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November 1, 1541- Thomas Cranmer Informs Henry VIII of Catherine Howard’s Past

Catherine Howard - Portrait Miniature by Hans Holbein
Catherine Howard – Portrait Miniature by Hans Holbein

This was the beginning of the end for Catherine Howard.

Mary Lassells Hall was a woman who was in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk at the same time as Catherine. Her brother, John Lassells, suggested that Mary use her old connection to secure a post at court as so many others seemed to be doing. Mary refused. John pushed the matter – after all, this was quite an opportunity, not one to pass up. Mary explained that Catherine was “light, both in living and conditions” and gave some of the details. Lassells, coincidentally, was a noted reformer – he went right to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer, aided by Edward Seymour, interviewed Mary Hall and confirmed that Catherine had sexual relations with two men before her marriage: her music teacher Henry Mannox and the Dowager Duchess’ secretary Francis Dereham. The affair with Dereham was the more serious –it was a clear precontract that invalidated her marriage to the King (indeed, it was more of a precontract than existed to support any of the King’s three previous annulments). Cranmer informed the King of his findings by leaving a letter on his seat in Hampton Court’s Chapel Royal.

This alone would have been enough to bring down Catherine Howard and discredit the conservative party (as the Dowager Duchess put it when she heard what had happened while Catherine had been in her charge, “If there be no offence since the marriage, she cannot die for what was done before”). Unfortunately for Catherine, she had appointed Dereham as her personal secretary, which led to the suspicion that she was planning to resume the affair. This prompted Cranmer to look for signs of adultery – which he found all too quickly.  Rumors of an affair between Catherine and one of the King’s favorite gentlemen, Thomas Culpeper, were confirmed by a letter in Catherine’s own hand. “Come to me when my Lady Rochford is here for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment” and “Yours as long as life endures” were the quotes that sealed her fate…


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