19 November 1541 – Chapuys Reports on the Catherine Howard Investigation

Eustace Chapuys
Eustace Chapuys

On 19th November 1541, Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, wrote to Emperor Charles V. His letter included what he’d heard about Queen Catherine Howard’s imprisonment:

“The day before yesterday the admiral Fitz-William sent me word by one of my own secretaries, and yesterday the Lord Privy Seal confirmed the news, that this Queen had confessed having before her marriage to the King had connexion with Master Durem (Durham) [Dereham], who is now confined in the Tower, and that during three years of most intimate connexion there had been no question nor talk of a marriage between them. Besides that lately, upon investigation, it had been discovered that Master Colpeper [Culpeper], of the King’s bedchamber, who slept at the bottom of his bed, had received from her certain love-tokens, and met her twice privately within the last two months, each meeting lasting five to six hours, and that the intermediary agent for such love appointments was Lady Rochefort [Rochford], the widow of the earl of that name, and brother of Anne, the King’s concubine, who has likewise been sent to the Tower. And upon my asking the Lord Privy Seal how the King, his master, intended to treat the case, he answered that the King would bear the blow more patiently and compassionately than most people thought, nay, a good deal more tenderly than the Queen’s own relatives, if it be true, as reported, that the duke of Norfolk has declared—God knows why—that he wishes the Queen to be burnt alive. I am not aware yet of her having been sent to the Tower; there is a talk of shutting her up in what was once a nunnery near Richmond, under the guard of four women and of some soldiers.”

It appears that the gossip around court at this time was that the King would be merciful.

Chapuys also wrote of Anne of Cleves:

“I hear also that Mme. [Anne de] Clèves has greatly rejoiced at the event, and that in order to be nearer the King she is coming to, if she is not already at, Richmond. I would not, for many considerations, touch in the least on the subject of Mme. de Clèves to the Lord Privy Seal, waiting until there be a better opportunity, and I myself may go to Court.”

Of course, we don’t know Anne’s personal feelings on the matter, but Archbishop Cranmer did report to the King on 13th December 1542 that the Ambassador of Cleves had visited him “to commende unto me the cause of the Lady Anne of Cleve”, explaining that “the cause” was “the reconciliation of Your Majestie unto the Lady Anne of Cleve.” Of course, Henry VIII never did get back together with Anne, but the couple kept on good terms. Henry VIII’s next marriage was to Catherine Parr in 1543.

Notes and Sources

  • Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 6 Part 1: 1538-1542, note 207
  • State Papers: King Henry VIII; Parts I and II, Volume I (1831), p716

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18 thoughts on “19 November 1541 – Chapuys Reports on the Catherine Howard Investigation”
  1. I was amazed at first when I saw Chapuys refer to Anne by name “…and brother of Anne”, and then I saw the next phrase “the King’s concubine”. He just couldn’t help himself even after her death!

  2. Reading this letter, am I right in guessing that Henry at this point was either unsure what to do with Katherine or make of the whole thing or that he was in a frame of mind to show mercy? I doubt that the men concerned would feel that mercy, but may-be he had in mind the age of Katherine that although a woman, she was a young woman and that she had been more foolish than deceiving?

    The reaction of Norfolk was harsh. He would write a letter to Henry eventrually in order to merely save his skin after the rest of the Howard clan were arrested and filled the Tower. In that letter he denounced his neice and his relatives and begged the King to recall his years of service and to spare him. I am not surprised that he said that Katherine should be burnt as a female traitor; he wants to distance himself from her behaviour and if she is guilty he wants to condemn her to the harshest punishment. He is making noises to save himself and to sound as horrified and shocked as possible. He must also feel totally responsible and let down as he had introduced Katherine to the court and the King in the first place; he had rooted her out from the old Ducheses household and decided to make her fine enough to marry the King. She was not living in a brothal style house as in the Tudors but in a household with other daughters and cousins of the Howard brothers. The Maidens Chamber was a dormatory where the young ladies were meant to be kept away from the males of the household and where they were meant to be raised in chastity and good manners and how to be ladies. They were meant to be cossetted, not allowed to get the key and let the young men in for evening romps as with Katherine and her friends. Norfolk had every reason to believe that the Duchesses household was strict and that Katherine was being raised correctly. He must have been both outraged and shocked to find that she was not.

