old, fat, and had smelly sores on his leg. Not all that surprising, but not at all forgivable. Charges of adultery were flung at her, and then treason for good measure. By the end of 1541, she was imprisoned in the Tower of London. At least she was then under the same roof as her boyfriend, Thomas Culpepper, except that he was tortured, killed, and his head stuck on a stake outside.
And then she was beheaded. This all went down in the Tower of London, which wasn’t always the macabre place it’s made out to be in movies and at Madame Tussauds. The building you see on all the postcards is technically the “White Tower,” a very fine keep built by William the Conqueror in 1078 as a lavish palace that was used only quite a bit later as a prison, and then for the most genteel of offenders. Executions of common baddies took place to the north, on a hill. Just seven people, all of them the best sort of people (who made unfortunate political or religious choices) met their sticky ends in the Tower itself: these finest of heads once belonged to Baron William Hastings (1483), Queen Anne Boleyn (1536), Margarete Pole, Countess of Salisbury (1541), Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford (1542), Lady Jane Grey (1554), and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1601).
After her first-rate beheading (just one swift whack of the axe, which was not the case for the poor Countess of Salisbury, whose head was separated from her body only after eleven strikes of a dull blade swung by a trainee executioner), Catherine was laid to rest in a cemetery next to her cousin, Anne Boleyn (yes, that Anne Boleyn, #2). Poor Henry must have wondered why he just couldn’t find a nice enough girl to settle down with. Luckily, he was consoled by pals like Francis I of France, who condemned the Queen’s “lewd and naughty behavior” and reminded him that “the lightness of women cannot bend the honour of men.” Henry mourned properly, waiting a whole year and a half before getting hitched again. A few years after that, he died, leaving #6 (Catherine Parr) his widow and thus his luckiest wife. She lasted another twenty months before dying while giving birth to her next husband’s baby.
Happy Valentine’s Day Eve, y’all!