WCW: Catherine Howard


Catherine Howard (c. 1524 – 1542) is one of the most overlooked of Henry VIII‘s six wives. She was his Ultimate Midlife Crisis wife — he’d gone through the tumult of Anne Boleyn, finally gotten his male heir from Jane Seymour, confronted his aging with Anne of Cleves, and now went full denial on the “I’m old and gross” thing by marrying a beautiful young teenager while he was 49.

1540 miniature by Hans Holbein thought to be Catherine Howard Royal Collection.

1540 miniature by Hans Holbein thought to be Catherine Howard, Royal Collection.

Catherine’s life was hard. She was groomed and sexually abused as a child, then barely out of her childhood when she was thrust into the role of queen. Whether she chose to commit adultery or was pressured into it (or both), she seems to have had no real conception of the serious ramifications that her choices would have: she was the second of Henry’s wives to be executed.

1535-40, portrait by Hans Holbein of a lady, formerly said to be Catherine Howard, but probably from the Cromwell family

1535-40, portrait by Hans Holbein of a lady, formerly said to be Catherine Howard, but probably from the Cromwell family

As I work my way through all of the English queens we haven’t yet covered, let’s do Catherine Howard’s many appearances in frock flicks!


Binnie Barnes in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

Barnes was also in The Private Life of Don Juan (1934), Diamond Jim (1935) as Lillian Russell, The Last of the Mohicans (1936) as younger sister Alice, The Three Musketeers (1939) as Milady, and The Spanish Main (1945) as pirate Anne Bonney, among many historical films.

1933 The Private Life of Henry VIII

That’s not a great French hood.

1933 The Private Life of Henry VIII

But she plays Freebird! (Photo by Bob Thomas/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

1933 The Private Life of Henry VIII

(Photo by John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)


Dawn Addams in Young Bess (1953)

Addams was also in The Robe (1953), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), and The Black Tulip (1964).

1953 Young Bess

TERRIBLE lighting!

1953 Young Bess

Okay, so this is reasonable for 1950s!

1953 Young Bess

That’s a lot of makeup for the 1540s however.


Angela Pleasence in The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Pleasence was also in The Barchester Chronicles (1980), Mansfield Park (1983), A Christmas Carol (1984), Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986), Stealing Heaven (1988), and Gangs of New York (2002).

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

One of the best costumed productions, even if they used a lot of theatrical shortcuts.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Looks like a repro of that Cromwell-family-member portrait above!

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)


Monica Dietrich in Carry On Henry (1971)

1971 Carry On Henry

This is one of the gazillion British comedy “Carry On” films. I guess Catherine is in charge of tablecloths?


Lynne Frederick in Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972)

Frederick was also in Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and The Pallisers (1974).

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Beautiful costumes, even if that hood is too sticky-uppy.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Great silhouettes!

1972 Henry VIII and His Six Wives

And the actress really gives you a sense of how YOUNG Catherine was.


?? in The Royal Diaries: Elizabeth I – Red Rose of the House of Tudor (2000)

Very little cast is listed on IMDB or Wikipedia, but I believe this woman is supposed to be Catherine Howard?

2000 The Royal Diaries- Elizabeth I - Red Rose of the House of Tudor

Pretty sure that neck thing is from AliExpress…


Michelle Abrahams in The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2001)

2001 The Six Wives of Henry VIII

All of the wives! I think Catherine is front and center?

2001 The Six Wives of Henry VIII


Emily Blunt in Henry VIII (2003)

Blunt has gone on to stardom, having also performed in Warrior Queen (2003), The Young Victoria (2009) as Queen Victoria, Into the Woods (2014), Mary Poppins Returns (2018), Jungle Cruise (2021), and The English (2022).

Emily Blunt, Henry VIII (2003)

Tragic on SO MANY levels. The hair. The sleeves. The shitty bodice fitting. The limp fabric. The lack of chemise/partlet.

Henry VIII (2003)

NO idea what she’s wearing here (other than a lot of extensions).


Tamzin Merchant in The Tudors (2009-10)

Merchant has also acted in Pride & Prejudice (2005) as Georgiana Darcy, Princess Kaiulani (2009), Jane Eyre (2011), Salem (2014-17), and Carnival Row (2019-23).

The Tudors

Super Girl meets Queen of England?

The Tudors

HOW you can try to be sultry while wearing the world’s clunkiest head necklace is beyond me.

The Tudors (2009-2010) Catherine Howard


2007-10 The Tudors

And I like butterflies!


Lauren McQueen in Six Wives with Lucy Worsley (2016)

McQueen has been in The Mill (2014) and the forthcoming Masters of the Air.

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

Not the best costume in the series, but decent.

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

Lots of sari trim but the overall effect is solid.



Who’s your favorite on-screen Catherine Howard?

16 Responses

  1. Aleko

    I think Lynne Frederick, as you say, was the only one who really conveyed Catherine’s youth and immaturity. There are some really surprisingly mature and sophisticated actresses in this list.

