Monday, December 10, 2007

Question from Raquel - More info on Kathryn Howard

I am very interested in Kathryn Howard the fifth wife of Henry. Her pictures were destroyed from what I gather as well as some not being sure if the main photo used, as her, is truly her. I want to find descriptions of her looks and presence. I have found some words on both Anne’s and so on, but no good visions of her. I heard she was fair, possible the fairest of his wives but no mention of the color of her hair and eyes and so on. Also, why is birth date and place so confusing? Do you think this information was loss to Henry's anger with her? For some reason she is my favorite and I would love to know as much I can about her.


Anonymous PhD Historian said...

For some reason, historians have largely ignored Katherine Howard, and very little research has been done on her. This makes it difficult for us to learn much about her today. The date and place of her birth are obscure because the DOB for most people, especially women, in the early 1500s was not recorded. It had nothing to do with Henry's "anger." Birth certificates had not been invented yet, and baptismal records (the usual way to record a birth then) were kept only if the local priest felt like doing so and could also read and write. Many could not. And keeping baptismal records was not required by law until 1538. So unless someone happened to leave some other kind of record taht survived the centuries, such as a letter or note, the date and place of birth of an individual can often only be guessed at today. Odd as it may sound, birthdays were not as important to people in the early 1500s as they are to people today. To answer your question about portraits, none are known to exist today, though one was almost certainly done at the time of her marriage to Henry. But for a description of her, I would suggest searching through the Calendar of State Papers Foreign for the period circa 1540-41. I do nto have those volumes handy, but I suspect at least one of the foreign ambassadors said at least a few words about her physical appearance in their letters home. The CSP volumes are usually available in any large university library. I hope this helps.

December 10, 2007 2:19 PM  
Blogger Foose said...

Regarding her appearance, David Starkey in his "Six Wives" confirmed Kathryn Howard's identity in a miniature (by Holbein, he says) by comparing the jewels in the painting to those in the wedding gift Henry gave her. "It also establishes, for the first time, her exact appearance. She had auburn hair, pale skin, dark eyes and brows, the rather fetching beginnings of a double chin ..."

December 12, 2007 1:08 AM  
Anonymous PhD Historian said...

Ah, David Starkey and his portrait identifications. I am sorry, but I have to laugh. Dr Starkey has gotten himself in a lot of "hot water" recently for his poorly supported identifications of sitters in portraits. He has a tendency to identify them based on items of jewelery that bear some limited degree of similarity to a vaguely described item in an inventory. The problem is whether the jewel was sufficiently unique and whether the inventory description sufficiently detailed to enable to make a 100% match. Unfortunately, descriptions in inventories are usually very vague (see for an example). And items of jewelery in the sixteenth century were, like jewelery today, often produced in multiples from a single design, so that many people owned identical pieces.
In at least one recent instance, Dr Starkey identified the sitter in a portrait based on a jewel and other details, only to have that identification challenged by every historian and art historian who studied his findings. So until his identification of the Howard portrait has been supported and confirmed by others, I would caution readers to consider his identification of the Howard portrait with a proverbial grain of salt.

December 12, 2007 4:11 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

The first place I came across "proof" that the Holbein miniature is Kathryn was Antonia Fraser's "Six Wives" book (pub. early 90s, I think?). She makes a decent case based on the necklace being the same as the one Jane Seymour was wearing in her Holbein portrait.

I don't know if I completely buy that argument since I don't think that would have necessarily meant that the sitter was actually wearing the jewels in the miniature (I have no idea what the protocol was on such matters). There may be some inventory information to back that up though... I can't remember for sure.

Susan James has made an argument that the sitter in the miniature is Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (who was Henry's niece, so may have been loaned or given the jewelry).

December 12, 2007 6:58 PM  
Anonymous GarethR said...

