8 November 1541 – Catherine Howard Confesses to Archbishop Cranmer

Catherine HowardAfter abandoning the idea of interrogating the hysterical Queen Catherine Howard on 7th November, Archbishop Cranmer returned to the Queen’s apartments at Hampton Court Palace on 8th November 1541 to interrogate her.

Cranmer reported to Henry VIII that he had intended to question her severely, “first, to exaggerate the grievousness of her demerits; then to declare unto her the justice of your grace’s laws, and what she ought to suffer by the same”, but that she was in such a state that “the recital of your grace’s laws, with the aggravation of her offences, might peradventure have driven her unto some dangerous ecstasy, and else into a very frenzy.” He therefore changed tactics and treated her more gently.

Cranmer reported that after Catherine had recovered from a sobbing fit, she told him:

“Alas, my lord, that I am alive! the fear of death grieved me not so much before, as doth now the remembrance of the king s goodness: for when I remember how gracious and loving a prince I had, I cannot but sorrow; but this sudden mercy, and more than I could have looked for, shewed unto me, so unworthy, at this time, maketh mine offences to appear before mine eyes much more heinous than they did before: and the more I consider the greatness of his mercy, the more I do sorrow in my heart that I should so misorder myself against his majesty.”

She went on to make a written confession, a copy of which can be found in Volume IV of The History of the Reformation of the Church of England by Gilbert Burnet – click here to read it. Here is a snippet concerning Francis Dereham:

“Examined whether I called him Husband, and he me Wife.— I do Answer, that there was Communication in the House that we Two should Marry together; and some of his Enemies had Envy thereat, wherefore he desired me to give him Leave to call me Wife, and that I would call him Husband. And I said I was content. And so after that, commonly he called me VVife, and many times I called him Husband. And he used many Times to Kiss me, and so he did to many other commonly in the House… As for Carnall Knowledge, I confess as I did before, that diverse Times he hath lyen with me, sometimes in his Doublet and Hose, and Two or Thre Times naked: But not so naked that he bad nothing upon him, for he had al wayes at the least his Doublet, and as I do think, his Hose also, but I mean naked when his Hose were putt down. And diverse Times he would bring Wine, Strawberryes, Apples, and other Things to make good Chear, after my lady was gone to Bed.”

At the end of this confession, she also mentioned Culpeper:

“As for the Communication after his coming out of Ireland, is untrue. But as far as I remember, he then asked me, if I should be Married to Mr. Culpepper, for so he said he heard reported. Then I made Answer, What should you trouble me therewith, for you know I will not have you ; and if you heard such Report, you heard more than I do know.”

Catherine also wrote a letter of confession to her husband the King which can be read in The Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Bath Preserved at Longleat, Wiltshire, Volume II on pages 8 and 9 – click here:

“I your grace’s most sorrowful subject and most vyle wretche in the world not worthy to make any recomendacions unto your moste excellent majestye do oonely make my most humble submyssion and confession of my fawtz. And where no
cawse of mercye is gyven uppon my partie yet of your most accustomed mercy extended unto all other men undeserved most
humbly of my haundes and kneez do desire oon sparcle therof to be extended unto me although of all other creaturez most unwourthy eyther to be called your wyfe or subject. My sorowe I can by no wrytyng expresse neverthelesse I trust your most benygn nature will have some respect unto my youthe my ignorans my fraylnez my humble confession of my fawte and playne declaracion of the same referryng me holly mito your graces pitie and mercy. Fyrste at the flateryng and feire perswacions of Mannoke beyng bat a yong gyrle sufFred hym at soundry tymez to handle and towche the secrett partz of my body whiche neyther became me with honesty to permytt nor hym to requyre. Also Frauncez Derame by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose and obteyned first to lye uppon my bedde with his doblett and hose and after within the bedde and fynally he lay with me nakyd and used me in suche sorte as a man doith his wyfe many and sondry tymez but howe often I knowe not and our, company ended almost a yere before the Kynges majestye was maried to my lady Anne of Cleve and contynued not past oon quarter of a yere or litle above. Nowe the holl trouythe beyng declared unto your majestye I most humble beseche the same to considre the subtyll persuasions of young men and the ignorans and fraylnez of young women. I was so desierous to be taken unto your gracez favor and so blynded with the desier of wordly glorie that I cowde not nor had grace to considre how grett a fawte it was to conceyle my former fawtz from your majestic consideryng that I entended ever duryng my lyfe to be feithful and true unto your majestie after, and neverthlesse the sorowe of my oflensez was ever before myn eyez consideryng the infynyte goodnez of your majestye towardes me from tyme to tyme ever encressyng and not dymynysshyng. Nowe I referre the judgement of all myn offensez with my lyff and dethe holly unto your most benygne and mercjrfull grace to be considered by no justice of your majestiez lawez but onely by your infynyte goodnez pytie compassion and mercye without the whiche I knowledge myseliff worthy of most extreme punnysshement. —
Kateryn Howard”

Tip: Read it aloud and you’ll understand the old English.

