On the 13th of February of 1542, Katherine Howard and her lady in waiting, Jane Parker were put to death. The two were executed on the same spot Anne Boleyn had been executed and also buried at the Tower’s chapel in St. Peter ad Vincula.
Before her execution she said to her confessor, the Bishop of Lincoln, that “as to the act, my reverend lord, for which I stand condemned, God and his holy angels I take to witness, upon my soul’s salvation, that I died guiltless, never having so abused my sovereign’s bed. What other sins and follies of youth I have committed I will not excuse; but I am assured that for them God hath brought this punishment upon me, and will, in his mercy, remit them, for which, I pray you, pray with me unto his Son and my Savior, Christ.” Conor Byrne and Retha Warnicke in their respective biographies of Katherine Howard, and other royal and courtier’s wives; make the case that while the evidence against her was scant, she is continuously presented as guilty.
But out of all the portrayals we’ve seen on TV, the worst is that of Tamzin Merchant in “The Tudors”. She is mean girl from head to toe, and she knows it and revels in teasing Mary and anyone she can get her hands on. She is like a modern day giggly cheerleader her father has married and tells Mary that while she is old and ugly (and will never marry) she is hot and young and that is why she hates her.
“You are jealous.” She says with that annoying smirk, hands on her hips. Her ladies then proceed to laugh, looking as brainless than ever. They are just there to please their Queen Bee.
The event has some basis in reality. Katherine Howard did get upset that Mary wasn’t giving her the proper respect she deserved and dismissed two of her maids, but the two later reconciled.
As Queen, Katherine advocated for many prisoners, including Mary’s old governess, the Countess of Salisbury and sent her own tailor to make sure she would have new clothes. She saved Thomas Wyatt from being executed. Everything that she was nothing out of the ordinary for queen consorts at this time.
Her lady in waiting has been no luckier. Jane Boleyn [nee Parker] aka Lady Rochford has also been the negative propaganda. Now we know differently, that she didn’t hate her husband or her sister-in-law, but for some reason, fiction still continues to portray her as a serpentine, diabolical, resentful, and vindictive woman. The real Lady Rochford was all the contrary and very close to the Boleyns and as the recent biography of her by Fox and her husband biography by Ridgway and Cherry show, she was very close to her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn and Anne asked for her… help when her husband was having an affair with one of her ladies, possibly the “Imperial Lady” that Chapuys refers to in his letters who was sympathetic to Mary and her mother’s plight. She did NOT give any evidence against George Boleyn. If she had, Chapuys would have said so from the beginning. Would a man who had every reason to hate Anne at this moment, have missed this? Hell no. For some reason he didn’t and that is because she did not say anything. If she did, assuming she was interrogated, she would have done her best to save her husband. This was a highly political game, and everyone was looking to save their own skins. But Jane never provided any evidence against her husband and the rest of her in-laws. The person who condemned George and Anne was a certain “Lady”. Chapuys and others refer to her as the woman or the Lady, this person was none other than the Lady Exeter.
Jane acted as chaperone to Katherine Howard. It is possible that Katherine, despite excelling greatly at her position, was still an inexperienced player and believed all of Culpeper’s threats that he would denounce her previous liaisons with the King, asked her to. In this world it didn’t matter that her previous liaisons were not liaisons at all and she had been raped. Female virtue was at the top of everything. Many times women who were raped, were blamed. Some noblewomen or royal women could not afford such a scandal because then nobody would want to marry them, or worse, their families’ honor would be put into question and they would be blamed. Jane’s involvement in Katherine’s comings and goings, and helping her meet Culpeper to bribe him into keeping his silence though, ended badly for her too. According to one eye-witness who was present at Jane’s execution, he said to his brother that she had “made the most godly and Christian end that ever was heard” and had made her peace with God and like her late sister-in-law, asked “all the Christian people to take regard unto their worthy and just punishment for their offences against God” and that if she and Kitty were condemned to die it was because they sinned and deserved to die. Katherine was the first one to go, then Jane.
- Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford by Jualia Fox
- Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne
- Wicked Women by Retha Warnicke
- The Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
- George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway
- The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence.