February 7, 1542 marks an important point in the surprisingly complex legal case against Catherine Howard: the passage of the Bill of Attainder that declared Catherine Howard and Jane Rochford guilty of treason and all their properties forfeit. The Bill was more than a simple attainder: it also made it treason for a woman with an unchaste reputation to marry the King, and for any third person who knew of such unchastity to conceal it. It further made it treason for a queen to commit adultery, and for anyone to incite someone to have “carnal knowledge” of the queen. The Bill was introduced into Parliament on January 21 – but took two weeks to pass. Even then, February 7 did not establish the final sentence: the Bill lingered for another three days. The Council finally “signed” it on February 10 by writing “Le Roy le veut” (the King wills it) at the top and attaching the Great Seal.
Some argue that this Bill necessary for a case against Catherine – that otherwise, she logically should have followed Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper to the block back in December. But by Tudor standards, Catherine was precontracted to Dereham (though she vehemently denied this) and therefore could not have committed adultery since she had never been lawfully married to the King. Others believe that the attainder process was just a simple case of avoiding a sensational trial that would expose the King to even more embarrassment than he had already suffered.
(Interestingly, Chapuys reports that the King, “immediately after Parliament had pronounced sentence, wishing to proceed with all moderation and justice in the Queen’s case, had sent to her certain privy councillors and members of Parliament to propose that she should, if she wished, defend her own case in that assembly. This the Queen refused, submitting herself entirely to the King’s commiseration and will, all the time admitting and owning that she deserved death.”)
For Jane Rochford, her attempts to throw Catherine under the bus were in vain – her fate was sealed by Catherine’s own letter to Culpeper. “Come to me when my Lady Rochford be here, for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment….” Upon Jane’s arrest, she is said to have undergone a nervous breakdown – which many people refused to believe was real but rather a ploy to escape a trial and death sentence. Henry apparently didn’t care: he implemented a law which would allow the execution of the insane for high treason. When Jane learned of this, she recovered.
The two women were executed on February 13 at Tower Green, the same spot where Catherine’s cousin and Jane’s sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn, had been beheaded in 1536.
FOR FURTHER READING:
Calendar of State Papers, Spain, 6(1), 232 contains Chapuys’ description of the events
* * *