"No other will but his"
Catharine Howard was young, vivacious, flirty, and the third (or fourth) Boleyn woman to cross Henry. Her aunt, Elizabeth, was rumored to have slept with young King Henry. Elizabeth's daughters, Mary and Anne Boleyn, both had affairs with the king. Mary's ended in disgrace with a sad marriage and an illegitimate son, and Anne's ended in tragedy, after a controversial romance and marriage that produced the child who would become Elizabeth I, and culminated with her beheading.
Catharine was from noble blood, but neglected early on. She lived with a grandmother that was far too permisive, and combined with her natural free spiritedness and her feelings of abandonment, Catharine was unable to control her desires, no matter what they cost her. She was immaure and unable to understand.
Henry was thirty odd years her senior, overweight, and in failing health. He probably longed for the legendary days of his youth, and was in something of a midlife crisis when he married Catharine. She was uneducated- Catharine Howard could barely read or write- unsophisticated, and ill-suited for sovereignity. But she was attractive, charming, flirtatious, graceful, a young woman who could give him the second male heir he sought. Henry called her his "rose without thorns". He became smitten with her while still married to Anne of Cleves, a naive, sexually inexperienced woman with whom Henry had been unable to consumate.
Catharine didn't love him, but she was fond of the gifts he showered her with, and enjoyed his attentions. Henry was as in lust with her as he had been with her cousin Anne Boleyn, if not more so, and her family, hungry for the kings graces and fearful of his wrath, were too afraid to point out her shortcomings. Henry married Catharine in 1540. She was not crowned, and the war with France had made a coronation ceremony too expensive, but she was declared queen all the same.
The union lasted 17 months.
Catharine was simply immature, undisciplined, and silly. She had no experience with the court, unlike Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, who were courtiers, and therefore had no idea what was expected of her, or how very dangerous the position of queen was.
Anne Boleyn's adultery was the product of Katharine of Aragon's faithful, and the abrupt ending of a tempestuous affair; Catharine Howard's adultery was very real- she continued her affairs throughout marriage. She thought, as long as she and Henry were both happy, then everything was fine. And Henry was happy as long as he didn't know, so as long as no one told him, the marriage would go well.
She did treat Henry well, was affectionate, loving, and did her best to ease him as he was ill; but her true love was a young man named Culpepper, a courtier, who had charmed her before her marriage to Henry. Culpepper used Catharine for his own ambitions- she may have influenced the king to excuse him on charges of a very public rape and murder. Culpepper raped the wife of a peasant and ordered other courtiers to hold her down while he did so. He then murdered a passerby who tried to stop the attack.
Once the secret was out, Henry could no longer turn a blind eye. Catharine was arrested and questioned. So silly and naive she was, that she confessed freely to all her affairs! And the more Henry investigated, the more he found.
Henry was devastated, and offered to spare her life by sending her to a nunnery. But Catharine may not even have been aware of this option, or understood what it meant- once again her lack of intelligence doomed her. In light of her confession, her refusal to accept the offer left Henry no choice but to behead her- a queen's adultery was, by law, high treason. It is possible that Henry withdrew the offer before she could take it after learning how much he had been fooled. Certainly he was so enraged that every member of her family was locked in the tower, except for her uncle, who was let free under banishment.
Catharine was executed on the tower green February 13, 1542. She was 19 years old.
After her beheading, a law was passed, that not only should any one who had knowledge of suspect virginity of a future or seated queen be required to report anything they knew, but to not do so was a capital offense. In other words, if you thought a queen was impure, you had better speak up either prior to or after the wedding, before the king found out, or you would be beheaded along side her.
Henry had finally tired of marrying for lust.