Catherine Howard’s arrival in York: following the Queen in the silver dress

I am thrilled to welcome British historian and writer Gareth Russell to On the Tudor Trail. Gareth, author of Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII, joins us today with a guest post about Queen Catherine Howard’s visit to York in 1541.

Be sure to leave a comment after Gareth’s guest post to go into the draw to win a copy of his wonderful biography!

Young and Damned and Fair

Conditions of Entry

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Catherine Howard’s arrival in York: following the Queen in the silver dress

Gareth Russell

While researching my biography of Queen Catherine Howard, I decided to re-trace the route of her famous journey through the north of England. The court’s progress to the north in the summer of 1541 was part of Henry VIII’s agenda to pacify the region in the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace uprising in 1536 and the Wakefield conspiracy, a minor anti-reformation intrigue that had been uncovered at Easter 1541. Catherine’s trip was marred by bad weather, including torrential downpours so bad that, at one point, they actually affected her health. Mine, in contrast, during the summer of 2015, took place against a backdrop of idyllic weather that eventually tipped into a heat-wave.

One of the few books I brought with me after I set off from another research trip in wonderful Oxford was In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, so it is a special happiness to be able to share an extract from Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII on Natalie’s blog. As readers of Natalie and Sarah’s book will know, being able to stand in the places where one’s subject once stood, prayed or visited is a magical experience. It changes one’s perceptions and thus writing.

Apart from In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn and Kevin Shape’s Selling the Tudor Monarchy (Yale University Press, 2009), I went armed with my translation notes and a small, hardback journal, a thoughtful gift from my cousin Elaine. In that, I wrote down my thoughts and observations on every place I visited, as I made my way north from London, eventually reaching York.

The beautiful interior of York Minster. (Gareth Russell's collection)

The beautiful interior of York Minster. (Gareth Russell’s collection)

To pick a favourite spot would be difficult. Standing in the ruins of Pontefract Castle was a chilling experience; Lincoln was achingly beautiful, with its cathedral where Catherine prayed wearing a dress of silver in August 1541. That minster was perhaps one of the most stunningly lovely buildings I’ve ever stood in.

The ruins of the Queen's apartments at Pontefract Castle, 2015. (Gareth Russell's collection)

The ruins of the Queen’s apartments at Pontefract Castle, 2015. (Gareth Russell’s collection)

View of Lincoln Cathedral as seen from Lincoln Castle. (Natalie Grueninger's collection)

View of Lincoln Cathedral as seen from Lincoln Castle. (Natalie Grueninger’s collection)

In the spirit of travel and history, I wanted to share a short extract from Young and Damned and Fair’s eighteenth chapter, Waiting for the King of Scots. This excerpt narrates Catherine’s ceremonial arrival into York, England’s “second city” in 1541.


Henry, Catherine, and their courtiers listened as York’s reception committee praised the “inspiration of the Holy Ghost replete with mercy and pity as evidently hath been shewed by your grace to your Subjects later offenders in these North parts.”  In the distance, they could see the spires of York Minster, a cathedral dedicated to the patronage of Saint Peter, “Prince of the Apostles,” a project that had taken thousands of hands 242 years to build. The white-and-gold vaulted ceiling soared above Catherine’s head as ecclesiastical procession welcomed her when she and Henry arrived there. Shafts of royal purple and blue light shone on the floor, alongside a green so dark it was almost emerald. Catherine and her husband passed a statue of King John, participant in the most famous English royal quarrel with the papacy before Henry VIII, on their left, and his reverent son Henry III on their right. The Plantagenet monarchs formed part of a set that fanned out from the entrance screen and showed every king of England in chronological order from William the Conqueror on the far left to Henry VI on the opposite right. After his murder in 1471, the latter had been venerated as a martyr by many of his former subjects. Suspicious of populist cults, Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners had ordered Henry VI’s image to be removed from the carved lineup at York Minster. If Catherine had had time to really examine the twelfth plinth, she might therefore have noticed that poor Henry VI’s statue was wooden, a rushed job in comparison to his stone-and-gold ancestors. Henry VI was Henry VIII’s great-uncle, and his posthumous popularity had been an early plank of Tudor justifications for seizing the throne from the House of York. On Henry VIII’s orders, the image of the last Lancastrian king had been put back where he belonged. The stand-in would suffice until a new statue could be carved or, as events outmaneuvered human plans, until Protestants gained the upper hand again in the next decade and had “Saint” Henry VI scattered on a rubbish heap for a second time.

