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Catherine Howard (1520–42), 5th queen of Henry VIII. Catherine, the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and niece of the duke of Norfolk, was 19 when Henry became interested in her. The annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves on 9 July 1540 was followed a fortnight later by his marriage to Catherine. She was tiny, pretty, and vivacious, her sparkle compensating for a lack of education. Henry showered her with gifts but by the end of 1541 he had heard rumours of her adultery, before and after marriage. The illness of his only son Edward, and no sign that she was pregnant, heralded her downfall. Pre-marital affairs with Francis Dereham and her cousin Thomas Culpeper were the basis for a charge of treason, that she had contaminated the royal blood. Members of the Norfolk household were imprisoned, Catherine placed under house arrest at Syon House, and then beheaded on 13 February 1542. She died with notable composure and is reported to have said, ‘I die a queen, but would rather have died a wife of Culpeper.’ Henry remained in good spirits and began thinking of a sixth marriage or of recalling Anne of Cleves.
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