Catherine Howard, Countess of Suffolk

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Catherine (or Katherine) Howard, Countess of Suffolk (1564–1638), was born in Charlton, Wiltshire, the oldest child of Sir Henry Knyvet and his wife Elizabeth Stumpe.[1] Her uncle was Sir Thomas Knyvet, who foiled the gunpowder plot.


Early in her life, she married Richard Rich, son of Robert Rich, 2nd Baron Rich, and grandson of Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich. After his death in 1580 she then married Sir Thomas Howard, who twenty years later was named the Earl of Suffolk.

In the court of Elizabeth I

Howard gained a place in Queen Elizabeth's bedchamber and the title of Keeper of the Jewels in 1599. This honor went further as she was also granted authority over the lodgings where Queen Anne gave birth to the princess. In fact, she was in such a position of high esteem within the court, she would have been given the honor of godmother to Princess Sophia born of Queen Anne if the child had not perished. She danced in two of the queen's masques, one of which was written by Ben Jonson, titled The Masque of Blackness. King James wanted the actors to look African so the actors painted their faces black. In 1611, the poet Emilia Lanier chose to dedicate her poem Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum to her.[2]

Howard strived with some success to gain rank in court but proved to be corrupt. She served as a liaison between Spain and Salisbury, and demanded bribes for doing so. Sir Thomas Howard was appointed Lord Treasurer, which allowed her more opportunity for financial gain. Howard was known to be very beautiful in her younger years, and during her time at court had many suitors and a string of alleged love affairs, using the position her husband achieved in the government to extort kickbacks from her lovers. However, in 1619, at the age of 55, she was the victim of an attack of smallpox "which spoiled that good face of hers, which had brought to other much misery and to herself greatness which ended with much unhappiness." Many of the details of her corruption came out in the Suffolk's trial in the same year, where Sir John Finet alleged "to be spared a bond of £500, a citizen gave £83 and a sable muff to the countess".

The Countess was ultimately caught and, as a result of her treachery, she and her family were banned from court. Peers generally sympathized with Sir Thomas for being caught in her web of corruption, and she endured the blunt of the blame for the Howards' fall from grace. After being expelled from court, she continued to write letters on behalf of others seeking court positions.


File:Gertrude Howard.jpg
Gertrude Howard, Catherine's fourth child and second daughter

Howard had fourteen children:


  1. Payne, Helen (2004). "Howard, Katherine, countess of Suffolk (b. in or after 1564, d. 1638)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 3 May 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Lanyer, Aemilia (1993). Susanne Woods (ed.). The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer: Salve Dues Rex Judaeorum. New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 11 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk". Tudor Place. Retrieved 30 December 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[unreliable source]