Part of York Minster's statues of kings - with William the Conqueror on the far left and King John on the far right. (Gareth Russell's collection)

Part of York Minster’s statues of kings – with William the Conqueror on the far left and King John on the far right. (Gareth Russell’s collection)

Following the service, Henry and Catherine rode the two or three minutes from the minster down to Petergate, one of the five gateways, and over to the closed Benedictine abbey of St. Mary, where the dismissed abbot’s red brick mansion would serve as their home while they stayed in York. The street from the minster to Petergate was one of the most prosperous parts of the city, home to skilled craftsmen, many of whom worked for the archdiocese. On their way into York, even any last-minute attempts to spruce up the ramshackle collection of timber houses and unpaved roads could not have hidden the narrow quarters and filthy streets. York’s collective memory looked back on the century preceding the Wars of the Roses as their “golden age,” after which the city had slipped into decline. Richard III had blamed trouble from the Scots for retarding the area’s prosperity; Henry VII suspected incompetence in the mayor and his officials. Numerous plague outbreaks, frequent and virulent in the first decade of the sixteenth century, had accelerated the city’s deterioration. The York aldermen encountered by Henry VII in 1487 may have been inept, but there were signs that the degeneration was happening across the north. Both Hull and Lincoln had informed the King in 1541 that they were facing similar problems. The half-sung requiem for York turned out to be obsequies over an empty bier—its fortunes revived significantly under Elizabeth I—though when Catherine alighted at a gutted St. Mary’s, halfway on its own road to ruin, she and the Yorkers accompanying her could have been forgiven for thinking that the rot was terminal and that King Henry did not necessarily regard that as a negative development.

From © Young and Damned and Fair by Gareth Russell, a new biography of Queen Catherine Howard. Published by Simon & Schuster in the US and Canada on April 4th 2017 and HarperCollins UK in the UK, Ireland, and most of the Commonwealth on January 12th, 2017.

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  1. Wonderful, lovely poetic article. Thanks.

  2. Rachel simpson says:

    😀 can never tire of tudor articles or books. Articles like this make my day look forward to reading the next one

  3. Yvette Barbet says:

    Sounds like a great read! I love Tudor inspired books!

  4. It is so sad to see how Catherine has been vilified and shamed for the past hundreds of years. So thank you, thank you so much for giving her the voice she has always needed to be sung out for us to hear!

  5. Enjoyed reading this and hoping to be lucky enough to win the book.

  6. Alicia Mae Nichols says:

    I cannot wait to read this book after that short excerpt!

  7. Geneva Standbridge says:

    I love reading new and varied interpretations of the people and events of Tudor times. It’s so very interesting to read between the lines of historical and contemporary judgment to try to piece out the real story. I look forward very much to reading more about poor Catherine Howard!

  8. Donna L Irving says:

    Sounds like another great Tudor history book.

  9. Nikki McComas says:

    Enjoyed reading this post! Adding this book to my want to read list! Would love to win!

  10. Sarah Scott says:

    Sounds like a great book!

  11. Lorraine Brenda Byrne. Bth. says:

    As a History Graduate I have always in particular loved Tudor History because of it’s richness in character’s of the time and places that were part of that era in which woven together create a vibrant, tapestry.
    I would love this book to add to my collection as I really feel sorry for Catherine Howard, even though she
    wronged Henry she was pressured into seducing him by her scheming uncle. So I don’t think she thought
    very much about the consequences, only the gifts.

  12. Nora Platt says:

    I love York and have visited there since I was 11 years old. It never fails to delight, as it is full of history and beautiful buildings. The link to Henry and Tudor times is the icing on the cake for me. I was so excited to read this post, certainly sounds like a book to add to my collection.

  13. Wonderfully written article… Definitely a book I’d like to add to my book case

  14. Ginney Bilbray says:

    This book looks wonderful! This kind of post just inspires me to visit historical places of England more often!

  15. Anita Woodcock says:

    Having lived near Hampton Court Palace ‘anything’ Tudor is endlessly fascinating. Anne Boleyn is my all time favourite but sometimes Henry’s other wives, like Catherine Howard, can be overshadowed by her. I look forward to learning more.

