(1521-1542) The fifth wife of Henry VIII and first-cousin of Anne Boleyn. Katherine "Kitty" Howard was just 18 when she arrived at court. A diminutive, pretty redhead with a great joie de vivre but little formal education, Kitty was the daughter of impoverished nobles. Motherless by age 10, Kitty lived in dormitories at her step-grandmother's mansion with her numerous cousins and other noble wards. Largely neglected in a huge family, Kitty was seduced by her music teacher at age 15 and soon became romantically involved with courtier Francis Dereham, even promised to marry him. Always eager to please, she agreed to go to Henry's court as a lady-in-waiting for Anne of Cleves.
Henry was instantly smitten with her, although he was nearly fifty and obese, three times her size. Seeing a chance to seize power, the powerful Howard clan nudged Kitty into marrying Henry, who was assured of her chastity. Although accommodating, Kitty was disappointed by her old, fat husband and soon found herself enchanted by a young favorite of Henry, bad boy Thomas Culpeper.
Betrayed by a spiteful friend, Kitty's cover was blown; Henry had Dereham and Culpeper killed and Kitty's family imprisoned. Initially terrified, Kitty resigned herself to her fate and even had the chopping block brought to her before execution so that she could practice.
Anne of Cleves, already familiar with Katherine Howard as a maidservant, maintained their friendship. Kitty had also grown attached to her stepdaughter, Elizabeth I, although Mary Tudor resented her "stepmother", who was five years younger than her.
Katherine Howard, the least educated of Henry's wives and thoroughly spoiled by him, was not the woman for the office of queen. Still, Katherine's ambitious, heavily Catholic family knew that the teenager was reckless and too naive to handle the ruthless intrigue of the court, but they cared more for Henry's favor than about her safety; she was just another mouth to feed. In her hour of need, Kitty's family abandoned her to fend for herself.
In the end, Henry refused to be made to look like a fool and even thought of killing Katherine himself.