Catherine Howard Letter to CulpeperA letter allegedly written by Catherine to Thomas Culpeper was used as evidence against them. You can see the letter in the picture and it is an interesting letter. Marilyn Roberts and Conor Byrne pointed out that it’s almost as if it’s written in two different hands, so we cannot be sure that it was not faked. Marilyn, who had done extensive research on the Howard family, commented:

“Katherine Howard’s letter is open to different interpretations and has been seen as she being so anxious to see Culpeper because she was afraid he was talking about her outside court, or that he had implied he was going to make trouble for her. Personally I don’t think so, as making trouble for her would surely have been risking his own neck as well. I wonder if she actually wrote it at all – it was very conveniently found when his house was searched…
I have always had reservations about the letter: as Conor says, it appears to be in two different hands, and without other examples of Katherine’s writing, how can we be sure it wasn’t a fake planted amongst Culpeper’s things? Again, when you actually read it, it’s a funny sort of love letter and, bearing in mind the flowery language of the times, I think we need to be careful. (One of my favourites is the letter from Katherine’s great-grandfather John Howard, Duke of Norfolk to John Paston just before Bosworth asking him to get some fighting men organised, when he signs off ‘Yower lover John Norffolk’. It’s the equivalent of ‘friend fighting on the same side’, but no doubt it will only be a matter of time before some bright spark comes up with the claim that the two were a gay couple!”

So, perhaps Catherine never wrote it or perhaps it has been twisted. We will never know.

You can see a larger image of the letter on The National Archives website, see https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/

Also on this day in history…

  • 1528 – Henry VIII made a public oration to “the nobility, judges and councillors and divers other persons” at Bridewell Palace to explain his troubled conscience regarding the lawfulness of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In this speech, the King explained that due to his worry that Mary was not his lawful daughter and that Catherine was not his lawful wife he had sent for a legate “to know the truth and to settle my conscience.” He went on to say “if it be adiudged by the law of God that she is my lawfull wife, there was neuer thyng more pleasaunt nor more acceptable to me in my lifebothe for the discharge & cleryng of my conscience & also for the good qualities and condicions the which I know to be in her” and “if I were to mary againe if the mariage might be good I would surely chose her aboue all other women”.
  • 1543 – Birth of Lettice Knollys, daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey, granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, and wife of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex; Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester; and Sir Christopher Blount. Lettice was also mother to Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex; Penelope Rich, Lady Rich; and Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland.

Notes and Sources

  • The History of the Reformation of the Church of England, Volume IV, by Gilbert Burnet, p505
  • The Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Bath Preserved at Longleat, Wiltshire Volume II, p8-9
  • Comments made by Marilyn Roberts on The Anne Boleyn Files website
  • Image of letter from Wikimedia Commons
  • Hall’s Chronicle, p754-755, Henry VIII’s speech on 8th November 1528

Related Post

19 thoughts on “8 November 1541 – Catherine Howard Confesses to Archbishop Cranmer”
  1. The confession in its fullest state is actually quite moving, if very revealling and intimate of her former lover affair with Francis Dereham. The fact that they called each other husband and wife and consented that they do so and had sexual relations, many times as she says, was enough in canon law to agree that they were husband and wife. This was enough to accept them as having married. I am surprised that Catherine did not get this and claim that she could not have been an adultress as she was married to Francis Dereham. He seemed to understand this was acceptable as a pre contract even if Catherine did not. She was pressed about a pre contract but did not believe such a contract ever existed between them. Did this mean that she did not fully understand what they were asking? Did Catherine think that no valid marriage or contract existed unless it was made formal as in a betrothal between her and a third party confirmed by their families, law and the church? The Catholic Church accepted that a couple if they agreed with each other and made vows or promised calling them wife and husband and then had sexual relations that they could be legally married. Francis Dereham seems to have indicated that he considered them to be true man and wife.

