The Ghost of Catherine Howard Interviewed by Mrs Russell-Davies: 1897

A portrait believed to be of Katherine Howard

A portrait believed to be of Catherine Howard

This is the first of two of Mrs Russell-Davies’ seances with royal ghosts. The second will appear Friday next.

HAMPTON COURT PALACE is far and away the most famous ghost house in Southern Britain. Leap Castle, in Ireland, is no doubt more full of gruesome ghosts, but for the historical interest the ghosts of Hampton Court take the palm. Mrs. Russell-Davies, I am glad to say, has been visiting the Palace for some time past, and has accumulated the material for a book which ought to rank high among the Classics of Ghostland.

On one occasion I had the pleasure of accompanying Mrs. Davies to the Palace, dining there at what I believe was the first visit she paid to the haunted pile. Although I was never able to return to the Palace at the witching hour of night, Mrs. Davies kindly kept me informed of her investigations, and hearing that the last number of BORDERLAND was to be issued before the publication of her book, she was good enough to allow me the sight of two chapters, one of which appeared a year ago in a weekly paper, the second has not yet seen light. These two chapters tell the story of two Queens, of Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard. The tradition which can connect Catherine Howard with the Hampton Court Palace is of old standing, and many residents tell of the sight of the ghost Queen, flying shrieking through the corridors on the eve of All Souls’ Day.

I.—THE STORY OF CATHERINE HOWARD.

Mrs. Davies, like every one else, had heard the story, and seated herself in the dead darkness on the eve of November 2nd Iast year waiting for the grim rehearsal with which the residents of the Palace are so familiar. Instead of expectation bringing the vision which was anticipated, Mrs. Davies’s experiences were quite different. They are told as follows in the chapter entitled “Catherine Howard,” from which it will appear that nothing happened as it was expected, and Mrs. Davies was able to interview the ghost of the unfortunate Queen at much greater length than people are allowed to interview Royalties to-day.

There seemed a strange stillness in the air, but a feeling of restlessness came over me which I could not understand. Mentally I was invoking the spirit to appear. In thought I said “If the spirit of Catherine Howard ever does return to earth will she appear to me, here and now? Will Catherine Howard speak to me, if only one word?” I should like it to be understood that up to this time I had always believed that this lady was all that a woman should not have been. That she was abandoned, depraved, and wicked to the last degree. I was, therefore, prepared to see one in spirit life surrounded with all the evidence of being on a low plane of existence, and bearing signs of suffering and punishment for her crimes. My surprise was, therefore, great indeed when suddenly I felt the touch of soft fingers on my cheek, such a tender, caressing touch it was too! and, on turning my head, perceived one of the most radiant beings it had ever been my lot to see. She stood by my side smiling in the most friendly way, and all I could do for a time was to sit still and gaze on my visitor. I cannot describe her face as being exactly beautiful, but it was very fair to look upon. A high forehead, with prominent broad, large blue, wide-open eyes, like those of a child. A small nose, rather peculiar in shape, the end ” tip tilted.” like the petals of a rose; and a mouth, a perfect “cupid’s bow.” The lips even, red, and slightly full and opening, snowed two row s of beautifully even white teeth. The chin was round, with a pretty dimple. I thought this is a child’s face, not a woman’s, and then I noticed the tiny form. Many girls of twelve are taller than this lady was, who stood at my side in response to my unspoken call for Catherine Howard, once Queen Consort of England. Was it possible that time and life in the world beyond the grave had wrought such changes? Surely it was impossible that this little lady could be the spirit of so vile a person as certain historians had painted the fifth wife of Henry VII. The thoughts were scarcely framed in my mind when my visitor commenced to speak. Immediately I heard the tone of the voice the thought again recurred. This is a child—a young girl—not a woman. The spirit answered my thought, and as nearly as possible for my memory to give, the following is the communication made to me :—

“Alas, yes. I am that most unhappy being Katherine Howard, whose memory on earth is infamous, and whose cruel death has never evoked more than a contemptuous expression of pity, whilst truly my earthly existence was one long misery. Picture to yourself my early life, my babyhood indeed! A poverty-stricken home, where even food was scarce. My childhood passed in the house of a relative, who, from charitable motives, had taken charge of me, fed, clothed, and made me the playmate of his own child, but who thought nothing further was required of him, so that I passed my days without teaching of any description, running wild with my beloved boy-companion, until at length, even in those days of ignorance and semi-barbarity, my neglected condition became a scandal. Then was I transferred to the tender (!) care and mercy of my step-mother, who from the day of my introduction into her household, appeared to forget my very existence, except indeed at those times, when by accident, she caught sight of my forlorn and ragged figure wandering aimlessly through rooms and passages of  her Grace’s palace, or mingling with the crowd —a very mixed one—of men and women which, in those days, filled the houses of the nobility. What surroundings and what associates for a child—for any girl! Even taking into consideration the times, my grandmother’s house was one of the worst. Morality in any form was unknown. True, there were the priests but what were they? Drunken, debauched, when they were not scheming, plotting spies of other priests in higher places!”

