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1 December 1541 – The Trial of Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper

Posted By on December 1, 2015

Guildhall, London

Guildhall, London

On 1st December 1541, Francis Dereham, secretary to Queen Catherine Howard, and Thomas Culpeper, a member of the king’s privy chamber, were tried for treason at Guildhall. Both men were found guilty and condemned to death.

Chronicler and Windsor Herald Charles Wriothesley records:

“This yeare, the fyrst daye of December, was arrigned at the Guyld Hall in London Thomas Culpepper, one of the Gentleman of the Kinges Pryvie Chamber, and Frauncis Dorand, gentleman, for high treason against the Kinges Majestie in mysdemeanor with the Quene, as appeered by theyr inditements which they confessed, and had their judgments to be drawne, hanged, and quartered […]”1

Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, wrote to Emperor Charles V of proceedings:

“This same clerk was again sent on St. Andrews’ day to tell me that the day after Colpeper and Durem (Durham) would be tried for high treason, begging me to send one of my secretaries to be present at the trial. The same notice and invitation has been handed round to the ambassador of France, to the Venetian Secretary, and to the gentleman of the duke of Clèves, who is still here. All the privy councillors witnessed the trial, which, after a long discussion lasting six hours, ended in the condemnation of the two abovementioned gentlemen, who were sentenced to be hung and quartered as traitors. Durem (Durham) did confess having known the Queen familiarly before she was either betrothed or promised to the King; but said he did not know that there was any wrong in that, inasmuch as they were then engaged to each other. Colpeper persisted in denying the guilt of which he was accused, maintaining that he never solicited or had anything to do with her; on the contrary, it was she who had importuned him through Mme. de Rochefort, requesting him (Colpeper) to go and meet her in a retired place in Lincolnshire, to which she appointed him, and that on that occasion he (Colpeper) having kept the appointment, she herself told him, as she had on the first instance sent him word through Mme. Rochefort, that she pined for him, and was actually dying of love for his person. It is thought that both will be beheaded to-day. Dame de Rochefort would have been sentenced at the same time had she not, on the third day after her imprisonment, been seized with a fit of madness (frenesi) by which her brain is affected.

True is it that now and then she recovers her reason, and that the King takes care that his own physicians visit her daily, for he desires her recovery chiefly that he may afterwards have her executed as an example and warning to others.

The Queen is still at Syon House, and it is believed that the King, to show clemency in her case, will make no innovation whatever with regard to her, or do more than he has hitherto done until Parliament meets and decides what her fate is to be.”2

Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper were executed at Tyburn on 10th December 1541. Culpeper’s sentence had been commuted to beheading, because of his status, but Dereham had to suffer the full traitor’s death. Culpeper was buried at St Sepulchre Holborn.

On 21st January 1542, a bill of attainder against Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Rochford was introduced into the House of Lords. According to this bill, the women were guilty of treason and could be punished without there being any need for a trial. It received the King’s assent on 11th February 1542. As you can see from Chapuys’ letter, there were concerns about Lady Rochford’s mental state. She was nursed back to health at Russell House on the Strand, the London residence of Sir John Russell, Lord Admiral, and his wife Anne, under the supervision of the King’s own doctors, before she was taken to the Tower of London on 9th February 1542. Catherine was taken by barge from Syon to the Tower of London the following day and both women were beheaded on 13th February 1542.

Also, on this day in history, in 1530, Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy, died at Mechelen. Anne Boleyn spent a year at her court and you can click here to read more about this.

Notes and Sources

  1. Wriothesley, Charles (1875) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 155, p. 131.
  2. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 6 Part 1, 1538-1542, 209.