    Would Catherine and Dereham have continued to be lovers or to have gone through a more formal marriage or more formal vows that could not be denied or disolved so easily? It seems that when Dereham went to Ireland that Catherine moved on and considered that she was free to have more lovers or to marry anyone she chose or her family arranged for her. I think that Catherine had in her mind what was convenient for her and may-be she did not fully understand that had she claimed she was a married or promised woman that she would have saved her life and that of her lover. It seemed that the council wanted to save her as well, even if they did not want to save Dereham or any of her alleged lovers. Her youth and meaning to the King was being takne into consideration. I consider the attempts to save Catherine as remarkable considering that the members of the council had fractions and ambitions and many would have wanted to remove Catherine from the King as others had been keen to see her as Queen.

    However, as Catherine was keen and may-be afraid to admit that she was in her heart at least contracted or promised to Dereham, she would not have her marriage to Henry dissolved and then more evidence appeared in the letter above, that was accepted at the time as written by Catherine and she did not deny it. It was used to show that Catherine had been with Thomas Culpepper and had intended to commit adultery which in the Act of Attainer in December that followed was now made treason. Her conversations with Dereham were also used as evidence and that he had intended to have sex and imagined the Kings death used to convict all of them. It may have been a set uo; it may have been true that she did commit adultery, and the letter may be fake or not; it was accepted at the time; but had she been able to show that she had consented as the wife of Dereham may-be she could have got herself out of the mess she was in in the first place.

    What if?

    What if, indeed? Would it have saved her? I think it would have? Would it have saved her lovers? Of that I am not convinced.

  2. Well, that was enough to convince me that she was headed (no pun intended) for the block. Good Heavens, one wonders why she didn’t declare herself unfit for marriage to His Majesty. Surely marriage to a man old enough to be her grandfather, and with a leg ulcer :-0 to boot wasn’t THAT appealing to her? A girl can only lie back and think of England just so often . . .

    1. Agree with you Mary the Quene; I think her confession says it all. Although for a powerful family like the Howards marriage to an older man, especially the King for a noblewoman of thier House would not have seemed unusual, I agree, she was totally unsuitable for the King and should have spoken up. But if she was in the household of the Dowager Duchess and her marriage was moved along by her powrful Uncle the Duke of Norfolk may-be she was warned: keep quiet you silly girl and say nothing about your past: we will all benefit from this marriage and be undone if you do say anything/or you are marrying the King and will make yourself available and attractive to him and will come to accept him as your husband. Yes, he has a bad leg, but you will get over that as well. Dynastic and noble marriages were made more for the prestige and the unity of the families and land and power than for love or if they found the person attractive and they hoped some affection followed. The King must have had some good points, the way he treated her with kindness for example to commend him. She certainly should have spoken up, I agree: I just imagine the Howards saying the above if she did. She was not the only young woman of her age to marry a much older man and some worked out well. Mary Rose Tudor married Louis of France who was 55 and she 18 and was lucky that he died soon after so she could marry Charles Brandon and Brandon’s next wife when he was 49 was said to be about 14 or 15, although it is possible she was as old as 17. And look at some of the young girls today going out with much older men and may-be they marry them or sleep with them or they do not, and why; they are rich and also treat them as special. It is a shame but that is the way it is in such cases: the lady does not have much say; and the girls who do choose do so for purely selfish reasons.

      Silly, though not making more of the fact she was promised to Dereham.

  3. Would it have mattered if Catherine Howard had claimed she was married to Dereham? That Anne Boleyn’s marriage to Henry was invalidated didn’t stop Henry from executing Anne for adultery; why should it be different for Catherine?

    1. So true. Henry would never have accepted that argument. When he decided to be rid of Anne he was ruthless and Anne was far more important than the foolish child bride, Katherine. Her fate was sealed when Henry was made aware of her infidelity. Nothing could have saved her. She humiliated an old ailing obese husband who was also the King.

  4. Kathryn was in a no-win situation – either way, she was considered an adulteress, either for her affair with Culpepper, or her marriage to Henry, IF she and Dereham, by the traditions of the time, were considered married, thanks to consummation and calling each other “Husband” and “Wife.”

    Either she betrayed Dereham, her (possible) husband, or she was betraying Henry.

    Even if it had not been for her past (Dereham) catching up with her, AND whatever may have occurred between her and Culpepper, the example of Anne Boleyn PROVES that ANYONE could have manufactured evidence against Kathryn which “trapped” her in a crime whose punishment was death.

    The men do not escape any harsh criticism in this case, either.

    Thomas Culpepper had been at court for some time, though it is not really clear how long he served. He was a good friend of Henry’s for quite a while, and he had to know, at least to some degree, of the circumstances surrounding what happened to Anne Boleyn. What in the WORLD was he doing, flirting with Henry’s vulnerable young wife? Did he have a death wish, or was he just a Grade A idiot?