  16. Jennifer O says:

    I am really looking forward to reading this book about Catherine. She seems to be the Queen that has the least known about her. I have already added this book to my current list of books to add to my collection 🙂

  17. Judith Rochecouste says:

    Tudor history is fascinating – thanks to historians we can learn so much about the people, the personalities and the intrigues. Women were so often mistrusted and manipulated.
    Dr Judith Rochecouste

  18. Alison Lodge says:

    How fascinating Catherine is. Good to hear about a new book on her.

  19. Great article. Really looking forward to reading this book!

  20. I really enjoyed reading this article. Those descriptions of the surroundings are wonderful. As I am living in the Netherlands, i’m a bit jealous of those of you who live in England, a country with such an incredible history. I hope that one day i will be able to travel through the whole country to visit all those memorable places where Queen Catherine has stayed and lived in her (short) life. Until then, i love to read about them, so i hope i’m lucky enough to be one of the winners 🙂 🙂

  21. Dawn 1st says:

    I lived very close to Lincoln for many years, used to shop there, and go to university there as a mature student. Many times l have seen, and been in the Cathedral and imagined scenarios of it’s history. The one you mentioned of Catherine praying in her silver dress is a new one to add to them. Really enjoyed the artical, and would love to read this book, more so with it containing places l know and love. I lived even closer to Gainsborough Old Hall, another place she stopped at, another place l visited often…such a beautiful building… So miss these places now

  22. Lori Thomas says:

    Enjoyed the article. Would love to add this to my Tudor book collection. Thx for the chance!!!

  23. Maya Amis says:

    There is so little clear information available about Catherine. I am very interested to learn more about this doomed young woman.

  24. Alison moore says:

    I think of all the Queens this poor young girl is the I
    Feel sorry for the most. I would really like to read a book dedicated to her story as there aren’t as many out there as there are for the other more famous queens e.g. Anne Boleyn …

  25. Rachel Spurrier says:

    Looks like a really interesting read! Good luck everyone!

    I always find the relationship between Henry and his ‘rose without a thorn’ to be very intriguing. I often wonder how Catherine Howard felt during her marriage. There’s so much we’ll never know but it’s such an interesting topic- the Tudor era is my favourite period of British history.

    Have a great day everyone ? X

  26. darren perks says:

    Gareth Russell is part of a new rat pack of young historians writing about the Tudors – as such
    He brings a new perspective to the much ploughed furrow of Henry’s wives. His new Katherine Howard book looks like it will please picky traditionalists as well as icky revisionists!

  27. Amy Blaylock says:

    I know very little about her. This article makes me curious to learn more. I hope I win the book.

  28. Karin Carthew says:

    This sounds like an amazing addition to my Tudor shelf! ??

  29. Vicki Logan says:

    Would love to read your new book.

  30. Isabelle F says:

    Wonderful, looking forward to reading this!

  31. Another marvellous book to add to my Tudor library. Very excited to read this one .

  32. Eliza N. says:

    Thank you for the chance to win this book! Catherine is often misunderstood..

  33. Great article, I am abdolutely thrilled and am looking forward to read the book cause reading something about Catherine Howard is next On my List.

  34. Rachael Berkebile says:

    I am so looking forward to this book. I love all things Tudor expecially books on Henry VIIIs individual wife’s. Thank you

  35. Sarah Lindsey says:

    This book will definitely be going on my “must read” list! What a beautiful sight Catherine must have been in her silver dress in Lincoln Cathedral.

  36. Emma Alvarez says:

    I’ve been wanting to read this book before its release but it’s impossible to find it in my country. ?

  37. Lisa Fleener says:

    I would love to read more about Catherine Howard & add this book to my library. This post was very informative & enjoyable.

  38. Katie Rodriguez says:

    This book sounds so fascinating. I’d love to read more about Catherine since she is one of Henry’s wives I’ve read the least about. I can’t imagine what she was thinking when she saw all of these amazing places!

  39. Alan Wybrow says:

    Avery intriguing introduction to the book. It’s sufficient for me to purchase a copy and read the whole story.

  40. A big congratulations to Ginney, the winner of our giveaway! Happy reading!

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