Henry was more active in Catherine’s ordeal to give it a layer of respectability, using Parliament to enforce the idea that killing his queens was not a habit. Henry had even more power to decide Catherine’s fate after she forwent a trial, since this meant that Catherine was to be judged solely by the king instead of having the verdict of the peers of the realm that oversaw Anne’s trial. Catherine faced stronger evidence when charged with adultery. When she confessed instead of denying the charges like Anne did, Catherine’s contemporaries believed her sentence could be commuted. But, while Henry merely imprisoned her relatives indicted on similar charges, he did not spare Catherine. Her young age and palpable fear did not move him. Henry was older now—ill and in pain. He believed he had found love again and was humiliated with another wife cheating on him—including with his own servant. So, Catherine was beheaded by axe. That Henry did not change the weapon illustrated a hardened, less merciful king, which also affected Catherine’s legacy in relation to Anne.
hrough death Anne became an icon. She died with dignity befitting a queen: the use of sword confirmed her as retaining some semblance of Henry’s respect and former affection. Catherine did not garner half that attention. Only one eyewitness account of Catherine’s execution is trusted compared to the litany of witnesses at Anne’s, leading to misattributed details such as her endlessly quoted last words proclaiming her love of Thomas Culpepper. While the account mentions she too was poised in death, Catherine’s fate is swept into the frenzied tempo of Henry’s last years. When not overshadowed, she has been reduced to the sum of her sexual encounters with men who either groomed her or used her as a vessel for their own desires. As historian Gareth Russell points out, where Anne ‘tangibly and deliberately mattered, Catherine has been depicted as an irrelevance, the author of a shallow yet profane queenship.’ In scholarship and popular culture alike, Catherine usually falls by the wayside.
In conclusion, the manners of execution for Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard reflect Henry’s escalating reaction to being betrayed, as clemency gave way to bitterness. Anne’s death, through Henry’s efforts to procure a skilled swordsman to spare her unnecessary pain, helped fuel her legacy of melodrama: a tragic love story undone by power struggle and politics, of Cromwell, Henry, and Anne herself. Catherine, younger and politically naïve, condemned to a dull axe by a resentful man, subsequently faced the second injustice of an underdeveloped legacy, fueled by Henry’s disregard for her suffering and memory.