    Francis Dereham – a “Gentleman Pensioner” of the Duke of Norfolk, a term I don’t completely understand – what was he doing fooling about with a girl of MUCH higher birth than himself? A social climber, perhaps? There are so many “what ifs?” and “whys?” we will sadly never know.

    Of course, the Duke of Norfolk was SOO helpful to Anne AND Kathryn – “Accused of adultery, even though the charges sound like innuendo? Yikes, better cover my own butt, agree with the charges and let THEM die!”

    Then, we come to Henry – so much for the “Chivalrous Gentleman” defending his wife’s honor. I would not have entrusted him with a Barbie doll, let alone a marriageable young lady.

  5. I think Katherine had had it,whatever she had said. Henry did not like adultery,unless it was his own. A Queen had to beyond reproach,and by her own admission,she wa far from that. I do find the confesion and letter to Henry strangely moving, in them Isee a very naive young girl,who had probably been duped and used many t imes by older unscruplous people.I find her obsesion with whether Dereham was clothed or not quite telling, reminds me of my mother telling me that you couldnt have sex with your clothes on,so keep my kit on and I would ne OK! Yes, she really did believe that. If amarried woman much older than Katherine could believe that in the permisive 70s, how more would a very young girl in Katherine´s position belive it? I can almost hear him telling her that it didnt count a long as he had his doublet on! people say Katherine was stupid,quite probably. But iI cant help feelin that supidity was born out of a lack of education, both academic and in the ways of the world, and also extreme innocence.A strange word to use about someone as promiscuous as Katerine appears to have been.I know, but iI see a vulnerable young girl desperate for love, however and wherever it came from. That would lead her into situations that a more savvy girl would not find herself in. While on one hand you want to shake her,part of me says feel sorry for her and wants to protect her from the machinations of the men she fel prey to. I wonder if those called to judge her felt this too, and that is why they were so kind to her?

  6. could it be possible that although Katherine had a relationship with dereham ,after a time she grew tired of him and basically wanted out of their “marriage” so being so young she was literally dazzled by henry and of course a glittering court life ,its not hard to imagine Katherine getting mesmerised by all that glitters ,I think she genuinely ,and wholeheartedly fell in love with culpepper but by this stage she was married to henry and no way out and and either threw caution to the wind and foolishly thought she could get away with it .

  7. I agree with all the said comments above. Everybody has said so much That I do not know what to add!.

  8. Katheryn seemed to have little knowledge or prospective of the world. She did not know what people were like. It is not her fault it is the fault of her elders as well as the adults around her! Really I would of thought that her family would of taught her something or via and through being in the hiusehold of the “Dowager Duchess” but neither seemed to have! One thing comes to mind my mind and that is that she may have been tried to have been taught by people but she took no notice and also that she may of been living in some sort of fantasy world as a form of escapism. Just a thought but that fantasy became a reality because she made it a reality not knowing what the full outcome would be. She must of been dazed and when it hit her it must of hit her hard in more ways than one I can imagine!

  9. poor cathrine so sad the way it ended for her . anne bolyn and cathrine must have been so frightend but anne hid it quite well by some of the storys if true cathrine being a young girl could not hide her fear i thiink both these woman should have been sent away .

  10. Feel so sorry for Catherine she had no proper upbringing as befitted a person of noble birth, but was allowed to run wild like a innkeepers daughter, it wasn’t her fault but that of her guardians who should have known better, so sad that she caught the eye of the King as from that moment she was doomed, she had no chance against the factions that were closing in on her and there was Henry like any old man making a fool of himself over a girl young enough to be his daughter, what on earth did he expect, that he could satisfy a seventeen year old, it’s only natural that she got involved with Thomas Culpeper who was her own age and said to be handsome, Catherine’s behaviour is understandable in anyone else, not in a Queen of England, I sympathise with her but she was extremely foolish , they could not condemn her for anything that happened before her marriage to the King but she chose to betray him and she knew the punishment was death.

    1. It’s not “Old English” but it is old English 😉 . I wasn’t saying that it was Old English, I was simply saying that it was English and it was old, written before spelling was standardised and so tricky to read unless you’re used to reading documents from that era.

  11. Do you know where I can find a reference for John Howard’s letter to John Paston that Marilyn Roberts commented on?

      1. Thank you so much! I’m doing my History A Level coursework on Katherine and I used this point in a paragraph about her letter to Culpeper, and needed the reference so I’m very grateful 🙂

        1. Hi Ellie,
          I’m so glad that you found the reference helpful. Do let me know if you need anything else.
          Best Wishes,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *