10 December 1541 – The awful fate of Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham

The Tyburn Tree - the gallows
The Tyburn Tree – the gallows

On 10th December 1541, Thomas Culpeper, gentleman of the Privy Chamber, and Francis Dereham, secretary to Queen Catherine Howard, were executed for treason at Tyburn. Dereham suffered a full traitor’s death, being “hanged, membered, bowelled, headed, and quartered” while Culpeper’s sentence was commuted to beheading. Their heads were then set on pikes and displayed on London Bridge as a warning to others of the fate of traitors.

Chronicler Edward Hall writes of their downfall:

“At this tyme the Quene late before maried to the kyng called Quene Katheryne, was accused to the Kyng of dissolute liuyng, before her mariage, with Fraunces Diram, and that was not secretely, but many knewe it. And sithe her Mariage, she was vehemently suspected with Thomas Culpeper, whiche was brought to her Chamber at Lyncolne, in August laste, in the Progresse tyme, by the Lady of Rocheforde, and were there together alone, from a leuen of the Clocke at Nighte, till foure of the Clocke in the Mornyng, and to hym she gaue a Chayne, and a riche Cap. Vpon this the kyng remoued to London and she was sent to Sion, and there kept close, but yet serued as Quene. And for the offence confessed by Culpeper and Diram, thei were put to death at Tiborne, the tenth daie of December.”

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9 thoughts on “10 December 1541 – The awful fate of Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham”
  1. Have I got this right …. the terrible ‘quartering’ part of the punishment, or the idea behind it, was to do with a loss of salvation because the body was supposed to be ‘whole’ for the resurrection, and if it was scattered in pieces then this couldn’t happen? If that’s correct, it makes this terrible punishment all the more horrific for the poor condemned sufferer.

    1. There have been experts aplenty have described the theory and symbolic terror but cannot remember anything but yes, there was a belief at that time that the body needed to be intact for salvation. The quartering was to cut up the body and stick bits up in other parts of the realm and the traitors home town/village but a need for spiritual terror as well as physical terror would make sense. They had some deep ideas, even about such terrible and horrible deaths.

    1. There were differences in status, with Culpeper being a member of the King’s privy chamber, but I do think that Dereham was also being punished for being the one who took Catherine’s virginity.

      1. My understanding is that Dereham also received the harsher punishment because he was alleged to have predicted the king’s death, by reportedly saying that, were Henry to die, he would be sure to marry Katherine. This probably aggravated his offence. It is also possible, at a time when offenders could be punished with death for raping a woman (and had thus damaged her father’s, husband’s or brother’s property), that Dereham was accorded the full sentence because of the suggestion that he had “forced” himself on her. Culpeper, by contrast, was found guilty merely of having intended to do ill with Katherine – a notable difference.

        Perhaps, since Dereham claimed that Culpeper had replaced him in the queen’s affections, the two men had discussed Katherine and shared information, especially since Culpeper was to accuse Katherine of dying of love for him. Dereham, of course, reported that Katherine had wept when they had been separated and claimed that she wanted to marry him once her husband died.

  2. Claire, for me, I think Dereham’s act of predicting the king’s death – under the Treason Act – would have been deemed sufficient to merit the harsher punishment. As noted earlier, Culpeper was found guilty only of intending to do ill with the queen. Dereham had passed beyond intent.

  3. Yes it was like the remark Anne Boleyn made to Norris about dead men’s shoes, it was treasonous to speak of the death of the King, but Culpeper also was part of the kings innermost circle who tended to his most intimate needs, he was said to be fond of Culpeper whearas Derham had just come along and turned his world upside down, he took away the image of the pure virtuous wife Henry thought he had and he must have boiled with rage at how he had deflowered his beloved young wife, he wanted him to suffer, a dreadful way to go however, I should imagine the pain made the victim pass out before they were actually beheaded.

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