Here I ventured to remark. “This is rather a strong denunciation from a Howard and a Papist. You were a Catholic, I believe?”

“Yes, I suppose I was. I knew nothing different. I had never been taught, and could neither read nor write. Amidst all, there was one special thing in which I delighted, and that was music. How I loved it in any form! To steal at nighttime along the corridors and down the narrow staircases into the servant’s and scullions halls and kitchens, to listen to their rude music and songs was more to me than all else in life. Often I joined them, and being lifted on to a bench or table, would sing in my childish voice such songs and ballads that nowadays no street woman would sing. Do you wonder how I could escape contamination? I, a girl strong and healthy—precocious to a degree, amongst a set of lawless men and women, spending their days in idleness, and (for those days) luxury? Amongst them was one man, a musician, and he I sought before them all, begging him to teach me to play even as he himself did, upon the “virginals.” Alas, alas, my fate was sealed. Almost from the very commencement, this creature made me the victim of his passion. I, but a child not yet twelve years of age! And worst of all, the women who for pity’s sake, because I was but a child, should have saved me were his willing abettors. History does not tell all this, you say. No, but you will find records of the so-called designs upon me by this man. Marry! they were more than designs. At fourteen I was a woman, small in stature, but well developed. Truth, religion, or morality did not exist for me. I knew them not: lying, intrigue, and deceit were my only accomplishments, and around me on every side were creatures who had trained and led me into every abomination. My grandmother fed and sheltered me. My lovers clothed me, and provided whatever pleasure I sought. Amongst them was one, Francis Derham—a man of illegitimate birth, and a sort of cousin on the Howards’ side. Francis truly loved me, and to him did I plight my troth. Did I love him, you ask? Aye, that I did, dearly, deeply, truly! I loved him then and I love him now!”

“Now?” I exclaimed.

“Yes, now; we are together at last. As on earth in the midst of my loneliness and neglected youth we loved each other, and were true, so here in eternity, Francis Derham and Catherine Howard are one in spirit.”

“But what about the king and your marriage”

“Wait, I am coming to that. My connection with Derham had continued for perhaps three years. According to the manner of those days, persons plighting troth, as we had done, were regarded as man and wife, and a wife I held myself to be. In any lower station of life we should have been left in peace. But the Howards were ever courtiers, intriguers, and place-seekers, with the blood of Charlemagne and the Plantagenets in their veins, no Howard could tolerate obscurity, and they ever sought the highest and proudest position. To attain these, no means were spared, their women were bought and sold like cattle, and blood was held as water in the spilling. Though very small for my age, I had grown fair to look upon, and was held to be witty, bright, and gay; and my kinsfolk one day awoke to the fact that I could be used by them in their political and religious intrigues. The Howards had ever been fanatics in religion, and the blind willing tools of Romish priestcraft even to the present day. Henry the King had thrown off the bonds of the Pope. His divorce from Catherine of Aragon had been the first outward and visible sign of his rebellion. His marriage to my most excellent and well-beloved cousin, Anne, had brought on to her devoted head the vengeance of Rome. Henry was now the husband of a Protestant Princess. Again the Catholics were alert, and I was put forward as the bait to lure him back into the Mother Church, and once more the Pope was to rule England behind Henry’s throne. My intrigue or liaison with Derham was now discovered. He was sent abroad, and I was introduced to the King. My grandmother and all my kindred knew perfectly well that I was to all intents and purposes the wife of Derham. But what to them was our love or happiness? Power, place, and blind fanaticism was their motto, and I, young, helpless, and ignorant, was led like a lamb to the slaughter. Henry the licentious laid claim to me, and on the day he made me his wife, my death warrant was to all intents signed and sealed!”

Here I ventured to say: “There is a mystery respecting your marriage ceremony. No record exists of it, whether there was never one at all, in fact?”

