Tower of London by Paudie Kennelly

Following on from her wonderful article Katherine Howard, the Duchess and Norfolk House two weeks ago, Marilyn Roberts has written a second article giving an update on the Howard family in December 1541…

470 Years Ago – Terror for the Howards at Christmas

by Marilyn Roberts

A great deal has happened to the Howards and their co-accused since we left them the first week in December, when the aged Dowager Duchess was so confused and frightened that “… she hath so meshed and tangled herself that … it will be hard for her to wind out again.”

6th December 1541

After more torture Davenport remembers Dereham telling him that when King Henry took a fancy to Katherine he, Dereham, accepted he had to let her go, but had added if Henry were dead “I am sure I might marry her.”

The old Duchess, questioned all day, is still denying having “any suspicion of evil” between her step-granddaughter and any gentlemen employed at Norfolk House, but evidence from other witnesses suggests she knew Katherine was closer to a young man of the household than she should have been, but they all agree that the girl had been chastised for her misbehaviour.

7th-8th December 1541

The questioning and torture continue, but already the Council claims to have enough ammunition to convict the accused of misprision (concealment) of treason, which involves the loss of all belongings, life imprisonment and, frequently, the death penalty.

8th December 1541

After reading more reports from the interrogators, Henry VIII gives the go-ahead to commit the old Duchess of Norfolk, her daughter the Countess of Bridgewater, her son Lord William Howard and members of her household to the Tower for misprision of treason; their houses and goods to be put in safe custody. If Dereham can tell no more, he and Culpeper are to be told to “prepare their souls” prior to execution.

9th December 1541

The Duchess, still detained at the Lord Chancellor’s house and probably only able to guess at what is happening on the outside, is to be examined as to where her money and treasure are, at which point she must surely understand all too clearly the extreme gravity of her situation and what the charges against her are going to be. If she dies of shock before she is indicted her goods will not be forfeit, so her examiners think they need to get a move on and charge her formally.

10th December 1541

Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham are executed at Tyburn, near to where Marble Arch now stands. Unlike Culpeper, his social superior and a onetime trusted servant of the King who is allowed simple beheading, the more humble Dereham suffers the full horrors of hanging, being cut down while still living, castration, his entrails drawn out and his body hacked into quarters.

The decision is taken that the households in Lambeth and Horsham be shut down. Wriothesley and Pollard are to start the inventory of the Duchess’s goods.

Norfolk House
© M. Roberts

Surviving images and fairly recent excavation reports appear to indicate that Norfolk House would have been something like this. The long window right of centre is in a small gallery, possibly like ‘the little gallery’ where Dereham and the other naughty boys hid when Duchess Agnes was on the prowl.

11th December 1541

The first of several large amounts of money (worth hundreds of thousands of pounds today) is found at Norfolk House.
The “old lady of Norfolk” is committed to the Tower accused of misprision of treason; the King is to be informed that her interrogators will do their best to get her to confess to the things testified against her and “cough out” more. She reveals she has a further £1000 (£370,000) hidden at Norfolk House.

13th December 1541

The old lady’s grandchildren who lived with her are to be sent to Lady Oxford, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Durham. Sir Thomas Wriothesley is to be made responsible for Norfolk House.

20th December 1541

The Duchess, found by Wriothesley and the Earl of Southampton ill on her bed in the Tower “and apparently very sickly” begs the King’s forgiveness for not having disclosed what she knew of her step-granddaughter’s affairs before the marriage and confesses to having a further £800 hidden at Norfolk House. She is sobbing, and on her knees begs them to ask the King not to give away her house at Lambeth.

21st December 1541

So much in money and valuables has been confiscated from Norfolk House (by now the equivalent of millions of pounds today) that Wriothesley is extremely anxious and “would sleep better” if someone else could be assigned responsibility for its safe-keeping, even though it has been sealed in bags and boxes and moved to Westminster Palace.

22nd December 1541

The accused, except the Dowager Duchess herself and her daughter Lady Bridgewater, are arraigned for and found guilty of, misprision of treason. The Council think the King should know that the convicted women are in such a state that the lord privy seal and Wriothesley intend to visit the next day to “… give them some further hope and cause Mr. Lieutenant to give them some liberty [within the Tower] and let honest friends visit them.”

