April 19, 2011

Tudor Q&A: Katheryn Howard's Annullment

I wanted to ask if Henry VIII annulled his marriage to Catheryn Howard or not, and if so, on what grounds?


  1. Hi Guy! Yes, Henry VIII did annul his marriage to Katheryn Howard before her execution. He did this with both Anne Boleyn and Katheryn Howard, and leaves one to wonder…how could they be executed for adultery when neither were technically married to the king? To get around this, Henry had both charged with treason, which brought with it the death penalty. Henry had a bill passed in Parliament that made it treasonable for a Queen to not disclose her sexual history. Thus, when it was discovered that Katheryn was not a “maid” upon their marriage, Katheryn was guilty of treason. Now, this bill was created and passed AFTER her sexual history had been discovered and she had been arrested. It was a sneaky way for Henry to have her tried and executed for treason.

    Also, thanks so much for e-mailing me with the suggestions and compliments on the site! I really appreciate it.

  2. Are you sure, Elizabeth? I’ve always thought this to be the case, but this was also posted at tudorhistory.org, and no one could come up with a contemporary source for annulment.

  3. This is the only evidence I have come up with. It was a bill of attainder that was passed on February 7, 1542. I have been searching for it at the National Archives site, but with no luck. If anyone has access to Henry VIII’s State Papers online let me know!
    I know Henry treated the men who had relations with Katheryn before her marriage more harshly than Culpepper, which surprised me a lot. I suppose Henry was very angry that she lied to him about her virtue, and it was said he was very fond of Culpepper.

  4. Do you know on what grounds the marriage was annulled? Also what was the legal posistion regarding the execution of a crowned head? Is it possible that the annullments of Anne Boleyn and Katheryn Howard was a legal device to facillitate their executions?

  5. Anne Boleyn's annulment is a bit in the dark. It isn't really known what the grounds for it were. All we know is that the Archbishop stated "in consequence of certain just and lawful impediments which, it was said, were unknown at the time of the union, but had lately been confessed to the Archbishop by the lady herself." Either Anne admitted to a precontract with Henry Percy, or she admitted to Henry's relationship with a woman closely related to her (aka Mary Boleyn, her sister). Katheryn Howard allegedly had a precontract with Francis Dereham. If she had admitted to it, she might have escaped the block. She claimed no precontract, and that Dereham had essentially raped her. However, his presence in her household suggested something else.

    The annulments really had nothing to do with the reason for execution. In Anne Boleyn's case she was executed for treason, specifically "plotting the death of the King," with one or more of her "lovers." The annulment was more of a slap in the face. It simply stated that she had never been Queen and that her child was illegitimate. If you think about it, annulling the marriage would make charges of adultery null. This is why another charged had to be brought forward to get her to the block. After all, how can one commit adultery if they are not married?

    In Katheryn Howard's case, as stated above, Henry had a bill passed in Parliament that made it treasonable for a Queen to not disclose her sexual history. That's how he got her. Annulling his marriage to her would again invalidate the charge of adultery. I believe it was just Henry trying to get the last word. It didn't really serve any purpose, other than maybe as his way of showing the world he wasn't really executing his wife.

  6. IMHO, getting a divorce means your marriage didn't work, or more likely, you didn't do what you needed to do to make it work. Henry was not a man to admit mistakes, and I believe it was easier for his ego to say "she lied to me, I was decieved" rather than admitting failure at anything.

    Maybe he even thought the people would buy it and even feel sympathy for him rather than think of him as a big boy with weak decisions.

    Mad Twinkie

  7. Agreed. He certainly wasn't willing to admit a mistake...


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