After a hit season on West End, ‘Six’ recently debuted in Australia and on Broadway. A historically inspired musical, the production reimagines Henry VIII’s wives as a pop group, telling their funny and heart-wrenching stories through song. In this series, discover more about the real-life figures behind the show, with six facts for each of the six queens.
The fifth Queen, and Henry VIII’s fifth wife, is Katherine Howard.
“I’m the Katherine who lost her head. For promiscuity outside of wed… Lock up your husbands, lock up your sons. K. Howard is here and the fun’s begun.”
(Katherine Howard in the musical ‘Six’)
Katherine was a teenaged English gentlewoman from a minor branch of the illustrious Howard family. During her adolescence, she was a victim of what now would constitute statutory rape, with her music teacher and her grandmother’s secretary taking advantage of her corruptible age. At Court, she served Anna of Cleves and, following Henry’s divorce, Katherine took her place as Queen of England. Unhappy with a husband three decades her senior, she pursued an affair with Thomas Culpepper, which was discovered and led to her being executed for treason.
Fact 1 – Katherine was already Married
When Katherine met Henry, she was likely already married to her grandmother’s secretary, Francis Dereham. External sources confirm their sexual relationship and habit of calling each other husband and wife, with Dereham himself later confessing to an engagement. Since a consummated engagement was legally equivalent to a marriage, Katherine’s wedding to Henry was completely invalid under the eyes of the law.
Fact 2 – Younger than her Step-Daughter
Upon her marriage to Henry, however, Katherine became stepmother to two-year-old Prince Edward, six-year-old Lady Elizabeth and 24-year old Lady Mary. Controversial by today’s standards, Katherine herself was only 16 and thus more than 7 years younger than her stepdaughter. The age difference led to friction between the pair, with Mary disrespecting the Queen and Katherine retaliating by trying to fire Mary’s servants.
Fact 3 – Aided Prisoners
Katherine provided assistance to several people who were imprisoned in the Tower of London. She purchased and sent a range of warm clothing to the Countess of Salisbury, an elderly woman who was struggling through freezing winters. Katherine also successfully petitioned the King to free the poet Thomas Wyatt, who was jailed for his association with the dead and disgraced Thomas Cromwell.
Fact 4 – Fell in Love with a Rapist-Murderer
Katherine loved Thomas Culpepper enough to risk her own life but was unaware of his violent past. Before meeting Katherine, Culpepper raped a park-keeper’s wife and then murdered a villager who tried to apprehend him. He later received a royal pardon from the King and continued to be a favoured member of the court. Whether or not he committed similar atrocities again remains unknown.
Fact 5 – Rehearsed her Execution
Katherine was condemned to die at only 18 years of age and was afraid of embarrassing herself on the scaffold. The night before her death, she requested the executioner’s block be brought to her and practised laying her head upon it for several hours. She then faced her actual execution with remarkable bravery and composure.
Fact 6 – Insulted Henry on the Scaffold
Prior to execution, the condemned were allowed a final word. Most people praised the King, who had called for their untimely end, in an effort to prevent retribution upon their family or children. Katherine, who had no children and was manoeuvred into the marriage by her family, was an exception. Her last words were: “I die a Queen but would rather die the wife of Thomas Culpepper.”
In ‘Six’, Katherine is a young teenager who falls head over heels for older men in a desperate search to find the one, both before and after marrying Henry.
In ‘All You Wanna Do’, Katherine goes from excited at her series of conquests to the gradual realisation that these men abused their positions of power to take advantage of her. Check out the Studio Cast Recording featuring Aimie Atkinson on Spotify.
Courtney Monsma was playing Katherine Howard in the currently postponed Australian tour of ‘Six’.
Courtney trained in music theatre at the Queensland Conservatorium, starring as Charity in ‘Sweet Charity’ and Maria in ‘West Side Story’, as well as appearing in ‘Kiss Me Kate’ with Opera Queensland during her studies. After graduation, she made her National Tour debut in ‘Mamma Mia’, performing in the ensemble and understudying the lead role of Sophie. The next year, Courtney was cast as Ensemble/Understudy Jasmine in the National Tour of Aladdin and became a finalist in the Rob Guest Endowment. In late 2020, she will originate the role of Princess Anna in the Australian production of ‘Frozen’.
For more on ‘Six’, you can follow the musical on Facebook and Instagram, listen to the cast recording on Spotify or see the National Tour in Melbourne, Adelaide or Wellington, which will recommence at an unconfirmed date. To learn about Katherine Howard, check out the historical fiction novels ‘Katherine Howard: The Tainted Queen’ by Alison Weir and ‘The Boleyn Inheritance’ by Philippa Gregory, as well as the television series ‘The Tudors’.
Photos sourced via Facebook and the Daily Art Magazine.