On November 2, 1541, King Henry VIII was passed a note after mass. The king’s council was so afraid of his reaction to its contents that they had decided this was the best way of informing him. Henry read the note, which accused his new bride Katheryn Howard of being “light in her living and conditions.” Henry frowned, and said the matter might be “forged” and asked his council to look into it.
Unlike with Anne Boleyn, these charges hadn’t been invented on Henry’s behest, and so his first reaction was denial. He expected the investigation would prove his “rose without a thorn” was unblemished. He knew how court gossip could easily tarnish an innocent person’s reputation. He didn’t order Katheryn’s arrest, nor even confine her to her quarters. Likely, Katheryn had no idea what was going on for at least four more days.
The council began interviewing Katheryn’s ladies and former associates at the home of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, where she had spent the last few years of her life before she came to court. As this was an actual investigation, instead of a hasty frame-up like Anne Boleyn’s case, there are extensive records in the Letters and Papers of Henry’s reign. Notes on all of the interrogations were preserved, and though we don’t often have the exact words of the testimony, we know in general what was said.
On October 6th, Henry abruptly left Hampton Court – Katheryn never saw him again. The tale of Katheryn escaping her guards to run, screaming, down the corridors of Hampton Court is nothing but a Victorian invention, At this point, Katheryn still might not have known how serious the matter was. She had to know her associates were being interviewed. Too many people had been interrogated for whispers of dark stirrings not to reach the young queen’s ears, but she still may have not been aware her very life was at stake.
It must have frightened her to think of the king learning of the way the young men would sneak into the maidens’ chamber in the Dowager Duchess’s house with wine and snacks to “make merry.”
He would certainly learn of her entanglement with Dereham – there had been too many witnesses to that. He might not learn of Mannox, because that had been kept quiet… Katheryn’s head must have swum with the possibilities and what she would say.
She may have thought she’d be able to explain it all to the king and her pre-marital activities could be forgiven.
The next day, her jewels were seized and she was confined to her chambers. Katheryn panicked and fell into hysterical tears. Cranmer described it:
I found her in such lamentation and heaviness, as I never saw no creature; so that it would have pitied any man’s heart in the world to have looked upon her: and in that vehement rage she continued, as they informed me which be about her, from my departure from her unto my return again.
Katheryn was doomed.