Katheryn Howard Condemned to Die

On February 7th 1542, ambassador Eustace Chapuys reports that the ladies Katheryn Howard had been allowed to keep with her through these dark days of her arrest and imprisonment had been dismissed by Sir John Gage, the Comptroller of the Tower. The Bill of Attainder that would make her death into law was being prepared for final vote and its passage was not in question.

Attainder of Katharine Howard and others.—Katharine Howard whom the King took to wife is proved to have been not of pure and honest living before her marriage, and the fact that she has since taken to her service one Francis Dereham, the person with whom she "used that vicious life before," and has taken as chamberer a woman who was privy to her naughty life before, is proof of her will to return to her old abominable life. Also she has confederated with lady Jane Rocheford, widow, late wife of Sir Geo. Boleyn, late lord Rocheford, to "bring her vicious and abominable purpose to pass" with Thos. Culpeper, late one of the King's Privy Chamber, and has met Culpeper in "a secret and vile place," at 11 o'clock at night, and remained there with him until 3 a.m., with only "that bawd, the lady Jane Rocheford."
For these treasons, Culpeper and Dereham have been convicted and executed, and the Queen and lady Rochford stand indicted. The indictments of such as have lately suffered are hereby approved, and the said Queen and lady Rochford are, by authority of this Parliament, convicted and attainted of high treason, and shall suffer accordingly; and the said Queen, lady Rocheford, Culpeper, and Dereham shall forfeit to the Crown all possessions which they held on 25 Aug. 33 Hen. VIII.

It must have been so difficult for Katheryn to say goodbye to the last friends she had. Henry had been unusually merciful in allowing her to keep her ladies with her. They had been with her since her imprisonment at Syon Abbey in November, and though no official sentence had yet been given, they were all aware it was likely a final goodbye.

In her last days, Katheryn would be served by the wives of the officers in the Tower. They're not named in the records, and there was probably only a few of them to see to her basic needs. She was no longer a queen, and was not entitled to a household contingent of servants. She was now "merely Katheryn Howard" and would leave this world as she had come into it.

There's a tradition that there may have been some offers of clemency or mercy if Katheryn would admit to being married to Francis Dereham, but she stalwartly insisted she had never been Dereham's wife. Maybe she knew it wouldn't save her anyway. Anne Boleyn had been made a similar offer and had knelt for the sword all the same.

There seems to have been some discomfort with the idea that Katheryn was to be condemned without a chance to defend herself, which the council decided to deal with by visiting her at Syon.

Chapuys described the meeting and said that Katheryn admitted to them she was guilty and expected she would be executed. She asked that the execution be private and made two final requests.

How she conducted herself the first night in her new prison-lodging, no pen has detailed; but on the following day, the lord chancellor brought the bill to the lords, signed by the King, with the great seal appended to it; and whilst the commons were being summoned to attend, the Duke of Suffolk arose, and said that he and several others had that morning visited the Queen; that she acknowledged her offence against God, the King, and the nation, implored his Grace not to punish her brothers, or family, for her faults; and, as a last request, desired permission to divide her clothes amongst her maidens, as she had nought else to recompense their services with. The Earl of Southampton confirmed this statement, and added more which has not been entered on the journal of that day's proceedings, —the clerk, unaccountably, having began the entry with these words: hoc etiam adjidens [this too shall pass]—and added nothing more.

The Bill passed on February 11th. Katheryn Howard and Jane Parker, Lady Rochford were sentenced to death as traitors, stripped of all titles and property.

But at this very last, the king could not bring himself to actually sign the bill. His council eventually affixed the phrase, "The King wills it" - dubiously legal, but no one was arguing that point.

That very day, Katheryn and Lady Rochford were taken to the Tower to prepare for execution. We don't know how Lady Rochford reacted when she was taken from Russell House on the Strand, where she was being cared for in her mental breakdown by Anne Russell, wife of the Admiral. But the descriptions of Katheryn's move are heartbreaking.

Reportedly, a terror-stricken Katheryn struggled and cried when the council came to escort her to the Tower and to her death. Gone was the resigned, almost cheerful woman Chapuys had described, and in her place was a badly frightened teenage girl. She had to be physically forced onto the barge that would transport her by river, and sobbed during the entire journey.

It's not recorded if she looked up at the rotting heads of Dereham and Culpepper as they rowed her below London Bridge - hopefully, she didn't realize they were still there.

They probably brought Katheryn to the Byward gate, as they had done with Anne Boleyn, instead of the more public Traitor's Gate. Sir John Gage tried to be as kind as he could to the weeping young lady who stepped from the barge onto the gray stones of the Tower.

She would never leave.

Katheryn was taken to the royal apartments that had been constructed for the coronation of her cousin, Anne Boleyn. Here, too, Anne Boleyn had spent her last days. The rooms hadn't been occupied in the six years since, and were probably already beginning to show signs of neglect.

I don't know where Lady Rochford was housed, but I imagine for convenience's sake, she was housed with Katheryn. Both were technically commoners now that they had been attained and stripped of all titles and worldly goods, but they would still be treated as gentlewomen in Sir John Gage's care.

The next day was a Sunday, on which an execution could not occur. Katheryn and Lady Rochford had a day's time to prepare for death. Considering Katheryn's anguish, one wonders if she was grateful for one more day of life, or if it added to her torment.

The Bishop of London arrived, and it was likely in the chapel of the royal apartments where Katheryn quietly made her last confession. Anne Boleyn had used this occasion to help clear her name, calling her jailer to witness her swearing on the host that she was innocent of adultery. Katheryn didn't do this - she had a more unusual request in mind.

She called Sir John Gage, and asked that the block be brought to her lodgings. She wanted to practice kneeling and laying her head upon it so she wouldn't embarrass herself by fumbling it in front of the crowd.

Supposedly Katheryn asked her ladies as she practiced which position made for a better presentation.

This wasn't vanity - Katheryn was a Howard and she was determined to die with grace and dignity. She had been shamed before all of England, but in this last, she could make an honorable end.

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