    Whatever the third Duke and the second Duchess knew or did not know about Katherine and her alleged pre marital love life; they could only have acted as if they knew nothing and had to keep up that pretense after it was revealled to the court and council. Norfolk for his own sake and the rest of the clan had to distance himself now from the lovers and from the aid that any member of the family had given her. He did not have to go as far as to utterly disown her and everyone else; but he certainly had to play the outraged uncle; it was the only way not to end up in the Tower or on the block as well. I do not know just how many Howards were rounded up, but quite a few were; but at least by Christmas they were all released again. Norfolk never quite regained the King’s trust, although he did take part in the 1544 campaign in France and did have some roles to play up until his fall in 1546.

    Chapyrys may be a bit colourful at times and have obvious hatred of Anne Boleyn but he is a reliable source and we do need his letters and reports for much of the detail of the inner workings of Henry’s court. I am amazed he actually names Anne at all as Henry had all but given orders that her name was never to be spoken again and tried to write her out of his life. I am not surprised, however that he called Anne ‘the King’s comcubine’ even now as he had always seen her as such and his hatred of her and her name continued after her death. Chapuys was inplacible in his treatment and the way he referred to Anne; he was not going to be bothered about respect for her memory after her death.

    In reference to Anne of Cleves, it is interesting that it is assumed that she was pleased about the fall of her rival as in January 1541 the two ladies and the King had spent New Year together and exchanged gifts. They appeared to have gotten on quite well and Anne showed her much respect as Queen. Katherine continued to send her gifts and Henry to visit her from time to time. May=be, just may-be, although she was not overjoyed at Katherine’s fall; Anne of Cleves saw this as an opportunity for Henry to be married to her again. They were reconciled and did get on well after they were divorced. There had been unfounded rumours that Anne of Cleves had given birth to Henry’s child, although this was dismissed quickly for the ladies honour and as it upset Queen Katherine. Just the same; Anne had hopes of marrying Henry again.

    The biograthy of Anne of Cleves by Elizabeth Norton states that Anne always saw herself as Henry’s true and lawful wife and was very hurt when he did not come back to her in 1543 but married Katherine Parr. She was upset and angry and very dismayed. When she gave Henry her ring back and told him to crush it as a thing of little value; she meant something that he had value in. Anne of Cleves had hopes and other ideas; seeing her marriage to Henry as of great sacramental value indeed. As the article says at the end we cannot be sure how Anne felt exactly, but if she was fond of Henry she must have been very dismayed in his treatment of another wife and of her betrayal of their marriage vows (K Howard that is). And both Henry and K H must have been on some sort of emotional rollercoaster as news of the alleged lovers grew and changed from day to day. What a saga!

    1. I agree that Chapuys is a great source. At this point in his career he was able to take a more impartial view of things, He could also speak his mind without fear of punishment, so even taking into account his hatred of Anne Boleyn, I think we can gain much knowledge from his letters. As for Anne of Cleeves, one would think that she would have been happy that she had come out of her relationship with Henry virtually unscathed, and would not have wanted to put herself into danger again.

      1. With all due respect, Bandit Queen, I beg to differ on your interpretation of some of the events.

        “… he had rooted her out from the old Ducheses household and decided to make her fine enough to marry the King.”

        I would love to know if you have found a reliable reference for this. Norfolk, possibly, recommended his niece for the position of maid-of-honour to Henry’s future bride, but the decision as to whom to appoint was not up to him, and at this stage there was no indication that Henry would reject Anne, whom he was yet to meet. It seems unlikely that Norfolk was consciously lining up Katherine as wife number 5 before Henry had actually married wife number 4. We also must accept that, no matter how much effort went into tarting up Katherine, it did not automatically follow that Henry would fancy her.

        ‘I do not know just how many Howards were rounded up, but quite a few were; but at least by Christmas they were all released again.’

        You make it sound as though the Howards et al were mildly inconvenienced, when in reality they were terrified out of their wits and feared for their lives! The leading members of the clan arrested were the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, her son Lord William, his wife Margaret Gamage, and the Duchess’s daughter Lady Bridgewater, whose children were taken from her. Some of the others, for example Malyn Tilney, were related to the Howards.

        Lord William and his wife and most of the lesser players in the tragedy were attainted (that is, lost all their property and possessions) in December and were imprisoned for life.

