Cover of the book 'The Boleyn Inheritance' by Philippa Gregory.

Decapitation in England

Catherine Howard is delighted when she gets to go to the court of Henry the Eight in 1539. She loves participating in festivities, flirting and dressing up. She has just turned fourteen.

The king is awaiting his fourth wife, a German princess whom he married for political reasons: it allies him to an influential protestant ruler. The marriage takes place in January, 1540, and is dissolved within half a year. The king does not like the lady. She is sent away on an allowance.

The king has taken to the young Catherine instead. In August that same year Henry marries her, his ‘rose without a thorn’. He is nearing sixty, she is barely fifteen.

The king is so immensely pleased with her that in November 1541 he orders all churches to say a prayer of thanksgiving: she is the first woman who truly understands him and makes him happy.

Two days later, he puts her under house arrest and keeps her from seeing or speaking to anyone except for a few servants. She is accused of seeing other men: high treason. Friends and acquaintances are questioned, and two young men are sentenced to death. Their heads are displayed on stakes as a horrific example.

Catherine lives in confinement and insecurity. She is not tried. One day she is transferred to the Tower. As a special favour of the king, her decapitation is performed in private. She dies on February the 13th, 1542, at 16 years of age.

Philippa Gregory tells this story through the diaries of the story’s three leading ladies. This results in the magnificent novel The Boleyn Inheritance.

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