It was hazardous being married to King Henry VIII, who ruled England from 1509 to 1547.
Of Henry’s six wives, two were divorced, one died, and two were beheaded. Only the sixth survived him.
You hear a lot about Henry’s wives if you visit his palace at Hampton Court, about a half an hour outside London.
And when you enter the corridor below, in the royal “apartments,” you hear the story about Henry’s fifth queen, Kathryn Howard (often spelled “Catherine”).
Henry married Kathryn when she was 19 and he was 49.
Henry had just discarded his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, reportedly because he found her unattractive.
Henry developed a crush on the “vivacious” young Kathryn and soon married her. Kathryn’s family, the Howards, were thrilled by the engagement, as they had been on the outs at the King’s court and they assumed the marriage would restore their family to greatness.
Henry was over the moon about Kathryn, referring to her as his “rose without a thorn” and “the very jewel of womanhood.”
The young Kathryn was as flirtatious as the average 19 year-old.
And a year after the marriage, the Archbishop of Canterbury informed the King that Kathryn had not only not been a virgin when he married her but might even now be carrying on behind his back.
Henry was reportedly heartbroken and refused to believe this.
But he ordered an investigation.
And the news that came back was not good.
So Henry ordered that Kathryn be imprisoned in the palace until she could be executed.
One day, the story goes, Kathryn escaped from her guards and rushed down the corridor below in search of Henry.
She thought he was praying in the royal chapel, which was at the end of the hall. And as she ran, she screamed and begged for his mercy.
The guards caught her before she reached the chapel, and returned her to her cell. (And Henry may actually have been out hunting.)
Shortly thereafter, Henry had her head chopped off.
The story is that the ghost of Kathryn Howard still haunts the corridor at Hampton Court, where she reenacts her desperate attempt to see the king.
Several visitors and staff over the years have reportedly seen her.
Others have reported feeling “chills” in the corridor. (Perhaps because, in the winter and early spring, the place is freezing.)
According to the Hampton Court guides, fully one-half of the visitor faintings that have occurred at the palace over the years have happened in that corridor.
So maybe, even 500 years later, the ghost of flirtatious young queen still runs down this corridor to beg the king not to chop her head off.
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