        The Dowager, at 64 an old woman for the times, was in terror in the Tower all over the Christmas period and well beyond because she would not know her fate until February – as would be the case with Katherine herself and Jane Rochford, and the outlook for her was extremely bleak.

        Even hard-bitten men like Wriothesley wanted to visit the prisoners in the Tower to give them some hope, but Henry would not allow it. It must have been absolute hell for them.

        Lady Margaret and some of the others were released in February; the old Dowager had been found guilty, attainted and given ‘perpetual (life) imprisonment’, but was suddenly released in May. Her son William, who appears to have had little to do with anything, to the point that those who passed judgement on him promised to try to intercede on his behalf, was not released until August, so “…but at least by Christmas they were all released again” is a very far cry from the reality of what was happening to these people.

        1. Tradition has Norfolk visit the Duchess to arrange for Katherine to come to court and that he arranged for her to come to court, some authors have her as lady to Anne of Cleves from 1539, others that she was introduced to the court independently and came to the King’s notice. Starkey, Loades, Weir and other authors have her living in the Duchess household at Lambeth at the time; and this was were she was found and brought to the court. Norfolk as the family head would be the person most in place to introduce her to the court and to the King. It makes sense that the tradition is correct and I believe that this source is correct that he brought her from Lambeth to the court.

          My point about them being released is that they were released. I am obviously referring to by December 1542, not 1541. It stands to reason that they were afraid, whether released in February or in May or later; especially as the Duchess was of great age. I do not see what difference it makes; they were in the Tower for several months at least, hounded, questioned, their goods and finacial accounts searched, homes searched, they were asked about their own finances and about things that were personal. The entire family was rounded up and they all must have been frightened. Norfolk on the other hand certainly made sure that he was not to blame by denouncing Katherine and others. I even think that Jane Rochford was, while not innocent, unfairly blamed for after all doing what her mistress, the Queen wanted. It may have been treason to hold back knowledge if she did know what Katherine was up to, meeting Culpeper or anyone else late at night, but she was in a difficult place, as anyone else in the household would be.

          Katherine was foolish; the rounding up of the family over the top, but if anyone is to blame; it is Katherine and no-one else. That is my belief from what I have studied over the years and my recollection from reading several books, sources and sites. I post from memory the same as anyone else on the site and cannot check everything in the early hours of the morning. I know you have done research; you have the advantage of this; but to be fair; what are your sources for your own claims?

      2. I have pre ordered the new book looking at the goings on at Henry’s court and will be looking forward to reading it in January when it is finally published. Pity some of these books are not published in time for Christmas, but still.

        1. P.S I do not have to justify my views to anyone: it is a comment on a website: not an academic essay. No-one has to quote sources on this site; and should not be asked to do so. I comment from knowledge and memory the same as anyone else; not from having all sorts of academic books opened in front of me.

          The Howard’s may have been inconvenienced, frightened, questioned, harassed; but may-be the council thought that this was justified. While rounding up the entire clan was over the top; once things calmed down several months later; they were still released. Given the mood that the King was in; things could have been much worse and I believe Norfolk was aware of that; this is why his condemnation of his neice is so strong; fear and family pride and a selfish need for self preservation. We can only guess what anyone was going through as none of us where actually there; but I agree; for anyone in prison not really knowing their fate; even if they were kept in decent conditions; they may have been terrified.

        2. I just want to step in here.

          I think when we’re voicing quite strong opinions about people and events then it’s good to explain why we have those opinions and what they’re based on, even if it’s simply an impression we have based on wide reading on the subject. BanditQueen, I don’t read Marilyn’s comment as aggressive or confrontational, she simply said “I would love to know if you have found a reliable reference for this” and I think that was perfectly justified and was not meant to be offensive or attacking. I think if we comment on a public site and state something as fact then we should be willing to justify that, and that of course leads to a wonderful ping-ponging of debate.

          I personally have found no evidence that Norfolk had anything to do with Catherine getting together with the King, just as I’ve found no evidence of Thomas Boleyn pushing either of his daughters at Henry.

        3. I’m afraid it wasn’t obvious to me which Christmas you where referring to, not knowing the ins and outs of Katherine’s relatives after her arrest, a year can make a great difference if you are learning like I am.

