1 December – A Catholic priest was tortured then executed and Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham were found guilty of high treason

On this day in Tudor history, 1st December 1581, twenty-five-year-old Roman Catholic priest Alexander Briant was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, along with Ralph Sherwin and Edmund Campion.

Briant had been imprisoned, starved, racked and tortured in other awful ways, but he claimed that he felt no pain due to God’s help. He refused to give his interrogators the information he wanted, and he was tried for treason and suffered a full traitor’s death.

In this talk, I share Alexander Briant’s story, what led to his arrest, his account of what happened when he was tortured and his fellow prisoner’s account of what was done to him.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 1st December 1541, Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham were tried for high treason at Guildhall, London.

Both men had been linked romantically with Queen Catherine Howard. They were both found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

But what about Catherine Howard and her lady, Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, who had also been arrested. What was happening with them?

Find out more about them, and the trial of Dereham and Culpeper in this video…

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3 thoughts on “1 December – A Catholic priest was tortured then executed and Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham were found guilty of high treason”
  1. This was some show trial and Henry was obviously keen to advertise that no funny business was going on by inviting the foreign Ambassadors etc.. I am not certain if that was protocol as Chapuys commented on the trial of Anne Boleyn as if he was there or just good manners or something important here.

    What is important is that we have two very similar and very complete contemporary accounts from people on the spot. We can see the gathering of the Council, the Court and the foreign representatives. Both Culpepper and Dereham have now changed their pleas to guilty and will be found so. There is no evidence that the trial was rigged but few ended in a not guilty verdict.

    Henry had the final say on the fate of these two men and of the two women. However, both men where initially sentenced to death by the traditional method, hanging, drawing and quartering. The sentence went back to the Middle Ages but is much older in origin and it was dreadful. Henry did, to be fair, mostly honor the custom to commute the full sentence for gentlemen but here he left it in tact for Francis Dereham.

  2. Henry was truly shocked by the news that Kathryn had a sex life as she grew into a woman, before his marriage to her and even more when the news of her betrayal was given to him at a Council meeting. Now some people, normally people with much appreciation of history like to claim Henry Viii was not capable of love or feeling. Either that or they try to overly analyse his personality. I am very sceptical of the later and totally dismiss the former. Nobody can analyse someone from the past, the dead cannot tell you about their mind, especially those from 500 years ago, although a profile of someone might be possible. Also, we have evidence which proves Henry was capable of extremely strong emotions, both negatively and lovingly.

    First is a painting from when he was ten years old, exploring the life and death of his mother, Elizabeth of York. It shows Prince Henry kneeling at her bedside, his face buried in his arms, crying, in one tiny corner and he wrote six years later at the death of his friend, Prince Philip of Austria, the husband of Juana of Castile, sister of Catalina of Aragon, that no death had so affected him since the loss of his dear mother. Henry was close to his mother and here we find the lose of her and someone else he looked up to devastating him. Henry was probably insecure as an individual and made up for this with his risk taking and his confidence as a sportsman, especially the joust and tennis. Another evidence of Henry’s ability to love was his 18 love letters to Anne Boleyn, a love which turned to passionate hate and I doubt anyone without any feelings could turn so violently against a woman he loved for seven to nine years. Many will say Henry only loved Henry and there is some truth in that, but it may have been all for show. Henry often sulked. That’s another sign of emotion and deep insecurities, self pity and self indulgence. Because Henry danced at his brothers wedding when he was ten, its oh , Henry was a show off. Yes, he was, so are most ten year old boys, especially ones with older brothers who are a little starved of attention. Henry’s sudden bouts of anger are the result of deep emotional rage. His behaviour, like a spoilt child is also evidence of strong emotional bonds and dependency. Henry was devastated by the loss of Jane Seymour, the one bright light in his increasingly darkening world. He was deeply hurt by betrayal. He was deeply hurt when he realised the truth about the woman he thought was actually perfect, Kathryn Howard. He sat and wept in front of his Council, something deeply embarrassing I should think. He actually broke down and whether his tears where for his sudden reality or for himself, his despair was real. One source says this was replaced by anger and he threatened to kill her himself, but this may be unreliable. Henry was genuinely a joy to be around as a young man. He was romantic and charming and naturally attractive. He could put his whole heart and soul into a relationship. He wrote ballads and songs and dressed up. Even as an older man he still dressed up, which was a disaster for his fourth marriage. Henry at times still acted as a fool or just for fun, even as he entered his final years. His behaviour was bizarre at times. There are public displays of emotion, written throughout the history of Henry Viii and this one was the most devastating events in his life.

