Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, is thought to have been born in Wingate, Co.Durham – probably, one can safely assume, in the little hamlet now known as ‘Old Wingate’ a little to the west of the coalmining creation that is the modern-day Wingate.
Admittedly, Catherine’s exact date and place of birth have never been proved beyond doubt. Even the year of the event itself has been given variously as anywhere between 1518 and 1524. She was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper, and was technically a commoner. A very young Catherine married an ageing Henry in the summer of 1540 at Oatlands Palace in Surrey.
The young woman was soon in trouble with the powers-that-be. Rumours began circulating almost immediately of her infidelities – especially with courtier Thomas Culpeper. Proof was slowly collected by dubious means, it being necessary, eventually, to manufacture a new law (actually, a bill of attainder) which made it treason, and punishable by death, for a queen consort to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within twenty days of their marriage, or to incite someone to commit adultery with her. In February 1542 – within two years of her marriage – she was sent to her grave by way of a single blow of the executioner’s axe. She may not even have been out of her teens.