They must be in a very bad way for a hard man like Wriothesley to be moved. However, the reply shows there will be no mercy yet, for late that night Sir Ralph Sadler writes back to the Council in London that the King will not allow it.

The aged Duchess is to be left to sweat it out in the Tower over Christmas and it looks as though her fate will be decided, along with that of her daughter Lady Bridgewater and her step-granddaughter Queen Katherine, who is still being held at Syon near Hampton Court, when the new parliament convenes mid-January.

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22 thoughts on “470 Years Ago – Terror for the Howards at Christmas”
  1. Wow, I have never seen this much information on what happened to the other members of the Howard family, only vague hints that the family lost a lot.

    Of course, considering they neglected Kathryn, at least until she caught Henry’s eye, threw her, completely unprepared into the wolves’ den at court, maligned her as a prostitute when her past caught up with her, and abandoned a naive young girl to face death alone, my ability to feel anything resembling sympathy for the rest of the Howards is pretty much non-existent.

  2. This was a very interesting article….so much I did not know and questions were, therefore, answered for me….for instance, that Culpeper and Dereham were executed near Marble Arch today…..All this happening near the day we are about to celebrate. Thank you for sharing…..

  3. Bloody hell. I’ve read these stories, but hearing the actions (and the very profitable results) summarized casts an even brighter, chillier light on them. And I thought some of our U.S. politicians and CEOs were thugs.

    1. What makes it even worse is that those being questioned would have no lawyer present, would not know of what they were accused and were guilty until proven innocent – and in these circumstances there was fat chance of that!

    2. Melanie and Marilyn R – yes. You’ve both said it brilliantly. The phrase that further chilled me was the description of how the higher-born Culpepper was simply beheaded, while Dereham, whose only additional crime was, apparently, a lack of family money, was punished in a way that beggars belief. It turns my stomach to think of it.

  4. The Duchess certainly paid the price for having any involvement with Catherine Howard. Making Henry look foolish was not a good idea, both financially and for your own health. I do not think her household was as lax as shown on “The Tudors” but probably could have used more supervision. But that is having 20/20 hindsight. Maybe she was just taking care of her young charges like anyone else did at the time. She just had the misfortune of one of them becoming the queen of England.

  5. I think the old Lady was often outwitted by her charges so they could do as they pleased and it wasn’t so much a lack of caring but of not knowing how to control such a group. It’s the Howard me who had the power and I don’t recall any evidenc the Duchess pushed Katherine into Henry’s arms and please correct me if I’m wrong.

  6. All I’m saying is how lucky we were born into this time LOL! Not saying I don’t find history fun and exciting!!!! Just to live in fear over little things that will cost your life… at that time they were big things!! I’m very lucky to be born in the century that’s what I mean by saying that. I feel bad for what happened to the howard family and to catherine it’s a horrible an unfortunate incident. I believe a when catherine had affairs with them I’d doubt in her mind at the time she 1 day will be Queen of England. Also I would like to thank you claire for this wonderful article in information that I never knew thank you. I wish you a merry and happy days christmas.

  7. Thank you to everyone for the comments, which are much-appreciated and will encourage me to see the book through to its conclusion which, I hope, is now only days away.

    I don’t believe Katherine was neglected in the Duchess’s household: her life there would be like that of most young people boarding with relatives in any great house, which was the norm at this time as most young aristocrats were not brought up in their own homes. Katherine had not just been dumped with the Duchess when her mother died and would be acting as a sort of semi-servant, as would the rest of the borders, in order to learn how to run a great household, which was what they were all there for.

    She also had free time, and the fact that in her confession she talks of giving Dereham money to get artificial flowers made for her and to buy some good quality material for her new clothes and hats gives the lie to the myth she was being used a sort of Cinderella-type drudge. After looking at the documents of the time, and the fact that there was no whisper of scandal about the Duchess’s methods BEFORE Katherine’s disgrace, I have come to the conclusion that the old lady was actually a rather good guardian. She had chastised the girl many times over her behaviour, and nobody giving evidence sought to deny this. She has been greatly maligned over the centuries and the mud has stuck. As I’m sure Claire would agree, to get the bigger picture we really do need to go back to the original sources. I have been doing this research for a number of years and think that Lisaannejane, in her last two sentences, has it in a nutshell, “Maybe she was just taking care of her young charges like anyone else did at the time. She just had the misfortune of one of them becoming the queen of England.”

