10 December 1541 – Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham are put to death

Posted By on December 10, 2018

On 10th December 1541, just a month and eight days after an investigation into Queen Catherine Howard’s past was ordered, two men were executed at Tyburn. They were Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman of the privy chamber, and Francis Dereham, a member of the queen’s household.

Both men had been tried for treason at Guildhall on 1st December 1541 “for high treason against the Kinges Majestie in mysdemeanor with the Quene”. Neither man was accused of actually committing adultery with the queen, the trial focused on their intentions. By meeting secretly with the queen on the recent royal progress, Culpeper and the queen were ‘inciting’ each other to have “carnal intercourse”, and Dereham joining the queen’s household, having previous had a sexual relationship with her, was seen as evidence that he wanted to reignite their relationship. They were both found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered

Culpeper and Dereham were drawn on hurdles from the Tower of London to Tyburn on 10th December 1541. Chronicler and Windsor Herald Charles Wriothesley writes “and there Culpeper, after exhortation made to the people to pray for him, he standinge on the ground by the gallowes, kneled downe and had his head stryken of.” Culpeper’s sentence had been commuted to beheading, due to his status, a more merciful death than that of his companion, Dereham, who “was hanged, membred, bowelled, headed, and quartered.” Their heads were then displayed on London Bridge and Dereham’s quartered remains were displayed around the city. Culpeper’s body was taken to St Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church and laid to rest there.

You can read more details in my previous article.

Source: Wriothesley, Charles (1875) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 155, p. 131-132.

Picture: Picture: Stone marking the site of the Tyburn Tree, i.e. the gallows, on the traffic island at the junction of Edgware Road, Bayswater Road and Oxford Street (Wikipedia).

7 thoughts on “10 December 1541 – Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham are put to death”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    So sad that these men died for their ‘intentions’. Was this the law at the time or was this the vengeance of a wrongef and embarrassed Henry?

    1. Claire says:

      The 1534 Treason Act had made it high treason to ” maliciously wish, will or desire by words or writing, or by craft imagine, invent, practise, or attempt any bodily harm to be done or committed to the king’s most royal person, the queen’s or the heirs apparent [Elizabeth], or to deprive them of any of their dignity, title or name of their royal estates, or slanderously and maliciously publish and pronounce, by express writing or words, that the king should be heretic, schismatic, tyrant, infidel or usurper of the crown..” so covered intent. If Culpeper or Dereham slept with the queen then they could have harmed (impugned) the succession in that a bastard could have been passed off as the king’s child.

  2. Lorrie says:

    On This Day in Tudor History needs to be made into an app with daily alerts. 🙂 I have 2 copies of your book in case I lose one. lol

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Lorrie,
      We did actually start making an app from the book so perhaps we need to reignite that project. Thank you for the idea!

  3. Michael Wright says:

    That’s kinda what I thought but thank you Claire for the confirmation. Scary law to live under and any transgression could be loosely interpreted if the crown wished. I’m more than happy to read about this stuff at a distance of almost 5 centuries.

  4. Christine says:

    These men were both extremely foolish and Dereham was the one who suffered the most, the sentance was extreme yet it was there for a purpose- as a deterrent, it hardly seems fair that Culpeper was done to death simply by decapitation when he was the one who met with the queen and recklessly admitted the intention to sleep with her, (and for all we know he could already have succeeded) whearas Dereham had known her when she was single had been in a relationship with her as far as he was concerned were man and wife, yet as Claire states the law dictated at the time that the intention to do so was treason itself, and by him coming to court and having a post in her household he was therefore guilty of wanting to carry on their old relationship, but that is just an assumption by the law and it seems very harsh as Dereham in fact had no such affair with Catherine after she became queen, what he was guilty of was flagrant insolence, he was rude and disrespectful to her but nothing more, Henry could have commuted his sentance to beheading, but here we see him being very vindictive as he was motivated by the sheer rage and envy of this young man who had dared to know his wife in the biblical sense, he had soiled her for him and she was not the sweet young virgin he had thought she was, Henry decided he should suffer the full penalty and although he was of the same social class as Culpeper, he was no farmers son and even Mark Smeaton had died just by the axe, however there could have been an arrangement there but Henry could have commuted Derehams sentance to a simple beheading, Culpeper seems much the same mould as Dereham, both arrogant thinking they were so clever, they had no respect for the King and the latter had favoured Culpeper which must have made the betrayal seem so much worse, whilst these two wretched men were being dragged on hurdles to the notorious Tyburn tree whose name lives on in Londons gory history, the young queen lived in anguish at Syon House, she was still treated as queen and continued to behave quite imperiously as if she tried to convince herself nothing had happened, in two months she herself would be dead along with her lady in waiting, Jane Viscountess Rochford, December once a month where the festivities for Yule would be fast approaching, was instead a time of despair and fear for them and their families, we can remember them in this last month of the year, how they all suffered and lost their lives. RIP Culpeper and Dereham.

