2 November 1541 – A bad All Souls’ Day for Henry VIII

Henry VIIIHappy All Souls’ Day!

Unfortunately, back in 1541 All Souls’ Day was not a happy day for Henry VIII and any thoughts or prayers he had for departed loved ones were soon forgotten when he attended All Souls’ mass and found a letter left for him in the Holy Day Closet at Hampton Court Palace. The letter had been left by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and was about the King’s wife, Catherine Howard. It was not good news.

Just the day before, at the All Saints’ mass, the Bishop of Lincoln, by order of the King, had given “thanks with him for the good life he led and hoped to [lead with her]”, but now Cranmer had revealed that Catherine “was not a woman of [such purity]” or the “jewel for womanhood” Henry VIII believed her to be.

A report from the King’s Council to William Paget, the English ambassador in France, gives details about what Archbishop Cranmer had found out about Catherine Howard’s past:

“While the King was in his progress, one John [Lossels] came to the Abp. and told him that he had been with a sister of his, married, in [Sussex], who had been servant with the old duchess of [Norfolk] who brought up the said Katharine, and he had recommended her to sue for service with [the Queen]. She said she would not, but [was very sorry for the Queen]. “Why? quoth Lossels. Marry, quoth she, for she is [light, both in living] and conditions. How so? quoth Lossels.” [She replied] that one Fras. Derham had lain in bed[with her, in his doublet] and hose, between the sheets an hundr[ed nights], and a maid in the house had said she would lie no longer with her because [she knew not what ma]trimony was. Moreover [one] Mannock, a servant of the [Duchess, knew a] privy mark on her body. The Abp., being much perplexed, consulted the lord Chancellor and the [earl of Hertford], and by their advice reported the matter to the King in writing, as he had not the heart to tell it by word of mouth.”

The report goes on to say that on hearing of these allegations, Henry VIII ordered that John Lassells and his sister should be examined, along with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham. The report also gives the results of these interrogations:

“Wriothesley found from Mannock’s confession that he used to feel the [secret parts] of her body before Derrham [was familiar] with her; and Derrham confessed that he had k[nown her car]nally many times, both in his doublet and [hose between] the sheets and in naked bed, alleging three women [as witnesses]. On learning this the King’s heart was pierced with pe[nsiveness, so that it was long] before he could [utter his sorrow]; “and finally, with plenty [of tears, (which was strange] in his courage), opened the same.” [Katharine was spoken] to by the abp. of [Canterbury, the lord] Chancellor, the duke of Norfolk, [the lord Great Chamberlain], and the bp. of [Winchester]. She at first constantly denied it, but at last disclosed everything [to the abp.] of Canterbury, who took her confession [in writing] subscribed by her hand. Then [the rest of the witnesses], eight or nine men and women, were examined, and agreed in one [tale].”

What was suspicious to the King’s Council was that Catherine had taken “this Derrham into her service, and trained him upon occasions, as sending of errands and writing of letters when her [secre]tary was out of the way, to come often into her [privy] chamber. And she had gotten also into her privy cham[ber] to be one of her chamberers, one of the women which [had] before lien in the bed with her and Derrham.” And this was before they heard about meetings with a certain Thomas Culpeper – oh dear!

Notes and Sources

  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, 1540-1541, 1334 – This report opens by giving the date on which Cranmer revealed the news to the King: “on All Souls Day at mass the abp. [of Canterbury] having heard that she was not a woman of [such purity] as was esteemed, sorrowfully revealed it to the King”.

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8 thoughts on “2 November 1541 – A bad All Souls’ Day for Henry VIII”
  1. I have always wondered why such a light little goose was put before the king. She was not said to be well educated, well mannered or inclined towards common sense. Surely those who put her forward would realize the shaky ground they stood upon?

    1. She was a Howard, my dear. And if you look at the Norfolk family through the ages, the Howard name never gives up or goes away!

      1. Who said Katherine Howard was uneducated? This is a complete myth. She came from a great family and was trained to run a large household. She was certainly literate and had an ear for music and dance. There is evidence of her ability and there is also evidence that she had grace and training to be a great lady. An uneducated girl would never have been offered a place at court to serve as a Maid of Honour to Queen Anne of Cleves; it simply wouldn’t happen. Katherine certainly had a lack of certain maturity and quality to be Queen, but there is evidence that she carried her role and her duties of well and proved to be generous, gracious and sensitive. She could be foolish and childish at times, but she was no ninny.

  2. Poor girl she was so manipulated by men and possibly black mailed by culpepper as he knew of her past with manox and Dereham .she wasn’t stupid young girl as many believed her to be there is far more to Katherine than meets the eye Connor Bryn certainly changed my views about Katherine and I feel very sad her life was taken so young !!

    1. I read Connor Bryn’s blog post on her too! Because of historians trying to fill in the gaps and paint her as a stupid little wh*re, I’d never really been that sympathetic towards Katherine Howard. But after reading his blog post, it just makes me feel so bad for judging her.

