2 November 1541 – An All Souls’ Day shock for Henry VIII

Posted By on November 2, 2016

henry-viii-and-thomas-cranmer All Souls’ Day is the feast day when forgotten souls, those souls in purgatory who might not have any masses or prayers being said for them, are remembered and it was at the special All Souls’ mass of 1541 that Henry VIII’s happy world came crashing down.

Previous to this, Henry VIII had been blissfully happy. He’d returned from a successful royal progress where he’d received the “humble submission” of the North and he was happily married to his fifth wife, the young Catherine Howard. So happy was he, that it was reported that on the previous day, All Saints’ Day, he had directed the Bishop of Lincoln at mass “to make prayer and give thanks with him for the good life he led and hoped to [lead with her] […]”. This good life was soon over.

When Henry VIII arrived in the Holy Day Closet at Hampton Court Palace for mass on 2 November 1541, he was confronted by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer with a letter that he was to read in private, it concerned a matter that the Archbishop “had not the heart to tell it by word of mouth”. The letter was regarding allegations that had been made concerning the Queen’s past, information that had been given to Cranmer by John Lassells, brother of Mary Hall who, like Catherine Howard, had been a member of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household at Lambeth and Horsham. A report from the King’s Council to William Paget, the English ambassador in France, gives details about Lassells’ claims:

“Are commanded to signify to him a most miserable case lately revealed. The King, on sentence given of the [invalidity] of his marriage with Anne of Cleves, being solicited by his Council to marry again, took to wife Katharine, daughter to the late lord Edmund Howard, thinking [now in his old] age to have obtained [a jewel] for womanhood, But this joy is turned to [extreme sorrow; for] after receiving his Maker on [All Hallows Day last] and directing the bp. of Lincoln, his [ghostly father], to make prayer and give thanks with him for the good life he led and hoped to [lead with her], 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, and how it came to his knowledge.

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 explain that the King thought “the matter forged” and “could not believe it till the certainty was known”, and so ordered a full investigation, instructing his Lord Privy Seal (William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton) to examine Lassells and Mary Hall, and Thomas Wriothesley to examine Henry Manox and “to [take Derrham] on a pretence of piracy”. Everything was to be done discreetly. Unfortunately, the resulting examinations suggested that Lassells’ claims were true:

“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].”

Henry VIII was heartbroken.

It was the beginning of the end for Queen Catherine…

Notes and Sources

21 thoughts on “2 November 1541 – An All Souls’ Day shock for Henry VIII”

  1. Louise says:

    Henry adored Catherine Howard. I think he would have overlooked her behaviour. Effectively this young queen was hounded to her death by Crammer and the anti catholic faction.

    1. Huh? I am confused by this comment. How exactly did Thomas Cranmer “hound” Catherine Howard to her death? To my way of thinking, this poor young woman was the victim of her Uncle’s manipulations, the King’s lust, Dereham’s seductions and later loose lips, Culpepper’s seductions, Jane Boleyn’s stupidity, Maddox’s sexual exploitations, and the poor judgment and decision-making common to teenagers. Once Cranmer was informed of the poor woman’s history, what was he supposed to do with the information? Sit on it? And once commanded to question Catherine, what was he to do then? Host a tea party? People tend to forget that the man had his own wife and daughter solely dependent on his protection. He was not a free agent. This poor woman’s death, in my opinion, resulted from the actions and inactions of several people, not simply one individual. Henry’s court was a hornet’s nest, and she got stung. It’s that simple, and it’s that complicated. Just my thoughts…

      1. Christine says:

        Yes Cranmer never hounded Catherine to her death, he simply had to make enquiries regarding the info he was given, had Catherine’s past contained no immorality then she would have been quite safe as Henry was besotted by her, of course the Protestants would have tried other means to bring her down but she would have been secure in Henry’s love and would have had his full protection, it was just the enquiries led to a whole can of worms being opened, the secret meetings she hed with Culpeper looked dodgy and the fact that after more digging, it was found that Dereham her old flame was in her household, things didn’t look good for her but it was the meetings with Culpeper and the note that was found in his apartments that sealed her fate, in it she implored Culpeper to visit her and she could not bear to be apart from him, that was in essence highly flammable and she couldn’t explain her way out of that, queens were expected to be above reproach, any sign of adultery imperilled the succession, had she not given Dereham a post in her household and been honest about her pre contract with him, and had she not been so foolish to meet with Culpeper in secret and write him notes then I believe Henry may have overlooked her past indiscretions and her life would have been spared, he may have divorced her but who knows! Very sad ending indeed for a very young sprightly girl who loved life and who really only followed her heart and acted out of ignorance.