2 thoughts on “1 December 1541 – The Trial of Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper”

  1. bruno says:

    Bill of attainder that is no means of defence for the poor little girl (of 19 or about) and her mad companion…
    No doubt : Lord Rochford’ talkative plea had left its mark in the king’s mind.
    So the two women (one,being precisely the widow of the above-said Lord Rochford) had their tongue cut before getting executed.
    Strange that we can still read Catherine née Howard died saying that she would have rather end her life as Culpeper’s wife, than as queen, when faced with the plea of the said Tom Culpeper.
    The latter obviously tried to save his life by charging his queen.
    But of course he was the “gentleman” and had the right to die as such (beheaded, not hung).
    Less lucky was his companion, Francis Dereham whose corpse was parted into pieces.
    But well, it seems that this one really was “guilty” (of courting a very young girl, not yet his queeen, by then).
    How sad and sordid as well.
    A fallen queen seems to be the loneliest person in the world, indeed
    I was struck by the fact that William of Clèves was still in England by then…
    So, there was no bitterness of him against his short-lived brother-in-law
    Strong diplomatic reasons certainly helping forget some offences about his sister’s looks,if he was still at the english court more than one year after the king had repudiated her.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Katherine was a young woman, not a little girl. She was not seven or eight, but anywhere between 17 and 20 depending on which author you go with on her age. However, she was still very young and her story is tragic. Henry was so shocked that a young woman he had adored could betray him with one of his closest servants that there is a tale that he not only broke down and wept before his council, but that he called for a sword to execute her himself. In truth he actually took his time and Lord Audley announced to the House that as Katherine was not any ordinary person she could not be simply condemned by Act of Attainment. The Lords came to Henry who agreed that a delegation should go to the Queen and ask for her side but then he changed his mind and they did not go until the day they took her to the Tower. The trial of Culpeper and Dereham condemned Katherine and confirmed her presumed guilt. Henry most likely did not want a public trial as Anne Boleyn had won sympathetic support at her trial and it was also very embarrassing for the King. In this time, the husband was also judged to have failed if his wife committed adultery. Henry needed to avoid a trial so the Act was presented to Parliament and she and Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford were found guilty at the same time, without being allowed to speak for themselves. Several other Acts passed, including one to allow insane people to be executed, so poor Lady Rochford was nursed back to health just so the state could execute her. During January other members of the Howard family were also found guilty of hiding Katherine past and her possible love affairs, kept in prison and even the elderly ex Duchess was questioned several times. Although the family were released after some further months they had been sentenced to life as a result and interrogated severely. It was a long and terrible ordeal.

      Katherine Howard and Thomas Culpeper were found guilty on each others conviction, but for what it was assumed they did and may have done, not what they actually did. It was presumed that they had committed treason and adultery. Her adultery was never proven and only became a criminal offence at the time of her Attainment. The treason laws of 1534 did not make adultery a criminal offence, it was a sin. However, earlier treason acts and this one made imagining the Kings death a criminal offence that was punishable by death. K and C had admitted to being in love and wanted to go further. They may have intended to marry after the King’s death, their talk was enough to make sure the charges stuck and Dereham had dropped C in the soup. Had Katherine had sex with C, something they both denied and she became pregnant, her illegitimate child could succeed to the crown, thus making the whole thing treason. Although K and C had several meetings, probably did have sex, there is no real evidence and historians now accept the possibility that they may not have committed adultery.

      Francis Dereham was a cad, he was a player, who had previous history with Katherine and whose behaviour was terrible, but again it was only presumed that he committed adultery. He had followed Katherine and she gave him a place in her household. It was said that he intended to renew his relationship with her, a relationship he believed he was entitled to as he saw himself as Katherine’s husband. Confused? Before she married Henry Katherine had a brief relationship with Dereham, sexual relationship, with gifts, courting, secret meetings, where they called each other husband and wife. As far as Katharine was concerned no contract existed, but as far as he was concerned it did. His defence…he was replaced by Culpeper. His character was poor but he did not deserve such a terrible death and nothing again was proven. He was tried for a thought crime and presumed to have committed treason. Henry did not commute his death as in his mind Dereham had spoilt Katherine for him and as she had lied about her chastity, all of his rage landed on D and then he decided to execute Katherine.

      I would love to think that Katherine said that she would rather die the wife of Culpeper but other eye witnesses of her execution don’t mention this, but her speech is rather conventional and standard.

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