    Henry had a full and proper investigation into the allegations against young Kathryn before any arrests where made and the interrogations took time. When the name of Culpeper came up, it must have hurt Henry deeply because this man in his thirties had served him for some time in an intimate manner and helped to dress and undress him every night. He looked on Thomas Culpeper as a son and was fond of him. In Young and Damned and Fair expert Gareth Russell believed Kathryn may not have actually had sexual relations with Culpeper but it seems that the couple may have had a long-term plan to marry. It wasn’t unfeasible at the end of the day that a young Queen might marry again or even plan such an event before her husband died. This was exactly how Katherine Parr behaved and Catherine de Valois. The latter did not marry a man who was seeing her during her husband’s life time but Thomas Seymour had courted Katherine Parr before Henry let his suit be known. Henry sent him abroad to get him out of the way. Thomas and K P did, however, marry less than six months of Henry’s death. Neither Culpeper or Kathryn admitted any sexual or physical activity other than holding hands and kissing. Both did, however, say that they had wanted to go further and it’s definitely the case that they imagined the King’s death through such a statement. I think they did have a sexual relationship because they met on several occasions late at night, on a few occasions, without supervision, in secret and in many places, sought out in the first place. Only Jane, Lady Rochford was allowed to attend Kathryn on most nights as she was privy to her midnight meetings. Culpeper had been her lover before her marriage and he was given many gifts and love letters by her. He wasn’t beyond seeking the King’s wife.

    Henry chose to commute the terrible sentence in the case of Thomas Culpeper who was beheaded at Tyburn rather than being hanged drawn and quartered on 10th December 1541.

  3. Francis Dereham is a strange one because most people say he wasn’t her lover after Kathryn became Queen. Well, he wasn’t actually charged with being her lover. He was charged with intending to be her lover, which is a presumption of treason. This Dereham was just a bit older than Kathryn, maybe a few years and she was his lover when she was about fifteen. This sounds very young to be sexually active and indeed it was but it was also over the age of consent. In many travellers communities today 15 is still the age of consent and marriage may take place not much older than that in States where it is legal to do so. Before anyone gasps we must remember that in Britain the age of consent was only raised to 16 in 1885. For a period of time up to 2000, the age of consent for homosexual men and women remained at 21 and in 1975 the age of consent in Northern Ireland was raised to 17 but soon reverted to the rest of the UK.

    Kathryn was one of a number of young ladies of similar status and age living under the care and supervision of her step grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk who shared a large dormitory called the Maidens Chamber and she wasn’t neglected in any way, nor was this some kinda brothel. It was normal for young gentlemen and gentle women to be raised in this fashion, regardless of whether or not they had parents and there is no indication that Kathryn missed out in any way. On the contrary Kathryn was the highest status person in the household after her benefactor. She was privileged in a number of ways, for one thing the room had expensive beds for every girl there. She had servants, tutors, especially two music teachers, she learned to run a large household and she was as carefree as most young people are. She had lost her parents when she was young and her Uncle, Thomas Howard took on the responsibility for her education. As the head of her household he secured her a place at Court in 1539 to serve Queen Anne of Cleves, Henry’s 4th wife.