“Oh, yes, there was. You know enough of Henry’s character to make it easy for you to believe me, when I say that I had been his mistress for some weeks previous to his divorce of Anne of Cleves. But my proud and powerful relations had been busy protecting my honour, and succeeded in their efforts to keep secret the existing state of affairs. On the evening of August 1st, at five o’clock, in the presence of my grandmother, my uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, Bishop Gardiner, and others, Henry plighted his troth to me whilst Gardiner gave the benediction, and poor little Catherine Howard became Queen of England! What a tragedy, you say! Yes, truly! I was no plotter or schemer; mine was not the ambition which sought a sham crown. I was a mere child so far as courtly schemes and plots were concerned. All I wanted was to be happy and loved. I could not be a queen. My lover had gone from me, my brothers and sisters were almost strangers. I was not even a clever girl— only young, bright, and ignorant. Such Henry found me, and it was this freedom from courtly wiles which won his genuine love for me.”

“His genuine love.” I exclaimed in astonishment.

“Yes, his genuine love.”

“But he never had any; he was only a sensualist so far as women were concerned, with a mania for sons!”

“You are wrong, and right. Henry had an affectionate nature, but this had been warped, and sensuality had taken the place of all that originally had been good. His amour propre was unbounded; his self-esteem engrossing. His one wish was to appear surrounded by stalwart sons, whose presence would prove their father’s manhood and glory. Henry really loved me, and I early learned to appreciate his kindness to myself. I neither assumed nor presumed. This characteristic my friends quickly perceived, and they awoke to the fact that I was too great a fool to be of any service. Neglected now by my Catholic relations, the Protestants determined upon my removal. Before my honeymoon was over, proofs were collected of my past history, and when we were happiest the storm burst. Henry was surrounded by men who, knowing his weak vanity and self-esteem, played upon these, and I in my horror and despair knew this, feeling also certain that if only he and I could meet, his love would outweigh his anger. But my enemies knew this too. The low-born scullions, who had risen to power, kept us apart, perjured their black souls by bearing false witness. Wriothesley, the brutal, tortured and tormented miserable beings into swearing that which had not been, and could never have been, until he had obtained sufficient evidence to paint me one of the blackest characters in history. All but Francis Derham swore my life away. He to the last, through pain, the rack, and torture, gave no word that could injure me. He suffered for my sake martyrdom—my beloved Francis! -and in less than two years after the King’s marriage my head fell on the block; but not a victim to Henry, but victim to the war between the Pope and the Protestants. You can learn for yourself that my death warrant was never seen or signed by the King. Against him I have no thought. Long ago I forgave my enemies, for I have learned that from all time sacrifices must be made, and only through such murderous scenes as my death can peace be brought upon earth. But so long as a single Howard remains a Roman Catholic, my spirit on All Souls Day will return to the scene of its earthly sufferings, until by fire Hampton Court Palace shall become a ruin. After that I shall appear in the homes of my people to foreshadow death, and to warn them against the machinations of the priests. Adieu.”

“Haunted Hampton Court: A Story of Two Queens,” Mrs. Russell-Davies, Borderland: A Quarterly Review and Index, Volume 4, edited by William Thomas Stead, 1897

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil takes great pleasure in opening the new year with a royal ghost story. This revisionist history of the late Queen was introduced by Mr W.T. Stead (who went down with the Titanic) and written by Mrs Russell-Davies, known before her marriage as the clairvoyant Bessie Williams. She was a “clairvoyant diagnostician,” who said that she could see through patients’ bodies as if they were glass and diagnose sickness. It was exhausting work, perhaps because the clairvoyant believed she “absorbed” the patients’ ills.  Weakened by her healing work, she retired, married Spiritualist R.H. Russell-Davies, and spent the rest of her life writing on Spiritualism in a similarly florid vein.

Hampton Court Palace is, of course, one of the most haunted of royal residences. Mrs Daffodil knows a modern young woman who visited the palace as a tourist and experienced a ghost in what is called The Queen’s Apartments, built for Queen Mary II. This person had walked through the long suite of rooms to the exit door leading to the state staircase. As she touched the door handle, the door was flung violently open from the other side. She was thrown off balance, but righted herself and assumed that there was a guide outside who had opened the door. However, there was no one on the landing and no one on the long stairs and no other place for someone to hide. She wondered if some ghostly footman was still at his post, opening the door.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

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2 thoughts on “The Ghost of Catherine Howard Interviewed by Mrs Russell-Davies: 1897

  1. Pingback: The Unwilling Ghost of Jane Seymour Summoned by Mrs Russell-Davies: 1897 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

  2. Pingback: Kings Who Have Seen Ghosts: 1911 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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