      2. Banditqueen says:

        I agree with you Beth and Christine, Thomas Cranmer was a great man, but he was a servant, who did not have the motive or the power to hound Catherine Howard to her death. Cranmer was a decent, honest human being with a wife and family, unofficial of course and he needed to protect them. He owed a duty to Henry, as well as to the Queen to bring the accusations to his attention. Yes Mary Hall and her brother were what we would call Protestants, this did not automatically prove that they were malicious in their raising concerns about the Queens past. Lascells decided that he had a duty to report the information to the authorities and with the council and court away, plus his own reform sympathies, Thomas Cranmer was the ideal candidate to decide whether to tell the King or not. Cranmer was upset and did not know how to approach the King, who was very much in love with Catherine. Elizabeth Wheeler in her book raises the issue of a Catholic or Conservative conspiracy against Catherine, but to be honest she sees conspiracy in actions that are purely innocent and coincidental. For example the fact that Suffolk was away from court ill and returned just as the council decided to tell Henry that his wife has had a lover in marriage is taken as a deliberate move so he can look concerned as he delivers the bad news, when he was actually taken ill. It’s very easy to claim that the anti Catholic party at court wanted to bring Catherine down, but other motives were also in play. Some people just did not like the Howards, jealousy and greed all played a part and if the stories were true they did not need much help. Cranmer could not withhold such information as it was a crime to spread rumours about the Queen. An investigation had to be carried out and perjury was dealt with harshly. To withhold such information could well open Cranmer up to a charge for not saying anything. He could have been imprisoned. To protect the Queens reputation he had to act as the entire thing could have been a lie. The people who spread the lies could have been arrested and punished. I agree, many things combined to place Catherine in the wrong place and to lead to her fall, her own ladies helped her to meet in secret, she was abused by Mannox, she was pursued by her former consensual lover Dereham and other hangers on when she became Queen, her family were ambitious and her relationship with Culpeper dangerous, but he also became a nuisance. Jealously would be a better motivation for bringing this information to Cranmer, not the anti Catholic party conspiracy theory. Thomas Cranmer, to me, actually did everything in his power to save Catherine and to calm her when she was frightened and alone, not knowing what was happening at Syon House.

  2. Sarah says:

    He couldn’t overlook her adultry when he had Anne executed for the supposed same crime!!
    At least Anne was innocent

  3. Banditqueen says:

    What a shock indeed, especially as Henry had requested for special prayers for his perfect wife, plus his son’s recovery. It is no wonder that he believed that this was forged or nonsense, Henry was wrapped up in Katherine, he believed that she was pure, of course he thought that these rumours were false. At first all that came to life anyhow was Katherine’s past, until Dereham mentioned Culpeper. The extent of their guilt after marriage is unclear and open to debate. It has been interpreted that the intention to go further given the opportunity opened Culpeper, Dereham and Katherine open to a charge of presumptive treason and adultery, plus the intention of marrying after Henry died suggests the crime of imagining the King’s death. This was treason according to laws going back to Edward iii. We have problems with the actual evidence that sexual contact took place to the extent of adultery. It should be noted that before this, adultery was a sin, not a crime so something more needed to be proven such as the intention of passing of a child as the King’s heir when the lover was the father. Henry Viii not a young man and not in good health, his wife could easily plot his death. Culpeper was in constant personal contact with the King, he could ensue that poison alluded the tasters. Yes, you have to make sure that no knives were hidden in the bed, but if you are the one on duty in the royal chamber, a pillow over the face will do. Any romantic ideas that the King would not live long and you can marry if disclosed would be assumed that you intended to make the day come quicker.

    Katherine could have been released from the marriage at this early stage, had she agreed that she was promised to Dereham and saw him as her husband. Her marriage to Henry would have been invalid, but she did not and the King was informed that there was more to the story, that Katherine had a lover now. Unfortunately, this changed things and Katherine chose not to see her relationship with Dereham as that of husband and wife, although a church court may have seen it as such. Katherine’s age at the time of her relationship with Dereham was anything between 14 and 16 or even 17, 14 being the age of consent and womanhood, plus the sexual relationship between them before her marriage was consensual. Dereham courted her with gifts and they called each other husband and wife. Katherine knew that the relationship between them ended when he went to Ireland but the appointment to her household and his behaviour there gave the clear message that he hoped for a new relationship. Katherine probably did not and rejected him. Dereham under interrogation and possibly fear of torture dropped Culpeper and Katherine in the mire. Both Culpeper and Katherine denied sex, but their nocturnal meetings were highly dangerous and personality I believe that they were adulterous. However, there is no proper evidence to support this and it is uncertain that Katherine went as far as sexual intercourse or how far she was prepared to go. The question of adultery and guilt remains open.

