1 December 1541 – Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham are tried for treason

On 1st December 1541, Thomas Culpeper, a member of King Henry VIII’s privy chamber, and Francis Dereham, secretary to Queen Catherine Howard, were tried for high treason at Guildhall, London. They had both been linked romantically with the queen.

Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, recorded that “after a long discussion lasting six hours” the two men were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Culpeper and Dereham were executed at Tyburn on 10th December 1541. Culpeper was fortunate in that his sentence was commuted to beheading, but Dereham suffered a full traitor’s death.

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Also on this day in history, 1st December 1541, Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy, died at Mechelen. You can click here to read more about Anne Boleyn’s time at Margaret’s court and click here to find out more about Margaret’s resting place and see Yann Kergourlay’s beautiful photos of it.

Photo: Guildhall, London, copyright Tim Ridgway.

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2 thoughts on “1 December 1541 – Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham are tried for treason”
  1. Although Thomas Culpepper was close to the King he was condemned to a traitors death as was Francis Dereham because that was the traditional sentence, to be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution because you are not worthy to walk on the ground, to be hung, cut down while alive and cut open because you had heniously offended against God’s law and do not deserve the mercy of heaven, to have your genitals cut out and burnt before your eyes as you are not worthy to have children who will be traitors, to have your heart cut out which offended and held the evil and hatred which made them plot against the King, their bowels cut out and the head which harbours the treason removed. Finally the body was then divided into quarters to deny them the afterlife and each part set upon the gates of the city and around the country as a warning to others. Your head was parboiled and placed on London Bridge as a warning also for about a month. The sentence had existed since the time of Henry iii and was abolished in 1870. The last person to suffer the full horrible sentence was in about 1790. Others have been sentenced, but either had their head chopped off first and body quartered or were only beheaded or hung, then beheaded or had the entire thing reduced to hanging or deportation. Even beheading could go wrong as with Jack Ketch, the hangman who botched the beheading of James, Duke of Monmouth, the natural son of Charles ii who led a Rebellion against James ii.

    Thomas Culpepper of course denied adultery, but he had said he would go further if he could under interrogation. He had little chance now and neither did Francis Dereham, although he had been implicated only on coincidence evidence only, because he had lived with Queen Katherine in her step grandmother’s house and now he served her in her household. He was big trouble and boasted about how he knew Katherine a little too well, but he swore he hadn’t committed adultery or treason. In fact Dereham had said Culpepper had replaced him in her affections even though he believed he had been promised to Katherine long before she became Queen.

    The two men faired very differently in the sentence they ended up with as Culpepper was spared the full horror of the death for treason. He was close to the King, seen as a son by Henry, a man of the Privy Chamber, the King was fond of him and he was of higher status. He was spared and beheaded. There is a story that Henry didn’t commute the sentence of Dereham because he had ” spoiled the Queen” for him, but this may be just a story. However, for some reason Dereham suffered the full sentence for treason, maybe because Henry’s anger focused on him, but Culpepper was spared this as a sign of mercy.

    Poor Queen Katherine was to wait out the next two months at Syon House and Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford was to be moved to be taken care of as she had gone mad until she was well enough to meet her own fate. Henry took himself off to the country and the men died on 10th December 1541. This was not the end of the affair as the entire Howard clan, the women, the men, the servants, even the old Dowager Duchess was questioned, locked up and because she was ill, she had to be moved and nursed back to health, their goods and chests were seized and locked and they were all charged as being accomplices in the Queen’s treason. The homes of everyone was searched and they were all in the Tower, having been found guilty of misprison of treason, for several months. The Duke of Norfolk was the only one to escape having sent a humble letter to Henry, begging forgiveness and denouncing his entire family.

    It was a hopeless situation and a frightening time for everyone.

  2. At least Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper had a trial, even if it was loaded against them and eventually pleaded guilty. This was more than what Kathryn Howard and Jane Lady Rochford were granted, both being condemned by an Act of Attainder in Parliament which laid out the charges and evidence and found the accused guilty by the same device. Parliament had to vote on it and in this case the Lords sent it back twice for clarification as they were disturbed that they didn’t want to condemn the Queen without her being given the chance to speak for herself, before Parliament. There are two versions of what happened next. One has the Council meet with the King and ask permission to interview Kathryn. Another has Henry approached for permission to call the Queen and agreeing but Kathryn declining the offer. Another reading says that it was Henry who refused and others have stated no such offer was made, but the Lords merely made concerned overtures to the King. Either way Kathryn was interrogated and denied a trial as Anne Boleyn had had in public before the Lords and witnessed by over 2000 people. However, Anne’s trial had resulted in an embarrassment for Henry and he wanted to avoid that. The two men may have had the usual Tudor foregone conclusion but they at least had a hearing. The women were condemned with words, their lives noted as lewd and dishonest and as being immoral. Jane was condemned as “that brewd” for helping the young Queen and she was a scapegoat while others got off with a light sentence or chiding.

    The rest of the Howard family were also rounded up and arrested, interrogated and accused of hiding her past and of knowing about her alleged lovers. Many were placed in the Tower and the women were interrogated over and over. The Howard homes were searched and they had everything locked in chests and confiscated. After a Trial the entire clan ended up being sentenced to perpetual imprisonment. Eventually they appealed to the King’s mercy and after several months were released the following Summer. It was a terrible Christmas for the Howard family and many others connected to them, some distant relatives were caught up in the downfall as well.

    At the end of the trial both Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham faced the usual and ultimate sentence of hanging, drawing and quartering. Henry lowered Culpeper’s sentence to beheading because he had a fondness for him and because he was a gentleman. However, he didn’t give Dereham the same reprieve because he believed Francis had done spoiled his wife for him by their earlier pre marital sexual relationship. It was the full sentence under the law for high treason since the fourteenth century but here you get the feeling that there is something personal going on. Henry loved and adored Kathryn and he was devastated by all of these revelations so he could well have diverted those feelings into revenge on Dereham. Culpeper possibly did commit adultery and treason with Kathryn but, cad though he was, it is unlikely that Kathryn renewed her relationship with Dereham after she married the King. He became a nuisance once he entered her service and she was offended by his boasting and rude jokes. He had been replaced and he gave up Culpeper.

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