On this day in history, 11th February 1542, the bill of attainder against Queen Catherine Howard and Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, which had been introduced into the House of Lords on 21st January 1542, received royal assent.

According to the bill of attainder, Catherine and Jane were guilty of high treason and could be punished, i.e. executed, without being tried.

An act “for due process to be had in high treason in cases of lunacy or madness” also received royal assent in the House of Lords on this day in 1542 and this legislation meant that “a person becoming insane after the supposed commission of treason, might be tried; or losing his rational faculties after attainder, might be executed”. This meant that Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, who had displayed “symptoms of madness” following her arrest in 1541, could be executed even if she was still deemed to be insane. Madness could not save Lady Rochford from Henry VIII’s wrath.

The two women were executed by beheading on 13th February 1542.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1466 – Birth of Elizabeth of York, queen consort of King Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. Elizabeth also died on this day in history, in 1503. Click here to read more.
  • 1531 – Convocation granted Henry VIII the title of “singular protector, supreme lord, and even, so far as the law of Christ allows, supreme head of the English church and clergy”. Click here to read more.

Notes and Sources

  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume XVII (LP xvii), 28 ii Acts printed in the Statutes at Large, but not entered on the Parliament Roll, C21.
  • LP xvii. 28 xv c. 20, o.n. 33 of the year 37 Hen. VIII.
  • ed. Wharton, Thomas I., Esq (1842) The Law Library, Volume 38, John S. Littell, p.230.

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11 thoughts on “11 February 1542 – No hope for Lady Rochford and Catherine Howard”
  1. if you consider the case against Lady Rochford she had been in sane mind when she became involved in Catherine’s illicit trysts, so really why shouldn’t she have suffered the penalty that the law of the land decreed? The fact that she became insane after, ( as the Tudors put it though we don’t know what it was she actually suffered from) should not really have saved her from her own folly, now I’m not being harsh here because I think to kill two women just for adultery and one helping her is appalling from my own modern viewpoint, although they were guilty of treason in Tudor times and the law decreed the punishment was death and we know they were particularly harsh and unmerciful in that age, yet if a person knew what they were doing when they committed the crime why should they simply get away with it just because they went mad after? It’s like a servant robbing their master killing them in the process and after being caught and put on trial, goes mad and escapes the death penalty, these days we have so many criminals trying to get out of going to prison or getting a shorter sentence by pleading diminished responsibility, its very much a grey area and really in Lady Rochfords time her mental condition was assessed by the Kings physicians and declared she was well enough to die, she was lucid at the time of her execution and met her death bravely, I’m just wondering what would Henry have done if she had found herself pregnant, that would have put him in a dilemma, I doubt he would have been able to have a bill passed stating that pregnant women be executed to, that would have been going too far, (even for Henry).

    1. Christine, please don’t take this the wrong way but your comments are typical of people who have never experienced mental illness, either directly as a carer or as a sufferer. I have suffered from clinical depression for years and a severe form of anxiety. I also had psychotic problems as a result of a complete mental collapse. People with any sort of mental problems, even criminals do not belong in prison. The police have no idea how to deal with people who are mentally ill and if someone is arrested they are often denied medication unless the officer feels like it, are put in a thin paper suit and not given a blanket. Police cells are noisy, smelly, cold and there is no privacy. You don’t even have a wash basin in most of them. If you are ill you are ignored. The lights are very bright and on all the time. Sleep deprivation causes delusions and confusion for ordinary people, which is much worse for people with mental problems. Mentally ill inmates are five times more likely to be attacked and assaulted and officials often cannot cope so they jump on your chest and hold you down, six or seven at a time and drug you. Mentally ill prisoners are far more likely to commit suicide.

      Yes, no doubt some people try to get a lighter sentence, but the evidence is no, they actually don’t. I am not saying people with mental health problems should not be punished if they commit crimes, but not in prison. We need better long term hospitals and a better understanding as some conditions are actually why a crime was committed in the first place. Forensic psychiatry has come a long way, but it needs modernizing.

