February 13, Tower of London
We scheduled our trip to the Tower for February 13, the anniversary of Catherine’s execution in 1542. The Tower itself sits in the center of a variety of other towers and buildings; I felt as if I were wandering around a little village stuck in time. Here we saw the Traitor’s Gate, where those guilty of treason approached the Tower by barge, for their incarceration. Catherine was brought here to await her execution.
The site of her private execution on the Tower Green is now marked by a glass memorial. It was particularly chilling to see how close the window of her presumed prison was to the site—she would have had a clear view of the scaffold being built for her execution, and beyond that the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, which would soon be her final resting place.
Catherine is buried beneath the altar in the chapel, beside her cousin—and another one of King Henry’s wives—Anne Boleyn. Many years after the execution, family crests were carved into the marble floor to mark all of those buried there. After our tour, I asked a Yeoman Warder if I could leave a small rock on Catherine’s crest. This is a Jewish tradition that I observe at home—rocks are used as markers on a grave site to show that the departed has received a visitor. I explained that I was writing a book about Catherine and wanted to leave a sign that I had visited her, and he let me go up to the altar and leave the rock there myself. This moment, more so than in the haunted gallery, I felt Catherine’s presence as I placed the rock and touched the carved stone.
The yeoman pointed out Anne Boleyn’s stone, which had a bouquet of yellow roses on it at the time (“that’s not uncommon”, he told us). He moved the bouquet to show us the pink discoloration on the white marble, gradually stained by the roses Anne has received over the years. It made me feel a sorry for Catherine, buried right next to her more famous cousin and generally forgotten. While Catherine did not have the impact upon history that her glamorous cousin did, she was still a real girl with a fascinating life story. I was glad to at least leave the stone, to show that someone was thinking of her, and felt a sense of gratitude in the chapel; a genuine connection to history, and to Catherine, herself. History actually did happen once—these people were flesh and blood and as alive as you are right now. No matter how much research I do, I can never know exactly how she felt about anything that happened to her. I only hope that she has granted me her blessing in telling my version of her life.