    To my mind the room mates are the ones who let Katherine down, some of them equally guilty of fooling around with the bad lads, but not, of course, suddenly finding themselves the wives of Henry VIII. The confessions of the men involved with Katherine – Manox, Dereham and Culpeper – sealed her fate. Waldgrave, who testified against Duchess Agnes, and Davenport, both very familiar with the geography of the Maidens’ Chamber, are the ones who should be reviled for betraying their friends; even those men questioning Davenport thought he was a nasty piece of work.

  8. How horrible for that poor old lady to see her whole world fall before her eyes, to watch as those men stripped her houses of their wealth and members of her family be put in mortal danger, and to have to suffer the waiting to hear her and her familys’ fate until parliment re-convened in January, it is a wonder it didn’t finish her off. Was she placed in apartments entitled by her rank, or was it the cold, damp cells/rooms? not the place for an elderly woman to contend with…
    Was there some blind-eye turning, I think so, power and wealth was a great insentive in those days, and although I don’t think the Duchess should take the all of the blame, there could be partial blame placed there, she had often chastised her and knew of some her behaviour, and of the men/room- mates around her that were encouraging it, I am sure she would have heard gossip, if not seen with her own eyes so why was the element that was leading Catherine astray not removed, or keep her at closer quarters. It could be that the Duchess was getting to old or forgetful to keep her house up to stratch, it was a hugh responsibility for an old lady
    . As Catherine was her charge she was going to be held responsible in some form what ever she knew or not, and after what happened to Anne I would have thought that the family would have made sure that there was no scandal attached to Catherine, whose behaviour after her marriage brought it all out quicker, when they knew that the King would not just bring down the Queen but those around her especially her family. To me it is as I said earlier, that power and wealth overcome common sense which was the way of those times,no risk too great, no life too precious in the sacrifice of these things. But it was still a harsh and cruel way to treat an old lady and did not deserve such treatment.

  9. Too bad. However, I don’t think any people then were particularly shocked by the Duchess’ treatment. It’s all part of our time and us , with 21st century sensibilities which value life much more than those of the sixteenth, when life was so cheap. Not to say that they did deserve such treatment but by 16th century standards they did. Case in point, it’s part of how history influences history. Maybe in a 100 years everyone will go around on hover cars and say that Gaddafi doesn’t deserve what he got.

  10. Hi!

    Thanks for your very interesting articles about the Howard family. I like reading history described day by day, like your article. I think it makes history more alive. I just wonder, will there be a third article about the Duchess, her family and Norfolk House?

    1. Pleased you have found it interesting. If Claire is willing there will be two more shorter pieces in the Howards’ story. As of now 470 years ago the old Duchess and the rest are still languishing in the Tower, with little or no no idea of what is happening in the outside world, while Katherine herself is still being held at Syon not far from Hampton Court. The Bill of Attainder will not be introduced into parliament until the middle of the month and will have the customary three ‘readings’ before it passes into law and becomes an Act of Parliament, all of which takes almost a month.

  11. I’m a little late here, I see. I have always had some pity for Katherine Howard, though from my perspective I thought it quite suicidal to cheat on your royal husband! From the little I have read-and I am no expert here-I am under the impression that she was just a child when Manox had his “relationship” with her, and wasn’t Culpepper a murdering rapist? She made a good death though. Is there a new book on the subject in the works? Please let me know, I would be very interested.

  12. The old Dowager Duchess may have chastised Katherine for her behaviour and so she should; but I bet she wished that she had taken more notice of what she was up to all the time that the girls were in her care. However, even if the Duchess did know some of what Katherine was up to, she could be excused for not revealling it to the King, as it could expected that now that Katherine was going to be married, especially as she knew what was expected of her as Queen; would conduct herself correctly and be faithful; so the Duchess did not see any need to inform the council of that alleged behaviour. Katherine would have had enough teaching to know what was expected of a wife and she certainly put on a good show in public at least. She was also a Catholic lady from a traditional Catholic home; she would be aware of the need to be faithful within marriage; she did not need a great deal of teaching to understand that. The Duchess probably believed she had done her best by her grand-daughter and that the girl had learnt from her past mistakes. Rumours and gossip about her former lovers could be quashed if needed; they did not in their eyes need to make the King or council aware of them; as long as Katherine was a good and faithful wife.