      Now what about Jane Rochford? Guilty of treason or not, once she became ill, she was entitled to the protection of the existing law. You can appear lucid at times, plus it may have benefited her if she was being nursed in quiet and peace. There were natural remedies that are still used now that help with moods, herbs and other things. St John’s Wart is as effective as many modern drugs. There are indications that she was still ill at the time of her execution. She was rambling and enumerated her many sins at length, longer than normal, she appeared to be out of it and showed nervous signs of depression and fear. She may have calmer after weeks of rest, but that does not mean she was cured or totally well. Nervous collapsing can be short term or long term, leading to depression or other psychiatric illness. We don’t have enough information about the symptoms suffered by Jane Rochford to be certain about her condition. Nervous breakdown is too vague a diagnosis, but nervous shock and breakdowns lead to deeper and more long term psychosis. Guilt, innocence and fear in the face of serious criminal charges, especially ones that carry life imprisonment or the death penalty are all equally likely to act as triggers. The mind is the one part of the brain we don’t understand enough and it is only recently that we began to realise that mental health problems have a physical or pathological cause. I believe that Jane was still ill at the time of her movement to the Tower, even if her symptoms had calmed down. Henry knew she was a disturbed person or in a state, but as he wanted revenge he ordered the Attainment to include a Bill so as insane people could be executed. This was not justice, or even punishment, as neither woman were tried, but revenge.

      I love that the person later called Bloody Mary in the seventeenth century, not by contemporaries, the person condemned by history, Mary Tudor, showed more common sense and more understanding than her father who was revered when it came to insane or mentally ill people and reversed this law. She also reversed their Act of Attainer. The Victorians were even enlightened enough to make it illegal to hang someone who was deemed insane. The mentally ill were still treated badly, through the almost torturous treatments in hospitals like Bedlam, but over time better conditions and more protective laws have given mentally ill people more rights. Unfortunately, people still treat it as a taboo and a lot of ignorance still exists. Better education is possible, but society needs the will to change.

      1. It’s ok Banditqueen I know the point your making and I was not being blasé about mental illness, as I said in another post my aunt and a friend of mine both suffered throughout their lives from mental breakdowns, and it took them about six months before they recovered completely with the advantages of modern drugs and with the proper understanding of this most distressing illness, they were allowed to recover at home but really the pair of them didn’t know where they were and my poor aunt tried to sit on my cousins knee like a baby and was yelling for her dad and sister, both had been dead twenty years, my friend was looked after by her elderly parents and it was a dreadful strain on them both, her mum had a drink problem which I think was due to the strain of her daughters illness, I myself have suffered from mental illness and am on prescription medicine at this moment, as you say five hundred years on we do not know what exactly Lady Rochford suffered from and therefore it’s not easy to make a proper diagnosis, as I said this is a grey area and in her day nothing was known except she had ‘gone mad’, she had escaped the downfall of the Boleyns and overcome their disgrace to enjoy a prominent position at court, one of the queens ladies, the knowledge that this time she was actively involved in deceiving the King meant she had endangered her own life and maybe the terror of losing her head meant she had a sudden mental abbération, I didn’t mean because the Kings doctors visited her and declared she was ok meant she actually was as yes she had by now maybe calmed down and was able to talk to them quite normally, thus they in their ignorance told the King she had recovered well enough to die, but mental conditions do take ages it’s not like having a wound on the leg or losing an eye, physical ailments recover but the mind is an unknown area, it certainly was in those days and really Henry should have had her packed off to the country in the peace and quiet and let her stay there for several months before having his doctors assess her condition again, in Lady Jane Greys case her hair allegedly turned white with shock when she was led out to the scaffold, talking about the diminished responsibility subject you do get a lot of criminals pleading to this charge just to get off a longer sentence, Peter Sutcliffe known as the ‘Yorkshire ripper’ was overheard saying by a security guard he was going to make out he’s a ‘nut’ so he could go to a ‘loony bin’ where he would get cushy treatment, the great artist fraud Tom Keating whose paintings fooled the art world suffered a heart condition and had his sentence cut short, now he didn’t hurt anyone but really he was able to paint all those marvellous fakes and sell them off as the originals so why shouldn’t he have paid the price for it, he had known perfectly well what he was doing, that said he never hurt anyone just embarrassed the art experts, you mention the Victorians and yes they had more understanding of mental illness although the padded cells at bedlam and barking do conjure up horrific images, yet they were particularly cruel to those they called the outcasts of society, unfortunates like the elephant man who they kept in sideshows, no one wanted these misfits so they were forced to live in these freak shows where they at least were looked after, had food and somewhere to sleep, for this security but they lived out their existence entertaining crowds, dwarfs and Siamese twins, although there were cases of several Siamese Twins becoming famous like the original and touring the world and one pair, two women even entertained Queen Victoria, as you mention mental illness is still a taboo subject I myself kept my illness to myself for many years before I plucked up the courage to see a doctor, when I did I was told so many people have the same disorder I would be surprised, a few of my friends know but my family doesn’t at the moment I prefer it that way but maybe in the future, to have peace of mind is a wonderful thing and those who try to make out they are ill just to avoid the full weight of the law I have no time for, Im much better now and I make jokes about my illness to myself to make it appear light hearted,( it seems to take away the horror of the early awful days) when I look back I shudder to myself but I tell myself iv come through it, life is wonderful and we deserve to
        enjoy it.

