Katherine Howard 凯瑟琳·霍华德
I took the last letter out of the box and held it in my hand while I answered Margaret’s questions. She wanted to know everything.
And who was the King’s fifth wife?’ she asked.
Why did the King want to marry again?’
He still wanted to have another son, you see. A brother for Prince Edward.’
And how did he meet Katherine?’ asked Margaret.
She was one of the ladies at Queen Anne’s palace, so Henry knew her already. She was only eighteen. Henry fell in love with her immediately. He called her “his beautiful flower” and sent her many expensive presents—gold and jewels and fine dresses.’
But did she want to marry him?’
I smiled. ‘If the King of England wants to marry you, how do you say no? Henry was very much in love and he wanted to marry her immediately. The Howard family is an old and famous one, and they were very happy for Katherine to marry the King.’
Was he happy with his new Queen?’
Yes,’ I said. ‘At first. She was young, beautiful, and exciting. Very different from Anne of Cleves.’
And did she learn to love the King?’
Who can say? But I don’t think so. Henry was forty-nine, thirty years older than her. He was very, very fat and heavy. His face was more like a potato than ever, and his eyes were always half-closed. He had a very bad leg and often couldn’t walk—and he was always angry when his leg hurt.’
Margaret looked at the letter in my hand. ‘I don’t think that I would like to marry a fat old man with a bad leg who couldn’t walk!’ she said.
I laughed. ‘But the King’s wife, remember, was also the Queen of England, the first lady in the country.’
Yes, that’s true,’ said Margaret. ‘And did they have a son?’
No, they didn’t. They weren’t married for very long. Before Katherine married Henry, she had lovers. Henry didn’t know this. He thought that he was Katherine’s first lover. And about six months after Katherine married Henry, she began to see another man called Thomas Culpeper. He was tall and handsome. Katherine wrote love letters to him, and they met secretly at night.’
What a dangerous thing to do!’ said Margaret. ‘Katherine wasn’t very clever, I’m afraid.’
And people saw her and began to talk about it, and somebody told the King… One of his friends wrote it all down in a letter, and put the letter into Henry’s hand when he was in church.’
Oh dear,’ said Margaret. ‘So then…’ Already she knew what happened next.
Yes,’ I said. ‘Henry was wildly angry. He talked, people say, about taking a sword and cutting off her head himself. But he sent Thomas Culpeper to prison, and soon after he sent Katherine to the Tower.’
Like Anne Boleyn, years before,’ said Margaret.
Let’s see what her letter says,’ I said, opening it. ‘The writing is very untidy—I think she wrote this in a hurry.’
Tower of London
11th February 1541
Please forgive me! I didn’t want to make you unhappy and angry. Believe me!
It’s true that when I was a young girl, I was friendly with different young men. I was so young and stupid. I also spent a lot of time with Thomas Culpeper when I was your wife. But believe me, Henry, I didn’t know what I was doing. Remember, I am only twenty years old now. You are so much older than me, and you understand much more about the world.
Please, Henry, please, please help me! Don’t send me to my death! I am so afraid here in the Tower—I pray day and night that you will come and take me away. How can you kill your beautiful flower? They tell me that in two days’ time they will cut off my head… Henry, I don’t want to die! Please let me live a little longer… please! Just a few weeks… a few days… Please, Henry, please…
Your unhappy wife
When I finished reading the letter, Margaret was silent. Perhaps she could hear Katherine Howard’s cries and see her white face.
I put the letter away, and Margaret looked at me.
There aren’t any more letters, are there?’ she said.
No,’ I said. ‘That was the last letter.’