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8th November 1541 – The Confession of Queen Catherine Howard

Posted By on November 8, 2011

On this day in history, 8th November 1541, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer returned to Hampton Court Palace to interrogate Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife and queen.

Cranmer reported to the King 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:-

“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

I don’t know about you but as I read Catherine’s own words I am struck by her naivety and her immaturity, and I feel such compassion for her. At this point she was in trouble for something which had happened in her past, for having a sexual relationship with a man she thought she would marry when she had no idea that she would end up marrying the King. So sad.

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 J 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”. Yeah, yeah, we believe you, Henry, thousands wouldn’t!

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 of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex; Penelope Rich, Lady Rich; and Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland.

Notes and Sources

11 thoughts on “8th November 1541 – The Confession of Queen Catherine Howard”

  1. Sam says:

    Wonderful post Claire. I’ve shared the link to Katherines written compassion on my facebook page if that’s ok?

    1. Claire says:

      Thanks, Sam, and that’s fine. In Notes and Sources at the bottom there’s also a link to the letter she wrote Henry. Hope that helps!

  2. Sheena says:

    I find it amazing how Katherine’s confession still exists, and yet the transcripts from Anne’s interrogation have dissappeared. Adds more creedence to Anne’s innocence, no?

    As for Katherine, her naivety is quite sad. She was just a child, acting out as a lot of teens still do. It’s rather unfortunate that her past had to haunt her the way it did. To think what may have happened if she had not given up her maidenhead so easily. It’s like that song by Taylor Swift- “when you’re 15, and someone tells you they love you, you’re going to believe them…” but no one could forseen her being married to the King one day. So sad.

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, it is interesting that we don’t have the transcripts from Anne or the men…

      What really got to me was the mention of the strawberries etc., like a midnight feast. She was a young woman enjoying the attentions of a charming man, very sad.

  3. Marilyn R says:

    Thanks for this, Claire; I was going to be looking for the full confession in the next few days, so it’s saved me a job.

    What strikes me most when I see the whole thing is how snippets have been taken out of context and used piecemeal in books over the years – the keys, the strawberries, the velvet cap, the little gallery – yet here they are all in one place, coming from the victim herself. And I do mean victim; I never rated Katherine Howard much until I started the book on the Dowager Duchess & Norfolk House, but I have warmed to her, and some of the others. Poor little Katherine had nobody to help her, all the great and powerful ganging up against one young woman to please someone not far short of being a homicidal maniac. Of course they would abandon her – what was the point of trying to save her when hers was a lost cause from the start?

    In the forthcoming book ‘Trouble in Paradise: Queen Katherine Howard, the Dowager Duchess and Norfolk House, Lambeth’ [provisional title] I have gone through the events day by day, and it is just so sad, not only for her but also for the old Dowager Duchess who had brought her up. The indictments that come later are just sickening: at Doncaster the local Yorkshire worthies who had probably never seen Katherine in their lives declare her to have led,
    ‘… an abominable, base, carnal, voluptuous, and vicious life, like a common harlot, with divers persons, as with Francis Derham of Lambeth and Hen. Manak of Streteham.

    Judicial murder?

    1. Claire says:

      I agree with you, Marilyn, it’s not until you start reading the primary sources, Catherine’s own words, that you get to the real woman behind the myths. In “The Tudors” she was a sexually experienced woman who spent quite a bit of time naked or with rose petals covering the ‘naughty’ bits but she comes across as so naive in these documents and Cranmer obviously felt compassion for her. Like you, I believe she was a victim, a victim of older men who saw that they could use a girl who wanted love and attention. When I read about Culpeper and his probably criminal past (rape and murder) it really makes me wonder if Catherine was manipulated by him. It’s such a shame that she didn’t have a guiding hand.

      I’m looking forward to reading your book!

  4. Melissa says:

    Thanks for sharing the confessions of Queen Catherine. It really helps to put a human face on her. I know when I was her age I certainly wasn’t ready to make any major life decisions and I’m very grateful that I’m not going on trial for the decisions I did make!

  5. Mary Ann Cade says:

    One thing that struck me is Catherine’s apparent lack of education. I know that the Tudors had some license with spelling but one can see in her confession just how illiterate she was, which is sad. I also believe that she was a victim of child sexual abuse by Manox and by Dereham. She was very young, neglected, and quite naive and easily led by others. In hindsight, it is easy to see how the seeds of destruction had been sown in her formative years and if only someone had stepped in to teach her right from wrong, much, if not all, might have been prevented.

  6. Anne Barnhill says:

    Thank you, Claire, another great article–Can’t wait for your book (or books as there is SO much to material) I have always felt sorry of Katherine–so young, the daughter of poor nobility just discarded at Norfolk house to get her out of the way–at least that’s how it looks to me. And, after I’ve read about the recent discoveries about the teenage brain (isn’t like the adult, not fully formed, cannot make rational decisions as easily) the case for sexual abuse does seem likely, at least from 21st century perpsective. But back then, it was perfectly okay for an old codger to marry a young girl–Henry wasn’t the first or last. But it is sad to hear how immature she sounds, pleading with Henry to be merciful.

  7. Dawn says:

    The poor child. Used and abused by all. By her guardians, by the young men around her, and finally by the King. She lacked the guidence, education and etiquette to survive as Queen, through no fault of her own. Though I think she may have known there could be a slight chance her past could come to light it would have been so easy to push those things to the back of her young mind when she saw all that was being offered to her, with some grooming from her family no doubt. All young people do stuff they hope they can get away with, I know I did, but in poor Catherine’s case it cost her her life. Her vulnerability towards young men continued after becoming Queen as we know with her liason with Culpepper, it makes you wonder how her mind worked to think as she could take a lover doesn’t it…
    Though she wasn’t so naive about sexual matters, she was compared to young girls of the same age group and family status in other matters. I sometimes wonder if she had a mental health problem to make her behave in such a reckless way, or maybe she was just left feral for too long.

  8. Carol, Australia says:

    Thanks Claire, thoroughly enjoying all the Tudor info you post, Poor Catherine, such a neglected child to have to end up like this. The post helps put a human face on her.

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