Catherine Howard: The death of innocence

When Henry VIII's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, went to the block at a pitifully young age, she did so not because of her own crimes, argues Josephine Wilkinson, but the failings of older men

A portrait of Catherine Howard. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the April 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine 

On the evening of Sunday 12 February 1542, Catherine Howard, queen of England, was told to prepare her soul, for she was to be put to death the following morning. She asked for the block to be brought to her room, saying that “she wanted to know how she was to place her head on it”. Then, having “tried and placed her head on it by way of experiment”, she made her confession. There was nothing to do now except wait as the last hours of her life passed away.

It was still dark when Catherine arose the following morning. Her ladies helped her to dress in a black velvet gown, a French hood, gloves and a furred mantle – it was almost as though this were just any other day. Then the constable of the Tower came and escorted her across the short distance from the queen’s lodgings to the scaffold.

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