    One really remarkable fact about Catherine’s execution is that she asked the night before to have the executioner’s block brought to her in the Tower, so she could practise kneeling down gracefully and laying her head on it calmly. That really resonates with me because my mother was descended from the Howards of Norfolk, and it sounds exactly what any of her family would do: ‘whatever happens, don’t embarrass yourself by making an undignified scene’.

    Poor girl, she must have heard a year previously how badly botched the execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, had been, and no doubt wanted to give the headsman a clear unmoving mark to hit, and not unsettle him.

    • Roxana

      That poor child. A contemporary observer wrote she made a godly end so presumably her practice paid off. She definitely did not say that famous line about wishing heself the wife of Culpeper, who seems to have been a real piece of work.

  2. Boxermom

    Six Wives with Lucy Worsley. I might be a little biased because a) it’s Lucy Worsley, and b) she goes into the REAL story of Catherine Howard, not the usual version.

  3. Lily Rose

    … it’s not funny, exactly, but I can’t stop snickering at “Ultimate Mid-Life Crisis Wife”. Exactly!

  4. Susan

    Angela Pleasance daughter of Donald and Lynn Frederick are the Secretariat winning the Triple Crown favourites. Can you do a deep dive on Barchester. It had so many Frock Flick Greats from Dame Susan to a very young Alan Rickman. And costumes were and are fab.

    • Cheryl from Maryland

      Yes, please. Look up Barchester Chronicles, FREE on youtube. Also with Geraldine McEwan, Nigel Hawthorne, Susan Hampshire and a great performance by Clive Swift as the vacillating Bishop of Barchester.

  5. Alexander

    A huge thanks for including a post on Katherine. I have been hoping that you may feature her for a while. She has an almost haunting quality to her which I have always been drawn to – so young and full of exuberant life which was so swiftly snuffed out – her past unearthed to destroy her. I am firmly of the belief that Lynne Frederick was the ultimate Katherine, she caught that naïve worldliness which I feel is so important in bringing Katherine to life… also her costumes were outstanding, sticky uppy French hoods aside. The scene where she is interrogated by Cranmer was horrific and terrifying in her reaction! Emily Blunt was also effective I thought – despite her woeful costuming – though I do feel that she lacked that feeling of her being a spoilt teenage queen, which Frederick really mastered. I would love for a full length, dramatic treatment of her life to be produced. Here’s hoping!

  6. Kathy

    I have always felt for Catherine Howard because she was so young and had the least experience and protections when she was thrust into Henry’s sight. Catherine of Aragon was intelligent and educated princess, Anne of Cleves was not especially young and was also royalty like CoA, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour had had far more experience at court and Catherine Parr was over a decade older than Catherine Howard likely was and experienced with older husbands. Catherine Howard had not had particularly good education as a child, was a victim of sexual abuse and became queen very soon after coming to court for the first time. She almost never stood a chance.

  7. M.E. Lawrence

    Frederick and Pleasence are my two favorites: very small (as C.H. was), very young, sweet and kind, and ultimately clueless. Perfect bait for a powerful, aging male who used to be gorgeous–good actresses, too.

  8. Kaite Fink

    Frederick is my favorite, followed by McQueen. The Tudors did Merchant dirty. Horribly so, in both script and costume. Howard’s story is so much more heart breaking. Gareth Russell wrote a fantastic bio about her. Highly recommend.

  9. Alissa

    My movie watch group watched The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) a few weeks ago. That movie plays Catherine Howard as an adult woman who is scheming her way into Henry’s affections from the moment Anne Boleyn goes to the scaffold. Because all of us are history nerds who knew that wasn’t true, we found it icky and it killed any enjoyment of the movie. In fact, poor Catherine was around 12 when Anne was executed.

  10. Rochelle

    Binnie Barnes’ first French hood looks like something from Metropolis. And nice to see an actual codpiece on the 1972 Henry!

  11. Rori

    Catherine is without a doubt the most misunderstood out of Henry’s wives, more so than Anne. Nowadays people mainly knew that Anne’s suppose crimes are false, but Catherine’s reputation suffered to this days tho that is beginning to change.

    I have some fondenss for Lynne Frederick’s as she convey that innoucence of a young teenage.

  12. Caradoc

    Lynne was by far the most sympathetic Katherine Howard, despite having so few minutes. While Anne Boleyn is muy favorite of Henry’s Queens, KH comes second, and I think this poor girl is the most tragic of the 6 wives, she was trying very hard to be a good Queen, and most TV shows/movies just portray her as a stupid, spoiled strumpet. I hope one day she gets Her Own Great Movie, à la Anne of the Thousand Days.
    I must tell you, in the parte of Young Bess, the 3rd photo is not Dawn Adams as Katherine, it’s Elaine Stewart as Katherine’s cousin, Anne Boleyn.

  13. Roxana

    That second image is almost certainly Elizabeth Lady Cromwell, nee Seymour, sister of Queen Jane. There’s a definite family resemblance though izabeth was slightly better looking.

  14. ED

    Having just watched Ms. Angela Pleasence in the role, I am tempted to proclaim her definitive (and that‘s not always the case with this show, though Heaven knows it’s Henry VIII towers above all others).

    (I am also slightly shocked by how very pretty a young woman with such a strong resemblance to Mr Donald Pleasance could be!).


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