Katheryn Howard: Secrets on the Northern Progress

Katheryn spent her childhood in and around London in the various Howard properties, then enjoyed the usual Tudor palaces. Alone of Henry VIII’s queens, she progressed into the North – a land ravaged by the brutal suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace. It was during this trip that she sowed the seeds of her own destruction.

The numbers against the places correspond to those on the map here and at the end of this article.

Katheryn’s birth has been estimated as occurring anytime between 1518 and 1526, with the consensus of historians falling between 1521 and 1524. It is likely to have taken place in Lambeth where the Howard family had several properties. Katheryn’s father, Lord Edmund Howard at one time occupied a house on Church Street, but the chief Howard house was Norfolk House (1). At the time of Katheryn’s birth, and throughout her life, Norfolk House was the principal seat of Agnes Howard, née Tilney, Dowager-duchess of Norfolk, held in dower. Agnes was Katheryn’s step-grandmother, and it was to her care that Katheryn was entrusted in 1531 when Lord Edmund left England to take a post in Calais – a welcome development for a man who barely dared show his face in public lest he be arrested for debt.

Dowager-duchess Agnes also had possession of a country seat at Horsham, Chesworth House (2). Once the property of the de Braose family, Chesworth had been updated by the Agnes’ husband, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk in the decade leading up to his death in 1524 in the fashionable diapered brickwork of the time. Following Agnes’ death in 1545, it returned to the ownership of her step-son, the 3rd Duke. The 4th Duke offered to surrender it to Elizabeth I in 1560, in payment of debts owed to the Crown. Either at this time, or following the 4th Duke’s execution in 1572, it became Crown property. Today, it is a privately owned residence. It was at Chesworth that Katheryn learnt how to play a role in a great household – but it was also there that she began a dalliance with one of her music masters, Henry Manox, and later, transferred her affections to Francis Dereham, a distant relative who was a gentleman of Agnes’ household.

When Katheryn was about seventeen, her uncle, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, used his influence to obtain a place for her in the household being formed for Henry VIII’s new queen, Anne of Cleves. Equipped with a splendid new wardrobe, Katheryn was carried along the Thames from Norfolk House to Whitehall (3), which, as well as being the centre of royal power, was more-or-less a building site, as Henry VIII transformed old York Place, London establishment of the Archbishops of York, to the largest palace in Europe. It had miles of galleries, acres of gardens and orchards, bowling alleys, tennis courts, halls, chambers and chapels in a warren of rooms that extended both sides of a main thoroughfare in London, necessitating an arch across the road. The chief palace of Henry’s predecessors had been Westminster, but the royal apartments were destroyed in a conflagration in 1512, leaving Henry without a suitable headquarters close to the capital. When Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York, fell from royal favour in 1529, York Place (although it was not Wolsey’s own) was appropriated by the king. Henry delighted in building projects and works continued at Whitehall for the rest of his reign. The only remaining trace of this magnificent palace today that dates from Katheryn’s time, is a cellar, near the Banqueting House, built by Inigo Jones for James VI & I and his queen, Anne of Denmark.

During the late winter and spring of 1540, Katheryn would have waited on Queen Anne of Cleves at various royal residences, including Greenwich and Hampton Court (13). Soon, however, it became apparent that Anne’s tenure as Queen of England would be short. It was common gossip that the king had no interest in her physically, and with the political driver of the marriage (an alliance between François I of France and Emperor Charles V that might have threatened England), Henry was soon casting about for a way out of the union. In part, he was motivated by his infatuation with Katheryn. Henry, a very moral man, according to his own lights, at least, did not really like having extra-marital affairs. He preferred to marry the women he fell in love with, and soon Katheryn was being vigorously courted by the monarch. They were married on 28 July 1540, and spent their honeymoon, to use modern parlance, at Henry’s new house at Oatlands (4), near Weybridge in Surrey. Henry had acquired the property from a Mr Read, sometime probably in late 1537 (it is noted as ‘now the king’s house’ in a letter of December that year). He spent the usual fortune on it, creating a grand, red-brick mansion, structured around two courtyards. Oatlands was used principally as a summer property or for hunting. It continued as a favoured royal residence under Elizabeth I, James VI & I and Charles I. Under the latter two monarchs, their queens, Anne of Denmark and Henrietta Maria, undertook extensive refurbishments. The Commonwealth sold Oatlands, which was demolished for sale of the materials.

