In Defense of Katherine Howard Part 1: Mean Girl or Victim of Fate

Sarah Bolger as Mary Tudor (left) and Tamzin Merchant as Kitty Howard (right).
Sarah Bolger as Mary Tudor (left) and Tamzin Merchant as Kitty Howard (right).
The anniversary of her execution has come and gone and there have been just about every kind of nasty comment about her. Henry’s little sex kitten. She was stupid enough to lose her head! What was Henry VIII thinking marrying that teenager? Didn’t he learn anything from Anne Boleyn? She was so mean to Mary! Poor Mary.
Kitty Howard didn’t die because of her own stupidity, there were many other factors, mainly that the Howards had powerful enemies at this point and Cranmer and his faction did everything that they could, prosecuting her mercilessly and bringing her past up in such a way that it has followed her after her death. But let’s meet Kitty, the real Kitty not the Tudors and countless other messed up versions of her.”No will but his” This was Kitty’s motto. Clearly not the motto from a stupid girl. Note how similar it was to Jane Seymour’s, Henry’s third consort. Kitty was no super model but she possessed “superlative grace”. She tried to bring the Tudor family together but she had many enemies and her relation to Anne Boleyn doomed her would-have-been-good relationship with Mary Tudor, the King’s eldest and yet-to-be married daughter. Something that sparked jealousy on Mary’s part because she was not much older than her and her father still considered her a threat -and always would!- and until he had another son in the cradle, she knew she would not marry. In the show Kitty haughtily replies as a mean girl from ‘Mean Girls’ with a ha-ha voice while her brainless ladies laugh behind her that she will always be an old maid and like that *snaps fingers* she gives her a killer smile and walks out! And everyone loves her for it. Yeah that’s so true …

Not!

The real Kitty Howard was not an attention seeker drama queen crying like a little baby every time things didn’t go her way. In real life we know as much about her as we do of Jane Seymour.
Kitty was no fool. She wasn’t serious like Jane or exotic like Anne, or cosmopolitan and educated like half of Henry’s wives but she didn’t need to be. She was a Howard and while she grew under the careless guardianship of Agnes Tilney -her step-grandmother and Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, she knew what she was getting into. Her husband married her on the day he executed Cromwell. She knew what to expect and yet why did she act so stupidly? She didn’t, not in her mind at least. If we think being a teenager is difficult, try being one in Tudor times. She was probably raped by one of her earliest dalliances and she foolishly promised to marry another one, yet promises were made and unmade all the time. As Queen she knew she had to have a spotless record and she tried very hard to do so. As I previously stated, she did her best to get along with ALL of Henry’s family and she did a lot for her stepdaughter, Lady Elizabeth. At every court function she behaved with every ounce dignity expected in a Queen of England. There is a grain of truth to the stories of her dismissing two of Mary’s maids. But as upset as she was at Mary or Mary at her, none would have behaved that way to each other. It would’ve been beneath them. And yet dramatists love to make these women hostile to each other. (A trend I notice in every history drama. If there are two women who disagree over something then let’s have them unleash their claws at each other and spark the drama by having them go at each other like you’d see in a high school soap opera).
Chapuys later learned what happened and advised Mary to make peace with the Queen and she did. By the end of that year there were no more reports, the women sorted it out. But Kitty wasn’t off the royal hook. Her past caught up with her and a teenager under pressure to bring her husband a Duke of York or else face her cousin’s terrible fate; she caved in. There’s no basis after she was questioned and sentenced to die that said she would’ve preferred to be Ms. Culpeper than Ms. Henry VIII. Claire Ridgway in her book The Anne Boleyn Collection v.1 explains where this myth came from. What is true is that Thomas Culpeper didn’t do much for Kitty Howard. He was a detestable character and it was said that he had raped a woman before he became Kitty’s lover. In the Boleyn Inheritance there’s less justice done to Kitty as she is described from Jane Parker’s POV that she faints when she’s about to face execution. Katherine Howard never fainted, neither did she cry or wet herself or wear that crazy braid. She had ordered the block where she would lay her head on to be brought to her so she could practice, and when she faced her execution she behaved as her cousin did six years before.

Sources:
  • Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne
  • Wicked Women by Retha Warnicke
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
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