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  • A Sixteenth-century “Common Whore”? Katherine Howard’s Controversial Legacy in Popular History and Public Imagination
  • Bakkalár
  • Útdráttur er á ensku

    History texts and popular media alike have long portrayed Henry VIII’s fifth queen, Katherine Howard, as a wanton, empty-headed material girl. Many biographers have expressed biased opinions in purportedly factual texts, even resorting to labeling Katherine a “common whore.” The popular Showtime television series The Tudors depicted the young queen as a giggly and promiscuous mean girl. Such one-dimensional portrayals have undermined Katherine’s reputation and influenced public opinion of Katherine as a historical figure. A survey was conducted to examine how pop culture representations of Katherine Howard have influenced audiences. This essay presents the main findings of the survey, revealing that while Tudor enthusiasts generally like Katherine as a historical figure, a considerable percentage believe she was at least partly guilty of the charges leveled against her and deserving of her fate on the executioner’s block. This essay questions whether Katherine’s reputation is deserved, drawing on psychology and law to present alternative explanations for her behavior. With its focus on why people think and act the way they do, psychology provides an ideal framework for digging deeper into Katherine’s psyche and seeking rational explanations behind actions that many find incomprehensible or downright stupid. Hundreds of years later, it is impossible to properly diagnose Katherine based on physical and cognitive symptoms, but using written accounts of Katherine’s life and behavior, it is possible to hypothesize that she was a victim of neglect and sexual abuse as a child. This essay also argues against using contemporary Tudor law to justify Katherine’s treatment, as law is not necessarily a reliable measure of what is right or moral. A brief consideration of age of consent laws through the ages suggests that such laws have historically been written by men and failed to take the female experience into account or prioritize women’s welfare. In fact, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that child welfare was taken into account when devising laws governing the age of consent.

  • 10.5.2019

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