A 17Th Century View Of Oatlands Palace
Oatlands Palace, Surrey

During Katheryn’s tenure as queen, Henry VIII undertook the most significant progress of his reign. The Pilgrimage of Grace, the rebellion of 1536-7 that had spread from Lincolnshire to Yorkshire and even as far as Westmoreland, had threatened to unseat him. It was largely the skill of Katheryn’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, that had kept the king on his throne. The reprisals were brutal, and in an effort to show his power and magnificence, as well as terrorising his subjects into good behaviour, Henry decided to travel to York, second city of the kingdom. Accompanied by Katheryn, his daughter Mary, most of his councillors and a gaggle of other courtiers, the king set out on 30 June 1541.

The route followed, more-or-less, the modern route of the M1 and the Great North Road (now the A1(M) motorway), which had once been the Roman road to Lincoln and York. By 7 July, the party had advanced no further than Dunstable, where a mere eight years before the marriage of Henry and his first wife, Katharine of Aragon, had been annulled by Archbishop Cranmer. From there, they moved in a north-westerly direction to Grafton, in Northamptonshire. The manor there had been the childhood home of Henry’s grandmother, Elizabeth Woodville, but had later become royal property and Henry had built a house there. It was at Grafton that he had last seen his faithful servant, Cardinal Wolsey, before the latter was utterly cast off. At some time during the sixteenth century, Grafton was granted to William Gorges, who built a large new house there in 1582. No traces of any of these houses remain.

From Grafton, after indulging in some hunting, the party travelled north and slightly east to Collyweston (5), in the Welland Valley, arriving on 1 August. There, they stayed in the grand palace built by Henry’s other grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. It was at Collyweston that Henry’s sister, Margaret, had bade farewell to her father, Henry VII, and set out on her long journey north to become Queen of Scots. The palace had subsequently been occupied by Henry’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond. After Henry VIII's death it was one of the properties assigned to his daughter Elizabeth. Nothing remains of the palace, apart from a dovecote, together with some alterations she made to the parish church. There is a sundial which is said to date from the old palace, but it is probably 18th century in origin. In February 2019, an archaeological dig was begun to find out more about the palace and the latest updates can be found here.

From Collyweston (where the progress also stopped on its return over 16 – 17 October), the court moved from royal property to ducal – Grimsthorpe Castle (6), the home of Henry’s closest friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and his wife, Katherine Willoughby – who was the actual inheritor of the estate. After three days enjoying the Suffolk’s hospitality, on 8 August the cavalcade trotted north, via Sleaford, to Lincoln (7). Lincoln had been a centre of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and various elaborate ceremonies were held to demonstrate the town’s total submission to the king, before the royal party entered the city.

The king and queen were accommodated in the Bishop’s Palace. The cathedral complex in Lincoln was, and remains, one of the most impressive collections of episcopal buildings in England. When it was built, Lincoln Cathedral, which can be seen from a vast distance on a prominent ridge, rising out of the flat fields of Lincolnshire, was begun in 1072. By 1185, the first stone building had been ravaged, first by fire and then by earthquake, leaving only the west façade, still extant today. Bishop Hugh of Avalon (later canonised) began a new construction, which also faced problems when the central tower collapsed in 1220. Undaunted, the new bishop and chapter requested consent from King Henry III to knock down part of the wall to extend the cathedral, which was given. Construction continued for another two hundred years – cloisters, a library, a porch and another central tower were all added by 1422. Buried in the cathedral are the viscera of Eleanor of Castile, first wife of Edward I, and Katherine Swynford, née de Roet, Duchess of Lancaster, who was Henry VIII’s 3 x great-grandmother in both the paternal and maternal line, along with her daughter, Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmoreland.

The Bishop’s Palace that Katheryn stayed in had been modernised in the 1430s by Bishop William Alnwick. Lincoln had been a place of pilgrimage, containing both the shrine of the aforementioned Bishop St Hugh, and also that of Little Hugh of Lincoln. In what seems to modern eyes an utterly repellent mixture of anti-semitism and mawkish sentimentality, the murder of a nine-year-old boy in 1255 had been blamed on Jews – accused of abducting the child for the purpose of indulging in a sacrificial blood-ritual. The consequent unofficial canonisation of the child led to an extremely profitable pilgrim trade. Whilst the shrine to the senior St Hugh had been demolished the year before Katheryn’s visit (leading to the king pocketing over 2,600 ounces of gold, and nearly twice as much silver) that to Little Hugh remained. Whatever Katheryn thought of the demolition of the ancient shrine, it seems likely that her mind was more occupied with her personal life. Whilst they were in Lincoln, her lady-in-waiting, Lady Rochford, managed to smuggle a young man from the king’s privy chamber into her own room where Katheryn met him in secret on at least two nights and whiled away several hours in flirtatious conversation. The Bishop’s Palace is today in the care of English Heritage.

