The Catherine Howard Postage Stamp
17 Dec 1996
Lancaster New Era, Lancaster, PA, Page B-1
A Hempfield High School teacher told me that he had used a column of mine a couple of
years ago to illustrate a point of history, namely that artifacts found in Britain
verified the existence of Romans there centuries before and that this was commemorated on
British postage stamps. Well, Dan, maybe you can use this one, too.
On Jan. 21, the British Post Office will release a set of seven stamps to commemorate
the 450th anniversary of the death of King Henry VIII. The set will consist of a larger
stamp with a portrait of King Henry VII and six slightly smaller stamps with portraits of
each of his six wives. Each stamp has a face value of 26 pence, which is the basic first
class rate within the UK and to European Union (EU) countries.
This is really a stunning set of stamps because each of the portraits is one from a
famous museum. The portrait of King Henry VIII is attributed to the circle of Hans Holbein
the Younger (1497-1542) and is in a museum in Rome. Henry succeeded to the throne upon the
death of his father in April, 1509.
The portraits of Henry's first two wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, hang in
the National Portrait Gallery in London. Unfortunately, the artists are unknown. Because
the marriage between Henry and Catherine produced no male heirs (and Henry became
interested in Anne Boleyn) Henry sought to have his marriage to Catherine dissolved. When
Pope Clement VII refused, Thomas Cromwell succeeded in getting Parliament to recognize
Henry, not the pope, as head of the Church of England. Then the new Archbishop of
Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, proclaimed Henry married to Anne Boleyn. This union produced
Princess Elizabeth, who became Queen Elizabeth I, and a misscarried son.
"Off with her head" was the King's desire so he could marry Jane Seymour,
Boleyn's maid. The portrait of Jane Seymour, also by Holbein, hangs in Kunsthistoriches
Museum in Vienna. Seymour died in October, 1527, shortly after providing Henry with his
long-awaited son, Edward. She is buried at Windsor with the king.
Interestingly enough, it was a portrait of Anne of Cleves by Holbein that brought Henry
and Anne together in marriage number four for the king. However, after he saw her in
person, he was not impressed and Henry had the marriage ended on the grounds of
non-comsummation. The portrait on the stamp, however, is by an unknown artist and hangs in
the Musee du Louvre in Paris.
Catherine Howard, a cousin of Anne Boleyn's, became wife No. 5 for Henry in 1540. A
year later, with the king seriously ill, Catherine became adulterously involved with
Thomas Culpepper. This found out, Catherine was arrested in November, 1541, and was
beheaded four months later. The portrait of Catherine on the stamp, after Hans Holbein the
Younger, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Experts now doubt the
authenticity of the portrait, saying that there is no fully authenticated portrait of
Catherine Parr became King Henry's sixth and final wife in 1543, just three years
before died. In a strange quirk of fate, I guess, while Catherine was Henry's sixth wife,
Henry was Catherine's third husband! She outlived him by 10 years. The portrait of
Catherine Parr on the stamp is by another unknown artist and hangs in the National
Portrait Gallery in London.
King Henry VIII is best remembered for his many wives and the split with the Church of
Rome. His is also known for greatly beefing up the Royal Navy and the coastal defenses,
buildings at St. James' Palace and Hampton Court, and furthering the development of the
postal service begun by King Henry VII.
Henry's son, Edward, never very healthy, died as a teen-ager in 1553. He was succeeded
by Catherine of Aragon's daughter, Mary I, who ruled until her death in 1558.
Last Revised: 02 Jan 2015