This day in 1540, two major events occurred in the royal court of Henry VIII. Thomas Cromwell, once the King’s closest advisor, was beheaded at the Tower of London. And the King married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard.
Catherine was a young girl, from the Duke of Norfolk’s family, who had been given a place as Maid in Waiting to the fourth Queen, Anne of Cleves. Some say she was put there to ‘divert’ the King, but with her family connections, it was not such a strange choice to place her in the Queen’s household.
She could have been as young as fifteen when she married the King, according to some sources. Her experiences before joining the Queen’s household, in my opinion, point towards child abuse rather than the relationships that are generally claimed by historians.
She was rumoured to have been between ten and twelve when her first relationship began, with her music teacher, Mannox. How much a child of that age can consent to a relationship is very questionable as far as I see it. I know people will tell me that times were different, but children are still children, whatever year they are born in. There may have been more consent in the relationship with Dereham which happened a couple of years later, but then, how many of us think we have fallen in love when aged 13 or so?? Very few of us would have acted on those feelings and taken the relationship to a sexual level at that age, but then he was around five years older than she was. An 18 year old boy has other things on his mind than a 13 year old girl!! And if she had been abused before, by her music teacher, this could have given her a very twisted view of relationships as she grew up.
Still, this was unknown to the King when he fell for her charms in 1540. He saw her as an innocent maid who could please him, in who knows what ways. Perhaps she did manage to raise interest in the old, obese, ill man, she was over 20 years his junior. Perhaps he simply enjoyed watching her, we will never know. It is too much to imagine, I think, that he attracted her in any way apart from his power, position and wealth.
It is easy to understand why she would turn to a man closer to her own age for pleasure, maybe she did not understand what the consequences could be to finding a diversion from the old man she had been given to. After all, in those times, many people were matched for their family promotion rather than any kind of happiness, and extra-marital relationships were far more common in these noble matches.
But on this day, she was taken in marriage by the wealthiest and most powerful man in the country. I have always felt quite sorry for her, she was young and naive, I think. Pushed from pillar to post by the powerful men around her.
For Cromwell, the fourth marriage of the King also represented the big change in his life story. For Catherine, it was a rise in her fortunes, for Cromwell, it was a fall in his.
He had been eager for a Protestant match and had selected Anne from the Cleves Duchy as his preferred option. Upon meeting her though, the King had not been happy. Contracts had been signed though, so the marriage had been pushed through. Cromwell would bear the brunt of the King’s anger, much to the delight of the nobles at the court, who did not like the fact that Cromwell was trusted by the King, even though he was of low birth, his father being a blacksmith.
It was a terrible fall from grace, and a fast one. He was arrested in early June of 1540, and attainted by the end of that month. Imprisoned in the Tower of London, he was taken to his death on the scaffold by late July, the 28th. The headsman was said to been incompetant or drunk and took many swings of the axe to remove his head.
King Henry is said to have deeply regretted his execution of Cromwell in the following years.
So today was a busy day in the London of 1540……………..