In regards Catherine's date of birth a very convincing argument can be made for 1525, based on the surviving evidence of her family's wills. She is not mentioned in a will made by her step-grandfather in 1524 but her siblings are, but she is in one made in 1526 belonging to her step-grandmother, Lady Isabella Legh. So sometime between the first Will and the second, Catherine was presumably born. In terms of her appearance, there are remarks by the French ambassador who remarks only on her "moderate beauty." Chapuys, the Imperial envoy, remarked on her curvaceous figure and a reliable tradition establishes her as a brunette - beyond that, there isn't much. The only details of her pre-Court life to survive are necessarily scurillous, since they surfaced during her detention for immorality and suspected treason. Unlike her first cousin, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard was not a remarkable child in any way and so details about her were not kept primarily because she was of little interest until the King's attention fell on her in 1540.

December 14, 2007 4:50 AM  
Blogger Foose said...

If Kathryn was auburn-haired, it would be interesting to consider if Henry had a taste for reddish-haired women. I think Susan James indicated in her book that Catherine Parr had auburn hair; some portraits of Catherine of Aragon indicate reddish hair (I'm thinking specifically of Sittow's portrait), and there's a miniature of Anne Boleyn that Eric Ives identified, in which she has red hair (rather than the traditional black -- as described by the Venetian ambassador and suggested by her nickname "the nightcrow") Jane is usually assumed to be a blonde, but you can't tell from her portrait and it might be an assumption from Chapuys' description of her being "whitish" or "pale." Perhaps her hair was auburn too. Anne of Cleves' hair is described as yellow - maybe that put Henry off...? This is just idle speculation, and it would help if we had a description of the ladies he liked in between wives, too.

Per the double chin, Jane has a double chin, and Catherine of Aragon appears to have one (in some portraits, perhaps it's a receding chin), and the two alleged Holbein sketches of Anne show her having something of a double chin ... perhaps Henry liked that feature, or perhaps it was considered a mark of beauty in the 16th century (as it was in the 18th century)?

December 14, 2007 8:42 PM  
Blogger Foose said...

Also, phd historian, thanks for the low-down on David Starkey! I always wondered how far he could be trusted, but my instincts are lulled because he's always interesting in what he comes up with.

I think he identified Lady Jane Grey's miniature last year, it was posted here on Lara's blog and comment was divided: happy that at last such an identification could be made, yet skeptical that the plump protruberant-eyed lady pictured was "spare," "thin" Jane. I was inclined to give him a pass, since adolescents go through a lot of changes and maybe Jane lost flesh from sheer stress. But I will reconsider.

December 14, 2007 9:14 PM  
Anonymous PhD Historian said...

On the issue of Starkey's identification of the so-called "Yale miniature" as a portrait of Jane Grey, I would like to refer you to the October 15 issue of "The New Yorker Magazine." An article there, entitled "Teen Queen of the Tudors," attempts to address the controversy surrounding Starkey's work on the miniature. See also the May/June 2007 issue of the Yale University Alumni Magazine (this one is available online). Also, check my own website ( and my discussion there of portraiture of Jane Grey. These articles and websites go into greater length than I can here, but suffice it to say that very few (if any) scholars in the fields of art history, costume history, or general Tudor history agree with Starkey's conclusion that the sitter is Jane Grey. Starkey is very nearly alone on this issue.

December 15, 2007 5:21 AM  
Anonymous monica said...

Most women in Tudor times were painted as auburn-haired and pale-skinned, as these were the fashion. Most of these women's contemporary descriptions showed that their portraits were wrong.

Have you read Lacey Baldwin Smith's and Joanna Denny's works on Kathryn Howard? Jean Plaidy has also written sympathetic accounts of her in Murder Most Royal and Rose Without A Thorn.

December 17, 2007 11:56 AM  
Anonymous PhD Historian said...

May I just observe that while Lacey Baldwin Smith was a well-respected member of the profession of academic historians, Loanna Denny and Jean Plaidy were both principally novelists. Thus none of their works dealing with Kathrine Howard can be considered legitimate history. Even when they wrote historical accounts, neither author followed the accepted standards of the history profession. Both authors might be entertaining, but I would strongly suggest NOT accepting any of their accounts as factual.

December 20, 2007 7:21 PM  

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