Lincoln Cathedral © Tudor Times Ltd
Lincoln Cathedral © Tudor Times Ltd

Continuing their progress north, the king and queen arrived at Gainsborough, where they probably slept at Gainsborough Hall (8), property of Sir Thomas Burgh. Sir Thomas, once a member of Queen Anne Boleyn’s household, was a Reformer, and had firmly resisted pressure to join the Pilgrimage of Grace, hence he was in high favour with the king. Little did he know that within two years, Katheryn would be replaced at the king’s side by his own former daughter-in-law, Katherine Parr. Gainsborough is beautifully cared for today by the local authority, and may be visited.

A few days later, the royal party crossed the Humber into Yorkshire, where a large-scale hunt was held at Hatfield Chase, after which they carried on to the immense, and perhaps rather sinister, Pontefract (sometimes rendered Pomfret) Castle, arriving on 23 August. Construction at Pontefract had begun in the first decade following the Norman Conquest, under the aegis of one of William the Conqueror’s knights, Walter de Lacy. The descent of the de Lacy family is somewhat obscure but by around 1300 Pontefract was in the hands of Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln, whose daughter and heir, Alice, married Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, grandson of King Henry III. Thomas of Lancaster came to an unpleasant end at Pontefract – executed by Edward II for his involvement in a widespread attempt to detach that king from the unpopular Despenser family. Alice’s life, too, was subject to all the misfortunes that could befall a mediaeval heiress – forced marriage, abduction, imprisonment, deprivation of her lands, swingeing fines and confiscations. On Alice’s death without children, the nephew of Thomas of Lancaster, Henry de Grosmont, was granted her title and estates. His daughter, Blanche of Lancaster, married John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III, and when John and Blanche’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, took the throne as Henry IV, the earldom of Lincoln, including Pontefract, became Crown property. Henry IV, taking no chances, had King Richard II, whose throne he had usurped, incarcerated at Pontefract, where he died of starvation, possibly self-inflicted. Henry IV had the Queen’s Tower built for his second wife, Joanna of Navarre, but it is probable that Katheryn was the first queen to actually visit it.

Pontefract’s dark history continued. During the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Constable of the Castle, Thomas, Lord Darcy, had sent desperate messages to London, requesting reinforcements. They had not been granted and the stronghold fell to the rebels. It was there that Sir Robert Aske and the other rebel leaders drew up the articles to be sent to the king, outlining their demands. Lord Darcy was required to join their ranks, and he was later executed. Pontefract was a royalist stronghold during the Civil War, eventually forced to surrender after a five-month siege. It was slighted on the orders of Parliament. Nevertheless, it remains an impressive ruin, open to the public and during the summer of 2020, an archaeological dig took place. More on that here.

At Pontefract, Katheryn was once more entertaining her secret guest. Culpepper would visit her after the king had retired to bed. But it was not all romance – whilst the court was at Pontefract an unwelcome reminder of Katheryn’s past came back to haunt her. Her former lover, Francis Dereham, appeared and bullied or blackmailed her into taking him into her household.

After a couple of weeks at Pontefract (during which Henry, accompanied by Culpepper) made a side visit to Hull, the royal progress arrived at its final destination – York. Once a thriving city, during the heyday of England’s wool trade, York was on a long, slow, economic decline, not helped by its involvement in the Pilgrimage of Grace. The mayor had opened the city gates to the rebels, as there was so much internal support, as well as concern that failure to do so would result in the city’s destruction. Before the king and queen entered the old city walls, there was another spectacle such as that at Lincoln, where the great and the good of the neighbourhood were forced to grovel in front of Henry, to appease his resentment over their part in the Pilgrimage. Eventually persuaded of their new found loyalty, helped by a fat purse of £600, Henry officially forgave the city.

The royal party stayed at what had once been the abbot’s lodgings of the recently-dissolved St Mary’s Abbey. The red-brick house, rechristened the King’s Manor (10), became the seat of the Council of the North, and remained used in that capacity until the Council was disbanded just prior to the Civil War. In the lead up to that bloody conflict King Charles I moved the court to York, and resided in the King’s Manor and it was from here that he marched south to the first battle of the war. After James II was deposed in 1688, the property had no further state use and had a variety of occupants. Today, the King’s Manor is a campus of the University of York.