          Quoting from knowledge is fine if what you know is correct and can be backed up, and I cannot see how it can be taken as a ‘slight’ to be asked about your sources. It’s a compliment, as people are taking on board what you are writing and would like to learn more, or perhaps develop a different view to the one they have already, so why would you not want to justify your opinions, are you not open to debate?

          To say that every ones comments are from knowledge and memory, not research, is a sweeping remark which I think is quite untrue, there are a lot of visitors to this site that research this subject in depth, whether as a personal interest or at college/University with academic books, and sources available on line..

          The comment on The A.B.Files being ‘just a website’ is a little scathing, I think it is a lot more than that to most that come here. Considering the hard work, academia and research that goes behind the scenes here, it’s a good job Claire is not as easily offended…

        4. David Read, Lacy Baldwin Smith, John Scofield, David Loades and others all give Norfolk the benefit of being involved in the introduction of Norfolk to the King and Scofield goes furher saying that Norfolk and Bishop Gardiner were pimping on the part of the King to bring her to his notice, not necessary to marry him, but to make herself attractive to him. All authors assign a dinner at the home of the Bishop at which present was Katherine Howard as the event that Henry first spent some time with Katherine. She was also one of 12 ladies in waiting or Great Ladies brought to court to serve Anne of Cleves. It is an intelligent deduction that this was with the influence of her uncle and other members of the family or family connections. It is also an intelligent deduction that Norfolk used Catherine as a trap to get into Henry’s head to bring about the fall of Cromwell. Also this is put forward by Scofield. This does not surprise me as Norfolk was not a nice guy, but ruthless and would use any of his relatives for his own ends. Nor does it surprise me that he questioned Katherine rudely and roughly and over and over again, or that he became aggressiv: he had a violent streak; and was even accused of beating or at least hitting his wife. He did not shy away from doing what he deemed to be needed; punishing those who offended the crown, fighting a rough or brutal war; or bringing down his enemies. It is quite crediable that he stated he would see his niece burnt, the fate of female traitors; he either saw her as disgracing the family and the King’s honour; or he was taking self preservation measures. Norfolk was the type to both raise his niece up, use her for his own ends, and then when all went wrong to coldly co-operate in taking her down. Whatever his personal feelings; I doubt they included sympathy for Katherine.

  3. BanditQueen, I have no wish to offend you or to become involved in a prolonged exchange, so this will be my only comment on your last three posts.

    “It is a comment on a website: not an academic essay.”

    True, and this is a wonderful website that welcomes all comments and viewpoints from absolutely anybody who wants to have a say, and rightly so, and the huge variety of opinion and the banter between contributors is what makes it so interesting, and such fun. The majority of people who comment make it clear that they are expressing their own take on a situation, while others would be prepared to qualify what they have said by backing it up with reference to sources if asked.

    “No-one has to quote sources on this site; and should not be asked to do so.”

    This website will be consulted by schoolchildren and students worldwide, many of whom will assume that, if a statement is presented with some note of authority, as some of yours are, then it is reliable information they can use in their own research, and they would be justified in asking where it had come from.

    “I do not have to justify my views to anyone”

    I am surprised that someone who has made what seem to be confident and authoritative statements would be offended at being asked by another interested party to discuss or elaborate.

    “What are your sources for your own claims?”

    I make extensive use of footnotes in my writing to show sources, and if I reach a viewpoint different from that usually presented, I explain how and why I reached that conclusion. It is not necessarily something I would do on a website, but – for the sake of my own credibility – I always try to respond positively to questions about specific sources.

    “Tradition has Norfolk visit the Duchess to arrange for Katherine to come to court … It makes sense that the tradition is correct”

    I am in exactly the same situation with Katherine Howard (who actually is not the central figure of my research) as is Claire with Anne Boleyn, in that I have studied primary and secondary source materials for a number of years and have peeled back layers to trace how current perceptions came about. I have found that in many instances, especially in Victorian times, one writer fed off the work of another who, in turn, had fed off another, who in turn had embellished a myth, or tradition, until what was perhaps nothing more than hearsay, even in Katherine’s actual lifetime, has become accepted as fact.

    1. Well said.

      I can see what you meant about ‘tradition’..it’s tradition that St. Nicholas, now better known as Santa, rides a sleigh and comes down the chimney…how far from the truth is that! Ho-ho-ho. 🙂

      It must make your research very arduous removing these hearsays that have been excepted as fact/traditions for centuries.

