Catherine Howard - Biography - Early Life

Early Life

Catherine Howard was a child of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper. Catherine's exact date of birth is unknown, although the year has been estimated as being after 1520, but before 1527. She was the niece of Elizabeth Howard, who was the mother of Queen Anne Boleyn. Therefore Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn were first cousins and Catherine Howard and Lady Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I) were first-cousins-once-removed.

As a granddaughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, Catherine had an aristocratic pedigree, but her father, who was a younger son, was not wealthy owing to primogeniture and the large size of his family. As a result, he was often reduced to begging for handouts from his more powerful relatives. In 1531, he was appointed Controller of Calais. He was dismissed from his post in 1539, and died in March of the same year.

During her early childhood, Catherine was sent to live in the household of her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The Dowager Duchess presided over households at Chesworth House, near Horsham, and Norfolk House, at Lambeth, comprising numerous male and female attendants along with her many wards, usually the children of aristocratic but poor relatives. While sending young children to be educated and trained in aristocratic households other than their own was common for centuries among European nobles, supervision at Lambeth was apparently lax. The Dowager Duchess was often at Court and seems to have taken little interest in the education and upbringing of her wards and young female attendants.

As a result of the Dowager Duchess's lack of attention, Catherine was not as well educated as some of Henry's other wives, though her ability to read and write alone was impressive enough for the time. Her character has often been described as vivacious, beautiful, and buxom, but never scholarly or devout. The casual upbringing in the licentious atmosphere of the Duchess's household led Catherine's music teacher, Henry Mannox, to start a sexual relationship with her around 1536, when she was between the ages of eleven and sixteen. He later gave evidence in the inquiry against her. Mannox and Catherine both confessed during her adultery trial that they had engaged in sexual contact, but not intercourse. Catherine was even quoted as saying, "At the flattering and fair persuasions of Mannox, being but a young girl, I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require."

This adolescent affair came to an end in 1538, when Catherine was pursued by a secretary of the Dowager Duchess's household, Francis Dereham. They became lovers, addressing each other as "husband" and "wife". Dereham also entrusted Catherine with various wifely duties, such as keeping his money when he was away on business. Many of Catherine's roommates among the Dowager Duchess's maids of honour and attendants knew of the relationship, which apparently ended in 1539 when the Dowager Duchess caught wind of the matter. Despite this disapproval, Catherine and Dereham may have parted with intentions to marry upon his return from Ireland, agreeing to a precontract, as it was then known. If indeed they had exchanged vows of their intention to marry before having sexual intercourse, they would have been considered married in the eyes of the Church.

The Six Wives of
Henry VIII
Catherine of Aragon
Anne Boleyn
Jane Seymour
Anne of Cleves
Catherine Howard
Catherine Parr

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