Henry had persuaded himself that his nephew, James V of Scotland, had promised to make an official visit, and the court remained at York for some weeks, in anticipation of James’ arrival. The summit was a secret, so the level of activity in the city gave rise to the rumour that Katheryn would be crowned in the minster. However, that was not Henry’s plan, and, when it became apparent that King James either would not or could not make the visit, Henry left York in a state of offended dignity.

The long journey south began in the first week of October, mainly retracing the route north, but with some additional stops. One was at Fotheringhay Castle (11), once the stronghold of Henry’s great-grandfather, Richard, Duke of York, and his wife, Cicely Neville, and later the scene of the execution of Henry’s great-niece, Mary, Queen of Scots. Today, nothing remains of the castle, but the collegiate church may still be visited.

Rather than returning to Westminster, the royal party skirted London to pay a visit to John, Lord Russell (later Earl of Bedford) and his wife, Anne Sapcote, at their newly completed house at Chenies (12) in Buckinghamshire, arriving on 24 October. The Russells’ house still stands, a delightful mansion of red-brick, famous for its superb tulip display in spring and open for weddings and other events. More on Chenies Manor House here. It is a member of Historic Houses.

The royal progress was considered complete when Henry and Katheryn arrived at Windsor Castle. A couple of days later, they moved on to Hampton Court (13). Wolsey’s masterpiece, it had been taken over by the king sometime in the 1520s, and had been the backdrop for his romance with Anne Boleyn. It was at Hampton Court that Katheryn’s predecessor-but-one, Jane Seymour, had died, giving birth to Prince Edward and it was there that Katheryn had entertained her immediate predecessor, Anne of Cleves, the previous Christmas, mixing courtesy with kindness to a degree that brought praise from all bystanders. Just as Hampton Court had proved fatal for Jane Seymour, so it would for Katheryn. On 1 November, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, left a letter for the king in his pew in the Chapel Royal. It contained allegations against Katheryn that horrified the king – she had been unchaste before marriage, and the wife on whom he had doted to the extent of provoking ridicule in foreign observers was not the pure angel he had thought her to be. Katheryn was put under house arrest in her chambers, forbidden to see the king. There is a story that she escaped her guards to run headlong down the passage towards the king’s rooms, calling on him to save her. If he heard it, her cries fell on deaf ears. He departed for Whitehall, whilst Katheryn was ordered to be taken to the former abbey of Syon (14), just down the river. She was to remain there, with reduced state, whilst the allegations were investigated.

Syon had been one of the most prestigious abbeys in England. Founded by Henry V, as a Brigittine double monastery (both monks and nuns) the original construction of 1415 was moved downriver in the reign of Henry VI. Located on the north bank of the Thames, opposite Richmond Palace, during the first half of Henry’s reign, Syon had been greatly favoured by Henry and Katharine of Aragon, and their daughter, Princess Mary, had been a frequent visitor. In the lead up to the dissolution, despite it being the wealthiest convent in the country, no allegations of impropriety were levelled against it, but one of its monks, Richard Reynolds, resisted the Act of Supremacy. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1535. The remaining inmates, having accepted the king as head of the church in England, remained, but the house was eventually obliged to surrender to the king in 1539. The nuns were permitted to leave England en masse, and relocated to the Low Countries. They were brought back during the reign of Mary, and the convent re-founded, but her early death led once again to dissolution. The order continued, and eventually returned to England after Catholic emancipation. It was finally closed and the remaining sisters retired in 2011.

After the dissolution of 1539, the property was occupied Sir John Dudley, later Duke of Northumberland, and it was in his house built from the ruins of the abbey, that his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, was first informed that she had been chosen by her cousin, Edward VI, to succeed him. In 1594, Elizabeth I granted a lease of the property to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, when he married Lady Dorothy Devereux, sister of Lady Penelope Devereux, and the Earl of Essex. James VI and I uprated the grant to freehold, and the property, now a handsome Georgian mansion, remains the property of the Percy dukes of Northumberland. It is open to the public and is also a member of Historic Houses.

Katheryn remained at Syon for more than two months. Eventually, Parliament having passed an Act of Attainder against her, she was taken by river to the Tower of London (15). Early in the morning of 13 February, 1542, she was led out onto Tower Green and beheaded. She was no more than twenty-one, and may have been as young as seventeen.

The map below shows the location of places associated with Katheryn Howard discussed in this article.


Blue: in current use
Purple: later replacement
Green: ruins
Grey: no trace