      1. Hi Dawn,
        Actually it’s really interesting sometimes to find out who has set the ball rolling: one of the daftest geographical errors I’ve come across (mistaking the county of Norfolk for Sussex) was made by one of the nineteenth century historians who was one of the top brass responsible for cataloguing documents in the Public Record Office – so other authors automatically followed suit!

        I’ve been helping out all day at the Christmas Fair at one of your old stomping grounds – Gainsborough Old Hall, beautiful but freezing – another of the places Katherine is supposed to have been misbehaving with Culpeper, even though there isn’t any evidence -as far as I can tell – that she did.

        1. Hi Marilyn

          Cripes…Norfolk for Suffolk quite a slip of the pen there I think! if the ‘top boys’ were getting it wrong you really have got a job on, but I can see how it would be interesting.

          Oh how lovely helping with a Christmas Fair at Gainsborough Old Hall …I’m green with envy, (in a nice way). I absolutely love where I live now, but I do miss being able to nip up the road and visit the place, I used to make me feel so calm walking around it. I hope you raised lots of money to help with it’s upkeep.

          If only the walls could reveal it’s secrets….it would answer so many questions, and maybe make your research a lot easier 🙂 Good luck with that, and keep us posted on your work.

  4. Regarding the question on ,if the duke of Norfolk introduced Katherine into the court of henry viii ,well of course he did ,as head of the family and most likely did all he could to push her in henrys direction,this was the way everything was done 500yrs ago,and likewise Thomas Boleyn would have done the same thing ,this is what fathers/heads of households did with daughters ,nieces ect marry them off and to who better than the king of England.No one needs evidence to prove or back this up ,it was a way of life ,and still is in some countries.One has to be very unbiased and objective in judging anyone from so long ago and also NOT cast them in a rosy ,romantic light ,as with anne Boleyn ,George Boleyn,jane parker ect,ect .If anyone of us were to go back to tudor times and met any of these people ,more than likely would not even like them ,they got where they were by being very shrewd ,cunning and manipulative ,they had to be to survive,it again was ,in my mind a very materialistic age and you did what ever yiu did to survive and to get up the ladder financially as fast as possible and by whatever means it took so I do think that the boleyns and the howards and all the other titled ,noble families did just that ,everyone was out for themselves ,They had to be The tide could turn against you in a minute as with what happened with the howards and the boleyns.

    1. I don’t think that anyone was questioning that the Duke of Norfolk may have introduced Catherine to court, but that’s a big difference from saying that he dangled her in front of the King as bait. Catherine was appointed as one of Anne of Cleves’ ladies and there was no way that anybody could have known that this marriage would fail so how could Norfolk have planned to marry her off to the King. Re Thomas Boleyn, Anne was appointed to serve Catherine of Aragon at a time when negotiations were being held to marry Anne off to James Butler, it was another 4+ years until Anne caught the King’s eye and it appears from his actions, and the dispatches of Chapuys, that Thomas Boleyn was against Anne getting together with Henry. Bessie Blount’s family had not benefited one iota from Bessie’s match with the King, so how could any man at court think that his daughter being a mistress to the King was a good thing. It was far better for them to keep their maidenhead and make a good marriage.

      I also don’t believe that anyone is casting these people in a “rosy, romantic light”, what happened to them was far from rosy.

    2. Re: “a very materialistic age”, well nothings changed much in that respect then, as it.

      People step on each other to get to the top of the tree as much now-a-days as they did then. Avarice and wanting power have always been human failings, and always will be to my mind.

  5. I can just imagine the Duke after his niece’s death wandering, just what can I do now or say to get out of this one; and just how much grovellling will it take to convince the King that I am not to blame for this mess. And thus the letter and his denouncing of Kathering in the gravest possible terms. As the Head of the clan; his was the responsibiluty and he must have seen visions of being arrested with everyone else; and his head rolling in conjunction with his neice and anyone else who was blamed. The letter he wrote to Henry may be one of saving his own skin; but who could blame him; he was a survivor and grovelling and disownment was the only way to salvage anything from a very bad situation. Even then there is no way Norfolk could be sure that Henry would accept his apologies and blaming everyone else; but he could but hope. Henry certainly blamed Norfolk for bringing Katherine to his notice and as the head of the family it is logical to assume that he had a part in her rise.

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