  4. Esther says:

    I’m not sure any attempt at invalidating the marriage to Henry would have saved Catherine; after all, the invalidity of the Boleyn marriage didn’t save Anne. IMO, both women committed the same crime — making Henry look like a fool — which Henry thought deserved the death penalty. Catherine made it clear that Henry wasn’t a handsome Prince Charming any more — Henry’s vanity couldn’t stand that easily.. Anne also made him look silly — after all he did to make her his wife, she didn’t do any better than her predecessor (daughter and miscarriages).

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Hi Esther, the marriage to Anne Boleyn was invalidated after she was condemned to settle the succession issue, but at the time that any case for invalidating the marriage of Katherine Howard it was only known that she had pre marital sex before being Queen. You are quite right, once the revelation of the alleged crime of adultery and treason came out, there was nothing to save Katherine. This changed things and I think your point about Henry and his vanity are very valid and make a great point. Katherine made him feel young, now he knew he was not anymore.

      1. Esther says:

        Thanks. Henry’s vanity was a killer … no pun intended. As far as invalidating the marriage … I remember reading somewhere that some of the witnesses said that Catherine and Dereham referred to each other as “husband” or “wife”; there may have been a pre-contract or something.

    2. Noura says:

      Esther I’d just make one small comment. Not a criticism but maybe a clarification. I think it wasn’t so much that she had made Henry the man look a fool, as Henry the King. In his position anything that demeaned him or ridiculed or undermined him also put his dynasty, rulership and control at risk. I’m not saying he would have as a mere man disregarded being cuckolded but being a King made the offence much more serious. After all if she had been pregnant whose child would it have been? The King had to protect his bloodline. That was what his job description would have required. Also he didn’t sign her death warrant, it was stamped by his council as he was too distressed to be involved. Anne Boleyn was a different kettle of fish, much more deep, potent, sexy and clever, and not an old mans darling.

  5. In all honesty, I think Cranmer drew the “short straw” as he did confer with Thomas Audley and Edward Seymour before informing the King via the written note. I also do not believe His Grace’s reasons were solely him not having the heart to tell Henry personally, albeit that is exactly what he communicated. My impression instead is that decision resulted from his ever-cautious personality which served the man well as evidenced by his survival of Henry’s reign. When we visited The Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace I was literally overwhelmed with the spirits of Cranmer, Henry, Cromwell, Anne, Katherine, and so many of the people who filled the congregation. It was quite emotional, I admit freely.

  6. Maryann Pitman says:

    It is a pretty safe bet that Katherine would have been considered precontracted to Dereham.
    They referred to each other as husband and wife, the relationship was consummated.

    Whether Henry would have simply sent her away is another question. One suspects she would have been annulled, but confined as long as he lived, and that would have been the best outcome. Having been deceived, and humiliated, he would likely not have been magnanimous.

    The adultery was the coup de gras,but I am not sure the absence of that charge would have saved her life. She was never tried, but executed by attainder. It might have gone that way minus the adultery charge.

  7. Christine says:

    I find it very sad that John Lassells felt the need to impart this information to a higher authority and thus in doing so ruined an otherwise happy marriage and ended in another queen being executed, this one so young and rather ignorant to, Catherine when questioned panicked and rather foolishly denied a pre contract with Derham, she obviously wasn’t thinking properly and did not realise that she could have escaped with her life as upto then she wasn’t charged with treason, sadly she had no one to advise her and her family just threw her to the wolves and started to distance themselves from her, it was a terrifying time for her and yet we must find some room in our hearts for some sympathy for Henry to, she was his rose without a thorn and he had been so happy, he must have felt he would never find marital bliss then he met Catherine and after four marriages he thought he had found his true love, here was the one then suddenly his world began to fall apart as she was no better than a common trollop, (this is not what I think just what people must of perceived at the time), the act of attainder I feel was wrong as she had no way of defending herself nor Culpeper or Derham, she was incredibly foolish to meet in secret with Culpeper as that was just not acceptable behaviour for a queen and here I feel she was not wicked nor immoral just easily led and very naive, maybe she did love Culpeper he was said to be handsome and of course after Henry she would crave the company of people her own age, we cannot blame her for that, an eighteen year old girl would prefer a man her own age and the age gap was too big for the marriage to be successful, for one thing Henry was grossly overweight, in ill health with a badly ulcerated leg that would stink from time to time, he had to be wheeled around and had to be hoisted onto his horse, she could well have found him repulsive and found it a huge strain sleeping with him, in his later portraits he looks bloated with suspicious looking eyes that are like slits in his puffy jowly face, after her execution he sank into a deep depression from which I doubt he ever really recovered from.