      1. Josephine Wilkinson and Gareth Russell will give you a true picture of Katherine, the question of bribery or consent is often debated, the question of abuse is also discussed and her role as a successful Queen who was nothing like the airhead in the Tudors. Both excellent books. I recommend them as well as Conor’s history.

  3. I have always felt sorry for Catherine. Because of the poor supervision her grandmother provided, she was really molested as a child. Then she was used by her family and eventually abandoned by everyone. Finally her reputation has been deliberately destroyed by history. Henry killed her out of spite.

  4. Katherine Howard may have had a past, but she was not to know that she would be groomed to be wed to the King. The Duchesses household sounds as if it was not very well supervised.

    It was not uncommon for a fair number of people to be living in a large stately household, up to 100 people from various marriages, cousins, placed young woman from other neighbouring families who saw the Howard family as the best opportunity for their daughters to advance, the orphaned kids of the Dukes younger brother, as well as servants and companions. Young men were also allowed into the house, as tutors, cooks, vallets, male relatives, but under strict rules, kept officially aeay from the young woman. The Duchess did not allow access to the chambers were they lived and slept, but the key appears to have been taken regularly, allowing adventurous young gentleman to visit the lively, active teens to engage in sex games, feasting and drinking. It’s these late night parties that led to the unfortunate trouble which ruined Katherine’s life.

    Katherine had a consensual affair with Francis Dereham when about fifteen that lasted quite some time. He left for Ireland, having been caught by the Duchess, appearing again once Katherine was queen. The couple had an understanding. But perhaps Dereham wanted more, but marriage was not possible? I think that Katherine was taken with him, but a Howard is a Howard, even a young daughter of a younger, poorer brother, her family would have looked for a decent match for her. She could also find a place in any great house or at court, the latter opening up an excellent opportunity in 1539, when Katherine was selected as a maid of honour to Henry’s soon to be new bride, Anne of Cleves.

    Katherine Howard had also been the victim of sexual abuse, not with Dereham, although, re her confession, she did at one point say she was raped, then at another she described many incidents of consensual sex, but with an older man, employed by her grandmother as her music teacher. When Katherine complained she was punished. Mannox was eventually sacked, but not before he had taken advantage of Katherine at least two more times. Had she been protected, maybe she may have not sought a retreat in sex during her mid teens. At the time of this early encounter Katherine may have been 12 to 14, there is some debate about her birth year. But the relationship between Katherine and Dereham appears to have been a normal, fulfilling love affair, they exchanged gifts, tokens and promised each other marriage, although no contract was made. The so called sexual past that Lassals and his wife accused her off was over long before her marriage to the King.

    So what was the problem? The issue is what was the nature of her relationship with Dereham? Canon Law caused a problem with marriage by having no need for official church services or contract for a couple to marry. If a couple promised each other to be man and wife and slept together, that was enough to be regarded as married. Ideally a couple should have two witnesses and benefit of clergy, families prefared to arrange a contract with official church marriage, but it was not strictly necessary. The couple were given a penance, but the agreement was legal. If Katherine and Dereham called each other husband and wife, was that their intention and understanding of their relationship? If a contract or promise existed then Katherine was not lawfully married to the King. The other problem was a simple one, if all this gossip being presented to the Archbishop was true, Katherine was not a virgin and had concealed her sexual past. In an age when young women were meant to be pure on the wedding night, this was a serious matter. What Katherine did was not a crime, but the attitude of the time treated her as if it was. It meant that she was deceptive, wanton and spoiled. It made her out to be of poor character. It was certainly something which would have under normal circumstances have excluded her from marrying Henry, something to be hidden.

    What was the motive of Lassels and his wife? I don’t believe that Mary came forward out of a genuine sisterly concern or sense of duty. I think she told her husband, he was worried and they both knew this could not be hidden. In addition, perhaps she was jealous, Katherine Howard had literally fallen on her feet, she was Queen and Mary was jealous. In addition, the people who now came forward were reformists. Did they conspire to bring Katherine down, or did she give them enough rope to hang her with?

    When Katherine came to count, I don’t believe that she was stupid, she was cleverer than she is often given credit for. She was presented to the King, traditionally at super at the home of Stephen Gardiner and Henry was taken with her. She was also in the service of Anne of Cleves so Henry may have seen her a number of times. The Howards, knowing that Henry was unhappy with Anne must have seen this as an opportunity to promote their own and the conservative Catholic faction in the court. I am not convinced that she was meant as a potential Queen, at least not at first. I think she was meant to be his mistress, but Henry on his nightly visits to Lambeth became so taken that she was persuaded to acept if the King proposed. Katherine could dance, she was musical and beautiful. She could play the great lady when the occasion demanded. Katherine was bright, charming, fun loving, lively and sensitive. She was generous, she was desirable enough to groom into a wife and queen. Katherines problem was she was a bit too fun loving, and although there is no definitive proof, quite likely she did cheat on the King with her previous lover and her new lover, Thomas Culpeper. This was to be Derehams claim. If Katherine did have affairs after her marriage, then she was foolish, knew the risk she took, and unfortunately it is this which has led to historians unfairly branding her as wanton and stupid.

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