    Francis Dereham had served in this former household and he became attracted to Kathryn who was flattered by his attentions. He wasn’t the only young man in the household and the sexes were strictly segregated but the key was left in a place accessible and retrieved by the girls every evening. Francis and others, including Richard Redgrave, came to the dorm with fruit and wine and sweetmeats. The bedroom parties went on into the night, often ending for some in sexual activity. Kathryn later lied that Dereham raped her and the testimony of her dorm mates and Francis and in fact her own confessions in other places discredit this claim. Her confession tells us that Francis gave her gifts, he courted her and the confessions of the others present say that Francis and Kathryn took part in consensual sex almost every night. Francis and Kathryn exchanged vows of love and commitment which might be taken as evidence that they were in fact married or promised to marry. Such a promise followed by sex was legal under canon law, but there are signs that Kathryn didn’t take this seriously and her family wouldn’t have contemplated such a thing. There were ways to dissolve such a matter, although a Canon Law Court might hold the union valid. Her fellow housemates warned Francis off, the Duchess warned him off, Kathryn herself tried to make light but a row ensued in the household and Francis went to Ireland. It’s not entirely certain but it was later claimed that Kathryn ended their relationship before he went there. When he returned, Kathryn had already moved into her new position in Court.

    There is no doubt that Francis Dereham was going to be trouble for Kathryn. He did see their exchange of marriage promises and tokens as a promise to marry and in fact he saw Kathryn as his, in every sense of the word. He may or may not have blackmailed Kathryn but he could have used their former relationship to develop a hold over her. It was Dereham who claimed that they called each other man and wife and he saw her as such, this was in his confession as was the fact that they had sex on several occasions before he left for Ireland. Dereham intended to follow Kathryn, most likely with some form of idea that he could claim her, although in reality he must have known that was impossible as she was married to the King. He was introduced to Kathryn ‘s household with a letter of recommendation from the Dowager Duchess and Kathryn was obliged to find him a living. His role is totally ambiguous. Kathryn had two female secretaries and enough grooms and ushers and so its not really certain what his role was. This role is often described as Secretary in dramatic fictions but in truth this was unlikely. There is a clue in the word and Francis Dereham wasn’t the man to keep the Royal secrets.

    During the Royal Progress of June 1541_onwards, Dereham made his unholy and unwelcome appearance and Kathryn was forced to put up with him. He was a cad. He swore a lot so would do well in most dramas today, his manners were atrocious, he was a loud bully and made rude comments about Kathryn, even claiming he knew her in her former life and he had fights with her male staff. He made threats and it was very clear that Kathryn didn’t want anything to do with him. Francis was making life difficult for Kathryn and she did meet him a few times to pacify him, with an escort. Francis under interrogation confessed to his former love affair with her and he saw himself as her common law husband. Under pressure to say if he was still her lover, however, he said no as he had been replaced by a new lover, Thomas Culpeper. It was then that Culpeper was questioned and things became worse as accusations and counter accusations flew around. Both Dereham and Culpeper, as always with such charming men, both blamed Kathryn and everything was then blamed on Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford who arranged the meetings in the first place at Kathryn’s command. More women were questioned and although they knew few details, the meetings with Culpeper and the Queen not being in bed and odd comings and goings where confirmed. It was determined that Francis had come to Court with the intention of carrying on his affair with Kathryn and that she had despised her marriage in order to have this affair with him. There is very little evidence that Kathryn and Dereham did become lovers again but presuming that they had was enough to try and condemn them.

    Francis as we know was to suffer the full weight of the law for treason because as Henry said he had spoiled Kathryn and made her impure for her wedding. This was typical of the double standards of the day. A young man may spread his wild oats but it was essential that a young woman be a virgin on her wedding day and Henry Viii made it treason for any future wife to lie about her virginity and to declare that they were, unless married previously. One guesses that they had to declare themselves faithful and chaste in that case. On 10th December 1541 Frances Dereham was drawn on the floor behind horses to Tyburn Hill, now Marble Arch in London, outside the city to the gibbet and then hanged until not quite dead, cut down alive and his belly was sliced open. His innards and his private parts were drawn out and his bowels removed. They were then burned before his eyes and finally his heart was removed and his head was cut off. His body was quartered and placed about the city. On the same day, Thomas Culpeper was also drawn to Tyburn but was spared the butchers knife. He was beheaded instead.

