November 2, 1541…Henry Learns of Catherine’s “Dissolute Living”

Catherine Howard - Portrait Miniature by Hans Holbein

Catherine Howard – Portrait Miniature by Hans Holbein (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This was the beginning of the end for Catherine Howard. All Souls’ Day, the day that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer left a letter on Henry’s seat in Hampton Court’s Chapel Royal detailing information he “had not the heart” to tell him directly.

Let’s back up. About two weeks ago, a man named John Lascelles came to Cranmer with explosive information. John had a sister, Mary Lascelles Hall, who was in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk at the same time as Catherine. John had decided that Mary should 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. Lascelles, coincidentally, was a noted reformer – one who had formerly worked in Thomas Cromwell’s household. Lascelles understood that this could crush the more conservative faction at court, and 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).

Had the matter stopped there, it would have ended Catherine Howard’s reign – but would not have killed her (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 supported by a letter in Catherine’s own hand. Two quotes sealed her fate: “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.”

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March 5, 1549 – Bill of Attainder Against Thomas Seymour

Thomas Seymour, by Nicolas Denisot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas Seymour, by Nicolas Denisot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

March 5, 1549 was the day Thomas Seymour realized his life was over, the day that a parliamentary bill of attainder declared him guilty of 33 counts of treason and sentenced him to death.

Wikipedia gives such a dispassionate description of what the bill of attainder (also referred to as the act of attainder) represents. They call it “an act of a legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them, often without a trial…. Bills of attainder were passed in England between about 1300 and 1800 and resulted in the executions of a number of notable historical figures.

Luminarium adds more judgment: “[I]n the reign of Henry VIII they were much used, through a subservient parliament, to punish those who had incurred the king’s displeasure; many distinguished victims who could not have been charged with any offence under the existing laws being by this means disposed of.”

Yep. Think of Thomas Cromwell when you read that. Both for starting the widespread use of attainder in the first place as well as for ending up as one of its victims.

Though truth be told, in an age where simply displeasing the sovereign could be construed as treason, most cases simply had no hope of defense even for behavior that was not technically so. After all, for Catherine Howard and Jane Rochford laws were retroactively changed to ensure their deaths (in Catherine’s case, to make it treason for a non-virgin to marry the King in Rochford’s case, to remove insanity as an impediment to execution).

And we know that a defense makes no difference. Anne Boleyn got a trial and the opportunity to defend herself, but was still unanimously convicted. Her brother, George, put on such a good defense that the wagering favored an acquittal – and was also unanimously convicted. (I believe the only reason they weren’t convicted by act of attainder was to ensure that all doubts were removed from the equation. I see this as the ultimate proof of Anne’s innocence.)

But back to Tom Seymour. In another blog post (here), I describe his crime: breaking into a sleeping Edward VI’s bedchamber in the middle of the night and killing his dog. There really would have been no way to defend that, especially given his erratic and dangerous conduct since the death of Katherine Parr – and the implication that he had killed her. Attainder was merely the convenient approach – convenient, but still relatively thorough, since the bill was passed by the Lords and Commons rather than just the Star Chamber (a small group of noblemen).

Upon the bill’s approval, Tom was stripped of his property and titles. His daughter, Mary, was placed in the care of the Duchess of Suffolk – who didn’t really want her (Mary was penniless but as the daughter of a dowager queen required expensive protocols). That’s another blog post…here, if you’re interested.

August 8, 1540 – Marriage to Catherine Howard Made Public

Chapel  Royal at  Hampton Court Palace, aquatint engraving by w. H. Pyne published as plate 33 of The History of the Royal Residences; via Wikimedia Commons

Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace, aquatint engraving by w. H. Pyne published as plate 33 of The History of the Royal Residences; via Wikimedia Commons

Henry VIII married Catherine Howard on July 28 at Oatlands Palace in Surrey. The wedding, officiated by Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, took place only nineteen days after the dissolution of the King’s marriage to Anne of Cleves – and on the same day as the execution of Thomas Cromwell, whose lands were awarded to Catherine as part of her marriage portion. Whether for these reasons, or purely personal ones, this new union was kept quiet for a time.