  5. Banditqueen says:

    Everything hinged around the intentions of the accused. The two men were judged to have intended to commit treason because of their actions. Meeting the Queen at night and practically alone, but for a sleeping lady in waiting, most nights for months, didn’t exactly make Thomas Culpeper look innocent or the Queen. Henry was suspicious enough but such behaviour drove him to the edge of paranoia. The law allowed the state to assume that parties involved suspicious conversation were involved in a conspiracy and intended treason. The treason laws allowed the state to assume that because Thomas Culpeper and the Queen were meeting regularly and under very suspicious conditions, sneaking around and locking doors and officials out of the chambers, not even allowing anyone else to attend the Queen, save only Lady Rochford, intended to commit adultery and even to plan the King’s death in the near future. The law enabled the state to assume that Katherine intended to get pregnant by him and pass Culpeper ‘s child off as the King, endangering the succession. Neither party admitted to adultery but they did foolishly say that they had intended to go further, given a chance. This for the state, confirmed their treason. It was called presumption of treason.

    Francis Dereham was a different kettle of fish. As Claire said, he had followed Katherine into her new life as Queen, having been her lover in her previous position. I actually believe his intention was to start up again, even to claim Kathryn as his wife but he realised that was impossible and he just hung around like a bad penny. Dereham couldn’t exactly challenge the King, even in the Courts, although the law allowed him to do so if he believed Kathryn was promised to him. I really can’t see him getting very far if he did. During his interrogation he continued to deny he had any ongoing sexual relationship with Queen Kathryn, even under the pressure and threats of torture, although it isn’t clear if he was tortured or merely pressurised from constant questioning, but he cracked and stated that he hadn’t renewed his relationship for two reasons

    Kathryn had already come to Court after he returned from Ireland.
    Kathryn had replaced him with another, Thomas Culpeper.

    However, the state was not satisfied and his interrogation continued because the Council believed the only reason he had sought employment in the household of his former lover was to take up again as her lover. Dereham hadn’t banked on Kathryn no longer being interested in him and even finding his behaviour rude and disagreeable. I don’t believe he did renew their affair because Kathryn treated him as if she couldn’t stand him. He was rude and acted as a bully, he boasted about how well he knew Kathryn, was angry and abrupt, swearing in her presence and fighting when challenged by another gentleman. Dereham may have wanted to persuade Kathryn back into his bed, but she had nothing or little to do with him. She appointed him to her household, not as her Secretary, because he had a letter of introduction from the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, but she kept him at arms length. He most probably just gave up and there is no evidence that they actually committed adultery or anything else. He may have envisaged the King’s death, but this also appears to be unclear. He was a cad and a nuisance but not a traitor. Again the law said that the Council and King could presume his taking up a post under Kathryn was evidence that he intended to have a relationship with Kathryn, even if he hadn’t done so as yet. He was guilty because he followed the Queen to Court to serve her and because of his previous claim on her person. In other words, Kathryn, Culpeper and Dereham were all judged guilty because of their perceived thoughts, not their actions.

    At least the men had a public trial and the investigation wasn’t rushed as it was in May 1536_when Queen Anne Boleyn and her five co accused were all arrested, questioned and tried and executed, all within 19 days. All six were innocent back then but there was a rush to judgement and the investigation appeared to go on before any arrests were made. The legal apparatus was already in place weeks in advance and it is now accepted that that whole affair was a set up, long before the evidence was gathered. Kathryn Howard was later offered a trial before Parliament, but turned it down and both she and Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford who had helped her to meet with Culpeper in secret were found guilty and condemned by an Act of Attainment.

    Thomas Culpeper was spared the full legal sentence for high treason, to be hanged, cut down while still alive, having ones internal and private organs cut out and burned before their eyes, his head struck off and body sliced into quarters because of his status and his friendship with the King. He was treated as a son by Henry and was close to him, tending his bad leg and many other duties. At Tyburn he was merely beheaded. Francis Dereham was also a gentleman, although his status was slightly below Culpeper, was deemed to have spoiled Kathryn long ago, before Henry met her. Historians believe this is part of the reason he fell foul of the law and suffered the death sentence in its full measure. He may not have been a likeable character, but he didn’t deserve such a terrible end, probably for doing no more than knowing Kathryn carnally before she married the King.

    RIP Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper.

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