    1. Charlene says:

      Remember that Catherine was associated with the Catholic faction, and Lascelles was a Protestant (and was eventually martyred for it – he died with Anne Askew). He felt the need to purge the court of Catholics.

      1. Christine says:

        Yes religion did play a major part in the downfall of Henry’s Queens, Anne Boleyn was loathed by the Catholics and Anne Of Cleves was chosen by Cromwell because he wanted an alliance with a Protestant country, when Catherine Howard married Henry her enemies (the anti Catholic faction) sought to bring her down, Henry’s court as Globerose puts it, was like a lions den it appears the higher your status the more dangerous your position was, I do feel very sorry for Catherine though, it’s an awful thing to kill a young woman, to execute one queen was shocking enough let alone two, but we cannot u derstand Henry’s mindset at the time.

      2. Claire says:

        Just a quick comment as I’m running out of the house, but there’s also the point that hiding something like that, particularly as Dereham was now in the Queen’s employ, could have been seen as misprision of treason.

  8. Globerose says:

    Good discussion today and interesting points. I have an impression of Catherine as a little pocket rocket, bubbling with laughter, a dare devil: and I wonder if you would agree that her kind of spirited energy would have maybe benefited from something like Anne’s French education. It might then have been channelled into courtly manners and mores, equipping her with the kind of survival skills she needed to enter Henry’s den of lions. Then, of course, you’ve got the growing religious schism ….. and Catherine’s skeletons are rattled by none other than a man so enthused with reformist zeal that he’ll be martyred for it. Henry’s failing health might also have added impetus to what and why people did what they did. do you think?

    1. Christine says:

      Yes had Catherine been sent to France she also may have acquired some French polish and learnt how to conduct herself like a great lady as the French did teach one manners and dignity to, the fact that it was the most licentious court in Europe did not matter that much, the fact was she would have known how to deal with the kind of bedroom politics of the age, the downfall of Catherine Howard was in part due to the non guidance she had in her youth, she lived in a big old house and consorted with the servants, the ladies in the household were only young like she was and they all appeared to have run wild, there was no guidance no firm upper hand telling them how to behave, what sort of conduct was right and wrong, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk was elderly and possibly thought the ladies in her care were well behaved and possibly did not care enough to investigate properly, Catherine could not be blamed for her childhood but after becoming queen she should have acted much more wiser, especially after Anne Boleyns sorry end, Henry was a very dangerous man to deceive.

  9. Globerose says:

    Thanks C (again!). Claire writes that AB’s mentor, Margaret of Austria Mechelen, “also enjoyed the tradition of courtly love, which was “an integral element in chivalry, the complex of attitudes and institutions which was crucial to the life of the Tudor court and elite.” and that the skills she (AB) learned in Mechelen, which were developed in France, probably made her “a not unworthy consort” for Henry VIII.
    Do I (half) recollect that Margaret wrote a ? pamphlet telling girls to be cautious of the advances of men? Hope I”m not making that up!
    Christine points out that Henry was a very dangerous man to deceive…. which she knew because didn’t she advise Culpepper not to confess because ‘Henry would then know”??

  10. Jane says:

    Just being a bit pedantic, about All Souls – I don’t understand it as being about forgotten souls. These days we pray that the “souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace and rise in glory”. Certainly the people prayed for by name in my church, including my own parents, had all had Requiem Masses and many of them had received Extreme Unction prior to death. (My Mum did, Dad didn’t because he died suddenly and unexpectedly)

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Jane,
      It was designed as a day to pray for all souls, including those who had nobody to pray or say masses for their souls in purgatory, those who were forgotten. In the liturgy, it is “the commemoration for all the faithful departed” so family members etc. are named and remembered, but “all souls” are also prayed for, to make sure that everyone is prayed for. That’s my understanding from what I’ve read, although I’m not a Catholic.

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