It was finally announced as most of the King’s other marriages had been: by having the bride “shown openly” at court and prayed for at mass around the country. As with Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, the King chose to attend the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court (for Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves, he used Greenwich Palace). There were no reports of people walking out during the mass (that happened the Sunday when people were suddenly asked to pray for “the King and his wife, Queen Anne” rather than “the King and his wife, Queen Catherine”) but there were quiet grumblings – the English people vastly preferred Anne of Cleves as a proper queen for their king rather than this new young thing though they were not prepared to fight for the idea.

After the announcement, the couple left on a honeymoon progress – an extended hunting trip through Surrey into Berkshire. They stayed at Reading before moving north to Ewelme, Rycote, Notley, Buckingham, and Grafton. On the way back down, they spent some time at the Moore with members of his council (requiring letters and papers to be carefully described as emanating from or addressed to the “Council at Court” or the “Council in London”). During the progress, the King adopted a new rule of living (the French ambassador guessed that it was to lose weight), rising between 5 and 6, hearing mass at 7, riding out early to hunt, then returning at 10 for dinner and business all afternoon. By the time the court returned to Windsor in October, the King claimed to be “a new man” and that his leg had stopped paining him. Unfortunately for Henry, this new condition wouldn’t last long….

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February 12, 1542 – Catherine Howard Rehearses for her Execution

Catherine Howard Pays the Executioner

Catherine Howard Pays the Executioner, From the 1972 Movie Henry VIII and His Six Wives

Catherine Howard was brought to the Tower of London on Friday, February 10th 1542,  she was there when the Act of Attainder against her was formally signed on the King’s behalf on the 11th. On Sunday the 12th, towards evening, she was told that her execution had been set for the following morning, and that she should prepare for her death. Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys told Charles V that her response was to ask “to have the block brought in to her that she might know how to place herself.”

This is the macabre image we are left with: this poor young woman, not yet twenty, spending hours rehearsing her death over and over again. Was it to make the process seem less terrible and foreign? Or was it to ensure that she would fulfill her last public act with all the dignity expected of the Queen of England (even though she was stripped of that rank on November 23rd). Likely both.

Either way, she succeeded: an eyewitness to the execution confirmed that she had made “the most godly and Christian end.” French Ambassador Charles de Marillac, describing the ordeal to Francis I, wrote that “[t]he Queen was so weak that she could hardly speak, but confessed in few words that she had merited a hundred deaths for so offending the King who had so graciously treated her.”

Such a sad end.

FOR FURTHER READING:

The letters from Eustace Chapuys and Charles de Marillac can be found in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 17 

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February 7, 1542 – Bill of Attainder Passed Against Catherine Howard and Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford

Catherine Howard and Jane Rochford, from BBC America’s The Tudors

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

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December 15, 1541 – Thomas Howard’s Letter to Henry VIII

December 15, 1541 - Thomas Howard wrote an abject letter to the King in the hope of distancing himself from his niece Catherine and other unfortunate relatives. Read it on www.janetwertman.com

Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk, by Hans Holbein (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In the aftermath of Catherine Howard’s disgrace, the King had four members of the Howard family arrested and committed to the Tower: the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, her son William and his wife, and the Duchess’ daughter Anne Howard. On December 15 1541, Thomas Howard, the Third Duke of Norfolk, wrote an abject letter to the King in the hope of distancing himself from his unfortunate  relatives. It is a remarkable insight into the mind of a shrewd courtier, and I am sharing it here (cleaned up for easier reading)