    As for the women, things were very different. For now, they were spared the horrors of execution. Kathryn had at first been confined to her apartments and an investigation was launched into her former life. However, she wasn’t saying anything at first and it took two visits from Thomas Cramner, the Archbishop of Canterbury to get the frightened young woman to open up. Kathryn was very careful to speak only about her former life and answer specific questions. She did give us a very detailed report of life in the household of the Dowager Duchess and of several men in her life. She talked of Henry Mannox her former music teacher whose name had come up and admitted he had touched her intimately and wanted her to please him more. She had more than one meeting with him and its hard to know how old she was, just that she was very young, perhaps only 13 or so. He was caught in an inappropriate embrace with Kathryn and chastised and dismissed. His relationship was inappropriate and some people say we should call it abuse and there is certainly an argument for grooming. Mannox was judged not to be still involved with Kathryn and was dismissed without charge.

    Another man was one Richard Davenport but he appeared not to have been involved with Kathryn but gave information about the other men. Francis Dereham mentioned Thomas Culpeper and the investigation moved up a geer. Things had become much more serious for Kathryn as now this was a man in the King’s intimate service who was accused of having an affair with Kathryn as the King’s wife. Henry had her confined and left the palace. She was now more closely examined and moved to Syon House. Both parties denied sexual contact and blamed Jane Boleyn. That Lady was taken to the Tower but denied being the instigator and blamed Kathryn. She gave details of the meetings and said she had escorted the Queen but saw nothing. She did, however, hear inappropriate noises as did others. Jane collapsed under the strain and was removed to the home of Lord and Lady Russell to be nursed back to health. It emerged that several meetings with Culpeper had taken place on the progress in Pontefract Castle, York, in Lincolnshire, etc etc as well as back in London before and afterwards. Jane suffered a mental breakdown but Henry had Parliament put through a new law to allow the execution of people with mental illness to be executed for treason. Jane was nursed back to health and returned to the Tower. As in the video an Act of Attainder was passed to condemn Jane and Kathryn in January 1542 and both ladies where beheaded cleanly and with dignity on Tower Green on 13th February 1542. Romantic nonsense had Kathryn say that she would rather die the wife of Culpeper than be Queen of England. That was not the case. Several accounts deny this and one by an independent visitor said she died well, repentant and with the normal convention. Jane also died with as much dignity and very few words as possible.

    The Howard persecution did not end at the accused parties. Kathyrn’s entire family where dragged in and questioned. They were locked up in the Tower for several months. The D D of Norfolk was questioned several times but sent back as she was ill. Her daughter and daughter in law where arrested and questioned, cousins, brothers, sisters, servants etc etc, all but the Duke himself where locked up. Norfolk wrote a grovelling letter and was pardoned and merely banished for a time. The others appeared in batches accused of misprisen of treason, that is knowing that Kathryn wasn’t pure and hiding the fact and thus putting her marriage to the King in jeapardy along with any future children. Some were also suspected of knowing about her affairs but that was not proven. They were found guilty and sentenced to perpetual imprisonment. Henry had already decided to be merciful and some where released at the end of December. Others, the DD included, where held until the following May when they were pardoned. It was a frightening ordeal for everyone concerned as misprison could lead to the death sentence.

    The Act of Attainder was actually reversed by Queen Mary because Henry Viii had not signed it. He was actually in a bit of a state himself having been shocked and upset by this alleged betrayal by a woman he genuinely seems to have cared for and treated well. He was mostly withdrawn from the Court at Nonsuch Palace. Mary also reversed the act to allow mentally ill people to be executed for treason.

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