    Hindsight and terror made the need to regret not telling such stuff to the council an urgent reality. Of course the poor Duchess would say that she should have informed anything that she knew as she was now being threatened with concealing treason. That is was only an act of attainer that made Katherine’s adultery in marriage a crime; before 1542 it was not so; did not matter to the bullies asking the questions; they were trying to find out as much as they could about the life of Katherine, her lovers and what the household knew before Katherine was married to Henry. In other words; was Katherine free to marry the King and was she worthy to marry the King, did the Duchess know anything, did she sanction the behaviour or punish it and did she act to stop repeats of it? Did she do anything to conceal all this if she or others did know? I think, however, that the council and interrogators were more interested in the families wealth as they could take this if they were attainted for treason. The questions went on and on for days about jewels, hidden sums of money, family treasure and wealth from all sources. It is no wonder that she collapsed with fear, stress, shock and general ill health. I do not know if at 64 she was frail or not, but she was ill during all of this, and the stress of this would have made any illness worse. Stress and shock and fear and anxiety bring on ill health and as we know today people can have very bad panic attacks that can almost seem as a heart attack. Did the old Duchess have a weak heart? The lady had been through a lot and with the arrest of her grand-daughter and all other members of the family and the household, attainments followed which could mean imprisonment or death, depending on if they were carried out or not; they could also be revoked. And aged 64 she was not a young woman; so her health may not have been as good in any event. Either way; we are told that she was ill and that the questioning made things worse for her.

    Thankfully, most of the family members would be released during the following year; the climate around the Katherine Howard affair having calmed down. I would guess that having gotten what they wanted out of the family and the King no longer being in the terrible mood that he must have been; together with the punishment of the main offenders. the state decided that they had taken the thing far enough. No longer seen as hiding anything or as a threat; things having blown over and the passage of time; it must have been seen that they could now be released. One can only guess. Had they still be seen as a danger, however, well things may have been a lot worse. It was only that the Duke wrote a grovelling letter condemning his niece and the family and their alleged crimes that he was able to escape, relatively in tact, even if his reputation was not. Katherine and her alleged lovers were not so lucky; their deaths paid not only for their own alleged crimes and sins, but for the imagined ones of the family as well. At least that is what I think.

  13. I have a question ,while reading above about most if not all the howards being rounded up and packed into the tower to await interrogation and god knows what else ,how come that when anne Boleyn was arrested ,none of her kin ie Thomas Boleyn for one,was not taken in as well for the said questioning and other Boleyn relatives ,I don’t understand this.

    1. It was because the Howard were seen to have covered up Catherine’s past relationship with Dereham because they knew about it. Whereas Thomas Boleyn was not seen as having knowledge about Anne’s alleged infidelities, they did not take place in his home. Members of the Howard and Tilney family, plus their staff, were indicted for misprision of treason for covering up the “unlawful, carnal, voluptuous, and licentious life” of Queen Catherine Howard while she lived with the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk at Lambeth. It wasn’t to do with Culpeper, it was to do with Catherine’s earlier life at Lambeth.

  14. I think it was very unfair that Dereham was hung drawn and quartered and Culpeper was just beheaded just because he was of noble birth, I know class distinction has always been here in England but Dereham was involved with Catherine when they were both single so he was really not guilty of betraying the King and they were pledged to marry one another, Culpeper on the other hand showed gross betrayal as he was Groom of the Stool which was an exalted position as well as being Henrys personal friend, in my book he was the more guilty of the two and he was a rapist as well from what iv heard so his behaviour wasn’t very ‘Noble’ to say the least, it just goes to show that things have a way of coming out it could all have been avoided had the Duke of Norfolk told Henry she had run a bit wild in her youth and left him to make up his own mind about her, but he was so puffed up with his ambition to have a Howard on the throne he never thought of the consequences.

  15. Henry was a psychopath. If the poor duchess had told him or his councillors if Katherine’s past she may have been thrown in the tower then. Henry used the law to get his way whatever his current whim was and tortured people to get the “evidence” so anything said by anyone is totally unreliable as your torturers have preordained what “evidence” they will get from you

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