        1. Hello Christine, I apologise, I didn’t intend to come across so harshly. Sorry to hear about your aunties, must have been very distressing. I am glad you are much better now and wish you well. I still get weird episodes and don’t even know why. I have had episodes of anxiety again recently, flashbacks to what happened years ago, but I won’t go back on medication as I was like a zombie. I know what you mean about some criminals using certain disorders as a fake defence, but I have also worked with a number of people who did have genuine problems. I met one poor girl who was a piramaniac, set fires. She was also very ill and had no memory when she did it. She didn’t burn down houses, but she was a danger with fire. She had very clear symptoms of being absent if you know what I mean, not knowing what was happening, not being able to communicate well, acting as a child, there was definitely more than one personality in her mind, she was very agitated and she was alone in a cell. Not for long, thankfully as the doctor quickly had her moved and assessed. All very sad. Hope you are well now. Cheers.

        2. Thank you Banditqueen it’s ok and yes I still get moments of anxiety too, I think it helps to talk about it with others and know your not alone, I find it awful that years ago there was nothing to help people and they were isolated because of it, some people killed themselves because they thought they were going insane which is really sad, we do live in a much more enlightened age and there is help available, counselling and therapy and medicine yet amongst many people it is still taboo as they don’t understand, have a good day won’t you.

  2. I actually don’t believe Jane was completely sane at the time of her involvement with Catherine’so trysts. Most people don’t just spontaneously go insane. There is usually an underlying current of instability. Jane suffered a pretty traumatic event when her husband and sister in law were executed, and I doubt it was something she just “got over.” I would guess that part of the reason Jane got caught up in the mess is because she was vulnerable from the start of it. At the very least, she was an extremely bid-able servant; at worst given to reckless behavior. I also don’t believe she magically became sane of the scaffold. She may have told to expect a far worse end if she misbehaved.

    1. Hello, Adrienne, have just been reading your book on Jane, with the details of how she may have been treated and her reaction. It’s a very good insight to the way people saw things, more like a naughty child, than a woman who probably had no control over how her mind interpreted her impulses and her erratic actions. I found it very interesting and authentic.

  3. Poor Catherine and Jane. Jane had a mental breakdown after she was arrested and Catherine was accused of something she didn’t do. They both died in the end for something that didn’t do. I feel terrible for both of them.

  4. Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. I question her sanity. I doubt her bit of going insane upon being placed under arrest is obviously a ploy to save her own ass. I doubt the arrest and execution of her husband and sister in law effected her in such a way being as the fact that she helped put them there. Now whether Queen Anne and her brother George really did what they were accused of, well only they will ever know but she probably testified one for fear of Henry and two she was probably jealous that her sister in law received all of her husbands attention. And then to all of a sudden to appear sane at the time of execution. She probably realized that pleading insanity was not going to save her tail and if she was going to go down it was going to be with dignity.

    1. I think I would probably go a little bit mad if I knew I was going to be decapitated. It is a testament to her courage that she managed to pull herself together on the scaffold.

  5. There is no evidence that Jane did anything to bring George or Anne down. In fact, there isn’t any proof she even testified. Suggestions made that she was a part of taking them down came from sources repeating hearsay after the fact. Not to mention the fact that those sources were not neutral parties. Beyond that…Jane continued to wear black after the death of her husband and petitioned the king to have her marriage bed returned after it had been confiscated post George’s execution. Highly unlikely that she would do either of those things if she hated the man.

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