To the King’s Majesty,

Most noble and gracious Sovereign Lord. Yesterday came to my knowledge that my ungracious mother in law, my unhappy brother, and his wife, with my lewd sister of Bridgewater, were committed to the Tower; which, by long experience, knowing your accustomed equity and justice, used to all your subjects, am sure is not done, but for their false and  traitorous proceedings against your Royal Majesty. Which, revolving in my mind, with also the most abominable deeds doe by two of my nieces [Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard] against Your Highness, hath brought me in to the greatest perplexity that ever poor wretch was in; fearing that Your Majesty, having so often, and by so many of my kin, been thus falsely and traitorously handled, might not only conceive a displeasure in your heart against me, and all other of that kin, but also, in manner, abhor to hear speak of any of the same. Wherefore, most gracious Sovereign Lord, prostrate at your feet, most humble I beseech Your Majesty to call to your remembrance, that a grat part of this matter is come to light by my declaration to Your Majesty, according to my bounded duty, of the words spoken to me by my mother in law, when Your Highness sent me to Lambeth to search Dereham’s coffers; without the which I think she had not been further examined, nor consequently her ungracious children. With my true proceedings towards Your Majesty considered, and also the small love my two false traitorous nieces and my mother in law have borne unto me, doth put me in some hope that Your Highness will not conserve  any displeasure in your most gentle heart against me; that God knoweth, never did think thought which might be to your discontentation. Wherefore, [effsonys] prostrate at your royal feet, most humbly I beseech Your Majesty, that by such, as it shall please you to command, I may be advertised plainly, how Your Highness doth weigh your favor toward me; assuring Your Highness that only I may know Your Majesty to continue my good an gracious Lord, as ye were before their offenses committed, I shall never desire to live in this world any longer, but shortly to finish this transitory life, as God knoweth, who send Your Majesty the accomplishments of your most noble heart’s deires. Scribled at Kenynghale Lodge, the 15th day of December with the hand of

Your most humble Servant and Subject,

T.Norfolk

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December 10, 1541 – Culpeper and Dereham Executed at Tyburn

Axe and Scaffold at Medieval Festival (photo by sorokopud via DepositPhotos)

Today must have been a sobering day for Catherine Howard. On this day in 1541, her two paramours, Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham, were executed. Culpeper was beheaded but Dereham was hanged, drawn, and quartered. According to custom, both their heads were placed on spikes atop London Bridge.

Thomas Culpeper definitely got the better deal in this case. First, he knew that he was cuckolding the King of England, the penalty for which was death. Second, his sentence was commuted to beheading, which was a much gentler end than the other options.

I feel much more sorry for Dereham – all he did was sleep with a young woman he intended to marry. For that, he suffered the ultimate penalty. There are few fates worse than hanging, drawing and quartering.  The grisly punishment starts with the condemned man being dragged behind a horse to the place of his execution. He would then be hanged without a drop, so that his neck would not break and release him from his pain. While was still conscious, he would be cut down and emasculated. He would then have to watch his stomach being slit open and his intestines burned before his eyes. Finally his head would be cut off and his body cut into four quarters.

(Even worse, Dereham might have avoided such a fate if he had avoided his former mistress. After Catherine was Queen, Dereham got her to appoint him as her personal secretary. Whether this was out of ongoing obsession or rank greed doesn’t matter – it was a stupid move either way.)

Tragedy all around.

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November 23, 1541 – Catherine Howard Stripped of her Title as Queen

Catherine Howard – from Masterpiece Theater’s Six Wives of Henry VIII

Poor Catherine Howard

I find myself feeling the same compassion for Catherine Howard as I do for Mary Stuart – both were women who continued to make poor decisions in the face of increasingly dire consequences.

Catherine Howard married Henry VIII despite a precontract – sealed with the ceding of her virginity – to Sir Francis Dereham. That was a huge mistake.

Still, it was a minor (read: non-fatal) issue compared to her decision to embark on an affair with one of Henry’s gentlemen, Sir. Thomas Culpeper. There are so many theories as to why she did this. Some point to the age difference – of course a nineteen year old with a sordid past would seek some diversion from marriage to an obese tyrant in his 50s. Some argue that she was just seeking a son to cement her position – with her background, she knew she would be vulnerable unless and until she birthed a “spare” son. Some claim she was being blackmailed. And some just believe she was an adrenaline junkie.

I don’t know why Catherine Howard did what she did (though I have ordered Conor Byrne’s new biography and hope it will explain things!). I do know it was a stupid risk, mainly because of how badly it backfired.

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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…